How to Choose the Best Motion Detector Lights

Published: 14th November 2011
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If you are looking for a simple solution to light up areas of the exterior your home after dusk, installing motion detector lights is an inexpensive, fast and easy answer. This type of outdoor security lighting is perfect for lighting up dark pathways, remote areas of your yard and garage.

The way this type of security system works is also simple: as a person or object passes through an infrared or laser light, the motion sensor lamp(s) activate. Should the person or object remain active in the detection area, the light will remain switched on. When motion is no longer detected, or the person or object exits the detection area, the light will switch off after a predetermined period of time.

How Do Motion Activated Lights Work?

Outdoor motion sensor lights detect infrared rays through the use of small electronic eyes. The infrared rays measure heat waves radiating from any moving object. As warm objects (e.g. cars, animals, people) move through the detection field, the lights automatically switch on.

How long these lights remain on is determined by how long the timer of the light fixture is preset. Unless the sensor continues to sense movement within its field of range, the light automatically shuts off.

Most motion sensor outdoor lighting systems have a 240 degree semicircular field of view and a maximum distance range of 70 feet. A common problem many people experience with these lights are nuisance trips. Cars driving by and even the passing of leaves can switch the lights or floodlights on. Not only is this annoying to both the homeowner and neighbors, but also is the very reason some people refuse to install motion detector lights.

But this problem can rectified by doing 2 things:

(i) adjusting the light's distance-range setting and/or,
(ii) limiting the sensor's field of view by aiming it more carefully or by applying tape to it.

Most motion detectors also allow users to work the light manually. Typically this is done by turning the light switch off for a second and then switching it back on. What this will do is leave the light on continuously. In order to return back to an automatic setting, all that is required is to double flip the switch a second time.

How To Choose the Best Outside Motion Sensor Lights

In order to choose the best outdoor motion detector lights for your enjoyment and security needs, you have to carefully consider three main factors:

(1) How far away do you want your motion detector to sense movement prior to switching the light on?

If your main goal for installing a motion sensor lighting system is security, then sensing distance is going be a key factor in which model you choose to purchase. In fact, this is what the highest quality outdoor motion sensors are best at doing. LED and halogen lights are the best choices for this objective.

If your goal is merely to light up pathways or for decorative landscape lighting, then you may simply want to purchase less expensive, but also less powerful motion sensor lights. Solar powered, portable, and compact fluorescent lights are typically going to be your best bet for lighting decks, porches, and garages.

(2) How wide of an area do you want your motion sensor to detect?

Coverage width (or the detection area as measured in degrees) is another very important factor to consider. You can't do any better than a full circle (360 degrees) coverage area. This will leave you with no areas that go undetected by the sensor of your security lights.

However, if your motion detector is mounted against an outdoor wall, a half circle (180 degrees) may be sufficient.

(3) How bright do you want your motion sensor lights to shine?

Since bulbs within high quality motion sensors can handle up to 300 watts or more, this should be seriously considered before making a purchase. Again, if your main goal is security, you may want lamps that shine this brightly.

But if your goal is mainly for aesthetic purposes, you may want to consider a design that features bulbs with a maximum bulb power of 150-300 watts.

Here are some additional things for you consider:

(a) If choosing a motion sensor outdoor security light, do you want the fixture to have sockets for CFL bulbs, incandescent bulbs, or quartz halogen lights?

(b) Does the unit have a photocell to prevent against switching on during daylight hours?

(c) Does the fixture feature two brightness levels?

For general illumination purposes, a good outside motion sensor will feature a timer-based medium brightness level for the hours between dusk and dawn (or 3-6 hours after dusk).

Alternatively, it should feature a high brightness level when motion is detected.

Solar-Powered Motion Detector Lights

Should you decide to use solar motion detector lights, there are a few things to consider:


(1) They require no electrical wiring and are simple to install.
(2) If the electricity goes out, they will still work.


(1) Solar panels require direct sunlight. If the panels are set in shaded areas, the fixture will not work well. Additionally, solar-powered outdoor lights do not work well during winter months or when it is raining.

(2) You will need to replace the rechargeable batteries every few years.

(3) They have limited brightness and power.

Battery-Powered Motion Sensor Lights

If battery-powered motion detector lights are something you are considering, here are a few points to consider:

(1) Most are easy to install with double-sided tape because of their small, lightweight design.

(2) They are most suitable for low traffic areas like fence gates, deck steps and garages.

(3) Use LED (light emitting diode) lights to conserve the life of the battery.

(4) One last point is to look for a fixture that maximizes energy capacity through the use of AA or AAA batteries. Those that use button or coin cell batteries will need to be replaced more frequently.

When searching for the best motion detector lights, keep in mind the your specific requirements. The right lamp and sensor combination will depend on knowing your particular wiring limitations and usage scenario.

Choosing the right Motion Activated Lights involves a bit of time and reading. A great place to start looking for all sorts of Outdoor Lighting is the Internet.

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