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November 24, 2020
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Motion Sensor Outdoor Lighting - Types and Installation Tips

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Looking for information about motion sensor outdoor lighting?

Most people in the market for this type of lighting have security concerns as a primary motivation for implementing this integral component of a home security system. This landscape lighting component is typically used to illuminate outdoor pathways, front porch lights, fences, gates, stairwells and driveways as a deterrence against crime, theft and other feared mischief.

Motion sensor outdoor lighting works off a pretty simple premise: the fixtures turn on when motion is detected (sensed) and turn themselves off after a fixed period of time. In order for the sensor to turn on, an object merely needs to move through the signal of the sensor. Once this occurs, the signal emitted from the fixture reflects back to the sensor, thereby turning the light on.

Pre-wired outdoor lighting kits are available at most home-improvement stores that make the installation process a fairly simple do-it-yourself project. Many of these motion sensor outdoor lighting systems also contain a feature that allows the user to manually operate the fixtures. Most fixtures accept flood light or halogen bulbs, both of which are widely available at home super-stores and inexpensive to replace. You can even find solar powered lights for motion sensor outdoor lighting.

What all this means is that incorporating motion sensor lights into an overall home security system can be a rather cost-effective way to ensure light is always available in strategically mapped areas of the property.

Types of Motion Sensor Lights

Motion sensors come in 2 main varieties - active and passive sensors. The majority of lights used in an outdoor lighting system employ a passive sensor to detect motion.

(i) Active sensors - work by emitting energy (i.e. light, microwaves or sound) into the environment for the purpose of detecting movement within its field of range. When an object comes into range of this energy emission, the energy is reflected back, triggering a response. The response ranges from setting off an alarm, turning on lights to opening an automatic door.

The most common example of where an active sensor is employed is in the opening and closing of garage doors. When a body or vehicle enters/breaks/interrupts the beam emitted by the sensor, the door will either open or close. If a body enters the sensor's range when the door is coming down, the door will automatically reverse its course.

(ii) Passive sensors - or Passive Infrared Sensors (PIR), work by detecting infrared energy (infra refers to being below a human's ability to visually sense, and red refers to the lowest color humans can see). More specifically, passive sensors detect abrupt changes of infrared energy and measure the wavelengths of these changes in micrometers. The human skin emits infrared energy in the 9-10 micrometer range. So most motion sensor lights implemented in landscape lighting systems are set to bracket this range.

Just make sure the detection threshold is not set at too low of a number. Should this happen, you may find yourself with lights that turn themselves on by the appearance of cats, raccoons and other small animals. Day temperature and wind-blown branches and debris can also trigger the sensor's response should the detection threshold be set too low.

What passive infrared sensors actually measure is a change of temperature within its field of range. The average human skin temperature is roughly 93 degrees Fahrenheit (34 degrees Celsius). When a person passes through the sensor's energy field, his or her body temperature is generally higher than that of any other object within its range. This change in temperature is what triggers the response of the detector. For this reason, sensors should not be placed near a venting system. Hot air from vents and cold air from air conditioning can cause the sensors to detect a change in temperature and produce the undesired response of turning the light on.

Installation Tips

As stated above, the installation of motion sensor outdoor lighting can be a do-it-yourself project. If this happens to be one of your first home-improvement projects, or your first time working with outside lights, there a few simple, but important key points to understand.

If your outdoor lighting kit requires to be hooked up to a power source, it's imperative to shut down the part of the fuse box that controls power to the area you will be working in. To make things even safer, seriously consider turning off power to the whole house and either locking the fuse box or covering it with masking or electrical tape (with instructions to leave the power off) to prevent it from accidentally being turned back on by someone else in the house.

Once you know that you are safe-guarded against the misfortune of electrocution, you can move on to the important matter of where to position the fixtures. In addition to keeping the fixtures away from air vents, they should be positioned facing away from windows (sunlight reflecting from the windows can trigger the sensor's response).

Make sure the fixture's openings are securely fastened to prevent air currents or bugs from entering the sensor area and triggering an unwelcome response. On top of all this, make sure the area covered by the passive infrared sensors corresponds to the actual area it covers.


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