Q: A recent article mentioned it’s unsafe to use a light bulb with a higher wattage than the lamp or fixture is designed for. I’ve often wondered how I should know that. For instance, the bulb in my garage ceiling burned out, but I couldn’t tell what size bulb to replace it with. I chose caution and used a 60-watt bulb, but that is really dim. Any suggestions?
— Marge Elliott, Green
A: If you don’t know the wattage limit, it’s usually safe to use a 40-watt bulb, said John Drengenberg, manager of consumer affairs for Underwriters Laboratories.
However, as you already noted, that’s pretty dim. So instead of using a traditional incandescent bulb, you might want to use a compact fluorescent bulb, which provides much more light for less wattage. A CFL that uses 40 watts provides roughly the same brightness as an old-fashioned 100-watt bulb.
If your garage is unheated, choose one that’s designed for outdoor use. Not all of them are, and you have to read the package to tell.
Not everyone likes CFLs, but for now it’s probably your only reasonable option. There are energy-efficient incandescent bulbs available, but the bulbs that are bright enough for your needs are still going to use more than 40 watts.
Eventually you’ll be able to buy a low-wattage LED bulb if you’re willing to spend the money, but most of the brightest LED bulbs on the market now produce only about as much light as a standard 60- or 75-watt incandescent bulb. (One company, Switch Lighting, makes a bulb that’s supposed to be as bright a 100-watt incandescent bulb, but it doesn’t produce the warm light most people want in their homes.) I expect 100-watt-equivalent LED bulbs to be introduced before too long, however.
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