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Decent Motion Sensing Lights? 82

Posted by Cliff
from the proper-care-and-feeding-of dept.
Above asks: "At my previous house I purchased a number of motion sensor lights to replace the standard flood lights. I simply went to the nearest Home Depot and bought a mid range model, and they worked great. Since then I've moved, and in the new house I did the same, and got some Heath-Zenith units from Home Depot. They were junk (came on all the time for no reason). I adjusted two different units to no end, they simply didn't work. Since that was basically all Home Depot carried, I went to Lowes, and got a Regent Lighting unit. It was better, but not by much. I want my back yard to be relatively sensitive, triggered by the dogs when we let them out, but the front yard to be insensitive, triggered only by a car or the close approach of a person. Where can I get a good quality, motion sensor flood light? What are the secrets to aiming and adjusting them so they work right?"
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Decent Motion Sensing Lights?

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  • I'll make this brief. A company called X10 [x10.com] (specifically here [x10.com]) has everything you need. Good quality stuff at reasonably affordable prices. Browse the site, you'll like what you find.
      • by Helix150 (177049)
        another vote for the above linked product. It's a great device and can be used with home automation software for even more useful functionality.
      • Maybe because they like being flamed for asking a serious question of a bunch of (generally speaking) really bright people with a technical bent? It seems to me like automatic light controls sort of fall into an area of interest to geeks.

        FWIW, I agree with the assessments of X10's marketing techniques, but the controller I bought from them 10-15 years ago is still holding up fine. If I'd known they made lights like the ones you linked to, I probably would have installed them on my new porch instead of w

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by belmolis (702863)

      It looks like they have useful stuff, but their web site is really annoying.

    • by Rob Riggs (6418) on Thursday October 26, 2006 @11:34PM (#16604932) Homepage Journal
      Remember who paid for all those annoying pop-up and pop-under ads when they first came out? X10 are the primary reason all browsers come with popup blockers these days. Their internet marketing tactics stink.

      I won't support them. And I urge others to do the same.
      • by ceoyoyo (59147) on Friday October 27, 2006 @02:04AM (#16605822)
        Since popup blockers are now universal they've started paying people to post on Slashdot. Apparently.

        • by drinkypoo (153816)
          Jesus Christ, how do I get a job like that? sit on my ass and talk about how great X10 is on the internet? the best part is that if you actually know the products and provide people with useful information then you're not just shilling, but you're actually providing a service - and the whole point of it is to produce targeted advertising, which is the best kind. I definitely would prefer to buy things from their competitors due to their asinine advertising and just the simple fact their their website layout
    • I researched the X10 stuff and bought three floodcams, extra receivers, a RF/powerline transciever, and USB RF receiver and control interfaces for a computer for about US$430.

      For the money spent, it was a good deal: the cameras, though poor quality work, and the flood lights come on when sensing motion, sending X10 events and responding to X10 commands to turn on the cameras and floodlight.

      However:

      1) The video range is poor. Figure 20 feet max through typical household construction, and interference can be
    • by linzeal (197905)
      If you go X10 I can swear by this model [amazon.com], we live out in the country and can adjust it pretty reliably not to go off when every single critter in the woods comes by at night, yet it still works when people and deer come over.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by jandrese (485)
      I had a bunch of X10 stuff for awhile, but the quality control was really bad. Appliance modules would turn off and on randomly, the motion sensor just plain stopped working after a few months, and pretty much everything gave me trouble after awhile except for the big white remotes in the freebie box they (used to?) give out. Maybe they've gotten a handle on their quality control since then, but I still don't trust them.
  • I have the same, cheap, [brand of] Heath-Zenith lights and they work fine. I suspect that the environment that your lights are set within are the problem. If you have trees with branches in sight of the passive system, the wind will blow and set off the lights. That may be the only difference between houses: environmental variation. I have noticed that they are more sensitive in colder months than warmer months. This may be the temperature interacting with the sensors, or it could be other changes to the en
  • Pitfalls and caged tigers (claymores if you can get a few. REALLY easy to use. "FRONT: This side towards enemy")

    But seriously, flood lights aren't going protect your home very well, especially DYI projects. If it's safety you have in mind, it is worthwhile to call the professionals.
  • by solid_liq (720160) on Thursday October 26, 2006 @11:28PM (#16604872) Homepage Journal

    Hey Slashdot readers, what's the best brand of oil to use in my car?

    Dear Slashdot, I keep buying ballpoint pens that don't write well. I have to keep scribbling on scratch paper to make them work. What kind of pen should I get so I don't have this problem?

    Dear Slashdot, my kid wants a dog. I don't want a dog that barks alot. What do you recommend?

    Yo Slashdot, I got a beef wit dis guy in my 'hood. What kinda piece do you recommend I use on his a$$? Peace.

    Dear Slashdot, I'm so fat I keep breaking every chair I sit on. Anyone know of an industrial strength chair I can get that won't get crushed by my lazy butt?

    Hey all you smart Slashdot readers, I'm going to be on Who Wants to be a Millionaire. Anyone want to be one of my lifelines? You need to be really smart and stuff. Lemme know if you are.

    • by slack-fu (940017)
      if only i had mod points
      • by Anonymous Coward
        Dear Slashdot,

        Once again I awoke this morning hungry. I installed food into my mouth yesterday when I woke up hungry too. In fact, I installed food three times yesterday. And they day before that. And the day before that. This seems like such a cheap hack to a simple problem. Is there any way I can automate a solution to this problem? I have a few requirements though. Of course it must be open source and patent free. Also, I would prefer a linux based solution. Any suggestions would be great!
        • by Nerd4News (661915)
          Once again I awoke this morning hungry. I installed food into my mouth yesterday when I woke up hungry too. In fact, I installed food three times yesterday. And they day before that. And the day before that. This seems like such a cheap hack to a simple problem. Is there any way I can automate a solution to this problem? I have a few requirements though. Of course it must be open source and patent free. Also, I would prefer a linux based solution. Any suggestions would be great!

          http://www.adminschoice.com/d [adminschoice.com]
    • by notanatheist (581086) on Friday October 27, 2006 @12:26AM (#16605282) Homepage
      Mobil. Pilot. A cat. Golf club, 3 wood. Lazyboy.
    • Pen recommendation (Score:3, Informative)

      by deek (22697)

      Dear Slashdot, I keep buying ballpoint pens that don't write well. I have to keep scribbling on scratch paper to make them work. What kind of pen should I get so I don't have this problem?

      I recommend trying out the space pen [spacepen.com]. Containing a pressurised ink cartridge, it'll write reliably at any angle, on just about any surface. These pens were used by NASA in space, for their ability to work in zero gravity. Plus, you'll get geek cred for owning one.

      • A pencil would be far easier.
        • by deek (22697)

          A pencil would be far easier.


            Yeah, but try sharpening a pencil in space.
          • Why is sharpening a pen in space hard? There's no gravity requirement; the only issue would be floating bits of wood. There are lots of pencil sharpeners in an enclosed space which would stop most of the shards/dust getting out.
            • by deek (22697)

              Why is sharpening a pen in space hard? There's no gravity requirement; the only issue would be floating bits of wood. There are lots of pencil sharpeners in an enclosed space which would stop most of the shards/dust getting out.

              Geez, it was a reply made in jest, trying to evoke images of pencil shavings floating around in a zero gravity chamber.

              But, since you want to take it seriously, let's examine why both NASA _and_ the Russian space agency have never used pencils in space. Yep, the Russ

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Builder (103701)
      Castrol (can of the best)

      Pencil

      Cat .45 of shotgun if you can't aim for shit

      Diet

      No
    • Please don't comment on stories in which you have no interest.
      • The point is /. is a poor place to ask these kinds of questions. They'd do much better asking a home improvement forum, rather than a bunch of computer nerds.
        • by holstein (142604)
          Well, myself I think that the answers were quite interesting. I'm thinking about the thread on dissassembling the lights, and the debate about how they work. This is true nerd thinking...

          Of course, the original question looked more like "what brand should I buy", which is _not_ nerdy.

          How to DIY is the way to go.. :)
        • by blincoln (592401)
          They'd do much better asking a home improvement forum, rather than a bunch of computer nerds.

          Slashdot seems like a decent place to ask questions about home automation-related projects. The submitter is asking about something fairly basic, but it's still part of a wired-up home.
      • Please don't comment on posts in which you have no interest.

        You see what I did there? He DOES have an interest in it. He has an interest in stopping future stories like it that also have absolutely nothing to do with Slashdot. Just the same as you had an interest in stopping him from posting about them.
      • Your comment is inherently redundant.
      • by adolf (21054)
        You're new here, aren't you?

    • Re: (Score:1, Offtopic)

      by subreality (157447)
      Oil: We've found mineral oil works very well for cooling processors. Give it a try.

      Pens: Not only do they write poorly, but you don't have access to the blueprints to improve them. You're forever stuck in Bic's pen goes scratchy - buy a new pen upgrade cycle. Try OpenOffice on Ubuntu.

      Dog: Aibo.

      Piece: I've played a lot of Quake2. In my time in lmctf, I've experimented a lot, and the HyperBlaster [quake2.com] is *the* all-around offense weapon to have. However, I haven't found any in the local gun shops, so I'd r
    • http://www.staples.com/webapp/wcs/stores/servlet/ C ategoryDisplay?prodCatType=2&storeId=10001&categor yId=11161&catalogId=10051&langId=-1 [staples.com]

      I think you are wrong btw, (reading your post to be a rhetoric argument against the topic) this subject already has sufficiently nerdish answers... it was worth home page time.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by zippthorne (748122)

      Hey Slashdot readers, what's the best brand of oil to use in my car?

      Brand? doesn't really matter. Synthetic will last longer than natural, and use the lowest weight oil your manufacturer recommends. XXwNN means roughly "starting temperature viscosity equivalent to XX weight oil, running temp viscosity equivalent to NN weight oil." Higher numbers are more viscous, but less likely to leak. Lower numbers will give you slightly better fuel economy.

      Dear Slashdot, I keep buying ballpoint pens that don't writ

      • by szembek (948327)
        Only run synthetic oil if your manufacturer recommends it in your owners manual.
        • by drinkypoo (153816)

          I don't know who told you this but you're on crack. Synthetic protects any engine more than natural oil, and most synthetics were actually designed to replace normal oil in existing cars. The synthetics designed specifically for modern vehicles (like the 0W15 oil - yes that's a 0) are all products that were released later.

          Now, what you should never do is try to break a car in on synthetic if it is not designed for it. The synthetic prevents it from breaking in properly. However, it seems like most of th

          • by deacon (40533)
            You have bought into the marketing bullshit hook line and sinker. Fact is, synthetic oils can be miscible with water (creating slude in an engine driven for short distances which never fully warms up), can make the gaskets and seals leak on an older engine, and can make rubber hoses (PVC, evap) harden like glass and develop cracks.

            If your goal is to protect your engine, then put in any motor oil that has the ASPI seal and change it whenever it gets the color of strong tea or darker. Your differentials wil

            • by drinkypoo (153816)

              Fact is, synthetic oils can be miscible with water

              Petroleum-based oils also get water in them. You've never seen milky oil? No car should ever be driven without being allowed to come to full operating temperature for just this reason; since the crankcase is not a closed system, water enters the system every time you drive. Consequently, you need to bring the engine up to temperature and cook off that water every time you drive to minimize corrosion.

              There are reasons to use synthetic in your [automati

          • The only time you should not run synthetic is when you've got an oil leak.

            Acutally, there's another case.
            If you've got a Mazda rotary engine.

            In that case, you've actually got an oil injector.

            (Although some guys do remove it and premix two-cycle oil in their gas tanks.)
            • by drinkypoo (153816)
              Thanks, a detail I did not know. I've never been much of a rotary fan because the cars they come in are too small for me to drive at 6'7".
      • by FragHARD (640825)
        >>Synthetic will last longer than natural<<
        Of course you know that if your vehicle did not come with synthetic and you switch oil your seals(pan,main,valve covers,etc...) will start to leak guaranteed and if they already leak they will leak even more! So even if it LASTS longer you will have to add more sooner just from leaks :0) I would recomend a synthetic blend(castrol makes a good one, dosen't leak as much) if you really want to go with synthetic.
      • use the lowest weight oil your manufacturer recommends.

        This, of course, is nonsense. There's a reason that manufacturers often give a range and just because your particular situation makes one side of the range worthwhile doesn't mean that'll translate to someone else's situation.

        The manufacturer of my motorbike (Suzuki) recommends 10W40. That's a recommendation for a bike that is driven all over the US: from Maine to Montana to Arizona to Florida. A recommendation for regions where temperatures drop b

  • Sensor orientation (Score:5, Informative)

    by itwerx (165526) <itwerx@gmail.com> on Thursday October 26, 2006 @11:34PM (#16604940) Homepage
    Most of the sensors have a plastic "light guide" in front of them that breaks the sensed area into zones. It is the changing difference between the zones that triggers the sensor. Try taking one of them apart and you'll see either variations in the lens plastic, or even a set of physical baffles between the outer filter and the sensor itself.
          (You can actually walk by most IR sensors without setting them off if you move VERY slowly, which is why better quality alarm systems use radar or specific thermal level monitoring rather than just a change).
          Which brings us to aiming. Most of the time the zones are arranged to be more sensitive to side-to-side motion than up/down. So if you have one oriented 90deg out of "true" then it'll be rather insensitive except in a narrow band. (This is a good way to limit the area of coverage of a sensor without having to break out the masking tape).
          Speaking of which, the height and angle of the sensor makes a big difference for the same reason.
          So I would recommend taking one apart, figuring out the zone layout and adjusting accordingly. (Heck, you can even just set one on a table and see what area it "sees" and how sensitive it is to motion in that area, then turn it 90deg and try again).
    • That's a proper geek response. Well said. Thanks for the information as I have the same problem. Seems no matter how much I adjust sensitivity or where I aim the sensor some nights it just wants to come on repeatedly.
    • Some corrections (Score:5, Informative)

      by Maddog Batty (112434) on Friday October 27, 2006 @06:15AM (#16606860) Homepage
      Most of the sensors have a plastic "light guide" in front of them that breaks the sensed area into zones.

      Its not a light guide its a plastic fresnel lens with multiple elements which focuses light (actually heat) from various "zones" onto the sensor.

      It is the changing difference between the zones that triggers the sensor.

      Nope. The sensor is made from two seperate pyroelectric elements which are mounted side by side. It is differences between these two elements which triggers the device. This could be from the same zone or different zones. Sun light and other ambient light (heat) changes will affect both elements equally (you hope) so that they don't trigger the device.

      Try taking one of them apart and you'll see either variations in the lens plastic, or even a set of physical baffles between the outer filter and the sensor itself.
                  (You can actually walk by most IR sensors without setting them off if you move VERY slowly, which is why better quality alarm systems use radar or specific thermal level monitoring rather than just a change).
                  Which brings us to aiming. Most of the time the zones are arranged to be more sensitive to side-to-side motion than up/down.


      The are all like this due to them being two element devices.

      So if you have one oriented 90deg out of "true" then it'll be rather insensitive except in a narrow band. (This is a good way to limit the area of coverage of a sensor without having to break out the masking tape).

      True.

      Speaking of which, the height and angle of the sensor makes a big difference for the same reason.
                  So I would recommend taking one apart, figuring out the zone layout and adjusting accordingly. (Heck, you can even just set one on a table and see what area it "sees" and how sensitive it is to motion in that area, then turn it 90deg and try again).


      The biggest difference between the systems you can buy is the shape of the fresnel lens. You can have just one main zone or lots of sub zones or a combination of both. Most good systems will give you a diagram of the size and position of the zones which you can use to choose and position them.
      • by itwerx (165526)
        its a plastic fresnel lens
        That is one type, there are also "bug-eye" lenses and no lens at all, just a plastic honey-comb between the filter and the sensor.

        It is differences between these two elements which triggers...
        Right, and the difference between those elements is generated by the IR coming from the zones which is what actually matters for purposes of aiming, hence my use of the word "zones" instead of confusing the issue for the poor sod who's trying to solve his problem. See more on this below, (the
  • I've seen motion detector lights come on when a radio transmitter fired up nearby.

    Also, poke around: some have sensitivity adjustments.

    Go really hardcore and wire them into your home security system. Passive infrared detectors for alarms systems are high quality and a reasonably sophisticated panel can be programmed to turn lights on without sounding an alarm.
    • Hmm.. in addition to the above post I'll have to find a way to test this theory as my AP is in my garage about 20 feet from the problem light. So much for hiding the SSID (bad joke).
  • by dvogt (899625) on Friday October 27, 2006 @12:16AM (#16605232)
    First off, I have to say I agree with the original poster... I too tried to use the Zenith stuff from Home Depot when replacing lights for a friend and the stuff simply doesn't work. Pretty disappointing since there isn't much to this stuff. When I started looking into doing lights for my home I also looked at the X10 stuff but finally decided to build my own infrastructure. Not that there is anything wrong with the X10 stuff... it's affordable, easy to use, and has lots of software support. However, I'm building some custom home automation stuff anyways (such as asterisk integration and a cross platform graphical data-flow language for microcontrollers so you can embed control logic onto a cheap controller board instead of using a dedicated pc without needing to know how to write code) so I figured I'd customize the motion stuff as well. I found some GE motion sensors for about $10 that work great (and actually come with docs covering sensetivity, range, effective angles, etc... which you don't normally get in a packaged unit). I modified them a bit to add tamper detection but otherwise they work great out of the box. These feed back into a controller board which can also control the flood lights (which are just standard floods controlled by relays). And yes, I'm sure all this can be done with X10, I just prefer to build my own stuff (http://www.kondra.com/circuit/circuit.html [kondra.com]).
    • by Anonymous Coward
      It sounds like you are using light-poluting abominations. Shame on you for using any outdoor lighting fixture that is not a "full cut-off" fixture. Full cut-off fixtures illuminate what you want illuminated, without causing glare (which makes it harder for you to see) and without degrading the night sky with upward-shining light. When you don't send the light skyward, you are also able to lower your energy usage. See the Internaional Dark Sky Association for more information
      • by dvogt (899625)
        hmm... except that they're hooded and under the eaves of the roof (I'm familiar with the Dark Sky Association... my father in law is an astronomer). Also by separating the sensors from the lights I can use achieve better sensor coverage using fewer lights. Good points however.
  • I've always been a big fan of the reverse-motion sensor light... I think it's much more useful to have them turn off when they see motion than turn on.
  • Try the motion sensing lights from Costco/Price Club.
  • by hey! (33014) on Friday October 27, 2006 @07:32AM (#16607392) Homepage Journal
    I ended up giving up on backyard astronomy because I kept trigger neigbors' security lights. Nothing like spending half an hour getting dark adapted and being hit in the face with a pair of 150 watt spot lights.

    One of my neighbors has a burglar alarm which he only sets when he goes on vacation. It has internal motion sensors that are triggered if a passing wind rattles one of his windows. This means we are treated to a 120db external siren on almost a daily basis.

    Blackouts are an inconvenience, but we used to make them fun by lighting a fire in the fireplace, cooking over a camp stove, and lighthing candles and lanterns and maybe reading stories to the kids. But a couple of years a go a vogue went around the neighborhood for buying gasoline powered emergency generators. Since noise from these things apparently isn't regulated, lamplight reading is out because the neighborhood sounds like a motor speedway.

    I'm all for collecting geeky stuff, but it's one thing to have an attic electronics lab, it's another to deny a neighbor the right to be in his back yard in the dark. There's a growing and unhealthy obsession with extending and expanding our personal space, whether it's building houses as close to the property line as allowed, shining lights into neighbors' yards and windows, or driving an absurdly large SUV.

    The Stoic philosophers reasoned this way about happiness: if happiness is having all your wnats satisfied, the surest way to happiness is to self-regulate your wants. Epictetus once told the story of placing an iron lamp on the outside of his house; he heard an odd noise outside his door he went out to find that a thief had stolen the lamp. "Tommorow, my friend," said Epictetus, "you will find a clay lamp; a man can only lose what he has."
    • MOD PARENT UP (Score:3, Insightful)

      by mkcmkc (197982)
      And if you haven't read Epictetus' Manual, you should. It's a short, intriguing read. Try Lebell's plain English version. (Epictetus was a Stoic philosopher.) http://www.powells.com/biblio/1-0062511114-0 [powells.com]
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by nathan s (719490)
      I ended up giving up on backyard astronomy because I kept trigger neigbors' security lights. Nothing like spending half an hour getting dark adapted and being hit in the face with a pair of 150 watt spot lights.

      Maybe it was the "pointing your telescope at their windows" part that had them so concerned.;-)

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Overzeetop (214511)
      Crossman used to make very nice coutermeasures for such problems.
    • Depending on the shape and sensitivity of the "security" light's dusk/dawn sensor, a well-aimed laser pointer can be your friend. Not that I would know about such things, but I've been told ;-) P.S. If your town has a light pollution/light trespass ordinance, make sure the laser direction and wattage are such that you aren't breaking these laws. A typical pen laser outputs less than 1/50,000th the wattage of a typical insecurity light.
    • Re: (Score:1, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward
      I ended up giving up on backyard astronomy because I kept trigger neigbors' security lights.

      Think you've got the wrong definition of 'backyard astronomy'; you're supposed to be in your own backyard, with a different sort of telescope.
  • motion light (Score:3, Insightful)

    by strichards (979514) on Friday October 27, 2006 @11:26AM (#16610438)
    I had the same issues Home Depot & Lowes both stock crap. Go to an electrical supply house and get RAB lights. They simply work. http://www.rabweb.com/product_line_detail.php?prod line=STL360 [rabweb.com] I'm extremely please with the results. I'm not associated with RAB, etc. Steve
  • PIRs use pyroelectric sensors that are made from tri-glycine sulphate or lithium tantalite and change polarization with temperature change. They really measure the change in heat hitting the sensor. If things change slowly enough they will miss any change. Conversely, if there is a sudden change in heat you can get a false positive. An example of something that can cause a false positive is a warm background with cool trees waving in the breeze.

    http://www.sensorsmag.com/ [sensorsmag.com] is often a good starting poi

  • I know this is a little bit off subject, but in the interest of DIY you could build your own. I've been using Sharp's OEM IR sensors to good effect in my indoor lighting projects. They're basically a frequency modulated IR beam emitted from the sensor, coupled with an IR sensor configured to detect only the frequency of the emitter. The devices output a voltage which is proportional to the distance detected. If you know how to program a microcontroller, you could program your own object detection algori

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