The Ins and Outs of Motion Sensitive Lights for Your Home
People aren’t always the brightest when it comes to lights. Forgetting to turn them off when leaving a room is bad news for both your wallet and the environment. Then there are the painful tumbles and toe-stubs in the dark while searching for the light switch when you get home at night.
Installing motion-sensitive lights in your home is a great solution to these problems (and they’re more affordable than you may think). Let’s shine a light on how they work and some of the various options available.
How motion-sensitive lights work:
Most motion-sensing lights used in homes are passive systems. This means that they detect infrared energy. Active systems used in places such as grocery stores emit energy that detects motion.
So why do passive lights only go on if someone is moving and not if they are standing still? The lights are set up to detect a quick change in infrared energy rather than just its presence, and the change isn’t fast enough if someone isn’t moving. That isn’t to say that other things won’t trigger the lights. When there is a change in temperature from something other than movement, such as a sunbeam or heat rising off of the pavement the lights will sometimes turn on.
Motion-sensing light switches
You can pick up motion-detecting light switches for as low as about $20 a piece at most home improvement stores. The switches turn on when someone enters the room and off after they exit. These will keep you from fumbling around in the dark or save you some trouble if your hands are full. These are also great if you have children, since kids often forget to turn off the lights. Although it’s difficult to factor the savings a motion sensor light can bring (there’s the added cost of the switch, plus the minimal phantom power), not leaving a light on unnecessarily for a week in a little-used closet is an obvious savings.
Many of these switches can also detect how much natural light is in the room and will only turn on when necessary. However, even when they aren’t being used, they do still use some phantom power.
Where to put motion-sensitive light switches
It’s best to place these switches in rooms that receive a medium amount of traffic or rarely used spaces such as closets, attics or garages. You want to avoid using them in a high-activity area such as a kitchen with multiple entrances. Otherwise you could start to see the lights go on and off when you don’t want them to.
Security flood lights
Motion-activated flood lights are great for startling intruders and alerting you to their presence. They can also be effective for scaring away animals that may be getting into your trash or garden. You’re going to want a long detection range since you probably will want to cover your entire yard.
LED and halogen lights are your best bet for getting a big sensing distance. If you place your light in the middle of your yard, get as close to a 360 degree range as possible (many flood lights have up to at least a 240 degree range).
If you have your light hanging on a wall or the side of your house, you only need to cover 180 degrees. As far as the amount of light goes, 150 watts is typically enough power, but for bigger areas, 300 watts is a good choice.
Solar-powered motion-sensitive lights
For security lights that are relatively hassle free and work even when the power is out (like after a natural disaster), solar-powered motion-sensitive lights are an excellent option. The biggest light of them all powers these lights, and this comes with its pros and cons.
- They don’t use any electricity and will save you money on your power bill.
- They are ideal for placing around your yard where there are no nearby outlets for purposes such as landscape lighting.
- Solar-powered lights are simple to install since they don’t require any wiring.
However, if you don’t have them in direct sunlight, you won’t get good results, so you need to avoid shady spots. They also aren’t as bright as other options, and every few years you do need to replace the rechargeable battery.
Battery-powered motion-detecting lights work best in areas that won’t be seeing a lot of movement. If you put one in a high-traffic area, you’re going to be spending a lot of money on batteries. LED lights are the best choice for conserving battery life. Try to get lights that use either AA or AAA batteries. These lost longer than coin cell batteries.
Do you know of any other tips for using motion-detection lights?
Brent Hardy manages sustainability programs for Extra Space Storage. In Florida, the St Petersburg self storage facility has been retrofitted to reduce energy consumption.