Wiring a Dusk to Dawn Photocell Sensor

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About: Retired Firefighter 1966 to 1986; Retired Wheat Farmer 1987 to 2003. Drapery Sales 1969 to 1987. 17 year Quintuple Heart Bypass Surgery Survivor; 14 year Melanoma Cancer Survivor. 81 years young.

I bought a photocell sensor on eBay after learning Lowes, Home Depot, and Walmart were either out of stock on them or did not carry them.  No problem, I thought, 3 wires and it should come with instructions.  It arrived, but with no instructions except on the little plastic part (see second photo).  I am NOT an electrician, but usually can handle easy projects.  If it had 2 wires, it should be easy, but with 3......that's a problem.  I went online to instructables, Youtube, and a few other sites.  Although I could not find anything showing what I needed, I did gather enough to attempt it.  Here is my wiring diagram ( third photo) and instructions:

CAUTION: BLACK WIRE IS 120 VOLTS, SO TURN OFF SWITCH OR CIRCUIT BREAKER.

Connect sensor's black wire to black wire coming from house.
Connect red sensor wire to light's black wire .
Connect all 3 white wires (from house, from sensor and from light) together.

Now wasn't that easy. :-)

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52 Discussions

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LisaM471

Question 8 months ago on Introduction

Hi there, I found your written instructions very helpful. I have two exterior lights on each side of the garage, they were put in by an electrician 7 years after the house was built. We got our house painted and the painters didn't wire the lights back the correct way. So, on one side there is s light sensor and the other side there is not. The side with the sensor has a red wire coming from the house , the side with out the sensor does not have a red wire. From your instructions I see what to do with the side with the red wire but , what about the other side? I have already wired it with black to black and white to white. How will it receive the signal from the light with the sensor?
Thank you

2 answers
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MichaelE6ELisaM471

Answer 8 weeks ago

The red wire is the hot output coming from Sensor ,so connect the black of each lite to the red that becomes hot when power when

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MichaelE6EMichaelE6E

Reply 8 weeks ago

No lite is shining on photo eye redbecome electrified to feed black wire of whatever trying to turn on and all whites get tied together

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TerryH131

Question 2 months ago

I have a photoelectric switch model 5710 120v i put the black wire from the light to the black from the house and the white to the red from the house there is no test switch on this light but it comes on and stays on how do i make it go on and off its a motion light

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graydog111TerryH131

Reply 2 months ago

UHi TerryH131. I am not an electrician. I could find no instructions when I was hooking up mine so I experimented. It worked so I hooked up several for friends the same way that is on my instructable. Sorry I cannot help. .

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MichaelE6Egraydog111

Reply 8 weeks ago

Black feed from house to black on photo eye,red from eye to black of lite,then all three whites together

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BillR85

2 years ago

The light switch should always remain in the on position for the photocell to operate automatically. Turn the light switch off first to make sure the lights do in fact turn off to isolate the problem to the wiring at the photocell or the photocell itself. If the lights remain on with the switch off (Highly doubtful) you have something messed up.

I will assume the lights do go out when the switch is off.

With the light switch on you need to test the photo-eyes circuit. This type of photo-eye has electronics in it that increase the resistance and stop the flow of electricity when light hits the sensor. Take a bright flashlight, laser etc and shine it directly on the face of the photo-eye for a short time and the lights should go out. If they don't go out you have a defective photoeye. If they do go out then the photo-eye is in a position where it isn't receiving enough daylight to increase the internal resistance to shut off the current flow thru the photo-eye thus turning off the lights. WIth the photo-eye removed from the circuit, and if you have a ohm meter, you can test the ohms thru the black and red wire coming out of the photoeye. When you shine light in the face of the photo-eye you should see a increase in resistance and when you cover up the photo-eye the resistance should drop to close to zero allowing current to pass.

Photo-eyes are pretty reliable and durable, still most likely cause is that its defective.

Hope this helps.

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graydog111BillR85

Reply 2 months ago

Hi BillR85. Your diagnosis is very good. My photocell & light is under a porch & on cloudy days, it may stay on all day because it's not getting enough sunlight to make it turn the light off. On normal sunny days, it turns the bulb off as it should. Mine is 6 years old & still works fine.

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BillR85sephiroth180

Reply 2 years ago

That is always a real possibility and most likely the problem. I went on the assumption it was wired correctly because it is pretty straight forward, but then again you never know for sure...

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sephiroth180BillR85

Reply 2 years ago

If it's staying on all the time then something's done up wrong. It could just be some sensors turn on for a few mins when initially powered up before turning off and waiting for the light level to drop enough to turn on

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BillR85sephiroth180

Reply 2 years ago

Always possible that its too shaded where its at tricking the sensor into turning on.

I had a photocell on my exterior Christmas lights and if the cell was facing into the ground It would turn on much sooner then when I turned it to face away from the ground or wall. So many variables that he really needs to eliminate each problem and making sure its wired properly would be my first step and then covering the sensor with tape or shinning a light into it to determine if the sensor is actually working. I have one on the side of my house for some exterior lights and sure enough the first one I got from the home center was in fact faulty. Noting worse then chasing a problem when the problem is a bad from stock part that one assumes is or should be ok.

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StevenHFinch

Question 7 months ago

Thanks for posting this. So, what do you do with the third wire (I assume the ground wire) from the house?

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p0tty

Question 10 months ago

How would I get this to work on a usb light? I put one in a circuit but it doesn't work, USB is 5v and ~500mA, so 1.5w? The Photoelectric Switch i got is "Voltage Range: AC 80V~277V, Rated Voltage: AC 120V/220V, Rated Load: 200W/400W". Is USB too low power for this to work?

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cblack6540

1 year ago

i bought a dusk to dawn flood light a few years ago and out of the box it stayed on all the time so i set it back and used another. today i bought a new sensor for it (hoping that was the problem, but it still stays on all the time, even when shining a bright light dead into the photocell. what do you think the problem is, could the factory have wired it wrong inside the housing. and if so does anyone have a diagram of one. This light is a Uni tech with a vapor bulb and a plug in sensor, and inside looks like a large capacitor is attached.

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AussieAlfcblack6540

Reply 11 months ago

Hey CB,

Did you get your sensor to work? I had the same problem but figured it out

Let me know if you need a hand.

Cheers,

Maurie

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Insul8rdale

1 year ago

Thanks! Wife as and I selling rental and had problem with the post lamp. Removed a while back but didn't remember how it was wired when I went to re-install it. You made it easy to do. Thanks!!

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CraigM155

2 years ago

The photo above is exactly what I'm installing today. What size drill bit would I need for the light pole?

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CharlesM202

2 years ago

Their are three wires to and from sensor red black and white I wired each to its color but light still does not work new bulb as well

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BillR85CharlesM202

Reply 2 years ago

The red wire should be directly wired to the HOT circuit supply wire the black wire should be connected to the black wire on the lamp you are trying to illuminate and the white to neutral.