Learn how to automate lights and lighting with smart home wireless light switch kits, wifi bluetooth light bulbs and fixtures, smart hubs for home lighting, outdoor security lights, motion detection, occupancy sensors, photocontrol & more!

Lighting Automation - Smart Home, Photocontrols, Timers, Detectors

Lighting automation allows for control of many different kinds of lighting fixtures. These lights may be automated via control with a single device, such as a smartphone, tablet, or computer; however, they may also be automated through different means, which will be further explored in this guide.

Not only is lighting automation easy to use, but it also saves energy. Various lighting automations allow fixtures to control how a light is turned on/off, reduce brightness levels when desired, automatically turn lights on when motion is detected, automatically turn lights off when not in use, and more. There are five common types of light control: dimmers, photo sensors, motion sensors, timers, and smart lighting (fixtures and lights that connect wirelessly for controllability).

Dimmer Switch (Slider, Rocker, or Paddle control)

A dimmer switch manages the brightness of indoor lighting and can be controlled with timers, sensors, manually operated, or remote operated (such as with a mobile phone app). Dimming light bulbs helps save on energy costs by reducing the wattage and output used in the lighting fixture. Additionally, a dimmer switch can increase the life of bulbs.
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Photocell Sensor Light or Dusk to Dawn Light

A photocell sensor detects ambient-light levels and is used most often as outdoor fixtures. Photocell sensor lights change their illumination output based on the external light shining on it. If there is a greater illumination from the outside light source, then the photo sensor will produce less illumination; in contrast, when less outside light is detected, the photo sensor will produce more illumination to compensate. Often, this can be referred to as "dusk to dawn lights", as they activate during nighttime hours. Due to sensing ambient light, dusk to dawn lights adjust automatically to seasonal changes and are not affected by daylight savings time change.
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Motion Sensor / Detector Lights & Light Switches

A motion sensor light switch turns on when movement is detected within range and turns off after a set-period of time when motion stops. Having a light that's triggered as opposed to remaining on full-time can lower electrical costs. Motion detector lights work well for outdoor security and utility lighting. The sensor itself will need to be placed appropriately within a room or outdoor area so it may identify movement.

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Motion sensors can use a combination of passive PIR sensors, microwave sensors, ultrasonic sensors, and vibration sensors. Motion detectors may:

  • Measure heat differences in the room caused by heat radiated from a person with Passive Infrared (PIR) sensors,
  • Measure how microwaves bounce off of people in the room with microwave sensors,
  • Measure how ultrasonic sound waves change due to people in a room with active ultrasonic sensors,
  • Measure how ultrasonic light waves change due to people in a room with active time of flight infrared sensors,
  • Or measure tiny vibrations from breathing or heartbeats from vibration sensors.

Two special types of motion sensor devices are an occupancy sensor and combination sensor that is both a motion detector and light photocell sensor.

Motion Sensor Light

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Photocontrol - Photocell Light Sensor

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Security Flood Lights with Motion Sensor and Photocell Controls

Many flood lights are also motion sensor lights. Primarily used outdoors, flood lights will turn on when motion is detected within their range, providing security and safety for businesses and homeowners.
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What's the Difference between an Occupancy Sensor and a Motion Sensor?

Occupancy sensors detect whether a person is in a room by monitoring small movements, such as typing, breathing, or even heat radiation. In contrast, a motion sensor detects large movements. Additionally, occupancy sensors can detect the presence of objects even while stationary, whereas motion sensors must detect movement to stay active.

Occupancy Sensors

For indoor and outdoor use, an occupancy motion sensor light detects motion within a room. This offers convenience by turning on automatically when movement is detected and turning off when a space is vacated. These lights are useful for lighting areas less frequented within the home, such as within a kitchen; a motion sensor light over a kitchen counter can be turned on when dishes are being washed and turned off once the occupant has left the room.

Occupancy Sensor Light

One option is the occupancy sensor light, which detects the presence of objects within a room and turns on automatically. It remains on until the object has left the room. This occupancy sensor light requires no switch, and its sensor is imbedded directly into the fixture.
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Occupancy Sensor Light Switch

Occupancy motion detector light switch kits allow multiple time-limits determined by you. The detection sensor is typically at the bottom of the mechanical switch, though standalone occupany and proximity switches are also available at Elliott Electric Supply. To be certain your motion sensor is placed appropriately within a room, avoid obstructing it.
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Timer Switches / Light Timers - Programmable, Weatherproof, Rotary

A timer is a type of lighting automation that allows light fixtures, bulbs, or electrical equipment to turn on and off at specific times. A light timer can be used indoors or outdoors. Some types of light timers include:

  • Manual Light Timers using a rotary/pushbutton
  • Digital Light Timers that are programed by the user
  • Indoor/Outdoor weatherproof light timers
  • Smart device/wifi controlled light timers (see Smart Lighting below)

Programmable Light Timer

Programmable light timer switches come in different types, digital, mechanical, or hybrid. The button timer switch shown here has physical buttons preset for 5, 10, 15, 30, and 60 minutes. A countdown timer, on the other hand, allows any length of time from 1 second to 24 hours or more. A 7-day programmable timer can be set to turn on during any time windows desired on any day of the week.

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Outdoor Weatherproof Cycle Timers

Mechanical and digital 24 hour cycle timers are housed in a weatherproof metal or other material enclosure and are programmed based on a schedule set by you, with options like 'skip a day.' Both digital and mechanical outdoor timer boxes can control indoor and outdoor lighting and electrical equipment like sprinklers, pumps, and septic system controls.

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Rotary / Twist Light Timer Switch

Twist timer switches set a countdown for the "on" state for lights or equipment. The classic rotary timer has a twist-timer dial. The further the dial is turned, the longer the circuit remains on. When the time counter dial returns to zero, the switch returns to "off." Rotary timers come with 15, 30, and 60 minute or longer time dials.

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Smart Home Lighting - Wireless, Wifi Enabled Dimmers, Switches, etc.

Smart lighting can be connected to Wi-fi and controlled wirelessly. The central controller may be a smart light switch, a handheld device, or other smart home hubs. A smart switch may also be called a wifi light switch or wireless light switch, as a Wi-Fi network is used to control the color, intensity, and activation of bulbs, fixtures, fans, and other lighting, appliances, and equipment. Smart lighting can include automation and scheduling of dimmers, motion sensors, and timers as well as unique features like specific color or warmth settings for a bulb at different times of day or night.

Smart Light Switch

A smart light switch is still intended to be hardwired into the wall but is also wirelessly connected to other devices. Smart switches, timers, and dimmers can also be wired to non-lighting circuits like fan control.
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Smart Lights - Wireless Lighting, Fixtures & Lamps with Wi-Fi and/or Bluetooth

Smart lights are controlled wirelessly via Wi-Fi and/or Bluetooth. These wireless lights can be activated and customized using mobile devices connected to the same wifi network or connected via Bluetooth. Smart lights therefore do not require specially equipped in-wall smart switches or controls, since the wireless technology is already built in. These lights can typically function just like conventionally wired lights, using standard light switches in addition to wireless remote control via wifi or bluetooth.
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Smart Dimmer Light Switch

One option for smart lighting is to use one or more smart dimmer switches hardwired directly to your dimmable lighting circuits. The sleek, next generation touch dimmer switch is touch sensitive, allowing you to dim the lights with a swipe of the finger. We sell pro LED+ dimmers from Lutron, which come with several impessive features: light fading effects, an onboard locator light to help you find the switch in the dark, a touch-sensitive light bar that indicates the brightness setting as you swipe, easy installation, and flexibility for 3-way, 4-way, and multi-location dimming compatible with dimmable LED, halogen, and incandescent bulbs.
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Smart Light Benefits for Sleep Wake Cycle

How can Smart Lighting support your sleep/wake cycle?

Smart lighting can help support the natural sleep/wake cycle by mimicking the natural light cycle of the sun. In the morning, smart lights can be programmed to gradually brighten to simulate the rising sun, which helps to wake you up naturally and alert your body that it's time to start the day. In the evening, smart lights can be programmed to gradually dim to simulate the setting sun, which helps to relax your body and prepare you for sleep.

In addition to the timing of the light, the color of the light also plays a role in supporting the natural sleep/wake cycle. Blue light, which is emitted from many electronic devices, can suppress the production of melatonin, a hormone that helps regulate sleep. Therefore, it's best to avoid blue light in the hours leading up to bedtime. Smart lights can be programmed to emit warmer, more yellow light in the evening, which helps to promote sleep.

Ways that smart lighting can help support the natural sleep/wake cycle:

  • Wake up gradually with a sunrise simulation
  • Dim the lights in the evening to promote sleep
  • Create a relaxing bedtime routine with soft, amber light
  • Minimize or block out blue light at night

Warning: When using this information to perform electrical work, call a licensed electrician and consult the NEC® for safety. All licensed electricians have passed examinations covering the National Electric Code®, know state and local building codes, and may carry insurance to cover damages.