If you've ever gotten tired of having to put down the laundry basket to turn the light on as you entered a room, consider installing motion sensing lights in those key areas of your house. These light switches work by detecting someone entering or exiting a room. You can override the motion sensor by pushing a button. Replacing existing light switches with motion sensor switches is a DIY project that uses simple tools and a few minutes of your time.

Tools and Materials You'll Need

  • flat-blade screwdriver
  • wire cutters/strippers

From the home improvement store:

  • motion sensor switch
  • decorative cover plate

Replacing a Standard Light Switch with a Motion Sensing Switch

  1. Switch the power off to the light switch you'll be replacing.
  2. Remove the plate covering the old light switch.
  3. Loosen the two screws holding the switch in the junction box.
  4. Pull the light switch out of the wall with the wires connected to it.
  5. Remove the green or bare copper wire from the green or copper colored screw on the switch.
  6. Cut off the black and white wires as close to the back of the switch as possible.
  7. Strip about a half inch of insulation from the ends of the black and white wires.
  8. Insert the end of the black wire into the hole marked "Black" or "Hot" on the back of the new motion sensing switch.
  9. Insert the end of the white wire into the hole marked "White" or "Neutral" on the back of the new switch.
  10. Secure the green or bare copper wire onto the green or copper colored screw on the back of the new switch.
  11. Push the new switch into the junction box with the wires behind it.
  12. Secure the switch in the junction box with the two screws.
  13. Turn on the power to the light switch.

Taking care not to touch the wires or screws on the back or sides of the switch, adjust the sensitivity of the motion sensor. The controls are often located on the bottom half of the switch. Adjust:

  • the number of seconds to wait after someone enters the room before turning on the light
  • the number of seconds to wait after someone has left the room before turning off the light

When you have the switch adjusted for your needs, place the decorative plate over the switch.

Problems You May Encounter

If you have any of the following problems, you'll need an electrical services company like G.J. Rossi & Son to finish the light switch installation:

  • The old light switch only has two wires going to it. You're missing a ground wire and an electrician will need to run a ground to the junction box and switch to make sure you are protected from getting shocked.
  • The wires connected to the old light switch don't follow the black/white/green standard. An electrician will need to sort through the wires and color code them so the switch is safely connected.
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