How to Adjust Motion Sensor Lights

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You can adjust outdoor lights -- whether they are security floodlights or a decorative coach lamp -- to get just the results you want from the motion detection feature. The controls on major brands available allow you to calibrate the motion sensors in terms of sensitivity, the area monitored and how long a triggered light stays on.

Motion sensors work by scanning the environment, often detecting both passive-infrared, or PIR, and microwave radiation, as a dual technology while providing design tweaks to screen out false alarms from pets.

Test Phase

Test your light after installation by first switching on the circuit breaker and the switch to the detector, if present.

Step 1

Wait 90 seconds to allow the unit to warm up.

Step 2

Carefully mount a ladder to give yourself a clear view of the bottom of the sensor module under the bulb holders. Push the "Time" selector all the way left, to the position labeled "Test." This allows the unit to be tested in daylight. Follow the manufacturer's instructions for other settings; the "Range" control may also need to be at "Minimum" and other selectors set to "Off."

Step 3

Adjust the sensor so that it doesn't point toward triggers such as air conditioners, heating vents and pathways highly trafficked by pets, vehicles or people. With a screwdriver, turn the metal or plastic clamp screw counterclockwise to loosen the ball joint and rotate or pivot the sensor toward a neutral coverage area. Keep the sensor 2 inches or more away from the bulbs.

Step 4

Loosen the bulb holder clamps manually, point the bulb holders in the approximate direction needed and retighten the clamps.

Step 5

Gently tighten the sensor clamp screw temporarily and descend the ladder to test the light. Walk in arcs in front of the sensor, watching the bulbs come on and also, for many models, a red LED light on the sensor come on.


Adjust the sensor, and then the bulb holders, toward the ground for more limited coverage and upward for lighting a greater area. Move them right or left to change your detection zone or illumination area. Tighten the clamps and screws once you are happy with the results.

Step 6

Twist the range control clockwise to go from "minimum" to "maximum" and back, until you have the range that the sensor will monitor satisfactorily. Lower settings may focus on areas within 15 feet of the sensor, and maximum settings up to 75 to 100 feet.


Step 1

Press the "On-Time" switch to the desired number of minutes you'd like a triggered bulb to stay on. Typical options include one, five and 20 minutes. Your selection will end the "Test" phase.

Step 2

Adjust the "Dual-Brite" feature if present to keep the bulbs on a certain amount of time after dusk. Typical options include "Off," "3 Hours," "6 Hours" and "Dusk-to-Dawn."

Step 3

Adjust the switch controlling the motion sensor light to have it stay on full brightness for one full night. Switch the light off at the wall and count off four seconds for Defiant's models and one second for a typical Heath Zenith, then switch it back on. After sunrise, the unit will revert from the manual mode to motion-sensing mode.


You can find specific details for your motion sensor light by consulting the manufacturer's support website, such for Heathco Products, makers of Heath Zenith -- this manufacturer also offers instructional videos, including one on operating modes and setup. Other companies, such as Defiant and Lithonia, also provide product instructions on their websites.


Rogue Parrish

An award-winning writer and editor, Rogue Parrish has worked at the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun and at newspapers from England to Alaska. This world adventurer and travel book author, who graduates summa cum laude in journalism from the University of Maryland, specializes in travel and food -- as well as sports and fitness. She's also a property manager and writes on DIY projects.