Wattage Ratings of Resistors

When a current is passed through a resistor, heat is developed within the resistor. The resistor must be capable of dissipating this heat into the surrounding air; otherwise, the temperature of the resistor rises causing a change in resistance, or possibly causing the resistor to burn out.

The ability of the resistor to dissipate heat depends upon the design of the resistor itself. This ability to dissipate heat depends on the amount of surface area which is exposed to the air.

A resistor designed to dissipate a large amount of heat must therefore have a large physical size. The heat dissipating capability of a resistor is measured in WATTS.

Some of the more common wattage ratings of carbon resistors are: one-eighth watt, one-fourth watt, one-half watt, one watt, and two watts.

In some of the newer state-of-the-art circuits of today, much smaller wattage resistors are used. Generally, the type that you will be able to physically work with are of the values given.

The higher the wattage rating of the resistor the larger is the physical size. Resistors that dissipate very large amounts of power (watts) are usually wirewound resistors.

Wirewound resistors with wattage ratings up to 50 watts are not uncommon. The illustration shows some resistors which have different wattage ratings. Notice the relative sizes of the resistors.

Wattage of different resistors

Wattage of different resistors.

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