How to Use a Motion Sensor to Control Outdoor Lights

If you have an outdoor light that is controlled by a switch, you might want that light to be activated by a motion detector. That way the light will go on when it is most needed--when somebody is moving outside it in the dark. You'll need to decide what kind of motion detector to buy, since they are available in varying degrees of sensitivity. The installation is not that difficult, since you can use the box and wires that supply electricity to the existing light.

Install a motion sensor

It's important to illuminate high-traffic areas outside your home at night.
  1. Turn off the electrical breaker for the outdoor light. Remove the light bulb if necessary. Unscrew mounting bolts that hold the light to the existing electrical box.

  2. Unfasten the wire nuts that connect the electrical wires to the light, noting how each wire is connected. Set the old light and mounting screws aside.

  3. Mount a new electrical box 6 to 12 inches beside the existing electrical box, by fastening it to the wall with screws. Cut a length of 12/2 gauge wire, about 12 inches longer than the distance from box to box.

  4. Strip off about 5 inches of the outside plastic shielding from both ends of the 12/2 gauge wire. Strip off about 3/4 inches of insulation from both the white and black wires, at both ends of the 12/2 wire.

  5. Insert one end of the 12/2 wire into a slot in the rear of the new electrical box. Pull those stripped wires forward and dangle them out of the box. Insert the other end of the 12/2 wire into a slot in the rear of the old electrical box. Pull those wires forward and dangle them out of the box.

  6. Connect the old light to the new wires in the new electrical box, with new yellow wire nuts, connecting the wires in the same way they were connected earlier. Screw the light to the new box, and fasten the light bulb.

  7. Connect the motion detector wires to the light and to the source electricity as described in the motion detector installation manual, using wire nuts. (Each motion detector's wiring is different, so take care to follow the instructions.) Fasten the motion detector securely to the old box, using the screws that are supplied.

  8. Fasten the 12/2 wire to the wall with wire staples. Turn on the circuit breaker.

Remove the old wall light switch (optional)

  1. Turn off the breaker. Unscrew the cover to the light switch box. Remove the cover.

  2. Unscrew the two screws holding the switch to the box. Pull the switch out and unscrew the wires from the switch.

  3. Fasten both black electrical wires together with a wire nut. Fasten both white wires together with a wire nut. Fasten both copper wires together with a wire nut. (Some of these wires may already be fastened with wire nuts; if so, leave them as you find them.)

  4. Press wires back into the electrical box. Cover the electrical box with a new face plate with no hole. Turn the breaker back on.

About the Author

James Werning has authored books and articles on various websites. His scripts have aired for more than 15 years on radio stations across North America. He is a small business owner and a world traveler with a master's degree in communications from the University of Edinburgh, Scotland.