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    Tractor Supply Company

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    Installing Home Security Lights: A How-To Guide

    Authored by Tractor Supply Company

    Security lights play a vital role in keeping your home safe. Whether you’re stringing up coop lights or garden lights, pool lights or porch lights, good lighting can ward off intruders, help you see in the dark, and make your home look bright and inviting when you have guests.

    Looking to install or upgrade your security lights? Read on to learn about types of security lights and where to put them, plus a how-to on replacing and wiring for new security lights.

    Types of security lights

    When you hear the term “security lights,” you may think of several different things. Security lights come in all shapes and sizes. They have different light bulbs, settings, and sources of power. They can be solar-powered, battery-powered or hardwired into your home’s electrical system. And the bulbs they require could be halogen, LED, or solar lights.

    Below are some examples of security lights:

    Motion-activated lights

    Sensors connected to these lights detect motion by emitting or listening to sound waves, microwaves, radio waves, or infrared rays. When the sensor detects motion, it signals the light to turn on.

    Motion-activated lights are great for a few reasons: they’re energy efficient, they often come with settings to adjust the sensitivity and timing of the light, and they catch intruders off guard. Some models of motion-activated lights can be adjusted to turn on and off at certain hours of the day.

    Timed security lighting

    These lights are set to be active during specific periods of time. Timed motion-activated lights can be set to stay active for a particular time without staying on the whole time.

    Timed lighting is beneficial because you can adjust the length of time the lights will stay on. Most importantly, timed lighting deters intruders by mimicking movement inside the house.

    You may have heard the advice to leave your lights on if you go away for vacation. If you left your home for a week and had your lights on without a timer, however, someone may see those lights on during the day and realize you weren’t home. If your lights turn on and off at various times of the day, it would be less obvious that you were away.


    Strong and bright, floodlights are useful for maintaining visibility over a large area, like a backyard. Floodlights can be motion-activated. They are helpful for seeing in the dark and eliminating shadows where unwanted visitors could hide.

    High-intensity discharge security lights

    When traditional floodlights can’t provide enough coverage, high-intensity discharge (HID) lights will do the trick. Though typically intended for commercial use, such as in warehouses, gas stations, and factories, homeowners with lots of land can benefit from HID lights.

    Exterior soffit lights

    The soffit is the overhang in front of your house’s entrance. Exterior soffit lights are installed on the overhang, adding extra lighting to the porch. This helps your home feel more inviting and adds visibility around the entrance of your house.

    Outdoor coach lights

    Coach lights are stylized lights. They can light driveways and walkways and are often installed near entrances, such as the garage door.

    Solar lights

    Powered by the sun, solar lights are small lights usually placed along walkways, near driveways and in gardens. Though they have a higher initial cost and are weather-dependent, they’re lower maintenance are much more energy efficient.

    Lighting and home safety

    Proper home security lighting is one important way to keep safe. Most break-ins take place in the midday, when a home is less likely to be occupied. When you’re going away, it’s especially important to make it look like there’s someone home.

    As discussed, timed lighting—both inside and outside your home—can deter crime by mimicking life and movement within the house. Motion-sensor lights catch intruders off guard and alert you to activity near your property.

    Meanwhile, bright lights like floodlights drown out shadows, providing higher visibility around your home. Lighting along walkways and near entrances further provides visibility, which helps prevent falls and gives intruders fewer places to hide.

    Cost of security lights

    Depending on the type of light you get and the cost of installation, security lights can range from $30 to $1,000.

    Motion-activated lights range from $30 to $400, depending on the type of sensor. Lights with microwave and vibration sensors typically cost between $30 and $50, while dual-technology motion-activated lights (which use infrared and microwave technology) cost between $50 and $300. Tomographic lights, which emit radio waves to detect movement, are the most expensive, with prices ranging from $300 to $1,000. Motion sensors and timers cost between $25 and $50.

    Floodlights range in price from $75 to $500. Solar-powered lights range in price from $50 to $400 per light, while hardwired and battery-powered lights are less expensive ($30 to $200).

    If you need new wiring or a new ground fault circuit interrupter, the cost will increase. New wiring may cost between $100 and $300, while installing a new ground fault circuit interrupter can cost up to $3,000. Permit costs and electrician fees can add up as well.

    Where to put motion-activated security lights

    How you install motion-activated security lights can affect how efficiently they work. To know where to place your lights, it helps to know how the sensor works.

    How motion-activated security lights work

    Motion-sensing lights have sensors that turn the light on when they detect movement. The sensors can be active or passive.

    • Active motion-activated sensor emits waves—sound waves, microwaves, or infrared rays—to sense a change in the environment.
    • Passive motion sensors, in contrast, listen for sound waves, microwaves, or infrared waves coming to them from the environment.

    While active motion sensors send waves out to the world around them, passive motion sensors wait to receive waves from the surrounding environment.

    Some motion-sensing lights have a separate sensor that connects wirelessly to the light. This means that you can place the sensor in one area of your home and the light in another area.

    Features of motion-activated security lights

    When shopping for outdoor lights, consider your needs. Here are some things to look for:

    • Bulb type. Do you want to use LEDs, fluorescents or incandescent bulbs? Energy efficiency, brightness and cost are all factors that affect what kind of light bulb you’ll buy.
    • Light pattern. Will you need a floodlight, which lights up a broad area? A spotlight to focus on a specific area? Multiple lights dispersed through an area?
    • Luminance and range. How bright a light is needed? How much area do you need to cover?
    • Power source. Lights can be powered by solar power, battery or wires. Consider energy efficiency, cost and convenience.
    • Control. Some motion-activated lights are built to remain on, while others can be turned on and off with a switch. Lights may also come with settings you can change to affect their sensitivity. Others have a timer function.

    Best locations for motion-activated security lights

    The sensor should be placed above head height. The manufacturer of the light may recommend a range of heights. Typically, sensors should be placed between six and twelve feet above the ground. Most sensors stop working effectively above twenty feet. Place the sensor at a height where it can catch movement up above without missing movement along the ground.

    Motion sensors have an easier time detecting motion moving parallel to the sensor, rather than motion coming directly toward it. Try to install the sensor in an area where things are likely to pass in front of it.

    Most outdoor motion-activated lights are designed to cover anywhere from fifty to one hundred square feet. Smaller lights, like solar lights, cover only a few feet and are good for lighting smaller areas, like the walkway leading up to your porch. For lights that cover more ground, floodlights (and HID lights, for extremely large areas of land) have greater range.

    When placing your motion-activated light, consider the most used areas of your house. Put lights near entryways, in hallways, in frequently used rooms, or by walkways and driveways. Areas that could be dangerous in the dark, like near a hot tub, should be lit to avoid accidents.

    Sensors can be affected by changes in heat and light. To avoid setting off the lights too frequently, keep your sensor away from HVAC systems, vents, radiators, or reflective windows.

    Steps to replace old security lights

    Replacing old security lights can be a straightforward task that typically takes less than a day to complete. Before diving into a home project, though, know the tools and terminology involved. Here are some things to keep in mind when replacing your old security lights.

    When to replace a light

    Before you replace an old outdoor security light, first check to make sure you know the issue. Sometimes the light bulb is fine, but the sensor is damaged. Sometimes the sensor works, and the light bulb is burned out.

    If your lights can be controlled by a switch, toggle the switch. Leave the light off for thirty seconds, then turn it on again. If that doesn’t work, check your sensor’s settings and power source. If the light still doesn’t work, try contacting the company to see if they can help.

    A broken light isn’t the only time to replace an outdoor light, however. If you want to switch to a new kind of light, that’s as good a reason to replace your lights as any.

    Removing security lights

    Before you do anything else, make sure the power is turned off. If your light is hardwired into your home, turn off the power at the main circuit breaker.

    You can check that the power’s off with a circuit tester. Connect one lead of the circuit tester to the ground wire and connect the other lead against the black wire (the hot wire), then the white wire (the neutral wire). If the circuit tester lights up or detects any voltage, the power is on and needs to be shut off.

    Once the power is off, allow some time for the light bulb to cool, then twist it out of the socket. Next, unscrew the base of the light fixture from the wall plate and detach the light’s wires from those in the electrical box.

    Staying safe

    Electrical accidents are common and can be extreme. Here are some tips to stay safe.

    • Make sure the power is off when changing or removing lights.
    • Don’t leave wires exposed. An exposed wire could be a shock hazard or fire hazard.
    • Your lights should come with instructions from the manufacturer on how to properly change lights. If you need to make a complicated repair and don’t have experience working with electricity, it is best to hire a professional electrician.
    • When installing outdoor lights, make sure all light bulbs, light fixtures, extension cords, and other accessories are built for the outdoors. Otherwise, they may be damaged from the weather.
    • Make sure the bulb wattage doesn’t exceed the maximum wattage a fixture can take. Putting a bulb with a higher wattage into a lower-wattage fixture can cause the fixture to overheat. This may damage the fixture or start a fire.
    • Keep light bulbs away from flammable materials.
    • Seal the outside of your junction box with caulk to keep out precipitation.

    How to wire for new security lights

    Security lights come with instructions from the manufacturer and are generally simple to follow. If, however, you find yourself in need of more extensive electrical work to be done, such as electric welding, it is best to hire a professional.

    Light installation usually can be a do-it-yourself project.

    Materials needed

    You may need:

    • drill and spade bit. These are necessary if you need to drill through a wall to connect an outdoor light to an interior electrical source.
    • screwdriver to detach old light fixtures and screw in new ones.
    • Wire cutters and wire connectors for dealing with wires.
    • Mounting screws to attach the light fixture to the base.

    Installing new security lights outdoors

    To install new security lights:

    1. Shut off the electricity and remove the existing light if there is one.
    2. Assemble the lighting fixture. Your manufacturer should provide instructions to follow. This may include mounting the lighting fixture on the wall with a mounting strap or mounting a new electrical box.
    3. Once the fixture is mounted, connect the wires in your new light to the wires in your house. There are several kinds of wires: neutral wires (white), hot wires (black), ground wires (green or copper). Some systems also have red wires, which, like black wires, are hot wires. These may be connected to another black wire.

    To wire your lights, match the wires by color and connect them with wire connectors.

    1. Finish mounting the lighting fixture into place with mounting screws. Use caulk or flexible putty to seal around the edges of the fixture. Doing so keeps out precipitation, which can damage the sensor and wiring. To keep water out of light bulbs, buy a motion sensor with bulb seals or install the light in an area where moisture can’t get to them, like under an overhang.
    2. Once the lighting fixture has been mounted, aim the sensor and set the controls. Make sure to keep the sensor far away from sources of heat and light, like vents or light bulbs, to keep from accidentally tripping it.

    Installing lights indoors

    Installing lights indoors can be a lot easier, especially if using battery-powered motion-sensor lights or lights that can plug into an outlet. A motion sensor outlet plug is a straightforward way to turn a lamp into a motion-activated light. Just plug the lamp into the sensor outlet, and it will automatically receive feedback from the motion sensor to turn on and off.

    The future is bright with Tractor Supply

    Proper lighting around your home is necessary for security. Good lighting can ward off intruders, provide visibility for the dark and add a decorative element to your home. If you’re looking for the perfect lighting, our selection of outdoor lighting fixtures might have just what you need. Tractor Supply offers a variety of security lights.