When you picture a burglar, what comes to mind? A guy in a ski mask with a crowbar, sneaking around a property in the dead of night looking for an entry point?

There’s a reason why that’s the stereotype. Criminals love to use the cover of darkness to conceal their activities. How can you help deter this? With light, of course.

Motion sensor lights are a staple in most personal and commercial security systems. However, there’s a lot to know about these pieces of equipment, such as purchasing them, installing them, and using them effectively. Let’s start by taking a look at how they work.

FYI: Not all criminals strike at night. In fact, a good percentage of burglaries occur during regular business hours, or between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. That’s why it’s important to not rely on a single piece of equipment to keep you safe. Read our home security system buyers guide for more information.

How Do Motion Sensor Lights Work?

While there are numerous types of motion detectors out there, the majority of consumer-grade motion-detecting lights on the market today — i.e, the ones that’ll be available at your local hardware store — rely on sensors that detect infrared waves that radiate from moving objects. When the sensor detects an object moving across its field of view, the light turns on.

Understanding how they work will inform how and where you install them. Obviously, everyone’s property and needs are different. However, generally speaking, you want to place lights about 6 to 10 feet above the ground, and position them in such a way that the motion they’re detecting will occur across their field of vision — instead of motion coming directly towards the light itself. For additional security, you might consider positioning lights:

  • At entryways to your home
  • Near gates in fences
  • Near a garage or shed
  • Along driveways
  • In areas where someone can conceal themselves

Now that you understand how motion sensor lights work, let’s talk about how much you should pay for them.

The Ring Floodlight Cam

How Much Should a Motion Sensor Light Cost?

There are a number of factors that go into the cost of setting up a network of motion sensor lights. This includes: whether or not you’re installing them in locations where lights already exist; what type of equipment you’re using; how many lights you’re installing; and if you’re going to be using wireless or wired lights. (More on that in a minute.)

Generally speaking, though, expect to pay between $300 and $1,000 to install a handful of decent lights in strategic places around your property. Those costs can get a lot higher, particularly if you use expensive equipment or want to install lights in hard-to-access areas.

Doing the installation yourself will, of course, save you a significant amount of money, but make sure you’re comfortable working with electricity. If you’re not, you might want to call in the professionals.

Pro Tip: Like we said above, you don’t want to rely exclusively on security lights to protect your property. There are actually more sophisticated security devices with motion lights integrated into them. Check out our review of the Ring Spotlight Camera for one solid example.

Now that you understand how motion sensor lights work and how much they cost, it’s time to put the two together. Is it worth it to install motion sensor lights on your property?

Are Motion Sensor Lights Worth It?

The short answer is, it depends. The longer answer is that you need to take a hard look at the vulnerabilities on your property, what you’re comfortable with, and what you want to protect. If you live in a condo that has a lit-up parking lot right in front of your door, then security lights probably won’t do much to keep you safer. If you live on a sparsely populated street in the suburbs and you can’t see your backyard once the sun goes down — security lights should probably be part of your overall security system.

And just to reiterate what we said above, security lights alone are not a complete security system. Light itself will do little to stop a determined intruder from entering your property. But if that light allows them to see the security cameras above your garage and front door, and illuminates the “home protected by ADT” sign in your front yard, they might think twice.

Secured by ADT Decal

Pro Tip: Purchasing a home security system can be a daunting task. We’ve helped by compiling a list of the best home security systems of 2023. There you’ll find something for almost every need and budget.

While we’re talking about costs, there’s one major factor to discuss that will not only help determine the cost of your project but how complex the installation will be.

Motion Sensor Lights: Wireless vs. Wired?

One of the first decisions you’ll need to make when installing a network of motion sensor lights is whether you want them to be wired or wireless. Both systems have their pros and cons, as you’ll see.

Wireless lights are much easier to install, so it’s unlikely that you’ll need professional help — that will save you some cash in the long run. However, you’ll have to stay on top of keeping the batteries charged or replaced, or else you might end up with non-functioning equipment.

FYI: Many wireless motion sensor lights are solar-powered. If you’re looking to go green with your security, you can read up on our favorite solar-powered security cameras for inspiration.

Wired lights, on the other hand, require some expertise to install, but once they’re in, you don’t have to worry about them anymore, as there are no batteries to replace. Generally speaking, wired lights are considered more reliable than their wireless cousins.

There is another option, though, that you might consider.

Can I Add a Motion Sensor to an Existing Light?

If you already have outdoor lighting, you might consider adding a stand-alone motion sensor to them. Many of these aftermarket motion detectors can be installed without much, or even any, wiring; this means this project is extremely DIY-friendly.

The one drawback is that the lights you currently have at your house might have been installed with utility rather than security in mind. If you’re going this route with the ultimate goal of increasing your security posture, make sure the lights are positioned in such a way that they might deter would-be burglars and thieves.

And finally, before we wrap up, let’s talk troubleshooting.

Ring Spotlight Cam

Why Does My Motion Sensor Light Keep Coming On?

One of the more frustrating aspects of motion sensor lighting is having it flick on and off all throughout the night. It can keep you and your neighbors up, and make it clear to would-be criminals that no one’s really paying attention to them.

The simple truth is, most of the time, when motion sensor lights trip, it won’t be shining on a burglar. It’ll be your neighbor walking their dog, a passing car, or even a spider crawling across the sensor. To limit the number of “nuisance trips,” purchase lights with adjustable sensors so you can control the range and limit the field of view.

Pro Tip: You also want to make sure your lights aren’t constantly triggering to keep down on your power costs. If you’re running a substantial network of powerful lights that are going off every few minutes every night, your power bill might end up surprising you.

Another hack you might consider is using electrical tape to limit the view of the sensor, so that it’s only “looking” at, say, your driveway, instead of all the cars passing on the street at night. This can take a little trial and error, but limiting the number of false alerts will both lower your blood pressure and ensure the system is doing what it’s supposed to — increasing your level of security.

Final Thoughts on Motion Sensor Lights

Motion sensor lights are a great addition to any home security portfolio. While alone they aren’t likely to protect you from major crimes, they may keep you from falling victim to vandalism or having some thief walk off with your lawnmower.

If you’re looking to protect yourself from burglary and home invasion, you’re likely going to want to add more firepower to your security system, like burglar alarms and security cameras. But as far as foundations go, good motion sensor lights are a solid investment.

Motion Sensor Lights FAQs

How do motion sensor lights work?

Most commercially available motion sensor lights rely on sensors that pick up on the infrared waves that emanate off of moving objects. When that energy is detected, the light kicks on.

How much are motion sensor lights?

Some motion sensor lights are as cheap as $20 or $30, but you should expect to pay in the $50 or $60 range for ones that will increase your security.

Are motion sensor lights worth it?

Light itself won’t keep determined criminals away, but motion sensor lights do form a good foundation for a more complete security system.

Is it hard to install motion sensor lights?

It depends on if you get wireless or wired equipment. Wireless motion sensor lights are very easy to install, whereas wired lights will require either a knowledge of working with electricity or professional installation.

Are motion sensor lights good for security?

Motion sensor lights serve a psychological purpose that demonstrates to criminals that your home is being vigilantly watched, and that other deterrents might be in place.