Q&A / 

Safe Light Bulb Wattage

Safe Light Bulb Wattage TIPS

Gabriele, who lives in Crofton, Maryland, was worried about putting in the wrong bulb in a recessed light fixture.

She wanted to make sure the bulb wattage was safe. Here's what she asked:

"My recessed light housing reads 60-watt bulb maximum.  The GE bulb I have says the 75w "uses only 53w."

Since I just can't grasp electricity and watts and  watt hours, will you kindly tell me if it is safe to use the mentioned bulb in the mentioned light fixture?

My sincere apologies if this is covered in one of your older Q&A posts.  I searched back about six or seven "pages" and didn't find this. However I found other interesting items, though!"

It was very wise of you to stop and think about this Gabriele. Many people don't ask and some become a number in the National Fire Protection Association statistics that deal with fire deaths. Overheating in recessed lights causes many fires and people die.

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More Watts = More Heat

Here's what you need to know about light bulbs. When a bulb converts electricity to light, it produces heat as a byproduct.

The brighter the bulb, the greater the amount of heat.

Recessed Fixtures TRAP Heat

This is not so much an issue for normal bulbs that are out in the open and can dissipate the heat. The issue with recessed lights is that they're often in confined spaces and some get covered by insulation that traps the heat.

Regular ceiling-mounted fixtures can also be problematic which is why you'll often see insulation between the bulb and the wiring. 

Wall Sconces Or Ceiling Lights Can Melt Wire Insulation

If you install a bulb that has a higher wattage than the fixture recommends, the heat can build up and get so great it can melt the insulation on the wires. If this happens, the bare wires can and do arc starting electrical fires.

The good news is that your new bulb should be safe because it's using less than the 60 watts an older-style incandescent bulb would use.

The only other thing I'd check, and this may require a professional, is to be sure you don't have insulation packed around the recessed light fixture. 

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One Response to Safe Light Bulb Wattage

  1. Also to directly answer Gabriele's confusion, what the box is telling you is that it is a 75W incandescent bulb REPLACEMENT, but it is not a 75 watt bulb. That's because a 53 watt halogen bulb can produce the same amount of light as a 75 watt incandescent.

    So the maximum wattage for this fixture is 60 watts, and this bulb only uses 53 watts.

    This is why the trend will slowly move toward determining your lighting levels with LUMENS, which is the amount of light produced by a bulb. When you want the light of a 75 watt incandescent bulb, you're looking for around 1100 lumens. And if you really want to save money on energy, you could replace that with about a 14 watt LED bulb.

    Once we start going by lumens only, you'll stop seeing 2 different wattages mentioned on a package. Hard to know when we'll reach that point though.

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