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“Do It Yourself” Motion Sensor Lighting Tips for Your Landscape

outdoor lighting at night

Motion sensor lights are an essential component of any landscape lighting design. They are often overlooked because they don’t offer the beauty and majesty of an elegant lighting design, but they are very important for safety reasons.

Motion sensor lighting will illuminate walkways, paths, gates, stairways, and any other area where safety is a top priority. They not only serve to light the yard, but also act as a deterrent to crime and theft.

Motion sensor landscape lighting powers on when the sensors detect movement. Once the sensor detects a signal in its range, it will power on until the signal is no longer detected and a period of time has elapsed, at which time it will shut off.


Installing motion sensor lighting is not difficult. You can purchase pre-wired outdoor lighting kits at your local home improvement or hardware store. The kits are inexpensive and replacement bulbs are easy to replace. If you are interested in a “green” landscape, research your options for solar motion sensor lighting.


Motion sensor lighting is available in two types of sensors: active and passive. Though most of the motion sensors you find in a landscape design are passive, active sensors are also beneficial for specific functions.


Active sensors are often used in garage door openers since they detect active movement. When your vehicle interrupts the beam, the garage door will either open or close depending on whether your vehicle is nearby. If your car was stuck under the door while it was closing, the beam would detect it and the garage door would automatically open once again.

The active sensor emits energy into its surroundings to detect any movement. Once movement is detected, the energy is reflected back to the sensor, resulting in a particular action. In the above example, the garage door would open or close.


The passive sensor is similar to the active sensor in that it detects movement; however, the level of movement is at a much smaller scale. In fact, these sensors detect infrared energy changes which are as small as the energy emitted by your skin. Passive sensors constitute the majority of the motion sensor lighting seen in homeowners’ landscapes.


Since your passive sensor will detect small frequencies, it may pick up on unwanted movements like a raccoon or stray cat scurrying through the yard. Wind can blow branches in front of the sensor and cause the light to go on and off incessantly as well. Temperature changes can also set off the motion sensor. For these reasons, adjust the sensor to an appropriate range so as not to trigger it too often.

Also, do not install sensors near any venting system since the temperature sets it off. When you walk near a motion sensor light, the beam is detecting the change in temperature given off by your body heat. The heat or air from vents can result in unwanted light flickering.


  • Shut down the power to the area in which you are working. You can also shut down the power to the entire house. Make sure to let other people in your household know you are working on the lighting and you need the power to stay off during installation.
  • Position the lights away from any air vents.
  • Keep the lights away from the area around the windows since sunlight can reflect off the window and trigger the sensor.
  • Check all openings to ensure the light is tightly fastened so no debris or bugs enter the sensor area.

Have you ever installed motion sensor lighting in your yard? Please provide any helpful tips!