Can You Use a Higher or Lower Watt Bulb?

Getting the wrong wattage bulb is always annoying as it means that you’ll either have to go get another one or you’ll have to try using that one anyway. Is the latter that much of a problem, however, or is it not that big of a deal?

The short answer is that using lower wattage bulbs is not usually a major problem but you should never use a bulb with a higher wattage than what your lighting fixture can handle.

What happens when you put a higher watt light bulb?

Using a higher watt bulb in lower watt socket can cause some significant safety hazards for your home and electrical system. This is largely due to overlamping – the extra heat that’s generated when a higher wattage bulb is placed on a lower wattage socket. Keep in mind that the wattage numbers listed on each bulb refer to its maximum acceptable wattage.

Some of the dangers of overlamping you should keep in mind include:

  • Overheating. The first and main problem is the excess heat that a higher wattage bulb would generate. This can lead to the melting of the light socket, the wires, or the insulation of your lighting fixture. All this can lead to arc faults and from there – house fires. While not the most common cause of house fires, it’s still an important concern, especially if you have to leave your home with the lamps on for whatever reason.
  • Lighting fixture damage. Even when overlamping doesn’t go as far as a house fire, it’s very common for this effect to damage your lighting fixtures. Replacing a lamp’s socket is not the biggest deal in the world but when the lamp itself gets damaged – especially if it’s a high-value fixture – that can be very unfortunate.
  • Extra brightness, higher energy consumption, and a burnt-out bulb. The lesser and more common problems with overlamping is that it leads to a higher electricity bill, an unpleasantly bright lighting fixture, and ultimately – the loss of the bulb itself which often burns out with the socket.

All in all, using higher wattage bulbs in lower wattage sockets just doesn’t have an upside and should be avoided. And, as a final note, be extra careful with enclosed lighting fixtures as these make overlamping and overheating even more likely.

So, can I use a lower watt bulb instead?

Yes, going with a lower wat bulb doesn’t present any major safety concerns for your home. The only drawback is that the bulb will offer weaker light than what a higher wattage bulb would have. But as long as you’re satisfied with the amount of light you’re getting, there shouldn’t be anything to worry about.


Blogger, editor, developer who loves green living. Interested in photovoltaics and solar lighting. Reviewing solar products since 2013.

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