Storms are scary business. Far from a harmless display of extreme weather, they have the power to destroy homes and even threaten lives. You've heard of the dangers of standing under a tree during a thunderstorm, but did you know it can be dangerous to shower during one, too?
As it turns out, a fear of thunder and lightning is perfectly justified (the official name for the phobia is called Astraphobia, in case you were wondering.) According to research at MIT, the average lightning strike contains about 1 million joules of electricity (opens in new tab), and we all know that getting struck by a lightning bolt can have fatal results.
You might think you're safe from this (unlikely) scenario if you shelter inside your home, but there are a few risks you ought to be aware of even if you're within your house during a thunderstorm. And staying away from your shower room is one of them.
Lilith is an expert at following news and trends across the world of interior design. She's committed to helping readers make the best choices in their homes through writing practical tips and guides to help inform their living choices. For this piece she spoke with experts in plumbing and meteorology to understand the risks in involved with showering during a thunderstorm.
Why should I avoid showering during a thunderstorm?
You might be surprised to hear that thunderstorms still pose a risk when you're somewhere like the shower which involves being stood under a stream of water. After all, we all know water conducts electricity.
You may have heard that water isn't a conductor, but in fact only pure water can insulate against electricity. The water that comes through our kitchen and bathroom taps contains ions and impurities that make great conductors. What's more, our homes are fitted with plumbing which uses metal pipes to carry our water and gas. Since all metals are conductors, a strike of lighting can easily find its way into the very foundations of our homes.
'Wherever there is a thunderstorm, there’s lightning,' says Harry Knowles, a plumbing coordinator at My Plumber (opens in new tab) on Fantastic Services. 'While the best place to be during a thunderstorm is inside your home, water and metal pipes are both very good conduits for electricity.' Because of this, he advises that you stay away from windows and avoid all running water during a storm.
Janet Coleman from The Consumer Mag (opens in new tab) is quick to note that this could happen even if your house isn't struck by lightning. 'It can strike the power lines outside your home, and they may become live,' she explains. 'If this happens while you are in the shower, it is possible that you could get an electric shock as a result of contact with the water and or electricity.'
Can I use any water in my home during a thunderstorm?
Because of the risks involved with all our plumbing, it's best you avoid using any water in your home during a thunderstorm, including doing the dishes or using tap water.
'The electrical currents created by lightning can travel through plumbing and wiring and if bolt hits your water pipes and electrifies your bathroom, you could get some bad burns,' says Harry. 'Touching an electrified faucet without turning on the tap can also lead to bad consequences.'
If thunder and lightning is forecast in your area, it's a good idea to be prepared and have bottled water at hand so you can still have a drink without needing to use the tap. Avoid plugging in any electrical devices too in order to minimize the risk of electrocution. This is especially important if you have a smart home.
Are there any ways to make your shower and plumbing safer during a thunderstorm?
If you're still concerned about the risks posed by your shower and plumbing during a thunderstorm, there are a few precautionary steps you can take to make them safer.
You can turn off your main water supply to prevent damage to your pipes and prevent yourself from turning on the tap without realizing the risks. 'You can also cover your tub and shower drain with a towel or bath mat to prevent any water from leaking out if there is a strike nearby,' explains Janet.
You could also invest in products for your pipes to help prevent damage from lightning strikes. 'These products are available in several different forms and can be used around pipes or even on outdoor structures,' says Janet. 'They may be applied with a caulking gun or installed as part of an exterior coating system where the pipe is exposed outdoors.'
If you live in an area that's prone to thunderstorms, it might be worth updating your plumbing and piping systems in your modern bathroom completely. 'If you have to use your plumbing during a thunderstorm, consider installing polyvinyl chloride (PVC) pipes,' Harry says. 'These can help prevent getting electrocuted if lightning strikes.'
Installing lightning rods on your house can also minimize the risk of a direct lightning strike and a resulting fire, but Harry is quick to note that the possibility of a fire still remains.
What other activities should be avoided during a storm?
Besides showering (and sheltering under a tree), there are quite a few activities that should be avoided during a thunderstorm.
Since lightning can also travel through wiring as well as plumbing, it's recommended that you don’t use a landline. 'Nowadays, it’s pretty hard to find a corded phone, but if you happen to have one, avoid talking on it during a thunderstorm,' says Harry.
While lightning can be quite the spectacle, you should avoid gazing out of the bedroom window - in fact, stay away from windows altogether. Contrary to popular belief, it’s not the lightning that poses a risk here, but shattered glass from the force of a strike. According to Harry, the advice to open a window during a thunderstorm to equalize pressure and prevents shattering is based on myth. 'All you’ll achieve if you open a window is let fierce wind into the house,' he explains.
Although it might be tempting to light candles if you have a power outage, there's a good reason why you should avoid doing that too. If a candle were to start a fire during a storm, there might not be phone service - or even electricity available - to call the fire department. 'Avoid these worse-case scenarios by using flashlights,' says Harry. 'They produce more light than candles, too.'