QUESTION: I cannot afford a security system or the high electric bills from leaving outdoor lights on all night. How much does it cost to operate motion-sensing security lights? Which ones are best?
ANSWER: Automatic motion-sensing outdoor lights are among the best security options for any home. They are now available as decorative lanterns, post lights, standard two-bulb floodlights and extra-bright halogen lights.
If you already have an outdoor light, just attach an inexpensive add-on motion-sensing control to it. The light can still be operated as a normal light. Just flip the switch twice and the light stays on.
Motion-sensing lights use only a fraction of the electricity that leaving lights on all night does. Installing them can save more than $100 a year in electric bills, which means they pay back their cost in several months.
Easy-to-install solar-powered motion-sensing lights operate for free, use no wiring and require no maintenance. They are ideal for remote areas, garages or storage sheds where no electricity is available.
The sun charges the built-in battery. One day's charge provides enough power to switch the light on and off more than 150 times. For my tool shed, I use an extra-bright solar model with a fluorescent bulb.
In addition to saving electricity, outdoor motion-sensing lights make a would-be thief think he was seen. The ones that I use in my front yard have a transmitter that also switches on an indoor lamp (or alarm) for extra security.
Although many outdoor motion-sensing lights look similar, don't just buy the least expensive one. There are significant differences in the level of sensitivity, range of coverage, and convenience and security features.
The angle of coverage for floodlights and decorative lanterns ranges from a 110-degree to a 226-degree arc. A greater coverage arc reduces the chance that a burglar can sneak around it. Some decorative post lights provide 360-degree total coverage. The built-in sensor lens is tinted, so it is not obvious.
Adjustable distance sensitivity ranges from a maximum of 30 feet on less expensive ones to a maximum of 100 feet on the best motion-sensing lights. The length of on time, after no motion is detected, is adjustable from one to 20 minutes.
A new feature is a two-level light. The outdoor light can be set to stay on from one hour to all night at a dim (20% of full brightness) accent level. When motion is detected, it switches to full brightness for several minutes. This provides security and accent lighting in one fixture.
Write for Update Bulletin No. 799, which shows a buyer's guide of 10 motion-sensing electric- and solar-powered security lights and lists styles, sensitivity arc and distance, features, prices and a cost-to-operate chart. Include $2 and a business-sized SASE and send to James Dulley, Los Angeles Times, 6906 Royalgreen Drive, Cincinnati, Ohio 45244.
Letters and questions to Dulley, a Cincinnati-based engineering consultant, may be sent to James Dulley, Los Angeles Times, 6906 Royalgreen Dr . , Cincinnati, Ohio 45244.