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How to Adjust Motion Sensor Lights

Tips for Adjusting Motion Activated Light Sensors

By Mark J. Donovan

Motion sensor lights are excellent for providing security around the exterior of your home. However, motion sensor controlled lights can be a little annoying when they are inadvertently triggered by windblown leaves, small animals and passing cars. In many cases you can adjust motion sensor lights to prevent these types of inadvertent light triggers.


A motion activated light is controlled by a small infrared sensor integrated into either the light fixture itself or in a remote sensor unit.


Sometimes the remote sensor unit is collocated on the light fixture assembly, and other times it may actually be located somewhere else on the property.


The infrared sensor operates by detecting movement in infrared energy, or heat energy. When the infrared sensor detects heat movement it triggers the light fixture to turn on. An infrared sensor has what is referred to as a field of view.


Motion sensor adjustment switches on a motion activated exterior light

Photo by Mark Donovan


The field of view is comprised of an angle range and a distance range. Motions sensors can have angle ranges from 0 – 360 degrees, however most motion activated lights with built in infrared sensors have angle ranges of 180 to 270 degrees.  In terms of distance, most infrared sensors associated with motion activated lights have a range of 30 to 70+ feet.


Before adjusting a motion sensor light it is best to read the operators manual thoroughly.

Depending upon the particular motion sensor light there are a number of switches on it to control the infrared sensor sensitivity level.


Normally the switches are located on the bottom of the light fixture. You can adjust the sensor sensitivity level to limit the range of motion detection. In addition, you may be able to adjust the viewing angle of the infrared sensor on some light models. To adjust the motion sensor light put the light into “TEST MODE”. Once you have set the desired field of view you can then reset the light to normal “Operational Mode”.


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As for actually installing a motion activated exterior light make sure to first read the instruction manual carefully. Most are installed exactly as a conventional light. They typically have three wires that are designed to tie into your existing home’s wiring. The wires include a black wire (hot), a white wire (neutral), and a green or bare copper wire (ground).


When replacing a conventional exterior light with a motion activated exterior light, make sure that you first turn power off at the main circuit breaker box. In addition, use wire nuts to connect the house wires and light wires together. Also make sure that the light is properly grounded to the electrical box. Lastly, make sure you seal around the light fixture with a waterproof caulk.


If you desire a smaller viewing angle you can also apply black electrical tape over a portion of the infrared sensor. This will effectively reduce its infrared eye and thus prevent the light from triggering in certain directions.


Besides adjusting the field of view, you can also adjust the amount of time the light remains on after being triggered by the infrared sensor. Depending upon the particular motion sensor light, you can adjust the length of time from 1- 20 minutes.

Adjusted motion sensor exterior lights.

Photos by Mark Donovan


In addition, you can also adjust the motion sensor to not function at all, and instead use the light in a conventional manner.


Also, a photocell is integrated into motion sensor lights and is used to prevent the sensor from turning on the light during the day. Some motion sensor lights can also utilize the photocell to enable the light to be set so that it is always on from dusk till dawn.


Finally, note that a motion sensor’s sensitivity level and field of view will change over time. This is typically caused by age, dirt on the sensor window, and objects such as bushes and trees that may grow into their viewing angle. To maximize the life of the motion sensor light always keep the sensor window clean, and the shrubs and trees trimmed.


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- How to Adjust Motion Sensor Lights -

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