Should I Leave My Porch Lights on at Night?

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Security experts usually advise against leaving your porch lights on at night.
Image Credit: karamysh/iStock/Getty Images

Of all the reasons for leaving on a porch light at night, personal safety and property protection are probably the two most common, but whether that light should burn straight through to the crack of dawn is another matter and a question many homeowners would do well to ask. Most security experts advise against it — and not just because they're concerned about your electric bill.

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Even though leaving on a porch light at night can be beneficial, it's smart to consider whether a long-burning light is throwing a wrench in the works of home security.

Why Turn Them On?

The warm glow of a porch light is inviting, offering atmosphere for cozy gatherings, welcoming expected guests and serving to identify your property for those seeking it for the first time.

They don't just illuminate — they communicate. Like Paul Revere's lanterns in the Old North Church, your porch light can serve as a predetermined signal worked out with others: "If it's on, I'm home," or "If it's on, I need help." Whatever you want conveyed is there with a flip of the switch for anyone in the loop who is looking out for it. You might even celebrate holidays and proclaim which causes you care to support by displaying colored bulbs.

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Keeping your family and your home safe is probably why you pop on the porch light more than any other reason. It's just that many people have formed bad habits, turning them on when they shouldn't and leaving them on for too long. You might keep your light burning until dawn or leave it on for the duration of an out-of-town trip. These are not such great ideas.

Why Keep Them Off?

Some reasons for killing the porch light are only mildly concerning, such as common courtesy. In some cases, a porch light left burning all night can annoy neighbors with its brightness. Then, there's the bug attraction problem that begins with swatting evening swarms and ends with sweeping crunchy carcasses. Finally, there's the electricity usage. Minimizing use of a porch light is something to consider if you're trying to save money on your bill.

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The most important issue surrounding use of your porch light, though, is that leaving it shining all night can throw a wrench in the works of a home security plan. Turn it off when you go to bed. Most burglaries occur during the day when lighting isn't a factor anyway. Besides, a light that's on all night doesn't create the impression that you're home. Leaving it on when you're out of town is also a bad idea. It will shine all day, proclaiming that there was no one home to turn it off at daybreak.

Surprisingly, those who live in rural areas are advised by security experts to adopt a lights-out mindset, even though they're away from city lights and surrounded by darkness. A burning porch light attracts attention and simply gives intruders the light that aids their approach and helps them see what they're doing when they get there, with no fear of nearby neighbors spotting them because there often aren't any.

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When To Let Them Shine

Beyond just turning it on briefly when you're expecting someone or when you're running in and out at night on your property, it's fine to leave your porch light burning throughout the evening if you're home and indoor lights are on. Leaving a light on when you go out for the evening or when someone else is expected home after dark is also generally a good idea. It makes for fast and safe entry to the house when there's no need to fish for keys in the dark.

Smarter Security Solutions

Still prevalent though they are, gone are the days when a single porch light pulling security duty was the only option for outdoor lighting. Basic motion-detector technology has been around for a while and is invaluable, but a key element in burglary prevention involves simply having a presence in the home, the illusion of which can be created nowadays with interior-lighting timers and various remote-controlled smart products. The key is to give careful thought to setting the timers and controlling the smart devices so there's an appearance of natural, sequential activity taking place inside.

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Indiana University graduate, writer and DIY enthusiast Kynnie Kerry creates and markets high-end home softgoods and painted furniture treatments and has hands-on experience with home maintenance and remodeling projects — floor to ceiling — concept to completion.