Household Hazards: What to Avoid in a Storm

You know to run for shelter indoors when lightning storms approach. But do you know what you should -- and shouldn't -- do once you get there?

While lightning experts say your chances of being struck by lightning dramatically decrease once you're inside a building with both plumbing and wiring, they warn that hazards still exist around the house.

In general, experts caution against contact with electrical equipment and plumbing. Here's a list of specific threats to avoid:


In your rush to escape the storm, stay away from wired appliances such as doorbells, on or near the outside of the building. Lightning can travel through the electrical wiring and shock you. Don't believe it? On Sunday, a man in Ohio was struck by lightning through his doorbell while leaning against the front door. He survived the strike but suffered burns on his hands and feet.


If you want to watch the storm rage outside from the safety of your living room, go right ahead. But keep your distance from windows and doors, particularly those made of metal. John Jensenius, a lightning expert with the National Weather Service, says there have been several cases of people who have been shocked while holding on to doorknobs or leaning against metallic window and door frames.

Electric Shock

Corded Telephones

They may not seem as popular as cell phones or their cordless cousins, but corded phones still exist. And they are the leading cause of indoor lightning injuries, according to the National Weather Service. Lightning has traveled through telephone wires to severely injure or kill people.

Wired Video Game Handsets

Injuries caused by wired video game handsets are on the rise, lightning experts say. People understand that wired equipment, such as computers and DVD players, should be unplugged and avoided. But that awareness has not yet extended to wired video game systems.

"Kids get bored [and if] parents don't watch, kids turn on video games. … If they don't have wireless handsets, they get shocked," said Mary Ann Cooper, a professor with the Lightning Injury Research Program at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

The Sink

Martin Uman, a University of Florida professor and lightning expert, tells that he can recount several cases of people who have been killed while washing their hands at the sink.

"Lightning strikes pieces of pipe in the backyard that go to the sink. If there's a complete metal connection between the piping and the sink, there's a direct strike," he said. This threat is not as great in buildings with PVC piping instead of metal piping.

Lightning Surges

The Shower

The shower is also one of the last places you should be during a storm. If lightning strikes the building, it could travel through the plumbing and deliver a charge.

Electric Personal Appliances

If you need to primp, wait for the storm to pass. Hair dryers, electric shavers and electric toothbrushes are all off-limits during a storm, experts say.


Doing the laundry is another bad idea, as it involves proximity to both plumbing and electric wires. The dryer is a triple threat, Jensenius says, because lightning could enter the building through the dryer's outside vent.