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Wiring a Photocell for an Outdoor Light Fixture

By Dave Rongey - Summary:

How to Wire a Photocell Control to an Outside Light Fixture: Matching a Photocell to an Outdoor Light Fixture, Example of Wiring a 120Volt Photocell.

How to Wire a Photocell

Electrical Question: I would like control an outside light with a photo cell.

Wiring a 1000 Watt Outdoor Light

  • The light is now wired for 240 volts and would like to switch it on and off with a photo cell.
  • I have a photocell and was just wondering do you switch just one leg to shut it on and off and if that is the case why is a 240 volt photo cell needed?
  • Each leg is 120 volts just looking for some understanding.

This electrical question came from: Joe, a Handyman from Branch, Michigan.

Dave’s Answer:

Thanks for your electrical wiring question Joe.

Photocell Control for Outside Lights

Application: Wiring a Photocell to control Outside Lights.
Skill Level: Intermediate to Advanced – Best installed by a Licensed Electrician.
Tools Required: Basic Electricians Pouch Hand Tools and Voltage Tester.
Estimated Time: Depends on personal level experience and ability to work with tools.
Precaution: Identify the light circuit, turn it OFF and Tag it with a Note before working with the timer switch wiring.
Notice: Installing additional fixture wiring should be done according to local and national electrical codes with a permit and be inspected.
Materials: Make sure the timer switch has the same amperage and voltage rating as the original switch, and is fully compatible with the electrical circuit, the light fixture and the type of light bulbs being used.

Wiring a Photocell Control for an Outside Light Fixture

Matching a Photocell to an Outdoor Light Fixture

  • There are applications where a 240 volt load can be switched on and off using just one leg of power, but I would not advise it unless it is a built in control circuit of the equipment.
  • The photocell to control your 1000 watt outdoor light fixture needs 240 volts to operate the photo cell, and because the 240 volt circuit does not have a neutral you cannot use a 120 volt photocell which does require a neutral.
  • The solution is to get a photocell that matches the voltage configuration you have wired the outside light fixture for, and wire it according to the diagram.
  • Photocells are available for most voltages and various watt or electrical circuit load requirements.

Photocell Basics: How a Photocell Operates
A photocell is basically an automatic switch that is controlled by sunlight during the daytime, and darkness during the night. The change from light to dark automatically activates the photocell to turn on the light fixtures that are wired to it.

Example of Wiring a 120Volt Photocell

  • The Electric Circuit and Line Wiring Connections
    A typical photocell requires circuit wiring connection which would include the green ground wire, white neutral wire and the black circuit power wire.
  • The Load Wiring Connection
    The Load wiring of the photocell is typically where the black wire that leads to the light fixture is connected to the Red wire of the photocell.
  • Remaining Light Fixture Wires
    The white neutral wire and the ground wire of the light fixture connect to the white neutral wire and the ground wire of the photocell.

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6 Responses to “Wiring a Photocell for an Outdoor Light Fixture”
  1. Vickie bourque says:

    We purchased two outside wall lanterns to replace our current light fixtures. The new lights have built in photo cells, and our current wiring has a built in photo cell as well. Do we need to tape a wire off?

    • Dave Rongey says:

      Great question Vickie,
      In a case like this the photocells in each light fixture could be disconnected, however there really should not be a problem, except for a slight delay of the lights coming on after the main photocell turns on the circuit to the outside lights. If there is a problem then you could wire past each photocell and connect directly to the wires of the light sockets. Use electrical tape or wire connectors to cap off the disconnected wires.

      I hope this helps you,

  2. emmie says:

    I bought a photocell for mounting outdoor. Could you please send me wringing diagram?

    • Dave Rongey says:

      Hi Emmie,
      The voltage of the photocell as well as the make and model will need to be identified and the country where the photocell is to be installed for an accurate wiring diagram.

  3. Isaac Howser says:

    I have a friend that wants to hook a photocell up in place of a time clock how is this done

    • Dave Rongey says:

      Hi Isaac,
      A photo cell is wired just like a switch, only it needs a neutral. Photocells may also be used with a time clock if the lights should turn OFF at a special time, but accurately turn ON at dusk, very energy saving.


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