A motion sensor light switch differs from the traditional light switch in both design and functionality, but most importantly, the most fundamental distinction is the use of a motion sensor in order to detect movement and to automatically turn on the light in that specific area. This type of approach has been around for more than a decade and it has proven to be very useful in many applications: I’m sure you have encountered at least one motion sensor light in a public bathroom or in a hotel, but, as these devices became more reliable (and more affordable), they are now quite widespread in homes as well.
In order to properly detect the presence of a human being inside a room, the occupancy (motion) sensor can take advantage of several types of technologies: it can be a pyroelectric sensor which measures the infrared radiation (PIR – Passive InfraRed) and, since everything emits a certain level of IR radiation, it is quite easy to detect major fluctuations emitted when a person passes by (the disadvantage is that the sensor will detect only significant movements and only in direct line of sight); the second major type of occupancy sensors can use the ultrasonic technology in order to detect smaller changes into the environment (so the light doesn’t turn off when you’re reading a book or typing on the computer keyboard) – to accomplish it, the sensor sends a small pulse into the room, which returns and allows the device to detect any changes (the disadvantage is that it can be prone to false detection and it draws more power).
The manufacturers can also use a temperature sensors, audio detectors, microwave sensors or humidity sensors to detect the presence of humans, but the most common are the PIR sensors and the ultrasonic sensors, and, to get the most reliable motion sensor light switch, it is better to use both (for smaller and more significant movement detection). Since we are in 2018 and the smart home is no longer a dream, some light switches have also gained the smart attribute by allowing the users to connect their light switches to either a mobile device or a smart hub using the WiFi connection, so they can remotely turn on or off the lights inside the home.
That being said, since regardless of the used technology, these devices can help you save money on your electricity bill and can prove to be a welcomed addition in a home where kids forget to turn off the lights or in rooms that you often enter with your hands full, let’s see which can be considered the best traditional motion sensor light switches, as well as the better devices that can be a part of an IoT environment.
1. Lutron Maestro Sensor Light Switch MS-OPS2
Lutron is a well-known US-based manufacturer of light control products which are available world-wide and, since it has more than 50 years of experience into building industrial and home-based lighting systems, I did choose the Lutron Maestro sensor light switch, model MS-OPS2 as the main representative of the IR motion sensor light switches and, by taking into account that this is such a renowned brand, I do expect to see a robust and reliable device, despite it not featuring the better dual-technology (it lacks the ultrasonic sensor).
The Lutron Maestro MS-OPS2 doesn’t look that different from the traditional light switch, featuring a fairly long On/Off button and, underneath it, there’s the expected PIR sensor hidden inside a circular lens piece. The default version comes covered by a white matte finish (doesn’t keep fingerprints), but the device is also available in a large variety of colours (and, for whatever reason, Lutron decided to sell the necessary wall-plate separately). When the wall plate is removed, you can easily see that there’s an Auxiliary button, which, along with the On/Off button, it has the role of changing the way the device functions.
For example, you can change the sensitivity of the motion sensor from low to high (and vice versa) by holding both the On/Off switch and the Auxiliary button until the lens flashes one time. Furthermore, the sensor has two modes, the Auto-On Daylight sensing and the Manual Off-While-Occupied, the former being suitable for turning on the light when the natural light is low (to teach the sensor when is the appropriate time to turn on the light, press the On/Off button immediately after entering the room, when the Lutron Maestro Sensor Light Switch has turned on the light too soon); the latter mode is suitable for when you want the light to remain turned off while the room is occupied and, in case you disable it, then, by default, the light will remain turned off but, after 25 seconds it will turn on until it detects any movement inside the room.
The Lutron Maestro light switch also allows the user to set the timeout period until the device turns the light off after it doesn’t detect any movement. To do so, you need to press and hold the On/Off switch until the lens flashes once or several times: one flash indicates that the device is in test mode, while two to five flashes allows you to set the timeout after one minute, 5 minutes, 15 minutes or 30 minutes. It’s true that the Lutron Maestro is surprisingly sensitive for a PIR light switch, but it can still sometimes fail to detect very small movements, so you may need to raise your hand or perform any other kind of movement to turn the light back on.
Note: The sensor’s coverage is approximately 900 square feet for major motion and 400 square feet for minor movements.
Installing the Lutron Maestro MS-OPS2 doesn’t differ that much from the regular light switch, but it does require a ground wire, otherwise it will not function (while some other motion sensor light switches need a neutral wire) – don’t forget to turn off the power inside the house before attempting to install the device. If you don’t think a PIR switch is enough to satisfy your needs, there’s also the Lutron MS-A102 which takes advantage of a dual tech occupansy sensor, so, besides the passive infrared sensor, it also has a ultrasound sensor which can more easily detect small movements (additionally, the device also comes with a better suite of features, allowing more sensitivity levels on the PIR sensor, has indicator LEDs and it has a dedicated Sensor Mode button).
2. Enerlites MWOS-W Motion Sensor Switch
When compared to Lutron, the California-based manufacturer, Enerlites, is a lot younger, but during its 10 years of existence, it has managed to become quite popular in the US, focusing towards building reliable wiring and lighting controls products. For this reason, I had a look at the Enerlites MWOS, which is a motion sensor light switch that uses both the passive Infra-red tech and the ultrasonic technology, therefore greatly enhancing the ability of the device to pick up even the slightest movements in order to accurately predict when a person is inside a room.
Unlike the regular PIR light switches, the Enerlites MWOS motion sensor switch will attract more attention to itself because of the two round cut-outs (for the ultrasonic cones) positioned between the passive infrared lens and a Push button, which also masquerades as a control panel cover that, when removed, gives access to more controls, thus further enhancing the industrial look of the device. The Enerlites light switch is completely covered by a white matte finish and, from what I could gather, the device only comes available in white (while most other light switches do offer a larger variety of colours).
In order to configure the Enerlites MWOS, you need to remove the small plastic cover and expose several types of buttons: on the bottom of the section, there’s a small switch which allows you to select between the Off mode (the Push button won’t function), the OCCupancy mode (when selected, the Push button will toggle between Automatic On/Off) and the VACancy mode (the Push button will toggle between Manual On / Automatic Off after time delay). A bit on the right, there are two circular dials, one for setting the sensitivity of the ultrasonic sensor (from 30 to 100% – if properly positioned, the maximum coverage should be 400 square feet) and the other dial is for setting the level of ambient light (the first level is for low light, while the last level sets the light switch to operate when there’s more light in the room – it can work during daylight as well).
At the top of the controls area is where things get a bit too complicated, because here, you can set the sensitivity, the time delay, the trigger mode and the walkthrough mode by pressing various combinations of buttons labelled from 1 to 7: you can set the sensitivity levels using the first button (50 or 100%), select the trigger mode using combinations between the 2 and 3 buttons, select the time delay using the fourth, fifth and sixth buttons (the 5 seconds test, 30 seconds and from 5 to 30 minutes) and, lastly, disable or enable the Walkthrough mode using the seventh button. Yes, it’s not an intuitive systems and yes, you will need the manual to properly set it up. The complexity of this device may seem great for offering more control, but most people crave simplicity, so it’s no wonder that the smart devices have become so popular since they offer both: simplicity in configuration and as many useful features as possible.
Note: Directly underneath the ultrasound cones, you can notice a small LED light which lights up when the device detects motion.
Installing the Enerlites MWOS motion sensor switch is done in a similar manner as with any regular light switch: it requires connecting the black (hot) and red (load) wires and it does use a neutral (white) wire for the sensors and especially for the LED light to function (you also need to connect the green ground wire for safety reasons). Bear in mind that similarly to the other PIR sensor light switches, which, in some cases, can detect finer movements (such as the Lutron Maestro MS-OPS2), you still need to be in the in direct line-of-sight of the PIR sensor (it can reach up to 1200 square feet), but the ultrasonic does help a lot with more extreme temperatures and it is of great help with detecting finer movements (depending on the size of your room, you can select the appropriate sensitivity for each sensor using the control panel area).
3. Jasco GE Z-Wave Plus Smart Lighting Control Motion Sensor Switch
Ever since the IoT devices have become more affordable, these smart gadgets have been slowly replacing the traditional products and, taking into account the fact that the dual-tech motion sensor light switches have started to get a bit too complicated, we desperately needed a smart light switch which would share some of the functionalities of the older devices (so it’s suitable for a larger audience) and which can be connected to a smart home environment for an easier control and maintenance. The Jasco GE Z-Wave plus smart switch seems to fit the bill, featuring the good ol’ motion sensor, as well as the Z-Wave technology, to allow a higher level of control and integration within an IoT network.
IoT security link
The GE Z-Wave motion sensor light switch did not want to challenge the traditional look of the light switches, preferring to remain as discreet as possible, featuring two buttons which are separated by the PIR motion sensor lens (it’s easy to mistake them for three buttons). The device is entirely covered by a white matte finish which does not retain fingerprints and, besides white you do get an additional colour option: the package includes light almond paddles – to change the colour of the buttons, you need to press the two small tabs positioned on the top (and on the bottom, for the lower button), lift the button and simply replace it with the new one.
Even when the wall plate is removed, the GE Z-Wave motion sensor light switch doesn’t scare off people by adding lots of switches and dials, but it does have a small button on the left side which, when pressed, it changes the operation mode of the switch (press it along with the top button to enable the Occupancy mode, press it along with the bottom button to enable the Vacancy mode or press it along with both buttons to enable the Manual mode). Furthermore, there’s a blue LED behind the middle cover which will flash depending on the chosen configuration. Since the GE Z-Wave Plus switch acts as a bridge between the regular motion sensor light switches and the smart light switches, you get both worlds in one device, so, you can configure it using the available analogue buttons or by relying on a smart home hub. That being said, if you don’t have a compatible smart home hub available, you can set the light sensing On (so the sensor will turn on the light if the room is dark) by pressing and holding the top and the bottom buttons until the LED flashes once or Off by pressing and holding the bottom and the top button until the LED flashed three times.
If you want to choose the motion sensor sensitivity, you need to press and hold the bottom button until the LED flashes once for a high sensitivity, twice for medium sensitivity and three times for low sensitivity (the device is equipped with a passive infrared sensor PIR which can reach up to 45 feet straight ahead and 8 feet towards left or right). In order to to set the time-out delay, you need to press and hold the top button once for 5 seconds, twice for 1 minute, three times for 5 minutes (the default option), four times for 15 minutes and five times for 30 minutes.
But, the purpose of this device is to connect to a smart home hub (it is compatible with Honeywell, Nexia, Iris, SmartThings, Pulse, Wink and more) and, this way, you can use Alexa commands to change the configuration of the device or simply use the interface of the chosen hub (be aware that the GE Z-Wave motion sensor light switch cannot connect directly to Alexa and a compatible hub is necessary).
Note: Installing the GE Z-Wave light switch requires the same steps as connecting a regular light switch, but you do need to have a neutral wire (white) for the LED and the sensor to work – also, you need to use the ground wire to ensure the safety of your device.
4. ecobee Switch+ Smart Light Switch
I’m sure you heard about ecobee especially because of its highly popular thermostat, but it seems that the Toronto-based manufacturer wants to expand its reach and it has recently released a rather unique device called the ecobee Switch+, which is a smart light switch, it has motion and temperature sensors (the latter is not yet enabled, but we were promised that it will be with a future update) and on top of that, it also has Amazon Alexa Built-in – yes, it is not only compatible with Alexa, it has it fully integrated within the device, so, if you had in mind purchasing an Echo Dot and a Motion Sensor Light Switch, then give the ecobee Switch+ a try.
Unlike the other smart motion sensor light switches, the ecobee Switch+ decided to not follow the same design footprint and the device ended up looking more like a small air freshener than the regular light switch. The case can be divided into three main parts, the top part being dedicated for the Amazon Alexa, featuring a front-facing speaker for allowing Alexa to respond to your commands, for playing music and more, there’s also a horizontal light bar which glows when Alexa talks to you and on the top, there are two buttons, on the left there’s the Mic Off button and on the right there’s the Action button for interrupting Alexa. The middle part is dedicated to the occupancy sensor, which uses the passive infra-red technology (PIR) to detect movements inside the room (there’s also a built-in temperature sensor which is not operational at the moment).
The bottom side is dedicated to the traditional On/Off button for when you want the turn the lights on or off manually and, underneath the button, rests a night light which helps you find the switch during the night. The device is completely covered by a white matte finish (doesn’t retain fingerprints) and it does have the wall plate included into the package (so far, other colours are not available).
Setting up the ecobee Switch+ smart light switch requires downloading and installing the ecobee app on your mobile device, create an account and then choose ‘Add/install device’. Afterwards, you’ll need to tap ‘Register your device’, select ‘ecobee Switch’ (the LED light on the device should become amber) and wait for it to be detected by the app.
The next steps require that you select the home’s WiFi SSID, select the location and you’re done. After the initial installation is done, you can visit the device on your app in order to turn on or off the lights, select the location of your light (indoor or outdoor – the sensor will act differently) or just allow Alexa to make your life easier by using voice commands (which are not limited to the light switch functions, it will work similarly to the Amazon Echo Dot).
Some of the cool functions of the ecobee Switch+ smart light switch are the ability to randomize turning on and off your lights while you’re away on vacation for more home security and the device can accurately tell between day and night.
Note: Installing the ecobee Switch+ is not really difficult and it requires pretty much the same steps as installing a regular light switch, but be aware that, in order to function, it does need a neutral wire (white) and, for increased safety, you need to use the ground wire (green).