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Adjust Motion Detectors

Updated: Dec. 19, 2022

Fix your motion detector in five minutes

FH06MAY_MOTDEC_01-2Family Handyman
Learn the fine art of motion detector sensor adjustment and stop wasting energy illuminating passing cars and wandering neighborhood cats. With these tricks and a little trial-and-error, you can turn that hair-trigger nuisance light into a useful security feature.

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An hour or less

Tame a hyperactive motion detector

Photo 1: Adjust range

Shorten the sensor’s detection zone by adjusting the “range” dial. Start with the dial set to “max” and turn down until the range is correct.

Detail of test and range controls

Set the timer button to the “Test” setting, which will turn the light off after a few seconds.

Photo 2: Fine-tune the detection zone

Narrow the detection zone by sticking electrical tape blinders on one or both sides of the sensor’s lens.

An outdoor motion detector light can save electricity and scare off intruders. But if passing cars or the neighbor’s dog constantly triggers the light, you don’t get either benefit. To stop unwanted “trips,” you have to limit the “detection zone,” the area where the sensor can see moving objects.

How to Reset a Motion Sensor Light

First, aim the detector. Turn the motion sensor’s head right or left and up or down so that its field of vision is roughly centered on the area you want to cover. To make the head stay put, you may have to tighten screws or ring nuts (Photo 2) on the arm that supports the head. Next, set the “on-time” switch to “test” (Photo 1). This will let you determine the detection zone by walking across the detector’s field of vision. When it sees you, the light will go on for a couple of seconds. (Your detector may need a one- or two-minute warm-up period before it starts to work.)

If the detection zone in front of the detector is too long, aim the head down slightly. If the zone is too short, raise the head, but keep it at least 1 in. from lightbulbs and lamp covers. When the range is about right, make finer adjustments using the range dial (Photo 1). It may be labeled “range” or “sensitivity.” Start with the dial set at the maximum range and turn it down to shorten the zone.

If the zone is still too wide, narrow the lens opening with electrical tape (Photo 2). This is a trial-and-error process that can take a few minutes. Normally, you need to apply narrow blinders only to the right or left ends of the lens, but you can cover as much of the lens as you like. When the length and width of the zone are just right, reset the on-time switch.

Required Tools for this Project

Have the necessary tools for this DIY project lined up before you start—you’ll save time and frustration.

  • 4-in-1 screwdriver
  • Electrical tape
  • Slip joint pliers
  • Stepladder

Required Materials for this Project

Avoid last-minute shopping trips by having all your materials ready ahead of time. Here’s a list.

  • No materials are required.