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Getting a Higher Education in Dorm Room Safety

Getting a Higher Education in Dorm Room Safety

Your child's first year away at college is always an exciting time. Living in a dorm room, being away on their own, and of course keeping up with the whirl of studies all adds up to a pretty heady experience for your 18-year-old. Odds are that the last thing on their mind will be following electrical safety precautions in their dorm room.
That could be a dangerous oversight. Underwriters Laboratories reports approximately 1,800 fires a year take place in dormitories and fraternity and sorority housing. And those statistics don't include off campus housing where around 2/3 of students reside.
While they're home for a long weekend, the Leviton Institute recommends that you take the time to alert your child to the potential dangers in their dorm room. If you're driving them back to school afterwards, use this list to check for dorm room trouble spots:
Cooking Equipment: Almost 41% of dorm room fires are caused while cooking, and most of those are due to lack of attention, according to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). Never let anything cook unattended, and always keep hotplates, toasters, microwave ovens, and coffeemakers at a safe distance from flammable materials like bedding, drapes, clothing or paper. It's a good idea to switch off appliances, or better yet, unplug them when not in use. And remember to check your college's guidelines on approved equipment for dorm rooms.
Overloaded Circuits: Older dorm rooms weren't built to supply the power needs of today's microwaves, laptops, refrigerators, stereos, and other appliances. The result is often overloaded circuits. Test them by touching a plug or outlet to see if it's hot; if so, unplug it immediately and get help from the campus housing staff. In general, try to use common sense and run as few appliances into one outlet as possible.
Extension Cords: Like outlets, extension cords can easily become overloaded. To check that the connected appliances don't exceed a cord's rated wattage, add together the wattage of the appliances (usually displayed somewhere on the appliance itself) plugged into the cord and compare it to the cord's rated wattage. If the rating of the appliance is given in amps instead of watts, simply multiply the amps by 125 (as in 125 volts) to calculate the correct wattage. If a cord feels hot to the touch, immediately unplug the appliances and replace the cord. Make sure all extension cords (or anything you plug into the wall) display a UL label, which shows they meet tested and approved standards. Never run extension cords under carpets or doors, where they can ignite and cause a fire, and never connect more than one extension cord together.
Power Strips: These are a necessity in most outlet-deficient dorm rooms, but don't overload them with too many appliances. Look for one with an over-current protector, which automatically shuts off the strip if too much power is being drawn. Surge protectors guard against power surges and spikes that can damage sensitive electronics like computers and laptops. Be sure these devices are being used.
Halogen lamps: Banned on many campuses because high temperature bulbs can easily ignite curtains or bedding, they should be used with extreme caution, if permitted. Halogen lamps equipped with a tip-over switch and mesh guard to prevent contact with the bulb are a necessity.

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