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I am a PhD student and I intend to cook in my dorm room. There is a wooden enclosure, I am not sure if it is meant for cooking but I intend to cook there.

https://imgur.com/a/TX8viut

Please take a look at the space. Although the clutter is annoying, but I intend to attract your attention to the closed like wooden space. I plan to make rice, sauted vegetables, grilled chicken on a regular basis and boiling water for eggs, coffee and the like. I don't intend to make any gravy/sauce based dishes. I am worried that cooking for the next 3-4 years there could damage the wood.

If I were to cover the wood with aluminum foil, would it take care of the issue and is it safe to do that?

Edit: I plan to use an electric induction stove.

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    In the UK I'm pretty sure that would be against every fire & safety regulation in existence. – Tetsujin Jun 5 at 13:06
  • @Tetsujin I have an electric induction stove, does that make any difference? – user75906 Jun 5 at 13:07
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    [truncated heavily] Appliance must be installed a minimum of 50mm from any back wall and a minimum of 150mm away from any adjacent vertical surfaces.This may be reduced to 100mm if the adjacent surface is resistant to fire (tiles or steel, for example). The minimum height of any cabinet immediately above the hob is 900mm. The minimum height of any adjacent units (including light pelmets) is 400mm, unless they are manufactured from a material resistant to fire (steel, for example) [You're also not allowed to have mains sockets in the same space.] – Tetsujin Jun 5 at 13:16
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    Have a look and ask about your dorm rules and regulation about cooking and safety. – Max Jun 5 at 14:08
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    Are you allowed to cook in your dorms? Most US dorms I know of explicitly prohibit cooking equipment like that in the rooms. Usually dorms have a common kitchen area that should be used instead. – David K Jun 6 at 11:47
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The steam released by cooking the foods you mentioned, and boiling water outright, would probably damage the wood. Foil might prevent that, if you seal it completely (using some sort of moisture/heat resistant tape). However, that wouldn't eliminate the fire hazard from cooking in an enclosed wooden box--nothing short of adding a layer of fire-retardant insulation would.

Your best bet is to cook on the floor in the middle of your room (open a window if it gets steamy) and then store your cleaned and cooled implements in the wooden enclosure, provided that your floor is not carpeted. If it is, then I would recommend finding someplace else to cook that isn't a tinderbox.

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    The mention of "sauteed vegetables" and "grilled chicken" implies the use and presence of oils and fats, which can outright catch on fire or accumulate as fuel on surfaces after getting carried away by steam. If they were keeping it to just boiling water I wouldn't be so concerned with heat. I agree that an induction heater or kettle, on their own, are pretty safe fire-wise. – mech Jun 5 at 19:41
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    It is possible to ignite oils without flames or sparks, so that probably is a danger to consider. – Lee Daniel Crocker Jun 5 at 19:58
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    I personally wouldn't recommend cooking in a dorm room at all. If this is anything like the dorms I've lived in, there are smoke detectors in every room, and cooking in your room is prohibited. – TheWanderer Jun 5 at 21:56
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    Also, since this is UK, there is a good probability that the floor has carpet, and that would be another major fire hazard. – Federico Poloni Jun 5 at 22:24
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    That's not wood, but laminate. Basically, it's particle board with a fake wood veneer glued on. Steam tends to make the laminate separate from the board behind, which isn't good. – GdD Jun 6 at 9:16
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First off, if you're living in a dorm room then you've signed a contract saying what you are and aren't allowed to do in that dorm room. Read it. It's very likely that it will include cooking as something you aren't allowed to do, and cooking appliances as something you aren't allowed to own whilst living in that room. The risk of fire from cooking appliances is very real, and if something catches then it can be very hard to put out, especially in larger buildings. (In the UK, Grenfell Tower is still very much on everyone's minds.)

Dorms also usually have cleaners who come in to vacuum/mop the floors regularly, and they'll report something like that to the uni authorities. That'll result in an immediate warning, and being kicked out of the dorm if you don't sort it straight away.

If you don't have a cleaner, and won't get found out immediately... When I was at uni, they had compulsory inspections of every dorm room every term. If they thought it wasn't tidy or clean enough, you had to sort it, or pay for professional cleaning if it was beyond what would normally be expected. If you'd caused any damage, you had to pay for repairs.

So you can reasonably expect your first room inspection to land you in very serious trouble. Sauteeing produces grease fumes which congeal on the walls and ceiling. Steaming/boiling produces water vapour which condenses on the walls and ceiling. This may not only damage the veneer on the "wood" surfaces, but may also damage the drywall walls and ceiling. Kitchens, bathrooms and similar areas use (or should use) drywall and paint which is resistant to water and grease, and which can be cleaned. Regular domestic drywall and paint will not, and cleaning will damage them too. It's perfectly possible that your cooking could land you with a bill for renovating the entire room which involves taking it back to bare concrete/studs and entirely rebuilding. If you're lucky, that bill will "only" be in single-digit thousands, but it could easily be more.

If you don't have regular room inspections, and won't get found out within a few months... You can absolutely guarantee that every surface in your room will be damaged, and there is no way around it. So you'll definitely be faced with that bill. Most universities will not award a degree to anyone who still owes the university money, so if you can't pay up then you've lost your PhD at the end of all this.

TL;DR - just don't.

  • I never had an inspection when at university in the UK (but I dd have a cleaner). – Martin Bonner Jun 6 at 14:17
  • I don't think the Grenfell reference is really relevant here. In that case, there were many construction errors (the flammable cladding and poor safety features). Your first advice is good though, just look at the rules. – JJJ Jun 7 at 10:49
  • @JJJ The construction at Grenfell turns out to be common to a large amount of UK multi-storey housing though. Hundreds of buildings with the same problems, and tens of thousands of residents. And even on the good ones, the point remains - it's ridiculously hard to fight a fire in a multi-storey building, and that makes it really dangerous. – Graham Jun 7 at 12:32
  • @Graham I'm not sure if you're right on it being so hard. It's certainly true that there's been poor construction in the UK but when I look at the Wikipedia page for skyscraper fires, most of them seem to be minor incidents. Others include damage beyond what they were built for (e.g. WTC and Bijlmermeer incidents, things with incendiary shells, etc.) or poor safety standards. I don't think applying nanny-state rules will help much. Instead, it seems better to use common sense (using proper appliances and staying with them when they are running). – JJJ Jun 7 at 12:46
  • Instead, if your building is unsafe, I guess a proactive stance is much more useful. Especially in a student building you should be able to get some attention to make sure they do meet the relevant safety codes (and I think the UK has many of them). With that taken care of, there’s probably some common area where they are allowed to cook something. Regardless of where you’re cooking, you want to get the safety straight too, especially in a country like the UK which has shown to have very strict rules but also a lack of enforcing them properly. – JJJ Jun 7 at 12:46
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Regardless of the (lack of) fire safety of that specific area, your room will have a smoke detector in it. Any time your cooking produces the slightest whiff of smoke, the entire building will be evacuated and the fire brigade automatically summoned. This will make you extremely unpopular and lead to disciplinary action from your university: cooking in your room is almost certainly forbidden. Have they not provided you with a kitchen area?

Using your kettle to boil water for tea and coffee will probably be fine.

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    I think he can get away with using a hot pot to cook noodles if he does it judiciously (though not on the wooden shelf pictured). But cooking food with oils and stuff is going to be make the room really stinky and he will stink up the entire hall/floor, as the rooms are not designed for cooking. Whether there's smoke or not, the neighbors are not going to be happy. – aris Jun 6 at 3:08
  • @aris Nor will the university. – Graham Jun 6 at 11:44

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