Installing a Light Sensor

I’ve been looking for easy, inexpensive ways to update around the house. Big projects, like the kitchen, certainly are the best ways to maintain, or increase, value in your house but I think details communicate a lot about the house too.

I was looking at updating my light switches for aesthetic reasons and also to just look like a modern, updated, well-cared-for house. Plus, I have to admit, the technology geek in me saw these and immediately said, “cool!”

I kept telling myself, “Not now, one project at a time.” These don’t have to be expensive at all but it seemed prudent to save that expense for when I wasn’t in the middle of a major kitchen remodel. Still, I was looking at these pretty hard and making plans.

As luck would have it, two days later, I was reading Pretty Handy Girl and she had a giveaway of a Lutron unit. I was one of the lucky winners and received my unit in the mail this week.

I couldn’t wait, I came right home tonight and installed it in under 30 minutes. This is a super easy project.

This is what you may need:

  • A Philips-head screwdriver
  • A flat-head screwdriver
  • A voltage detector
  • Tape, scotch or electrical
  • A flashlight (if the room you are working in will be dark without the light)

tools

I want to swap out all my switches eventually with the touch light switches. I did want the sensor light in a couple of places: my garage and my hallway. My original thinking of the sensor in the garage is because I am generally going in or out of the garage with my hands full so having the light go on and off automatically would be really handy. I also wanted a sensor for the hallway because it is a really dark hallway and everyone always forgets to turn the light off.

Old-school fixture that I was going to have to swap out anyway because the plate is white but the switch was cream.

I was really happy to see the kit I had won was also a dimmer. Dimmers are great for mood lighting but they are also good for kind of a nightlight purpose. My thinking is that I set the dimmer to low at night when I have house guests, when they get up to use the guest bathroom, the light will go on in the hallway so they can see where they are going but it won’t be super, rudely bright. When they go back to bed, the light will turn off.

I’ve never installed a light switch before and I have certainly never installed a dimmer/sensor. On top of all this, there are two light switches that turn the hall light on and off. I was worried I might be in a little over my head. This ended up not being the case at all. This is a super easy, super fast project with a lot of va va voom (I think).

The first thing to do is shut off the power to the light switch. Even if you are pretty sure, check the switch with the voltage detector. My voltage detector only requires me to turn it on and wave it near the switch. It will go red if any voltage is detected.

I have two settings that check for different voltages and I can never remember which is which so I always check them both. I figure if it doesn’t detect any voltage in either setting, I’m good to go.

This is also about when I realized that the hallway was dim enough with the light on, when I switch off the power and the light goes off, getting good pictures is going to be a challenge. So I apologize for the image quality from here on out.

I took off the old-school plate and unscrewed the switch from the wall box.

The directions said the wires would be green so of course, mine are black. The directions also said to mark the wire on the bottom (since it is the same color as one of the other wires) so I just used a piece of scotch tape and made a little tab. It’s hard to see in the picture so I circled it.

I removed the switch so I just had the wires. I also had to start using the flashlight to see what I was doing. I immediately had trouble finding the ground wire so I had to dig around the wall box a little.

I finally dug it out along with another wire that hadn’t been attached to the switch. I just tucked it back in and ignored it (la la la! I don’t see you!).

According to the directions, I was to attach the green wire on the new switch to the copper ground wire in the wall box. Then I twisted on the cap (that came in the kit) and tucked it back into the wall box.

The directions then say to attach the wire that I tabbed with tape to the black screw. This was easy to follow. However, the next instruction is to attach the other wire of the same color to the blue screw. On the new fixture, the black screw is on the lower right of the switch and the blue screw is on the upper left. This would mean that a black wire is on the lower right and on the upper left but when I looked at the photo I took earlier, the black wires are both on the right.

SwitchConfiguration

I thought the wires would probably be put back on the way they had been but I went ahead and followed directions. I immediately tested the light though and, sure enough, it didn’t work. I turned the power back off, checked for voltage, pulled the wires off, and put them back on following the pattern they had on the original switch; the two black wires on the right, the red wire on the left.

I tested it again and this time it worked! I turned off the power again and tested for voltage. Then I screwed the switch into the wall box. You’ll put the screw in the large oval opening of the switch which should align with the holes in the wall box.

It was a bit of a challenge making sure it didn’t lean to one side. When I do it again, I will have my little level handy just to make sure.

The face plate came in a different package. It is two layers. You separate the layers. The inside layer (with the screws) will be attached to the small holes at the very top and very bottom of the switch.

I circled the screws that fix the inner plate to the switch. You can see the screws that fix the switch to the wall box through oval holes in the plate.

NewSwitchPlate

Then you simply snap on the outer plate.

NewFixture

Following the directions, I programmed the light so that it would turn on when someone nears it and turn off when there is no movement for a while. I can simply dim the light before I go to bed to make this the high-tech nightlight I want it to be. It also detects when there is light so if this were in a place that had sunlight coming through windows, the light wouldn’t turn on until the room got sufficiently dark.

Some of these sensor/dimmer products can really get up there in price. I found this particular Lutron sensor/dimmer online for around $30. It looks like my specific kit was on closeout but a quick search shows there are other options that have the same features. I know I was also looking at plain light switches like this that ran about $6 so, depending on how many light switches you have in your home, this can be a low-cost/high-impact update. Fancy pants.

I grabbed a little video so you can see how close/far away I am from the hall when the light goes on. You can catch a glimpse of the linen closet project that was abandoned when work on the kitchen started in earnest. I’ll be able to pick this back up in another week or so when the kitchen is done. In the meantime, prepare to be dazzled:

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