If the flow of current through a resistor increases, it heats up, and if the temperature exceeds a certain critical value, it can be damaged. The wattage rating of a resistor is the power it can dissipate over a long period of time.
Wattage rating is not identified on small resistors. The following diagrams show the size and wattage rating:
Fig. 1.3: Resistor dimensions
Most commonly used resistors in electronic circuits have a wattage rating of 1/2W or 1/4W. There are smaller resistors (1/8W and 1/16W) and higher (1W, 2W, 5W, etc).
In place of a single resistor with specified dissipation, another one with the same resistance and higher rating may be used, but its larger dimensions increase the space taken on a printed circuit board as well as the added cost.
Power (in watts) can be calculated according to one of the following formulae, where U is the symbol for Voltage across the resistor (and is in Volts), I is the symbol for Current in Amps and R is the resistance in ohms:
For example, if the voltage across an 820W resistor is 12V, the wattage dissipated by the resistors is:
A 1/4W resistor can be used.
In many cases, it is not easy to determine the current or voltage across a resistor. In this case the wattage dissipated by the resistor is determined for the "worst" case. We should assume the highest possible voltage across a resistor, i.e. the full voltage of the power supply (battery, etc).
If we mark this voltage as VB, the highest dissipation is:
For example, if VB=9V, the dissipation of a 220W resistor is: