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Published:January 20th, 2013 20:00 EST
Extension Cord and Power Strip Safety For the  College Dorm

Extension Cord and Power Strip Safety For the College Dorm

By David J. Knee


(Example of an Overloaded Power Strip)

On Wednesday January 16th 177 SUNY Oneonta students were displaced from their dorm after a fire.  Although the fire was isolated to a third floor dorm room the smoke damage was substantial.  At this time the students are living in the gym until alternative living arrangements can be found.  The cause of the fire was accidental, but it is something that could have been avoided.  Improper use of a power cord was to blame for this unfortunate event.


College is a challenging time.  To add the displacement of students from their dorm because of this fire will add an additional burden.  Thousands of college students use power strips and extension cords.  Are you being safe?  Here is some information that will hopefully prevent you from finding yourself in a similar situation. 


Fast Facts About Extension Cords and Power Strips

Approximate Damage Caused by Extension Cords Between 2008 and 2012*

·  6900 fires         

·  91 civilian deaths and 421 civilian injuries

·  $360.9 million in direct property damage per year between 2008 and 2012 *

Source: National Fire Protection Association


Inappropriate Use of Extension Cords

·   Using as permanent wiring

·   Using unapproved extension cords        

·   Overloading power capabilities of the cord     

·   Daisy chaining (plugging one extension cord into another and another, etc.)

·   Using one surge protector/power strip to power another

Source US Office of Compliance

Basic Guidelines for the Appropriate Use of Extension Cords

·     Remember that power strips and surge protectors are not the same thing. While some power strips are surge suppressors, be certain you are buying the equipment that matches your needs.

·      Be sure you are not overloading the circuit. Know the capacity of the circuit and the power requirements of all the electrical items plugged into the power strip, and all the other outlets on the circuit.

·      If the power strip feels hot to the touch, replace it.

·       Cords must be properly approved (by Underwriters Laboratory, etc.)

·       Approved cords must be for temporary use only (no more than 90 days)

·       Extension cords may be used for remodeling and maintenance or repair of structures or equipment

·       It is permissible to use extension cords to light holiday decorations

Source US Office of Compliance



Sharing a dorm room is not easy.  Sharing a limited amount of power outlets can be even more challenging.  Every college student uses a power strip and extension cord in the dorm room.  Just make sure you are taking precautions to prevent a fire.  Focus on having fun and getting an education not on the potential risk of a fire displacing you from your dorm. 


If you have any dorm room safety questions you can always ask your RA.