Motion-sensing switch takes over when kids forget to turn off the lights

We are huge fans of the motion-sensing light switch in our house! From Ellen:

My kids seem unable to remember to turn off the bathroom light.  We use compact fluorescent bulbs, so the power usage is trivial, but it’s a pet peeve of mine.  Instead of turning off the light every time I walk past, my husband had a better idea– installing a motion-sensing light switch.  Now when you walk into the bathroom, the light turns on automatically, and then it turns off shortly after you leave.  It works so well we’ve installed another in mudroom (wonderful when I come in holding the baby and 3 bags of groceries), and the upstairs bathroom. The length of time the light stays on is adjustable, and the light can be switched "on", or "off", in addition to the automatic mode.  A funny side effect is that I’ve caught myself expecting the light to turn on automatically as I enter other rooms, and even in other people’s houses.

A motion-sensing light transformed our basement pantry from a scary cave we used to refer to as the "Blair Witch room" into a place my children are willing to enter. Light switches on timers are handy, too. We use one for our stairway light: one button-push turns the light on for 3 minutes — long enough for us to get up the stairs, then the light turns off automatically.

Anyone else care to share the motion-sensing lightswitch love?

Related: Turn off the lights or pay up


  1. says

    Of course not so useful in bedrooms or living rooms, when the kid’s sitting quietly reading and the light shuts off. But for quick visit rooms as above, peachy.

    I also teach in a room with sensor lights… they tend to shut off during midterms and finals when the students are sitting still at their desks unless I walk around the room every 5 minutes.

  2. says

    Um – if you’re worried about power usage does installing a motion sensor that has to be powered constantly (whether or not the light is on or off) really make sense? N x

  3. steve says

    i was interested in Nathaniel’s comment and thought i’d do a quick search to see if anyone had written about the power consumption of these devices. so far i have not found anything, but, i did find someone who mentioned that

    “If you use regular compact fluorescent light bulbs and decide to install a motion sensing light switch, then you’ll need to change to a dimmer compatible type of compact fluorescent. Otherwise, the sensing switch which has a very small current draw will cause the conventional compact fluorescent bulb to flicker.”

    that’s from this blog:

  4. Sneeje says

    The other problem being that the cost to purchase (sometimes install) the switches can exceed the savings. I’ve seen some motion sensing switches in the $30 range. Also, the on/off action is what creates the greatest stresses on bulb life–which sometimes motion sensing can cause to occur more often due to the point made by the first poster.

  5. Alan Thomas says

    We have one of these, and you can’t change the timeout interval, which is MUCH too short. Instead, I got a timer switch for the bathroom fan. One touch and it stays on automatically for 10,20,30… minutes.

  6. Stacy says

    Where I live in Europe, the majority of buildings have timer lights on the outside and in stairwells. You push a button and the lights come on for about 3 minutes. Sometimes the light switches off too soon (in which case I just fumble toward to glowing button), but it is better than the alternative of having lights on in the hallway all night. Many apt. buildings with underground parking use the motion sensor so the light comes on when you pull in or when you open the door to the garage. I’ve gotten so used to it, that the other way of just leaving the lights on all night just doesn’t make sense to me.

  7. Will says

    Just to second the comment that the most common type of motion sensing switch, such as the one illustrating this hack, can’t be used with compact fluorescent bulbs – it will kill the switch (says the man with too much experience). We use one for our basement (dark stairs, large basket of laundry) and I had to replace the fluorescents with incandescents. My rationale is that they are not on for very long, because of the switch, which can be adjusted for duration.

  8. says

    My husband recently installed one in our bathroom and we love it!

    Our little one was constantly having accidents on the floor because she couldn’t reach the light switch and wouldn’t walk into the dark bathroom. The motion sensitive light is ‘magical’ to her,and she’ll now walk into the dark room knowing the light will momentarily come on and is able to successfully use the potty without searching through the house to get us.


    They may use a small current, but it was much preferable to leaving our bathroom light on all the time….there are reasons that many public buildings use them….

  9. says

    What a great IDEA. I would love this in my home. We are gone during the afterschool hours and often come home to a dark, scary garage. I NEED the motion sensors. Many times I leave lights on so that I don’t come home in the dark … what a waste of electricity!

    IN our local Super WalMart, the refrigerated section has the automatic lights that come on as you walk down the aisles… a great concept!

  10. reen says

    I have the funniest image of my husband having to periodically flap his arms around to get the light back on…he’s always in the loo for like two hours.

    I like this idea better than my constantly-on nightlight in my kids’ windowless bathroom.

  11. says

    At first, I thought this was a great idea. It was posted on my birthday, and this is a problem with my own teenager.

    He is forgetful about things like this (yet he knows the complex sequence and timing of controller manipulations to beat over 63 different video games).

    Unfortunately, the motion sensor doesn’t discriminate against cats.

    However, Jennifer commented that her little one can’t reach the light switch in the bathroom. I’ll have to file this away for when my infant daughter is autonomously ambulatory and out of diapers. I’ll live with the cats’ antics if it means my little one won’t have accidents in the hallway.