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How to Fix a Dusk to Dawn Lighting Problem

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Guide to Outdoor Dusk to Dawn Light Fixture Problems and How to Fix Them
Electrical Question: I have an outside light fixture that has an insert to make it operate for the dusk to dawn feature.

Received from Pat a Homeowner in Kenosha, Wisconsin.

Dave’s Reply:
Thanks for your electrical wiring question Pat.

How to Fix a Dusk to Dawn Lighting Problem with a CFL Lamp

dusk to dawn light

Application: Outdoor Dusk to Dawn Light Fixture Repair.
Skill Level: Beginner to Intermediate. This electrical work is best performed by a Licensed Electrical Contractor.
Tools Required: Basic Hand Tools and Safe Ladder.
Estimated Time: Depends on personal experience, the light fixture and access to the light fixture.
Precaution: Identify the light fixture circuit, turn it OFF and Tag it with a Note before working with the wiring or installing an insert.

The Most Common Problems with a CFL Dusk to Dawn Fluorescent Light and How to Fix Them

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Electrician Explains How to Wire a Motion Light with a Security Camera.

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How to Install Motion Detectors for Outdoor Lighting, Driveway Lighting and Security Lighting.

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How to Install Outdoor Motion Fixtures and security Light Fixtures.

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The Non-Contact Electrical Tester
This is a testing tool that I have had in my personal electrical tool pouch for years, and is the first test tool I grab to help identify electrical wiring. It is a Non-contact tester that I use to easily Detect Voltage in Cables, Cords, Circuit Breakers, Lighting Fixtures, Switches, Outlets and Wires. Simply insert the end of the tester into an outlet, lamp socket, or hold the end of the tester against the wire you wish to test. Very handy and easy to use.

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FAQs Frequently Asked Questions and Comments

38 Responses to “How to Fix a Dusk to Dawn Lighting Problem”
  1. Dave Rongey says:

    Hi Tony,
    If the light fixture has a ballast then that is one component that can become faulty. A replacement ballast will be required if the the existing one is found to be faulty.
    I hope this helps,

  2. TONY says:

    I have a dusk to dawn light mounted on my garage outside wall and it will not turn on. I replaced the bulb and the sensor which I got from an electrical supply store. They are now saying it may be the ballast. What do you think?

  3. Dave Rongey says:

    Hi Larry,
    From what you have described, it may be that a component is faulty possibly due to excessive moisture. If after a period of dry weather the fixture does not return to normal operation then the faulty component will need to be replaced. Also make sure the light fixture is properly installed with weather proof gaskets as provided with the fixture and securely fitted to the surface to prevent water leaks.
    I hope this helps,

  4. Larry says:

    I have a dusk to dawn LED light with motion detector. I just noticed after a pretty good rain storm that my LED light was flashing rapidly like 3 times a second during the day. Now it is night and the light is not on. Could this be a faulty light sensor?
    Thanks Larry

  5. Anthony Scopelliti says:

    When I open or close my garage door my dusk to dawn light goes out. First time in 3 yrs since I installed it.

  6. Dave Rongey says:

    Be sure to check the voltage of other circuits in the home. There could be a voltage feedback from another problem within the electrical system.

  7. mike says:

    Thanks Dave
    I have 110 coming in and when covered I am reading inside the socket.
    This light has been here for at least 20 years. And I am in the US.
    Not sure how all the sudden voltage could go so high.

  8. Dave Rongey says:

    Hi Mike,
    If the photocell is covered it will simulate darkness and turn the circuit on, which will pass voltage to the light fixture. The typical light fixture circuit voltage in the USA is 120 volts. If you are in the USA and the circuit voltage is reading 230v then the circuit wiring should be checked for proper wiring connections.
    Thanks for sharing your dusk to dawn light fixture question.

  9. mike says:

    Why do I read 230v when my photocell is covered?

  10. pat brannon says:

    Thank you for your help.

  11. Dave Rongey says:

    Hi Pat,
    Yes, the photocell may be faulty, however the wiring to the light pole should be checked with a voltage tester. If 120 volts is shown between the hot and neutral wire at the photocell then that will rule out a problem with the circuit. If power is normal try placing black tape over the eye of the photocell which should simulate darkness, which should activate the light fixture within a minute. Don’t rule out the possibility of faulty lamps either. If normal power is not present then it is time to do some electrical troubleshooting.
    I hope this helps you with your dusk to dawn light fixture,

  12. pat brannon says:

    No GFCI in nearby location or garage. This is an older home (circa 1965 or earlier) dusk to dawn lamp quit operating during a hard rain. my understanding is that photocell controls the current to the light and if it is defective, light will not come on. was wondering if defective photocell could be the problem.

  13. Dave Rongey says:

    Hi Pat,
    If an outlet on the dusk to dawn light pole is not working as well, the circuit is most likely protected by GFCI. If the outlet is GFCI then try pushing the Reset button. If the pole outlet is not a GFCI then look for an GFCI outlet in a nearby location, such as the front porch, or in the garage. I believe you will find a GFCI outlet that is tripped off and just needs to be reset.
    Thanks for sharing your dusk to dawn light project with us,

  14. pat brannon says:

    My dusk to dawn light will not come on. An electrical outlet on the light pole is also not functioning. I checked power at the breaker box and it is good. Could a faulty photocell be causing this problem?

  15. Dave Rongey says:

    Hi Ron,
    Make sure the lamps that are installed are within the watt specifications for the dusk to dawn light fixture.
    Adjusting the Light Bulb Socket Tab
    When the power is off to the light fixture, adjust the center lamp base contact tab inside the light socket to make sure the tab is up slightly to ensure contact with the light bulb.
    I hope this helps,

  16. Ron Pep says:

    I have an outdoor lamp with a double socket for candelabra lamps. I screwed them into dusk to dawn sockets but only one lamp lights. Can this be fixed?

  17. Dave Rongey says:

    Hi Roger,
    Make sure the replacement lamp conforms to the manufacturers specifications, or is the same as the original lamp which was operating correctly.
    Double check the settings for Dusk to Dawn operation. Some fixtures may be set for the Low Light setting which will prevent the lamp from producing full light.
    I hope this helps,

  18. roger says:

    I have a dusk to dawn light on a pole in my yard. I replaced the bulb after many years and it comes on but is dim. What could be the problem?

  19. Dave Rongey says:

    Hi James,
    The circuitry for an individual dusk to dawn light fixture is designed for the watt limitation of each light fixture, so the current wiring connections you have described may be causing problems. When wiring two or more fixtures to be controller by a single motion detector, time clock, photocell, or any combination thereof, it is best to design the circuit for the total connected load, or the amperage of the circuit. Please refer to several article resources which are available which describe various options which are found by searching for Controlling Light Fixtures, and the article Wiring Hallway Lights and Switches may be helpful as well.
    I hope this helps,

  20. James says:

    I installed a dusk-to-dawn floodlight several years ago. It worked fine. I recently installed another and because they changed the look of some of the fixtures, I installed a fixture without a photocell and wired it to the other fixture, so that the photocell would work for both. Problem: The new lights came on fine, but it took about 10-15 minutes for the older lights to come on. Any ideas what is causing the problem?

  21. Dave Rongey says:

    Hi Ellis,
    Check to see if there is a sensitivity dial that you can adjust on the new dusk to dawn light fixture. Typically there is a dial for time duration and one for sensitivity. Also make sure you are using the correct light bulbs.
    I hope this helps,

  22. Ellis Nishimoto says:

    I purchased a UTILITECH Dusk-To-Dawn LED Floodlight ( MODEL #FSS1530LPCWUT ) 23W to replace a motion detector floodlight . It is off during the day, when it becomes night the light comes on and constantly flickers. I removed my walkway lights so that there would be no light reflections on the photo sensor. I covered the sensor with my thumb and the light stayed on steady. I put my hands on both sides of the sensor and it continues to flicker. I took some DUCT TAPE and doubled it up for extra thickness and taped it to the floodlight with a 3/16″ space under the sensor and the light stays on steady. I will have to wait until daylight to see if the light will go out.
    Should I put a short plastic tube on the sensor to give it some darkness or a glue a strip to go underneath the sensor with a 1/4″ space to make it less sensitive ???
    “OR”, is this floodlight just defective.
    Thanks, Ellis

  23. Dave Rongey says:

    Hi Megan,
    Intermittent electrical problems are the hardest to identify, however here are some items that may be checked for this outdoor light fixture:
    Note: The circuit power to the light fixture should be turned off before inspecting or making any repairs.
    Power Supply – Make sure the power is being provided from the circuit source to the light fixture and that the fuse is good.
    Electrical Wiring – The circuit wiring and components should be rated appropriately, properly installed, and inspected and repaired as needed.

    Light Bulb – Light bulbs are required to be replaced periodically with a compatible style type of lamp.
    Photocell – A photocell typically turns the light fixture on and off and can go bad requiring replacement. Most photocells for street lamps are located on the top of the fixture enclosure.
    Ballast and Starter – Depending on the exact type of light fixture, most sodium vapor, mercury vapor, or metal halide light fixtures have a ballast and a starter which can go bad an require replacement.
    Damaged Wire or Connectors – Due to the heat produced by the light fixture, the wiring components inside the wiring enclosure may become damaged. Cracked wire insulation and wire connectors will require replacing and repairs as needed.

    You may want to review the agreement with the Strata, especially with regard to the responsibility for the light fixture maintenance and repairs.

    I hope this helps,

  24. Megan says:

    I live on a Strata and the power from my house supplies one of the street lights. The power is controlled by a fuse to my garage. There is no switch to control it. I have been accused of occasionally turning off the fuse in order to get the funds I receive in compensation for the electricity used by the street light for free.
    I have never had a problem with the power in my garage and, since the light fixture is 25 years old, I think it might be the light fixture that is on the fritz. How can I identify what the problem is. I don’t know the make or model of the street light but it does come on at dusk and go off at dawn. Where do I start looking to find what could be going wrong.
    Thank you in advance.

  25. Dave Rongey says:

    Hi Laura,
    During the daytime when a dusk to dawn light fixture has power it will consume a very small amount of electricity which is required for the photocell sensing circuit to operate. Once the photocell senses darkness then the motion detector sensor circuit is enabled which will turn on the fixture lights only when motion is detected. The position of the motion detector light fixture switch settings will determine the sensitivity and operation of the light fixture.
    I hope this helps,

  26. Lara says:

    I am trying to find out if outdoor residential dusk to dawn motion lights draw any power during the day even if they aren’t on?

  27. Dave Rongey says:

    Hi Jim,
    It really does not matter if the light fixture is a dusk to dawn type or a motion detector. The problem is that the swirl type of CFL Compact Fluorescent Lamp is typically not dimmable, so they will not work well with a dusk to dawn light fixture which requires a lamp that will dim. The other problem with CFL lamps is that they are not rated for outdoor use, and they do not start well in cooler weather. Attempting to use a CFL lamp which is not the dimming type and rated for indoor use will only cause the life of the CFL lamp to be short.
    This is will not be true IF the manufacturer of the CFL lamp states that it has the ability to dim, and it is rated for outdoor use, and I hope this happens soon – because the CFL lamp is a good energy saver.
    Another quick note: The life of any fluorescent lamp is greatly reduced as it is turned On and Off often, however the lifespan is much longer when they are turned On less often and allowed to operate for longer periods of time.
    I hope this helps,

  28. Jim says:

    Hello. She said “Dusk to Dawn” not “Motion”. How can her problem fix a “Dusk to Dawn” light fixture that does not work? I have a similar problem. Thanks.

  29. Dave Rongey says:

    Hi Alexandra,
    I have never heard that a covered area would affect a motion sensor, however here are some factors to consider:
    Most motion detectors not only sense motion but also detect heat which is radiated from a body in motion. This helps to prevent leaves and branches from activating the light. The installation height and the distance from the desired area to be detected will have an effect on the performance. Also, make sure the detector sensor head switches are set in the proper position. Lastly, make sure to read through the operating instructions that came with your motion detector fixture because some motion heads have a manual override capability which will either create a OFF, ON or AUTO function simply by toggling the main control, which is typically a wall switch.

  30. Alexandra says:

    I bought an outdoor lamp with a built in dusk to dawn sensor but it never worked. People at HomeDepot and Lowes said it is because it is in a covered porch. Any suggestions to make it work without having to move it?

  31. Dave Rongey says:

    Check the wiring connections making sure of the polarity. I’m wondering if your just reading the socket voltage to ground or if you are getting a true 120 volt reading from inside the socket, which is a little tricky.

    Also, make sure this dusk to dawn light fixture is rated to Handel 150 watt lamps. Outside light fixtures such as the dusk to dawn and motion detector type have watt limitations, and going over the rating could cause damage to the internal circuitry.

    Be sure to check the settings on the unit to make sure they are configured correctly.


  32. Garry says:

    150w dust to dawn won’t light up, new bulb, new switch, have 120v in bulb socket and light will not light up… could it be transformer not putting out enough power to light bulb? or???
    Thanks garry

  33. Dave Rongey says:

    RD, I think they serve two purposes, one to save energy with a lower level light, then also to give a presence that the home is lighted to help ward off prowlers. The lower level of light serves as a nice lighted appearance for the home and helps visiting guests see your home as well.

  34. R D says:

    why do these dusk/dawn adapters for light bulbs produce less light?

  35. Dave Rongey says:

    The dimmer is not compatible with the circuitry of the motion detector apparently. You could have the motion detector head activate a small relay which would pass a dimmer controlled line through the contacts. I have used this set up for similar applications and it works great.

  36. tom says:

    okay thanks but somebody told me that if I put the dimmer switch between the photo eye sensor and the light bulbs that it would work, but that did not work either. The light comes on at night but the dimmer doesn’t work.

    Thanks again,


  37. Dave Rongey says:

    Tom – you cannot put a dimmer switch in place of the light switch because this will cause the motion detector to malfunction and may damage the device. The motion detector needs to have full power to operate. If you want the Dusk-to-Dawn feature, you need to purchase a Dusk-to-Dawn Fixture and use a normal switch. Then just adjust the settings on the fixture.

  38. tom says:

    I have an outdoor streetlight that I have wired a photovoltaic sensor into. I installed a dimmer switch inside at the light switch and although the dimmer works, the light stays on during the day or in other words, the photovoltaic sensor does not work. How do I wire a dimmer into the system so that the photovoltaic works dusk to dawn only?

    Thanks in advance