Electricity 101 for college students

Posted on Jul 26 2021 in Features
College student in dorm

Shopping for dorm décor, searching for extra-long sheets, and stocking up on microwavable food and lots of snacks are musts for students going off to college for the first time. Another must, which is often overlooked, is being mindful of electrical safety concerns associated with communal living.

College is the first time most young adults will be away from home in a shared living space. With that comes the responsibility of others’ safety as well as their own.

The U.S. Fire Administration reports that each year in the U.S., college students experience hundreds of fire-related emergencies. Most are due to a general lack of knowledge about fire safety and prevention.

Most colleges provide electrical safety tips for students living in campus housing. Many students, however, may live in off-campus apartments or houses and may not receive safety training.

Following basic electrical safety tips can prevent many campus-related fires. The Electrical Safety Foundation International offers the following advice:

  1. Do not drape towels or clothing over lamps.
  2. Do not run cords     under rugs or furniture where they can be walked on or pinched.
  3. Throw away frayed cords or cords with       broken plugs.
  4. If appliance cords feel hot, turn off the device and ask maintenance personnel to take a look at them.
  5. Turn off devices if you’ll be away from your room for more than a few minutes to further reduce the risk of starting a fire. This also saves energy.
  6. Remember that electricity and water don’t mix. Be extra cautious when using hair dryers, flat irons and curling irons near bathroom sinks. 

If your child will be living in a dorm, consider conducting a visual inspection of the room or suite checking the following potential trouble spots:

Overloaded circuits: Overloaded circuits are a major cause of campus fires. Report outlets that are damaged or that no longer grip plugs properly to the campus housing staff.

Power strips/adapters: Many college dorms are equipped with an insufficient number of outlets. To compensate, students frequently use power strips or adapters. These ramp up the load requirements and can overload the electrical system. Only power strips with an over-current protector (circuit breaker), which automatically shuts off if too much current is being drawn, should be used. To protect electronics from damaging spikes and surges, the devices should be plugged into a surge strip.

Extension cords: Use only extension cords with the UL label. Keep in mind that extension cords are designed only for temporary use and should never be used for permanent connections or to provide power to other extension cords.

Appliances: Toaster ovens, microwave ovens, hot plates, coffee makers and irons should never be situated near bedding, books, draperies, clothing or water. Appliances not in use should be switched off. Adherence to the college’s rules and guidelines on approved equipment is critical. If the college prohibits the use of certain appliances, it’s because they pose a serious hazard.