Replacing bulbs is a simple yet enlightening affair. Choosing the right bulb is normally pretty easy. You just replace the bulb that died with an exact copy. But what if you wanted more or less light? What would happen if you put a bulb with a higher wattage than is recommended?
When you put a bulb with a higher wattage in a standard household power fixture, you force the wiring in your home and inside the fixture to exceed the amount of electricity it was created to handle. This can result in fire, melted wires, and malfunctioning electrical systems. Electrical fires are the source of one of the highest civilian mortality rates and property damage. It is highly advised that you do not exceed the power limit on your electrical fixtures.
Why are electrical fixtures only rated for a certain amount of electricity, and why would they make higher wattage bulbs if you could not use them in your home? Below we will address these questions and give alternatives that are sure to meet your lighting needs. We will also explain some of the necessary electrical fundamentals that you should familiarize yourself with before attempting to handle electrical equipment of any kind.
Basic electrical terms you should know
Before we begin, there are some terms and concepts that you should know when dealing with bulbs and light fixtures. The four most basic units of measurement in electricity are volts, current, resistance, and watts. Below we will discuss these electrical measurements, how they impact your power system and which you need to be aware of when changing light bulbs.
Volts are the measurement used to describe the electric potential between two points in an electrical circuit. An easy way to understand the concept of voltage is to think of it in terms of water pressure in pipes. Volts are important because they also indicate the amount of potential in a household’s mains or power grid and determine the kind of electrical devices you can safely use. If you were to use an appliance rated for 110 Volts on a power source of 230 Volts, your appliance would most likely be damaged. Depending on where you live in the world, your home’s power grid’s voltage, electrical outlets, and plugs might differ as indicated below:
- The United States utilizes 110 Volts in their household power grids and uses NEMA 5-15 grounded Type-B plugs. They consist of two flat parallel blades protruding from a plastic base with a longer grounding pin at the bottom middle of the plug. The electrical outlets for these plugs have three openings, two narrow rectangular slots for the blades and one round slot for the grounding pin
- Japan uses 100 Volts in their household power grids and plugs and outlets almost identical to that of the United States.
- Africa, Europe, Asia, and Australia use 230 Volts and various different types of plugs and sockets or electrical outlets. They range from flat-based, two-pinned for single phased applications to circular-shaped-based five pinned for multiphased industrial power.
Some appliances are duel rated for voltages from 110 – 230 Volts and are safe to use globally. However, devices rated specifically for 110 V or 230 V will malfunction when plugged into the other’s outlet. This applies to light bulbs as well.
The flow rate of electricity in a conduit or electrical system is referred to as current and measured in amperes—the more amperes, the stronger the flow of electricity. In batteries, you may have noticed that there is a rating for mAH. This stands for milliamperes-hours and is directly connected to how long the battery can provide power. However, at home, the amount of amperes flowing through your mains is exponentially higher. Around 200-250 amperes flow through a medium to a large house. Circuit breakers control this process in the service panel in your home. The service panel is normally located next to or opposite the wall where your exterior electrical meter is located.
Resistance refers typically to the conduit size through which electricity is flowing and is measured in Ohms. Resistance can also refer to the non-conductive properties of some materials. Water, for instance, conducts electricity, but the electrical resistance of water compared to gold is much higher. This means that the resistance in water is higher than in gold. Mechanical devices built into electrical systems that create resistance on purpose are called resistors. Resistors have multiple functions. One of these functions is to ensure that the correct amount of electricity is flowing through a current and not overheating or destroying the conduit. This is used regularly on dimmers for lights.
Watts are the unit in which electrical power is measured. It is the combination of the volts and the current. The average amount of watts used by a house in the United States per day is around 28.9 kWh or 2890 watts. Different appliances, light bulbs, and fixtures are rated for different amounts of watts. This is usually determined by the country in which the device is manufactured and the volts available in the mains. If the wattage is exceeded in the appliance or fixture, the conduit may not be able to handle the thermal strain induced by the amount of power that flows through it, resulting in combustion or short-circuiting.
Lumens are not mentioned above because it is not a measurement of electricity. Instead, it is how visible light is measured, in other words, how bright a source of light is. It is important as most people confuse light bulbs’ wattage for the number of lumens they produce. Although higher wattage bulbs do produce higher amounts of lumens, they are not directly connected. This misconception is because earlier versions of lightbulbs were produced from materials that required more watts to produce the same amount of lumens as modern-day LED, CPL, or even Halogen bulbs do. For example, a LED bulb that uses only 22 watts of power produces 1600 lumens is equal to a 100 W incandescent bulb.
Replacing bulbs in your home
The best practice for replacing bulbs or appliances in your home is to be aware of the device’s power constraints and not exceed them. This can be achieved by simply replacing the old or dead bulb with a copy of the original bulb. Most bulbs are rated according to the number of lumens they will produce and the amount of wattage they use. If you would like to replace the bulb with something that produces more lumens or produces a different type of lighting, have a look below at the list below.
Different types of bulbs
As you might think, different types of light bulbs produce different kinds of lighting.
- Incandescent light bulbs are the most common and use the most energy. They are also relatively cheap and easy to find. They were the first type of lightbulb to be invented and uses a filament that is heated and contained in a vacuum or inert gas to create light. They also produce a lot of heat and have a short lifespan. The lighting effect produced is a warm yellow color. They normally use anywhere from 10-60 watts, depending on the brand, type, and technical specification.
- Fluorescent bulbs are tubes of glass filled with mercury vapor and coated with phosphor on the inside. They consume less power than incandescent lights and convert ultraviolet light to visible light when powered. They produce a white to a bluish shade light color, but some variants can be more yellow. The wattage used by fluorescent bulbs varies depending on the size of the tube. Typically, however, the usage is about 33-82 watts per meter of tubing.
- LED or light-emitting diodes lights are the most energy-efficient lighting currently available. They have long lifespans, and although expensive in the past, have become more affordable lately. They function by running electricity through semiconducting materials in the form of little bulbs. They can come in different colors but natively produce white light. LEDs are highly customizable and come in various configurations. LEDs’ power consumption varies according to size and composition and can be as little as 2 watts to as high as 28 watts.
- Halogen bulbs look deceptively like incandescent bulbs but contain different components and technology. They also function by sending electricity through a filament which then glows to create light. But the filament is made from tungsten and suspended in a miniature bulb filled with a gas composed of bromine and iodine. They generate a lot of heat and produce high-quality white light. These types of bulbs are often used for professional lighting. For this reason, they can use as little as 5.5 watts to an astounding 1600 watts. The latter being used in specialized industrial or military use.
Outlets and fixtures are rated for a certain wattage for a reason. Primarily the safety of the user. Exceeding the wattage will endanger your home and your life. If you are looking for brighter lights, other safer options like LEDs will not cause harm to you or your home and save you money.