Time axis: american craftsman style motion sensor porch lights
A porch light is … never mind. You know what a porch light is.
My front porch and back porch both had lights on them, but neither had any way to turn them on from the outside. As the days grew shorter as fall progressed, I discovered that this was seriously annoying. I would get home from work in the dark and fumble around trying to see my keys and find the keyhole. Consequently, I decided to install motion sensors so the lights would turn on automatically when I approached the doors.
There are plenty of motion sensor porch lights on the market (some of which are horrendously ugly), but I sort of liked the lights I already had. Both fit the Craftsman style, and the front porch one, at least, was fairly old. And, well, why get rid of something if it works well? Unfortunately, there aren’t really very many good options for retrofitting an old light fixture with a motion sensor. I think there are a few external sensors you can actually wire in, but that’s sort of a pain. They also make a screw-in kind you can screw into the bulb socket. The bulb goes into the little screw-in attachment. Most of these have the sensor on the screw-in attachment itself, which doesn’t work at all if the bulb socket is inside the fixture, because then it will never sense any motion unless you stick your hand up inside the fixture. There are a few, however, that screw in but have a wire that goes to an external motion sensor that you can mount elsewhere.
New front porch light
All of this drove me nuts for a while, and I ultimately decided to buy a new fixture for the front porch with a built-in sensor. As I mentioned, a lot of the fixtures on the market are horrendously ugly, but I found one (mass-produced in a factory, no doubt) that mimics the Craftsman style and looks really good on my front porch.
Of course, installation wasn’t completely straightforward. I took down the old light. The electricians, during their rewiring, had installed a nice new electrical box, but there were large gaps around the sides of the box, so I thought I’d better caulk it to reduce drafts. Also, last time someone painted the exterior of the house, they just painted around the old light fixture. So I thought I’d better paint. They also painted around the mailbox, so I thought I’d better take that down and paint under it, too, while I was at it. So, after some sanding and painting and caulking, I was able to wire up the new light. That part worked perfectly, thanks to the brand new color-coded wiring in the wall.
After that, I danced around the front yard for a while to test the range and put some electrical tape over part of the sensor to make sure it didn’t turn on every time a car drove by or someone walked by on the sidewalk.
For the back porch light, I decided to experiment with one of those screw-in motion sensors with the wire to the external sensor unit. I thought I could snake the sensor wire out through the top of the fixture (because it has a small gap in it) so it wouldn’t really show. Unfortunately, the screw-in unit, wire, and external sensor are permanently attached to one another, so you can’t snake the wire anywhere. Dumb.
Old front porch light; new back porch light
Well, whatever. The back porch light fixture didn’t really fit the space well anyway. It was too large and was kind of rammed in there under the roof eaves. The former front porch light was of a different design and hung down from its mount, so I decided to just swap the two out. The mounting structure on the back was pretty messed up (probably because they had to do something funky to get the former light fixture to fit in the space), but I did the best I could and successfully got the former front porch light hung up on the back porch. It fits much better. I installed the screw-in sensor mount and placed the external sensor. It works, too, although the wire to the sensor just hangs out of the bottom of the fixture, which is what I was trying to avoid in the first place. Oh well.
Old back porch light; future laundry room light
I kept the old back porch light because I liked it (also kind of Craftsman style). I think I will install it in my laundry room, which currently just has an exposed bulb sticking out of the wall.
Incidentally, you can’t use CFL bulbs with motion sensors, for the same reason you can’t use them with dimmers. Urgh! I bought a package of halogen bulbs, which look like incandescents but are a bit more efficient.
At least, in the end, I can happily say that my quality of life has improved drastically by having motion sensor lights. It’s such a simple and inexpensive thing, but it’s so nice to actually have a light that turns on when you’re trying to unlock the door. As a side bonus, I’ve still managed to maintain my Craftsman-style curb appeal.