A lesson in safety and convenience

Student life is not what it used to be. Hand written essays and piles of books are a thing of the past, replaced in a world where laptops can produce neat word-processed documents and provide endless research resources. And it is not only aids to academic success that students bring along with them when they arrive on campus. The array of mobile phones, MP3 players, hair straighteners and espresso machines that are unpacked at student residences up and down the country each October mean that university accommodation has to be high spec to cater for the needs of its decidedly 21st century student population.

“The increase in student numbers at many academic institutions has already led to significant new build and refurbishment programmes,” comments Richard Shaw, managing director of GreenBrook. “But when you combine greater numbers of students with the massive increase in electrical appliances and gadgets they use, there are big implications both in terms of residences having the capacity to provide sufficient electrical power and to ensure that all these gadgets and appliances are being used safely.”

Switching on to requirements

With a duty of care to its student population to consider, as well as the management challenges of running student residences efficiently and cost-effectively, academic institutions need to provide their paying tenants with all the ‘mod cons’ of home, whilst putting in place safeguards against current-related accidents, overloading the system and faults causing whole buildings to trip.

“It’s a delicate balancing act,” Richard continues, “but with fit-for-purpose power distribution systems, energy efficiency measures and safety precautions, it is possible to achieve high specification, state-of-the art student homes.”

One institution that has achieved just that is Manchester University, which offers over 9,000 places in student accommodation to help house its 25,656 undergraduate population.  The university has invested in a widespread refurbishment scheme and the latest student residences to be refurbished as part of a five-year programme are Derby House and Burleigh House, which between them provide 242 student bedrooms. Electrical contractor, WMB Electrical, carried out a 12-week refurbishment programme of both student residences during the summer, while the students were on their summer break, ensuring that the accommodation buildings were ready for the start of the new academic year.

“In the communal areas, the electrical refurbishment concentrated on energy efficiency with the installation of a fully-programmable lighting control system that uses PIR sensors to switch lights on and off automatically in corridors, toilets and kitchens,” explains Steve Dearden from WMB Electrical. “We also installed a new emergency lighting system, which not only improves safety for students but, because it is self-testing, is also a low-maintenance option for the university’s estates team.

“The main aspect of the project, however, was updating the power supply in each of the 242 study bedrooms across the two buildings,” he continues. “And here, a simple approach using Powerbreaker RCD sockets fulfilled a number of aims with relatively simple modifications to the buildings.”

More power, less risk

Previously each of the study bedrooms had contained just one double socket, which, in theory, should have limited the amount of electrical equipment that students could plug in at any one time, helping to avoid the risk of nuisance tripping and overloading the power distribution system.  However, with the aid of extension leads, students were able to plug in numerous devices at once and this could often lead to nuisance tripping of power to neighbouring study bedrooms, causing loss of power to students who were not at fault and increasing the maintenance burden for the estates team.

The refurbishment programme at Manchester University’s student residences has addressed this issue in two ways.  Firstly, the number of sockets in each study bedroom has been increased to three double sockets, deterring students from attempting to overload any one individual socket.  The sockets have been installed along a 1.5 metre line of dado trunking to provide a neat finish and even distribution of power outlets throughout the room so that students can configure their own space in the way that suits them best.  The dado mounted sockets also ensure that any maintenance that does need to be carried out is quick and mess free.

As well as increasing the number of sockets, the refurbishment programme has concentrated on making all available sockets both safer and less likely to cause nuisance tripping elsewhere in the building.  This has been achieved by using PowerBreaker RCD sockets, which ensure that each socket provides isolated protection from faults and protects the student from electrocution.

“You cannot stop students from plugging in too many electrical devices at once,” explains Steve, “any more than you can check every piece of electrical equipment that they bring into the building for faults.  What you can do, however, is protect them from the risk of electrocuting themselves or of causing inconvenience to others by tripping the system, and using Powerbreaker RCD sockets is the ideal way to achieve that.”

Operating at a trip current of 30mA, the 746 GreenBrook Electrical twin switched Powerbreaker RCD sockets used at Derby House and Burleigh House will trip the power to the individual socket affected by a fault in less than 40 milliseconds. This ensures that any earth leakage fault cannot affect the whole circuit – and therefore neighbouring rooms.  More importantly, it also protects the student from the risk of electrocution.

“Building safety into the electrical refurbishment is an important element of the programme,” Steve adds, “as it is not necessarily something that students will consider when plugging in multiple devices or trying out a gadget that they picked up on ebay!

“The PowerBreaker RCD sockets have an individual test button which users can press to ensure that it is fully functional before they plug something in, and that also means it’s easy for the university’s estates team to test the safety of the sockets in each room as part of routine maintenance.”

More for less

In all, the electrical update of Manchester University’s student accommodation has involved the installation of more than 1400 Powerbreaker RCD sockets over the past five years, with residences being refurbished each summer in readiness for the academic year ahead.

The world of student residences is now very competitive with academic institutions competing with private sector specialists and private landlords to offer added value accommodation that suits today’s student lifestyle.  Ensuring that the study bedrooms available meet high standards of safety and comfort is all part of delivering that competitive edge.

“While the electrical upgrades of Derby House and Burleigh House were relatively large-scale projects, in fact the work made a big difference to the amenities at a relatively low cost,” adds Steve. “Powerbreaker RCD sockets are a very cost-effective way to improve safety, prevent nuisance tripping and cut maintenance costs, whilst the addition of PIR lighting sensors and a self-testing emergency lighting system in both buildings will also help to reduce running costs.”

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