How to Adjust Motion Sensor Lights
Tips for Adjusting Motion Activated Light
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
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.
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
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.
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
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
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