DIY Project: Automating porch lights

Most of us, homeowners, are accustomed to a routine of turning the outdoor lights on for the night and turning them back off in the morning. Now remember how many times did you forget to turn those lights off in the morning while rushing off to work? Not so green, huh?

How could we fix it? Here are two easy DIY solutions for you…

Solution #1: Automate the routine.

Screw-in photocell light control
Screw-in photocell light control

There are different models of light sensors available out there. They have small photocell elements that let electric current run through when the ambient light drops to a predetermined level and turn the connected lights off when the sun goes up. This easy solution will save you a chore trip to a wall switch twice a day and will make sure that your house is lighted at night even when you are away on vacation (which compliments the security system. Don’t have one yet? Check out SecureLinc Family Kit).

Solution #2: No motion, no light.

While it might look good and friendly to have your house shining like a Christmas tree all night, it wastes lots of precious energy (and your green bucks) every single day. So, why light your door if there’s no one around? There’s a solution for this.

EagleEye motion sensor
EagleEye motion sensor

You are most certainly aware of motion-sensing floodlights. And though we would definitely not want to greet our guests with a beam of floodlights in their eyes, we might consider using the same kind of motion sensing to turn our porch fixture on and off. This approach is in a way similar to the DIY Project: Automating staircase lighting we’ve posted before. Check that article for the bridge and switch models that go along with the motion sensor you chose. The idea is to install a wireless motion sensor (or several of those on the perimeter of your house) to trigger one or more lights.

The wireless sensors have limited range and angle of detection, so make sure you check these parameters when selecting the hardware. Also make sure the sensor is weather-proof and rated for outdoor use. For example, EagleEye (MS16A) sensor (pictured above) has 20 ft wireless range and the dawn/dusk feature, so lights only come on when its dark and turn off when there’s light. And it covers area 90° horizontally and 30° vertically in a 20 ft motion detection range.

Now, outdoor motion sensors are not 100% accurate, so don’t be alarmed if lights go off when there’s no one around (unless you live in a ninja populated neighbourhood). The reason for that is that most motion sensors use passive infrared technology that reacts to sudden temperature changes. So a strong blow of warm air might trip it off. Some sensors are more sensitive then others and some allow to make adjustments to sensitivity. Some are pet-immune, and some are not. I used to have the chime controlled by the outdoor motion sensor to know when there’s someone approaching the door, but false alarms in the middle of the night drove me away from that otherwise convenient set-up.

Enforcer IR beam sensor
Enforcer IR beam sensor

There are other more reliable alternatives to passive infrared sensors, like IR beam motion detectors (like those you trip while entering some stores). They shine an invisible IR beam between two modules (transmitter and receiver) that could be placed in a line of sight up to 130 feet apart. And whenever someone breaks the beam the sensor trips off. Those beam systems have a down side as well, they are easy to avoid, just step above or below it and it will not detect your presence, while passive IR sensors create a sort of three-dimensional grid that is much harder to bypass.

As usual, please let me know in the comments if you have other ideas or questions. Or tweet me @rusgrafx.

About Ruslan Ulanov 103 Articles
Ruslan Ulanov is a software engineer by day and Smart Home hacker by night. He got fascinated by potential of home automation over a decade ago, when it was available to select few. Over the years experimented with smart products using different technologies from X10 to Insteon to ZigBee. Actively supports new smart home developments on Kickstarter and Indiegogo.

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