(as much as God allows)
Calling to tell you that the expensive gate operator we installed or repaired was smoked by lightning and isn’t covered by any warranty, is a painful conversation that we would like to avoid.
Our phone rings after every storm. This year feels like we are getting more calls than ever. Although we love hearing from you, we have a few tips to help protect your pocketbook.
GATE OPERATOR CASUALTIES
Rarely is lightning damage a direct hit to your operator. Most often, the damage is done by the resulting power surges that travel for miles on wires and metal in the ground. The following pictures are examples of gate operator parts and systems that were recently destroyed by power surges.
A power surge burned up Marilyn Shewmake’s actuator motor and control board in Willow Park. In this picture, Jeffery is pointing to actuator motor coils that should be a copper color, not black. The replacement parts and labor were over $800.
Frankie is holding a fried LiftMaster gate operator board we replaced for Susan Watt of Fort Worth. The system smelled like toast before he even opened the box. The board was not the only part destroyed. Damages to her system came to over $3000.
The Aberdeen custom-made ranch gate for Ken Polk in Weatherford, TX was victim to a storm in August. The picture looks like someone took a torch to his Patriot control board (a $400 replacement part).
These are just a few of what we have seen this year. Storms can exceed any of man’s efforts to control them, but instead of just handing out bill after bill, we want to serve our clients better. We circled back to our suppliers and experts to discover anything we could do. But, before we get into that – first things first!
ARE YOU PROPERLY INSURED?
Call your insurance agent to make sure you are covered. Some policies do include your gate. Others, do not. Adding a low-cost endorsement to your existing policy is so much better than the expense of having to replace your gate operator.
When we talked to Travis Kness, local Texas Farm Bureau insurance agent, he said that “gates that are endorsed on our farm and ranch policies have a separate deductible from the main dwelling.”
The key word is “endorsed” so call whomever you have insurance with and verify that you have what you need on you policy to cover your gate and gate operator against storm damage.
OTHER TIPS TO SAVE $$
Grounding rods help by isolating and diverting the power surge. Bill Burns of Weatherford, is a perfect example. It has been two years since we put in his grounding rod, and he has not had a problem since then. Prior to that, we had replaced his board once and his radio twice within a very short time period of time due to storm damage.
You can put in your own grounding rod if you don’t want to call a professional. They are available at your local DIY store. Your gate operator manual will explain where to tie in and how far away it should be set.
Surge protectors, suppressors or filters
We had not given much consideration to adding these to our gate operator systems in the past. But, in our quest to learn how to save our clients the cost of replacing all their expensive parts after every storm we discovered DITEK Surge Protection. This company is in the business of protecting high-tech systems like fire panels, video surveillance, network devices, burglar alarms, access control and AC power.
Our trusted supplier, Steve Bravo with Southwest Automated, respects and recommends the company. Therefore, we have become proponents of combining a grounding rod with a surge protector.
Although you may have installed surge protectors for your home devices like TVs, computers, etc, the ones for your gate are more technical. You will want a professional to install these devices for your gate.
Not all gate configurations are the same. But, for most of our clients, we recommend installing the DTK-4LVLPLV. It is a quality product at a price that makes sense.
This part in combo with a grounding rod costs about $100 (not including the service call and hourly labor). If your system doesn’t have built-in surge protection, it could save you from replacing your expensive board and arm.
We are installing these to protect gate systems from the power surges that come in through the keypad and exit probe – a very common path. We have not found a solution to protect against surges that travel through the gate itself. Some systems do have internal surge protection to guard against this, but whether that works or not depends on how powerful the surge is. Again, lightning can foil all our efforts.
NOTE FOR ANNUAL MAINTENANCE PLAN MEMBERS … You won’t have to pay for a service call charge to install these. We can do it on our bi-annual gate check-ups for just the cost of parts. If you are interested in more information about our maintenance plan, click here. Or, contact us.
Don’t make it worse
If you suspect storm or lightning damage, do not try forcing your system to work. You could add to the number of parts that will need to be replaced and increase your costs. Help us diagnose the problem (which could save you in the number of repair trips). We suggest the following:
- Clear any fog, water or other debris away from your photo-eye (which is an anit-entrapment device that is installed to be compliant with UL Code 325). Many times that is the ONLY thing that is wrong after a storm! NOTE – you will have a photo eye if we installed your system, but not every system that we are called to repair has them.
- Disengage the arm from the gate. Call us if you have any questions. There are different procedures depending on the equipment you have.
- Open up the control box and take a pictures.
- Do you see any parts obviously burned? Send pictures of those.
- Sounds funny, but give it the sniff test. If it has been damaged by lightning, you will likely smell it. Let us know about that too.
I asked Mark Bernal, Viking Access Systems senior technical engineer product specialist, to answer a few questions we’ve gotten lately. He helped me with the below answers.
Would it be better to use solar panels for a power source?
Solar offers less pathways for lightning to get to the operator, but lightning is not selective. Lightning can hit the ground and then spread out like a spider web – jumping onto the wires in the ground from the access control devices. Lightning can also hit the gate that the operator is attached to.
Does it help to use remote controlled equipment rather than wires?
It might. It might not. Again, less pathways, but receivers have antennas.
I would love to hear your questions or comments. If we don’t know the answers, we’ll find out.