How to Reset Outdoor Motion Sensor Lights


At first glance an outdoor motion sensor light doesn’t seem like an effective security system. It just turns a light on when it detects motion. But that’s when its purpose is underestimated. By uncovering someone’s motion in the dead of night, their intentions are brought to light—pun intended—and it could very well scare them off. You might spot them or someone else will, at the very least.

But what if the motion sensor light isn’t working? What if it’s staying on all the time, annoying your next door neighbors? What then? Well, the first thing you can do is check your light settings and then perform a reset.

What’s Wrong With the Motion Sensor Light?

The whole purpose of a motion sensor light is it only turns on when something moves past it—hopefully only you trigger it and not some creep or wild animal. It then shuts off after a few moments if it “thinks” there’s no motion. But if the motion sensor isn’t turning off, surely that means something is moving, right? That is not always the case, and a reset is necessary.

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So where does the problem stem from? Aside from bad wiring, it is usually linked to a power outage or electrical surge of some kind and to varying degrees. And to be frank, that’s all there is to it. There’s no mystery. It’s either bad wires or a recent power surge.

Of course, it might not be an issue at all, but a problem with incorrect settings.

Check Light Sensitivity and Duration

Motion sensor lights have a special light sensitivity you can adjust; the more sensitive the light is to motion, the higher the chance of the light turning on. How long the light will stay on after detecting motion can also be adjusting. It’s possible that your lights are set to be too sensitive to motion and the duration set too long. After all, you wouldn’t want the lights turning on from the motion of the trees.

It’s Flashing Red

There’s a small LED on some models, a tiny red light that might flash when you’re nearby. That’s nothing to worry about, in fact, it’s an indication the motion sensor is currently in walk test mode. Once you’ve powered the motion sensor on, you can test it out for the first few minutes (without the light flashing on) by walking about. It usually only lasts for 10 minutes after being powered on.

Resetting an Outdoor Motion Sensor Light

The best part about having outdoor motion sensor lights, aside from lighting the dark, is how easy it is to reset them if they happen to be on all the time. Toss your toolbox aside because you will not need it. All you need are your hands. That is it!

Resetting the outdoor motion sensor light requires accessing your home’s circuit breaker. If you do not feel comfortable doing so, then by all means don’t. Have a friend, family member, or professional help you, provided any of them know what they are doing. It is better to be safe than sorry.

1. Access your circuit breaker. Locate the breaker that directly powers the outside motion sensor light and switch it off. You could, for the sake of thoroughness, shut the entire system off. It is also wise to do so if you do not know which breaker is connected to the motion sensor.

2. Leave the breaker off for about 30 seconds. However, you might have a motion sensor light that needs as long as an hour to reset. Not ideal if you shut down the entire system, in which case you can turn everything back on and simply target the breaker connected to the light.

3. Locate the light switch for the outdoor motion sensor light. Flip it on and off several times until the outdoor motion sensor light stays on. Turn it off one last time and your job is complete. The motion sensor light has been reset.

Unplug the Motion Sensor Light

In some models, unplugging the light itself will reset the sensor. Unfortunately, this does require a screwdriver—Phillips-head or flathead, depending on the screws—and possibly a ladder if the light is up high.

1. Locate the circuit breaker and shut down power to the outdoor motion sensor light or to the entire house.

2. Remove the screws holding the motion sensor in place. Carefully pull the light fixture away from the wall.

3. See the plug that holds the light into place? Unplug it.

4. Leave the motion sensor light aside for about 30 seconds to an hour, depending on the model.

5. Fasten the plug to your motion sensor light and insert the screws again, then flip the breaker back on.

Outdoor Light Isn’t Turning On

On the other end of the spectrum, you might have an outdoor motion sensor light that isn’t coming on at all. Not even doing a jig directly in front of it will get it to turn on. What do you do then?

Check Sensor Settings

Your first move is to double-check the sensor settings. If the sensor is too high, it can cause the light to be on almost constantly. But perhaps the sensor is set so low that even walking past it isn’t enough to set it off. Try to find a nice balance. It should go off every time you walk past it.

Check Light Bulb and Light Socket

The next solution is the light bulb itself. Now, you’ll want to check more than the light bulb—the light socket can be a target for stress. Start by replacing the light bulb and see if that makes a difference. If that does not work, have a look at the light socket itself.

Remove the light bulb and examine the light socket. Is there any rust, corrosion, or damage? If so, moisture may have made its way into the light and caused water damage—especially if there’s a lot of rust. You might have to look into a whole new light bulb, in that case.

Examine the Sensor

The motion sensor could be going bad or faulty. You can actually test the sensor by removing the light from the light fixture. Rather than plug the sensor back in, connect the lights. If the lights come on, then you’ve discovered that you have a bad motion sensor light.

Bottom Line

In the event that your motion sensor light continues to stay on, even after a perceived successful reset, then it’s time to call in a professional who will personally look into the problem. At that point, the issue is with the sensor itself. Sensors, after all, can go bad and malfunction. Whether it was due to a power surge or power outage is entirely up in the air.