Lamps, max wattage labels and the confusion over CFL bulbs


If you’ve purchased a lamp in the past decade or so, chances are you noticed the warning label near the bulb socket. For instance:

“To reduce the risk of fire, use 60 watt maximum bulb.”

Seems simple enough, right? Make sure the bulb is 60W or less, and you’re fine. There’s just one problem: the wattage ratings make no sense for energy-efficient CFL bulbs. And considering that CFL bulbs last for years and use less power than regular ones, it stands to reason that a whole lot of consumers will be putting CFLs into their lamps.

Ok, so back to the problem: the safety labels on lamps show the wattage ratings for regular bulbs, but CFLs need an entirely different scale. For instance, a 15W CFL may produce the same amount of light as a 60W incandescent bulb. If the lamp says 60W max, you’re fine either way. But what if you want to use a 25W CFL that produces 100W worth of light? Does the 100W equivalent brightness trump the 25W of actual power draw?

From what I’ve read, you go by the actual power draw of the bulb. So, a 15W or 25W or 50W CFL is fine in a lamp that says 60W max — even if those CFLs are way brighter than a 60W incandescent bulb. Clearly, consumers shouldn’t have to look this up online. The warning labels on the lamps should cover both cases. For example:

“To reduce the risk of fire, use 60 watt maximum bulb. For CFL bulbs, this refers to the power draw, not the brightness.”

Granted, there are probably all sorts of government regulations that dictate the language that appears on the warning stickers. So maybe the CFL-specific language would have to go on a second label, or on an insert in the box. Even if the implementation is less than elegant, anything that helps reduce the confusion over CFL wattage would be a big improvement for consumers.

2 Responses to “Lamps, max wattage labels and the confusion over CFL bulbs”

  1. Hi Jesse. Thanks for your comment — I’m glad I was able to help!

  2. 2 jesse

    thank you, I have been looking for this answer for too long.