Dorm Safety Tips – Practice Electrical Safety

college students walking

The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) says firefighters respond to an average of 3,810 fires in college dorms every year. Careless smoking, unattended candles and cooking and the improper use of extension cords and power outlets are the most common culprits.

Electrical safety should be top of mind especially for those living in older dorms or student residences. In a previous post, we interviewed Hamilton resident, Olivia Clarke, who left her student house after discovering unsafe electrical issues. Clarke hopes her story will inspire other students to do their research before moving into an older residence.

Electrical fires are preventable but it’s up to students to make the right decisions and know what to do in the event of an electrical hazard. Here are some important recommendations to remember:

1. Do not reset a breaker more than once: If the breaker keeps tripping there’s a problem; contact your landlord or your residence director right away.

2. Avoid plugging in too many devices:  Plugging in too many devices can overload your circuits. The Electrical Safety Authority (ESA) says you should only use 80 percent of your circuits amperage to be safe. So if your circuit is 15 amps, you should only use 12 amps.


3. Avoid using large draw appliances like portable heaters or air conditioners unless on a dedicated circuit:  These appliances have a heavy load and will likely take up that 12 amp threshold. This type of device must be plugged into a dedicated circuit. 


4. Contact a licensed electrical contractor: If you feel like there is imminent danger and your landlord or residence director has not been able to rectify the issue, contact the fire department right away. You should also reach out to a licensed electrical contractor, like HOME SAFE, to perform any necessary inspections and repairs. 


HOME SAFE is a Mississauga-based licensed electrical contractor that services homes and student residences all across the GTA. The electrical contractor encourages students or parents with questions or concerns to reach out.

Our 24/7 emergency service makes it easy for residences to contact us at any time.


Students, we encourage you to read and memorize these other important safety tips:

1. Become familiar with your new home or dorm; make a fire escape plan and practice it regularly – make sure you have two ways of getting out of your home

2. Check smoke alarms for expiry; test every month, change batteries twice a year and replace every 10 years (or as per manufacturers request). Don’t assume the alarm is working just because the light is on.

3. A functioning CO alarm must be installed outside sleeping quarters

4. Install a functioning fire extinguisher on an exit path that is easily accessible – not in a cupboard or under the sink

5. Never leave cooking unattended, stay in the kitchen if you’re cooking

6. If you smoke, smoke outside and use deep, sturdy ashtrays to properly discard cigarettes. Never flick cigarette butts off of balconies

7. If you’re lighting candles make sure they are away from flammable items like curtains, couches, pillows or clothing; always blow them out if you’re leaving the room. Opt for battery-powered candles instead – they are safer.

8. For those living in upper floors, install a collapsing escape ladder from the window

9. For those living in basements, make sure there is an exit direct to outside

10. Do not overload extension cords, power strips or outlets

11. Do not connect multiple extension cords together

12. Extension cords should never be used on a permanent basis

13. Do not place cords under doors or carpets, and do not pinch them with   furniture

14. Use light bulbs with correct wattage for lamps

15. Never remove the ground pin (the third prong) to make a three-prong plug fit a two-prong outlet

16. Check that all electrical items, including extension cords, are certified by a nationally recognized independent testing laboratory, such as Underwriters Laboratories (UL), Intertek (ETL), or Canadian Standards Association (CSA)

17. Irons, hairdryers, curling irons and straighteners should never be left unattended, and should be unplugged when not in use

Birnie Homesafe is Peace of Mind for Your Family

Peace of mind for your family

It’s like an MRI for your home

Locking the doors to your home is no guarantee of safety from dangers that may be hiding within its walls.

This may sound like a horror movie trailer but it’s really a cautionary tale about electrical safety and how to prevent preventable, potentially catastrophic, residential fires. Statistics show that faulty electrical wiring is a major cause of house fires.

Tim Birnie, president of Birnie Electric Ltd., is committed to revealing those dangers and making homes safe through his company’s Home Safe program. Tim’s father Peter Birnie established
the company more than 53 years ago. The expansion into the residential market was sparked by a desire to eliminate fire risks in homes.

Since initiating the Home Safe service 10 years ago, Tim says; “It’s been my passion. I find it so satisfying that we can give people peace-of-mind and eliminate these dangers.”

Tim and his team have developed an innovative inspection that utilizes state-of-the-art and non-invasive equipment like circuit analyzers, infrared thermography and other diagnostic tools to find electrical hazards that could cause a fire.

Warning signs that an assessment is urgently needed include outlets or switches that don’t work, are warm to the touch or emit a burning smell. You’ve also got electrical problems if breakers trip or fuses blow, lights dim or bulbs burn out. Homes with aluminum or knob-and-tube wiring should also be inspected for potential risks.

The Birnie Home Safe Program has three steps starting with a no-cost home assessment. An expert will assess the home, listen to the homeowner’s concerns and point out potential issues. The next step is the electrical risk assessment that involves a full day of non-invasive testing by a fully licensed and highly trained electrician to uncover hazards. Homeowners receive a report that includes recommended electrical updates. The third step is to repair the problems identified and make the home’s electrical system safe. Home Safe also offers standby emergency home generators as a Generac dealer and provides innovative smart devices and LED lighting solutions.

Tim and his Home Safe team have presented numerous seminars that feature special guests including fire department representatives and other home safety experts. In line with the company’s rigorous COVID-19 safety protocols, the free seminars are now offered online. Pre-register at the Home Safe website: for the next seminar on Wednesday, April 14 at 7:00pm.

Heavy Rainfall Compromises Your Electrical System

Environment Canada has issued a special weather statement for Toronto because of heavy rainfall (Nathan Denette/ The Canadian Press).

It’s raining and the weatherman says it’s going to continue raining.

Heavy rainfall is great for greener lawns and free car washes, but the excess water can compromise your electrical system especially in the event of a basement flood.

There is a heightened risk of electric shock, which can seriously injure or kill you, when water makes contact with the devices in your home.

According to the Electrical Safety Authority(ESA), there are certain precautions that all homeowners must take in the event of a basement flood:

Disconnect the power to your home

with dry hands, by ensuring that the main switch by your electrical panel is left in the “off” position before you go.

Move electrical appliances and devices

out of your home or to an area in the house above the expected level of flood water. Do not attempt to use these products if they have made contact with flood water.

Watch out for downed power lines

in flood-affected areas. If you see one, stay back 10 meters or the length of a school bus and call 9-1-1 and your local electric utility to report it.

“Maybe electrical shock or electrocution is not the first thing we think of when dealing with a flooded basement, room or even an outdoor area,” says Tim Birnie President of Birnie Electric and HOME SAFE, “…but it’s the most important thing you should consider before you step foot in these flooded areas.”

Birnie says that electrical equipment and wiring that is exposed to water may be dangerous if re-energized (powered again) without proper evaluation or replacement by a licensed electrical contractor (LEC).

“If your outlets, for example, have been exposed to water and you touch one, or you try to plug something into one, that current can travel through your body and cause life threatening injury,” he says.

Anyone who enters a flooded area can become the path of least resistance – an easier route for the electrical current to travel.

A Mississauga home experiences panel-water-damage after heavy rainfall. Image Courtesy of HOME SAFE. But it’s not just the shock that you should be worried about. The minerals in flood water can compromise your home’s electrical, explains Tim Birnie. These minerals create a chemical reaction with the copper or aluminum wiring which results in corrosion, deterioration and mineral deposits to get embedded into the wire. All of these side effects can create more resistance in the circuit which heightens the fire risk.

HOME SAFE, a division of Birnie Electric, has serviced hundreds of homes after heavy rainfalls. The LEC urges everyone to exercise caution when dealing with a flooded basement.

heavy rainfall

Flood Safety Tips:

1. Do not step into a flooded basement, or room, if water may be in contact with electrical outlets, appliances or cords, call your electric utility to shut off power at the meter.

2. Do not use an electric shop vacuum in a flooded area.

3. Do not touch circuit breakers, or attempt to turn off power, if you must stand in water to do so. Call your electric utility to shut off power at the meter.

4. Do not use electric appliances or touch electric wires, switches or fuses when you’re wet or when you’re standing in water.

5. Always keep electric tools and equipment at least 10 feet away from wet surfaces.

6. Do not attempt to repair damages yourself.

7. After a flood, always call a licensed electrical contractor to assess your electrical system and advise if your appliances and devices need to be replaced.

people walking in flood waters

HOME SAFE Performs Electrical Inspection in GTA homes for electrical hazards like flood damage. Image courtesy of HOME SAFE.

“A good safety measure is to have ground fault circuit interprets (GFCIs), installed by a LEC in your home. This can be done at the outlet or at the panel,” Birnie says.

A GFCI is a safety device that immediately shuts off power in the presence of water.

The heavy rainfall is expected to linger throughout the day so keep your umbrella handy and keep an eye on your basements.

If you require immediate assistance give us a call or fill out an assessment form.