Installing a motion sensor light is one of the simplest ways to deter burglars from targeting your home. Even if you already have one of the best home security systems, a light which comes on when someone approaches your home adds another layer of protection. This is a particularly important measure to take if you're often away at night.
If you're thinking about installing a motion sensor light, you, of course, want the best one you can find that will also fit your budget, just as you would when shopping for the best smoke detector or home security companies. In this guide, I'll give you a breakdown of how to select the right one for you, as well as the top motion sensor lights available in the online marketplace.
The Best Motion Sensor Light - In This Guide
How Does a Motion Sensor Light Work?
The sensor inside a motion-activated light is basically a little electronic eye. Most motion sensor lights use a PIR - pyroelectric (or passive) infrared sensor. PIR detects moving objects by sensing a change in temperature caused by the amount of infrared energy in its field of view. This change in what the sensor detects then triggers the light to come on.
Motion Sensor Light: What to Consider
You have a variety of factors to consider when it comes to choosing an outdoor motion sensor light. Your decision will depend upon your intended use. Here are some things to take into consideration as you compare motion sensor lights:
- Brightness: What is your main goal in installing motion sensor lights? Different brightness levels serve different purposes. Safety lights are typically on the dimmer side and may illuminate areas such as the driveway, walkway, or front porch. To scare away intruders, you may want motion sensor flood lights for the yard and other broad areas. Bulb type also influences brightness; I'll cover that topic in more depth later on in this guide.
- Field of View: Much like home security camera systems, motion sensor lights detect movement within a defined area, typically between 90° and 180°. Some lights do have a wider field of view. The right one for you depends upon whether you're mounting in an inside corner, on a flat surface, or on the outside corner of a structure.
- Range: This is the distance at which your motion sensor detects movement. A range of under 10 feet is fine for, say, the front porch, whereas if you're seeking security for a large yard you'll want a longer range.
- Customizable Timing: Some motion sensor lights are programmable. You can widen or restrict the field of view, as well as choose how long you want the bulb to stay lit once activated (typically between 10 seconds and 20 minutes). Of course, this type of light is usually more expensive.
Obviously, if you're going to use your light outdoors you want to make sure it's weatherproof as well. Once you know what you're looking for, you'll be able to take a well-informed approach to your outdoor motion sensor light comparison.
Motion Sensor Light Types
Your options aren't finished once you've decided on the functional details. There are multiple types of motion sensor lights to choose from in terms of style, installation, and power source.
Motion Sensor Light Styles
You've got several choices when it comes to your light's aesthetics:
- Decorative - these are typically lower powered safety lights, such as porch lamps. The benefit is that they're available in attractive styles and colors that will blend in more easily with your outdoor decor.
- Spotlight - this style is fairly self-explanatory. It's usually round and may be mounted either on a structure or on the ground in front of your home.
- Flood - motion sensor flood lights may be round or rectangular and offer more brightness than other security lights. This style is also available with multiple bulbs for even greater power.
There are many sizes and power levels in each of these styles, giving you virtually limitless options to fit your needs.
Motion Sensor Light Power Sources
There are five main options when it comes to powering your outdoor security lights:
- Battery-powered - these range from small safety lights to more powerful security lights. They may require anything from AAA batteries to D, and sometimes custom rechargeable batteries.
- Solar-powered - solar motion sensor lights are a great option if you're looking for a wireless solution. There are no batteries to replace and no wiring to install.
- Hard-wired - this is the most complicated installation option, however, you won't have to worry about replacing batteries or your light getting enough sun exposure to charge. It's also the most effective option if you want the brightest light possible. Another advantage of hard-wired motion sensor lights is that you can hook them up to a light switch inside the house, giving you maximum control over when they operate.
- Plug-in - you may want to reserve these for a backyard or garage since the cord could lend an unsightly appearance to this type of outdoor motion sensor light. On the upside, plug-ins give you the power of a hard-wired security light without the need for an electrician.
- Sockets - the motion sensor light socket is a handy little gadget which screws right into your standard socket. You then screw the bulb of your choice into the motion-sensing socket and, just like that, you've got an effective motion-activated light.
It's important to understand bulb types and how the brightness ratings work so that you can choose the appropriate one for your outdoor motion sensor light.
The level of brightness you need as well as the placement should guide your decision on which type of motion-activated light to install.
Motion Sensor Light Bulb Types
I'd bet you never thought that choosing a motion sensor light could be so involved, however, there's yet another matter to settle before deciding on the right one for you. There are several kinds of bulbs available, varying in brightness and energy consumption. It's important to understand bulb types and how the brightness ratings work so that you can choose the appropriate one for your outdoor motion sensor light.
What Kind of Bulb Should You Use?
The three bulbs you will most often see in motion sensor lights are:
According to the U.S. Department of Energy, halogen bulbs will save you 25% over traditional incandescents, while LEDs will save you 75 - 80%. You may be wondering why CFLs aren't included in this list. While they are some of the most energy-efficient bulbs available, CFLs don't work well in motion sensor lights. This is because they require warm-up time (which obviously doesn't lend itself to startling trespassers), and the frequent on/off cycles burn them out too quickly.
What Is the Difference Between Watts and Lumens?
Although it's easy to be confused by these two numbers you see on light bulb packaging, the difference between them is actually quite simple. Wattage refers to the amount of energy a bulb draws, while lumens indicates the brightness level. This is why you might see a powerful LED bulb which is rated at what seems to be a very low wattage. CNET provides a simple conversion chart for figuring out how LEDs compare to traditional bulb wattage.
If you use a bulb rated at a higher wattage than the fixture, this can create a fire hazard.
Follow the Instructions on the Light
When you buy a motion sensor light, the instructions should tell you which types of bulbs can be used in the device as well as the wattage it can handle. It's crucial that you follow these instructions, particularly when it comes to maximum wattage. If you use a bulb rated at a higher wattage than the fixture, this can create a fire hazard. Many motion sensor lights are able to handle multiple types of bulbs, just be sure to check before installing a different type than what came with the product.
The Best Motion Sensor Light
Here are my picks for the top five outdoor motion sensor lights.
RAB Lighting STL360HBW
- 180° field of view outward and 360° downward
- Continuously scanning LEDs
- Programmable time delay between five seconds and 12 minutes
- Adjustable sensitivity between 100% and 30%
- Corrosion resistant
- High price point
- Uses least energy-efficient bulbs (incandescent)
The Super Stealth is a solid example of why RAB is a well-respected name in security lighting. If you're looking for pure power accompanied by a host of features, this outdoor motion sensor flood light is the answer. It is a bit spendy and requires hard wiring.
- Budget friendly
- No wires or batteries
- Energy-efficient LED bulbs
- Lightweight for easy installation
- Compact (4.5" x 3.3" x 1.6")
- Short detection range (three meters)
- No adjustable timing
The Frostfire is a simple, straightforward, and very affordable motion sensor light option. Solar power means no fussing with cords or batteries, and LED bulbs offer bright, energy-saving illumination. It's worth noting, however, that although this product is labeled as waterproof, reviewers indicate that it's best to treat any vulnerable seams with silicone sealant.
Mr Beams MB330 Review
- Completely wireless for fast installation
- Energy-saving LED bulbs
- 30-foot detection range
- Requires three D batteries
- No adjustable timing (auto-shutoff after 30 seconds)
This budget-friendly motion sensor spotlight is sleek, effective, and easy to install. While it does require batteries, the manufacturer claims that they will only need replacing about once a year with average use. The circular beam is ideal for areas where you want localized illumination, such as entryways or in front of the garage.
MAXSA Innovations 40218
- 180° field of view
- 40-foot detection range
- Solar powered
- Dual LED bulbs - 160 total lumens
- Amorphous solar panel (charges in sun and clouds)
- Moderately high price point
- Solar panel batteries rated to last only two to three years
- Best for small areas
The Maxsa Innovations 40218 is a good option if you're looking to light up a localized area. It comes with plenty of customizable settings, and with solar power, you won't have to spend a long time on installation.
Mr. Beams MBN3000 Review
- Dual LEDs for 500 lumens
- Wireless - fast installation
- Detection range to 30 feet
- Networked lights communicate with each other
- 800 square-foot coverage area
- Moderately pricey
- Requires four D batteries
- No adjustable timing or sensitivity
The NetBright boasts a 4.5-star Amazon rating and a one-year warranty. Undoubtedly the best thing about this wireless motion sensor light, however, is its ability to be networked with additional lights of the same model. This means that when one light comes on, they all come on, giving you an added layer of security.
Motion Sensor Light: Recap
According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, more than two-thirds of burglaries occur when no one is home. The cover of night offers the ideal opportunity for a would-be criminal. However, motion sensor lights are a simple and affordable way to deter intruders before they get a chance to carry out their plans. They're also a great way to increase safety and convenience for your family by lighting up important areas when you arrive home.
Whether you go with battery-operated lights or a complete hard-wired system, you'll find that you get multiple benefits from installing motion-activated lighting. While you're working on protecting your property, check out the best home security systems. You can never be too careful when it comes to your family's safety and peace of mind.