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Electrical Wire and Cable

How to Fix a Dusk to Dawn Light Fixture

How to Repair a Dusk to Dawn Light or Motion Detector Light Fixture: The Security Light Fixture TEST Setting Functions, Replacing a Motion Detector Head on a Dusk to Dawn Fixture, How to Test a Photo Cell.

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What To Do If Your Dusk To Dawn Fixture is Erratic
Electrical Question #1: My dusk to dawn light has become erratic, coming on at dusk, staying on a while, going out, coming back on for a few minutes, going out, coming on for a while, going out.


This electrical wiring question came from: Rick who is a Handyman from California.

Electrical Question #2:

This electrical wiring question came from Chuck, a Handyman in Missouri.

Dave’s Reply:
Thank you for your electrical questions.

How to Repair a Dusk to Dawn or Motion Detector Light Fixture

Application: How to Repair a Dusk to Dawn Light Fixture.
Skill Level: Beginner to Intermediate. This electrical project is best performed by a Licensed Electrician or 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.
Notice: Replacement parts for the security light fixture should be compatible with the type of fixture that has been installed.

Security Light Fixture TEST Setting Functions

Replacing a Motion Detector Head on a Dusk to Dawn Fixture

How to Test a Photo Cell

How to Reset a Motion Detector Light

Part Reference: Dusk to Dawn Light

More about Wiring Motion Detectors and Dusk to Dawn Light Fixtures

How to Wire a Dusk to Dawn Light Fixture and a Motion Detector

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The Safest Way to Test Electrical Devices and Identify Electric Wires!

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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Strip Off Wire Insulation without Nicking and Damaging the Electric Wire!

The Wire Stripper and Wire Cutter
My absolute favorite wire stripping tool that I have had in my personal electrical tool pouch for years, and this is the tool I use to safely strip electrical wires.
This handy tool has multiple uses:
The wire gauges are shown on the side of the tool so you know which slot to use for stripping insulation.
The end of the tool can be used to grip and bend wire which is handy for attaching wire onto the screw terminals of switches and outlets..

The wire stripper will work on both solid and stranded wire. This tool is Very Handy and Easy to Use.

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FAQs Frequently Asked Questions and Comments

25 Responses to “How to Fix a Dusk to Dawn Light Fixture”
  1. Susan Davis says:

    I have a dust to dawn light that quit working. I replaced the light bulb twice and the sensor on top has power coming into all the areas but the light still will not work. Is there anything else I should replace?

  2. Dave Rongey says:

    Hi Susan,
    Make sure you are testing the dusk to dawn light fixture with the switches in the “TEST” position if you are working with the fixture in the day time. This will over ride the photocell and allow you to test the motion sensor directly. Typically the black wire of the motion detector head is connected to the incoming circuit power which is usually black, and the red wire of the motion detector is connected to the wires leading to the lamp holders, and then the white wires are all spliced together. Sometimes the motion detector head can go bad and quit working, especially if moisture gets inside the unit. In that case the motion detector head will need to be replaced with a new one, which is available from most hardware stores.
    Make sure the circuit power is off before checking any wiring connections.
    I hope this sheds some light on this,

  3. judy atwell says:

    Our light goes out when we open our garage door.

  4. Dave Rongey says:

    Hi Judy,
    More information would be helpful, however you may start by having the wiring to the light examined to make sure it has been installed properly.

    I hope this helps,

  5. Joyce Hamilton says:

    I have a dust-to-dawn light that is working improperly. We replaced the eye about 3 months ago and the light would come on for a few seconds and shut off. Today, we replaced the bulb and now it does not come on at all. What do we need to do next?

  6. Dave Rongey says:

    Hi Joyce,
    Check the settings on the eye to make sure they are correct. Make sure the lamps are compatible with the light fixture, and just in case, make sure there is not a switch in the home that controls the light fixture that is getting turned off.
    I hope this helps you Joyce,

  7. Joyce Hamilton says:

    Thanks, Dave we will try what you suggest. The dusk-to-dawn light is on front of the garage and on a separate fuse box.

  8. peter.parrish says:

    I have a dusk to dawn half lantern with high low sensor that is now broken down and I can’t find one like it anywhere. Ive been searching on internet three days, any ideas? Thanks Peter

  9. Dave Rongey says:

    Hi Peter,
    Try searching for the fixture at home depot, Lowes, pottery barn, or any other light fixture supplier.
    An image search for Lantern Light Fixture using any search service may be very helpful as well. If you locate the light fixture and does not have the dusk to dawn control you might be able to adapt the control to the fixture, or install a dusk to dawn control into a separate fixture box.
    I hope this helps,

  10. Buddy says:

    Hi, my dusk to dawn lights are staying on all the time. There are four all on same photo cell. I replaced the photo cell and still the same thing. I replaced the receptacle that the photocell plugs in to as well and I still have the same problem. I know the wiring is correct because they have worked for years up to this. Any suggestions as to what this might be?

  11. Dave Rongey says:

    Hi Buddy,
    From what you have described it sounds like you have a separate photocell that controls the power to the dusk to dawn light fixture. In any case, it may be helpful to know that most motion detector controlled light fixtures or dusk to dawn light fixtures typically operate with a continuous power supply. Many of these light fixtures have the ability to manually toggle into a Manual On or into the Automatic mode when the power supply has been toggled on and off. This could also occur when a photo cell has been installed ahead of the dusk to dawn light fixture. Therefore, it would be best to control a standard light fixture with a photocell, or have a dusk to dawn light fixture with the typical motion control module that has a constant power source.
    I hope this helps, let us know what works best for your application,

  12. Suzy says:

    I have dusk to dawn sensors in the lamps outside of my garage. The lamp has 3 lights. Each light has a dusk to dawn sensor screwed into the socket, but only one light will burn at a time. When one burns out, it has to be replaced before the light will work. I don’t understand first of all why all three do not burn at the same time and secondly, why don’t the other one start coming on if one burns out?

  13. Dave Rongey says:

    Hi Suzy,
    From what you have described it sounds like you have installed lamp socket adapters that have a photocell in each unit, therefore the first unit will go on and produce light that will cause the other two photocells to sense the light and react as if it were daylight. To fix this problem you may consider removing the adapter units and purchase a single photocell that would fit onto the base of the light fixture. Installing the photocell will require drilling a hole to into the light fixture and connecting the light fixture power wire through the photocell control.
    I hope this helps you,

  14. Fred Collins says:

    I have a dusk to dawn led light that comes on perfectly at night, but during the day it strobes all day. It blinks all day and then comes on at night. At dusk it looks like a disco ball until it comes completely on. What could be the cause of this?

  15. Dave Rongey says:

    Hi Fred,
    Make sure the lamps are the right type as specified by the light fixture manufacturer. For example: If the lamps are supposed to be incandescent or halogen, and CFL or a non compatible lamp is installed then it may cause the dusk to dawn fixture not to work normally.
    I hope this helps,

  16. fred collins says:

    They were manufactured as led. There is no bulb to screw in, there are about 40 small led on the light, and they just strobe all day.

  17. tom says:

    I have a dusk to dawn light that buzzes when it comes on and keeps buzzing when it is on. what is the problem?

  18. Dave Rongey says:

    Hi Tom,
    Here are a few possibilities that would cause a dusk to dawn light to buzz:
    Loose connection of a bulb in the lamp socket.
    Moisture inside the light fixture or detector head.
    Loose wiring connection in the light fixture.

    The circuit for the light fixture should be turned off so these items may be inspected and apply the repairs as needed.
    I hope this helps,

  19. Rick says:

    We have a dusk to dawn yard light that quit working. We found the sensor was partly melted, we figured from a lightening storm. We replaced the sensor. The light worked but did not turn off after a week or so, now the light does not work again.

  20. Nilesh Surana says:

    I have a dusk to dawn fixture. There is 1 switch which controls 3 lights (they’re LED light fixtures). However, one light always remain on, when the switch is ‘ON’ the other 2 lights work as expected (when it’s bright, they go ‘OFF’, when it becomes dark, they’re ‘ON’). I’ve tried replacing the light fixture which always remains ‘ON’ without any luck. The only difference I see with the light fixture that remains ‘ON’ always is, it has 5 wires (2 +ve’s and 2 -ve’s and 1 ground), where as the other 2 lights have only 3 wires (1 +ve, 1-ve, and 1 ground). I tried just 2 wires (1+ve and 1-ve), and the light would not go ‘ON’ at all. What is going on here?

  21. Dave Rongey says:

    Hi Nilesh,
    The extra wires of the dusk to dawn light fixture that stays on all the time require identification for their specific connection to obtain automatic control. Also, if the light fixture is equipped with Setup Switches make sure they are not set into a Test or Bypass position which can override the automatic control features. The setup switches are used when adjusting the range and sensitivity during daylight, however once the adjustments are complete the switches must be returned into the automatic position to allow the dusk to dawn operation.
    I hope this helps you,

  22. Randy says:

    I have a flood light dusk to dawn fixture with a movement sensor but it stays on all of the time. It worked fine for a couple of years. I have 2 LED flood lights on it. I think it is the light sensor but not sure.

  23. Dave Rongey says:

    Hi Randy,
    The motion sensor could be faulty and need to be replaced, but before you do that make sure to cycle the power to the unit off and back on and see if that resets the motion detector. Some units have a manual over ride option where the light could be set to be On simply by turning the power to the unit off and back on again.
    I hope this helps you.

  24. larry Johnson says:

    I have a dusk to dawn pole light that does not come on at night unless i put my thumb over the sensor for a few seconds then it comes on and stays on all night. The light does go off in the morning just not back on in the next night. The next night it will not work unless the thumb is put on the sensor. Why does the light not work the next night?

  25. Dave Rongey says:

    Larry, Make sure the photocell is in total darkness at night, because a small amount of light can prevent the light from turning on. Some photocells have adjustable covers that slide over the surface to increase the sensitivity and turn of the light earlier in the evening. If your sensor does not have this feature perhaps covering a portion of the sensor with black tape may solve the problem. Of course, you may have a defective photocell that needs to be replaced.
    I hope this helps you,