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How to Wire a Motion Detector


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Summary: Motion detector heads can be purchased and added to existing fixtures that have the appropriate fixture adapter cover. If you wish, you can build your own fixture just by selecting the compatible parts from your hardware store. Make sure all the parts are rated for exterior use.

Adding a Motion Detector to an Existing Light Fixture


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Motion Detector Controlled Outdoor Lighting

  • There is a variety of motion control devices available for you to choose from. My experience is that the less expensive fixtures do not perform very well.
  • Motion detector heads are available for purchase separately and there is a variety of sensing configurations available.
  • I especially like the performance of the 180 and 240 degree wide sensing patterns which perform well in wide areas.
  • Dust to Dawn features enable safe and secure light at two light levels of brightness.
  • Below is an outdoor lighting project where we added a motion detector head to an existing fixture.

Wiring a Motion Detector Head to an Existing Light Fixture


Here is an existing fixture that can have a motion detector head added to it to provide automatic sensor control during the night time. All wiring is done after identifying and turning the circuit off. Never work on energized wires.


This fixture base has a spare threaded opening where we can mount the motion detector head. If an opening was not available, another lamp holder base could be obtained that has an extra opening.

The motion detector head mounts into the lamp holder base which accepts the half-inch threaded fitting.


The Black Wire connects to the Black Wire entering the Fixture Box, also known as the hot wire.

The Red Wire connects to the Black wire of the lamp holders which house the flood lights.

The White Wire connects to the White wire of the White Wire entering the Fixture Box and the White Wire of the lamp holders which house the flood lights.


The light fixture has been fitted with a motion detector head enabling energy savings and automatic operation for safety and security.

The bottom of the motion detector head is where the settings need to be adjusted for optimal performance of your outdoor lighting fixture. See the explanations of these settings below.


motion-detector-range-setting motion-detector-on-time-setting

The Range setting will allows you to adjust the sensitivity at different distances from the fixture.


The ON-TIME Switch Settings:
TEST , 1, 5, 20 Minute Settings

motion-detector-dual-bright motion-detector-photo-cell

This feature allows for two levels of light to operate be activated during different times of the night.

This is the little area is the photo-cell, when it gets dark it activates the motion sensor circuit.



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Dusk to Dawn Light Problem

Samuel asks:
My outside dust to dawn light stopped working (it has been shot, it is all black).
The light has a square top and two U shaped tubes.
and a square head that plugs into the the top where some lights are screwed in.
I have the same type of lights in my bathroom except they are smaller.
I temporarily replaced it with one of the lights in the bathroom which is about 1 inch shorter than the outside bulb that shot.
However, the light stays on all the time?

How can I fix this?

This electrical wiring question came from Samuel in Roanoke, Virginia.

Dave’s Reply:

Dusk to Dawn Light Fixture Problem

Samuel,  try replacing the lamp with the exact same type lamp as it was originally, and if that does not work, then the light fixture is (shot) faulty and needs to be replaced.


Wiring an Outdoor Dusk to Dawn Pole Light

  • Will a dusk to dawn sensor or a dusk to dawn light bulb work in a pole light that is on the same circuit as porch and kitchen lights?

This electrical wiring question came from Mj in Denver, Colorado.

Dave’s Reply:

  • Yes, the fixture should work if it is installed and wired correctly, however it would be best to have a separate circuit installed for an outdoor light fixture which would have GFCI, Ground fault protection.

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Install Dusk to Dawn Fixture by the Front Door
There is a switch by the front door that controls the outside lights. Should that fixture control the other two lights?