Home Improvement Expert Danny Lipford

How to Protect Your Home from Solar Flares and Solar Storms

By:
Northern lights over communication towers

Solar storms can cause quite a bit of damage here on Earth.

The sun’s magnetic and sunspot cycles are expected to peak in 2013, bringing a stormy season to our solar system and an increase in sun related damage here on Earth. While you don’t need to grab a tinfoil hat and head for the nearest bunker, it’s a good idea to take precautions to protect your home from possible damage caused by solar flares and solar storms.

Impact of Solar Storms

Our sun is a massive ball of superheated gases that swirl with incredible currents and magnetic fields. At times the pressure builds up into sunspots, which can explode out from the sun in events known as solar flares and coronal mass ejections (CMEs).

These “solar storms” bombard the solar system – and Earth – with radiation and magnetic shock waves that can wreak havoc on magnetic fields, power systems, and electronics devices. The Earth’s atmosphere shields us from much of the radiation, but solar storms can still do quite a bit of damage, including:

    Northern lights over home caused by solar activity

    Northern lights from solar activity.

  • Short out satellites and take down GPS, cell phone, Internet, and TV services.
  • Cause damage to electronic devices and computers.
  • Disrupt the power grid resulting in overloads, widespread power outages, and dangerous power surges.
  • Increase corrosion and breakage of gas and fuel pipelines.
  • Confuse compasses and electromagnetic gadgets.
  • Cause light displays (like the “northern lights”) in the sky.
  • Knock out communications, including radio, military communications, and early warning systems.

Solar events happen all the time, but 2013 is predicted to be a particularly bad year due to the peaking of several sun cycles. The last time this happened was in 1859 when the largest recorded solar storm spun compasses, disrupted telegraph service, and lit up the skies. Our dependency on electronics and an overloaded power grid makes us much more vulnerable to solar storms today.

Sun shining through a tree

Preparing for Outages

The biggest threat of a solar super storm is a knockout of the power and communications grids that might take some time to repair. You can prepare for this the way you’d prepare for any kind of storm, by stocking up on:

    Portable generator

    Portable generator

  • Off the Grid Power: Buy a generator and extra fuel, or install a backup energy supply such as solar panels or a wind turbine.
  • Battery Backup for Computers: An Uninterrupted Power Supply (UPS) looks a lot like a standard surge protector but contains batteries that keep computers running smoothly without damage during power fluctuations and brownouts.
  • Emergency Supplies: Create an emergency box with flashlights, batteries, cooking and heating fuel, food, and clean water. Also, consider a backup stash with paper copies of financial and personal records, cash, road maps, address book, radio, first-aid kit, and anything else you’d need if your handy digital gizmos – along with your car, credit cards, bank, and shopping center – are out of commission for a while.

Printable Solar Storm Supply List

Preparing for Power Surges

Likewise, a powerful solar storm may cause major power surges that might fry anything in its path. Protect your electronics by using:

    Surge Protector

    Surge Protector

  • Whole House Surge Protector: A whole house surge protector connects to your breaker panel and provides protection from lightning and other power surges.
  • Individual Surge Protectors: For added protection, or in the absence of a whole house surge protector, install surge protectors on computers, TVs, stereos, and other electronics in your home.
  • Unplug Electronic Devices: Simply unplugging electronic devices will also ensure that they aren’t zapped by a power surge.

Shielding from Solar Radiation

The biggest threat of solar storms is on a systemic scale (such as taking out cell phone service) rather than an individual scale (like damaging individual cell phones). However, the magnitude of solar events is unpredictable, and we don’t always know the effects solar radiation will have.

If you’ve done any reading on the subject, you’ve found all levels of paranoia about shielding yourself and your home from radiation, with all manner of solutions. My favorite was to build your house with a radiation-shielding pool of water on top – who doesn’t love a rooftop swimming pool?

Short of such radical measures, it doesn’t hurt to be prepared, and one of the easiest ways to shield items from electromagnetic radiation is with an insulated, sealed metal box called a Faraday cage. It can be made of solid metal or wire mesh and needs to be completely enclosed, with an insulated liner so that nothing inside comes into contact with the metal.

Cardboard box and aluminum foil for Faraday cage.

A Faraday cage is easy to make using a cardboard box wrapped with aluminum foil.

To protect emergency backup electronics such as a radio or laptop, put them (unplugged) inside a sealed cardboard box, then wrap the box completely with aluminum foil. Another solution is to line the inside of a metal garbage can with cardboard. During peak radiation storms, it’s a simple matter to put your small electronics inside and close the lid.

If you’re really into radiation protection or are concerned about the health effects of solar storms, the same principles can be applied on a larger scale. People have gotten pretty creative with this principle by lining rooms (and even entire houses) with radiation-shielding metal mesh. And yes, some even try to shield their bodies with Faraday inspired suits and hats.

Keep up with the latest solar storm predictions at Today’s Space Weather on the NOAA website.

Further Information



Please Leave a Comment

28 Comments on “How to Protect Your Home from Solar Flares and Solar Storms”

You can follow comments to this article by subscribing to the RSS news feed with your favorite feed reader.

  1. DAN Says:
    November 20th, 2011 at 5:24 pm

    HOW DO YOU MAKE A SAFE ROOM FOR A SOLAR STORM PLEASE THE 123 OF MAKING IT THANK YOU DAN

  2. tom Says:
    December 31st, 2011 at 11:27 am

    Wont solar panels be affected by solar max?

  3. Nataleigh Says:
    March 10th, 2012 at 5:49 am

    HOW DO YOU MAKE A SAFE ROOM FOR A SOLAR STORM PLEASE I HAVE KIDS????!!!!!!!!!!!

  4. Tony Bilby Says:
    June 25th, 2012 at 12:36 am

    Hey Nataleigh, I don’t know if you’re still freaking out about it but there’s nothing really to worry about. a solar flare wont harm us in any way. However, it might effect our technology (phones, computers, etc) the reason for this is because during a solar storm there’s a build up of magnetic energy that is released and fills the entire electromagnetic spectrum (from radio waves to gamma rays) and mobile phones and other technology is very sensitive to this stuff. For the most part our atmosphere (Thermosphere/Ionosphere) will shield the harmful rays like X-rays, gamma rays and micro waves. If it wasn’t for those our planet would be a big, dry and HOT uninhabitable planet.

    Long Story short: Everything will be fine. :)

  5. Richard picone Says:
    August 6th, 2012 at 12:03 pm

    Will solar panels be affected by these sun storms? If not, I’d like to attach a few panels to a few large UPS battery backups to supply the “basics” in the event of a blackout. I live on top of Alpine mountain in the Poconos, PA. I think next to wind, solar panels are the way to go. A wind turbine involves the “Not in my backyard” mentality.

  6. Cheekee Monquee Says:
    August 10th, 2012 at 11:30 pm

    well, I wouldn’t just not worry about it at all, in response to Tony B.

    In fact the big x-factor is the infamous December 21st 2012 when the our planet, the sun, and the center of our galaxy (theoretically a black hole according to any scientist I’ve heard of, as well as aboriginal peoples, who supposedly according to “modern” humans, should have less of an idea).

    This is unprecedented event in human history, only mentioned in ancient writings, and of course, we’ve heard, when the Mayan calendar actually began. So, according to astronomers and mathematicians, it has actually happened once. The Mayans labeled it their creation, (as well as other unmentioned cultures across the world and history).

    Anyway, my point is, there’s no way to know the extent of a definite solar storm that is upcoming as there is no recorded history of what happened the last time, but whatever happened it scared the shit of our ancestors enough to record it through verbal history until writing was developed thousands of years later.

    One theory is that because what the Mayan calendar actually, specifically notes is that said date is the end of a baktun, or the end of a cycle where the earth completes a “top-like” spin (as earth rotates like a top as well as on its axis). This meaning that for the first time in, I believe, 26 and some odd thousand years, the magnetic shield that protects us from the heavy gamma radiation from the sun may be susceptible to weakness, manipulation, or even complete dislocation of the earth’s magnetic poles, which are the anchors to said magnetosphere, which would mean incredible weather annomolies, as well as possible exposure to toxic gamma radiation. This would explain why most indigenous cultures say they went deep underground to survive according to their religious legends.

    So to just shoo away danger is fool-hearty. Best case scenario, ancient people are dumb, and we need to figure out how they really built the pyramids to extreme calculation that defeats even modern science and engineering. Worst case scenario, good luck, and may the Gods be with you.

  7. Tony B. Says:
    August 11th, 2012 at 11:46 am

    My main point in what I was saying was to calm people down lol, if too many people freak out about what could possibly be a small sunburn but end up making a ton of irrational decisions and destroy the economy even more. But you do make some valid theories but there also many theories that state otherwise… plus, if anyone remembers the year 2000 freakout and that was mainly just relating to the internet and such so I feel it’s smartest to leave everyone on the most possitive outcome possible which is “nothing will happen at all as far as we can tell unless you happen to deal with radio waves so keep calm and have a party :D

  8. Lucy Says:
    September 21st, 2012 at 10:07 am

    What areas in the globe would be affected?
    L – BRazil

  9. Russ Says:
    September 22nd, 2012 at 2:37 am

    Correct me if I’m wrong but your water will be effected. With out power you can’t clean and purify the water, and you can’t pump it to the people. I know people scoff when they hear conspiracy theory and jesse ventura, but this show really does inform you, they speak to NASA (who does believe a solar flare will take out our energy grid), and other professional’s. listen to it or not the choice is up to you, but I’d rather be prepared and not need it than not be prepared and need it.

  10. Larry Meier Says:
    October 5th, 2012 at 3:43 pm

    Will my solar panels be safe?

  11. Almudena Says:
    October 6th, 2012 at 3:41 am

    What happens if magnetic protection disapear for geomagnetic solar storms?

  12. Fritz Says:
    October 11th, 2012 at 2:05 pm

    The big problem here is that the ground itself becomes electrified as the earth’s magnetic field gets warped by the solar wind. Your ground wires will feed electricity back into your circuits and fry electronics. This could include solar panels, windmills, generators, and the like. Disconnected devices will have a better chance of surviving, but ESDs (Electrostatic Discharge events) can also be damaging…especially to sensitive electronics. The last time this happened was in 1859 before the days of the power grid. No power means, no sewage pumping, aka toilets, no fresh water, no gas pumping, no ATM, no A/C, no lights, etc. Some services may be restored quickly, others could take days, weeks, or months. It just depends upon the severity of the event.

  13. Dormammu Says:
    November 6th, 2012 at 9:09 pm

    These are all Minor problems. Biggest is nuclear power plants running out of diesel power for cooling the rods and core. Will they truck diesel after 1 month with an army and national guard armada? Or is the electric and nuclear industry blind to this very real possibility?

  14. John Says:
    November 7th, 2012 at 5:04 pm

    Don’t use Solar Panals tied to the grid. They are required to disengage for safety reasons. Build using an off grid method or switch. Your inverter may get burnt out if you don’t isolate. Plan on using DC not AC. The Stone Age may be here for a long time after.

  15. Kris E. Says:
    December 4th, 2012 at 7:24 pm

    I amagine that my 2000 Toyota Tundra has an Eletronic ignition system that could be fried if CME’s are strong enough. Can an Auto’s critical electronics be shielded with Lead or other materials?

    If a modern Auto EI system were swapped for a Mageto ala 1960′s Hot Rods or even a backward compatible Point & Rotor distributor shouldn’t it be CME proof?

  16. AJ Says:
    December 10th, 2012 at 12:34 pm

    Will a vehicle be safe from a solar flare if it is parked 60m underground in a coal mine?

  17. Jeremy Says:
    December 11th, 2012 at 10:09 pm

    I was looking at a safe to use for protection but was concerned that the electronic locking system/ combination would be effected and I would be lock out of it. If some bad solar flares came. Is this something to worry about or will it not be effected? I don’t want to be locked out of it. It’s powered off a 9v battery. Any info would be great

  18. Hannah McCoy Says:
    January 7th, 2013 at 8:24 pm

    how do you build a safe house and how can you protcet your family and pets

  19. Suzanne Says:
    January 15th, 2013 at 8:09 pm

    I’m a little freaked out about it,i have a pacemaker i’m totally dependant on.

  20. Keith Palin Says:
    February 9th, 2013 at 2:20 am

    I have some questions:
    1. Should I start wearing a tin foil hat?
    2. If I deliberately expose myself to the suns harmful rays, will I gain super powers?
    3. Can I cook food under a solar flare?
    4. Shouldn’t we create a society in Earths sewer systems to protect ourselves?
    5. If my cat is exposed to the radiation will he become a tiger?
    6. If the sun can have solar flares, can the moon? Should I stay awake all night in case there’s a lunar flare?
    7. Should I wrap my cat in tinfoil?

  21. Official Comment:

    Ben Erickson Says:
    February 9th, 2013 at 8:07 am

    Hi Keith,
    The answer to all your questions is yes . . . except for the last one. I tried wrapping my cat in tinfoil and am still recovering from all the scratches!

  22. Julie Day Jones Says:
    February 11th, 2013 at 10:31 am

    Keith, great questions! A few thoughts:

    1. Should I start wearing a tin foil hat?

    By all means, but it’ll work best if you make it in the shape of a Pilgrim hat, along with matching shoe buckles. I heard that pants can interfere with the signal, so you may want to leave those off.

    2. If I deliberately expose myself to the suns harmful rays, will I gain super powers?

    Yes! You’ll be known as Lobster Man, peeling justice far and wide.

    3. Can I cook food under a solar flare?

    No, but if you live in Texas, you can bake muffins on your dashboard.

    4. Shouldn’t we create a society in Earths sewer systems to protect ourselves?

    I believe that already exists – in fact, I think I went to a party there once in college.

    5. If my cat is exposed to the radiation will he become a tiger?

    I’d say a Liger is more likely, due to its skills in magic.

    6. If the sun can have solar flares, can the moon? Should I stay awake all night in case there’s a lunar flare?

    That’s a silly question. Everyone knows the moon is made of cheese. Your time would be better spent holding cubes of bread and waiting for “lunar fondue.”

    7. Should I wrap my cat in tinfoil?

    Please do, and when you get out of the hospital, please send me the video!

  23. Julie Day Jones Says:
    February 11th, 2013 at 11:04 am

    On a more serious note, in response to other questions, I’m not sure about how a solar flare might affect solar panels. If I were you, I’d check with a solar energy professional – or check some of the online forums – for more information about your specific setup.

    Also, even though “smart” electronic technology is fun (like locks, etc), there’s always the risk of it going on the fritz for whatever reason. I tend to go for more old-fashioned choices (or at least have a backup option) that I know will be reliable for years to come.

  24. Terry Burgess Says:
    May 19th, 2013 at 2:07 pm

    I guess I’m not the only one concerned it seems like there would be larger bedsize blanket/sheets made of aluminum at least .003 thickness for covering multiple items including Myself and My pets in case of extreme solar catastrophies such as a major meltdown I guess we all have to work with the foil and its a smaller size I’ think I’ll get some and foil tape too and then in the meantime cover the bird cages with aluminum foil from the grocery store:)

  25. Dumbo Says:
    August 8th, 2013 at 4:00 am

    I have a couple of dumb questions about solar flares.

    1. Do they just ‘knock out’ communications/electronics? As in they all start working/come back online after the storm/flare has passed? Or are they actually rendered permanently useless after the event.

    2. Would devices that are switched off at the time survive? Or would they have to be stored in solar flare proof containers.

  26. Vijayanand Says:
    August 17th, 2013 at 9:27 am

    We have our house rooftoped with galvanized zinc sheets. Will it be safe for us from solar flares?

  27. Delki Says:
    January 5th, 2014 at 8:12 pm

    Can a fridge be used as a Faraday box ?

  28. Slippy Says:
    July 25th, 2014 at 11:40 am

    Hey! I just crawled out of my hole. Did we survive Dec 21, 2012?

We want to hear from you! In addition to posting comments on articles and videos, you can also send your comments and questions to us on our contact page or at (800) 946-4420. While we can't answer them all, we may use your question on our Today's Homeowner radio or TV show, or online at todayshomeowner.com.