Dorm Safety 101: A Checklist for College Students
Study up to make sure your dorm or off-campus housing is a safe place to call home
If you’re heading to college this fall, take a quick lesson in dorm and off-campus housing safety before cracking open those biology books.
Whether you’re moving into a dorm, apartment or off-campus house, this checklist will help you (and your parents) give your new home a thorough once-over to make sure it has the safety features that could save your life.
1. Smoke alarms. In the past 15 years, 89 fires have killed 126 people on college campuses, in fraternity or sorority houses or in off-campus housing within three miles of a college, according to stats from the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). If a fire breaks out at your school, smoke alarms will increase your chances of getting out safely. In a dormitory suite, you should have a smoke alarm in each area where you live and sleep, according to the NFPA. All of the alarms in the building should be interconnected “so when one sounds, they all sound,” says Lorraine Carli, spokeswoman for the NFPA.
If you want added protection, you can buy your own smoke alarm and place it on a high shelf, says John Drengenberg, consumer safety director for UL. Don’t worry about having to use a drill to attach it somewhere: “You don’t have to mount it on the wall,” he says.
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2. Fire extinguishers. There should be a fire extinguisher in the hallway outside your dorm room or in your off-campus house, says Drengenberg. If there isn't an extinguisher in a readily accessible spot, you can purchase your own small fire extinguisher at any home store, he says. “Make sure to look for the UL mark — that’s a must.” And learn how to use it before it’s needed, he says.
3. Sprinklers. It’s ideal to live in a fully sprinklered building because sprinklers can start to extinguish flames and keep a fire small, says Carli. “They give you extra time to get out, and they save lives,” she says. Most dormitories have sprinklers. But, if you’re renting an off-campus house from a local landlord, it might lack this safety feature — especially if it’s an older home, Drengenberg says. If you’re choosing a place to live, definitely factor safety features like sprinklers into your decision, he says.
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4. Plenty of electrical outlets. It’s best if your living space has enough electrical outlets to handle all of your needs — from your hair dryer to your smartphone charger to your laptop. But many older dorms and buildings have too few outlets because students in the past might have needed to plug in only, say, a clock radio, Drengenberg says. If necessary, it’s OK to use power strips and extension cords if you’re careful, he says. But don’t ever run an extension cord underneath a rug because that creates a fire hazard. “And if you feel an extension cord getting hot, there’s too much power being drawn through it,” Drengenberg says.
5. Carbon monoxide alarm. Carbon monoxide, or ‘CO’ is an odorless, colorless gas that can cause dizziness, headaches, vomiting and other flu-like symptoms and even death. Fumes from gas ranges, furnaces, grills, hot water heaters and other appliances that malfunction can build up, causing carbon monoxide to seep through a building, Drengenberg says.
“Carbon monoxide detectors are marvelous devices,” Drengenberg says. “They’re sniffing for carbon monoxide day and night.” You can buy one and place it anywhere in your living space, he says. Unlike smoke, which rises, carbon monoxide tends to fill an entire space, he says. A carbon monoxide alarm will go off before you start showing symptoms of poisoning. “It will give you plenty of time to go outside and get fresh air,” Drengenberg says.