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Do motion-sensing light switches go bad? Answered

Several years ago, I installed a motion-sensing light switch in our entryway.  It looks like this, if this isn't the exact model:

Leviton R22-PR150-1LW Infrared Motion Sensing Occupancy Switch

Recently, it's started self-triggering when the lights go off.  There's an LED to show when it triggers, and the LED registers motion as expected, but also when the lights go out, the LED blinks and slowly fades over 1-2 seconds.  Right as it's fading out, the lights turn back on.  I've set the timer interval as low as possible, and the lights will now turn on and off every 30 seconds or so for hours.

I've power-cycled it at the breaker, without result.  I haven't changed any of the controlled bulbs nor installed any IR emitters pointing at the sensor.  There isn't even any furniture in the entryway or anything that could be reflecting the beam or something (I'm grasping at straws here...). Really nothing I can think of has changed that would cause this behavior.

Considering it's $13, I should get a new one.  But, it bothers me that a device like this would fail after a couple of years.  I would expect it either not to work out of the box, or effectively last forever.  Has anyone else seen these fail, or am I overlooking a miniature, IR-focusing spy cam on the opposite wall?


They have what appears to be this exact model installed in the bathrooms at the theatre building where my wife works, and one of them does the same thing. The building is about three years old, so the time frame for failure is even similar. I suspect it's a manufacturing flaw of some kind. The other ones in building work just fine.

I've replaced the switch with a similar, fully functioning model. 

This isn't a solution to why it failed, but I'm choosing it as the best answer because it's the closest to my situation.  I'm not alone (or something!).  Thanks!

I took mine apart and noticed 4 wires from the motion sensor to the board; anyone know or have the wiring diagram. I want to use the motion sensor for another purpose.

it very well sounds like somthings wrong i bet to leads got close enouhg to turn it on

You could try taping a cardboard box or sheet over it.

If it doesn't fix the problem you know it's a problem with the unit. If it stops it turning on and off you know to look harder for an IR source.

(PS your link is bad :( )

Good idea!  I tried it, and the light still cycled on and off.  No hidden camera searching for me.


8 years ago

I have no experience with indoor motion-sensing switches... But I had to replace an outdoor switch last year, after ~8 yrs in operation.

I wrote that off to environmental factors--rain, ice, temp changes, etc. But given the low cost, there may be a high failure rate built-in (like CFL bulbs...)

Straight forward answer: Yes they have a very high failure rate.

Perhaps Googling will find one with long lasting results,  but in my experience seems most fail in the first few years.

Even the $40 Watt Stopper switches, so it seems spending more doesn't help.  Best solution is to replace it with a regular switch or dimmer, then remember to turn the lights off, which isn't very exciting. It seems you either save a little on power and buy lots of replacement switches or stick with old fashion switches.

Well, at least I now know that motion-sensors do not discriminate against me, personally!  Others also have difficulties with them, it seems.  My mom has a motion-activated light installed over the garage (pointing down the driveway), and I'm the only one whose motion ISN'T sensed!  I can open my car door, get out, sump around waving my arms, and the darn light stays dark!  Can't be humidity; we live in Phoenix.  Must be the UV thing, since we have LOTS of that!  ;-)  But why only ME?!?  It's not as though I'm a Twiggy-sized sloth!

This could be a number of things depending on where it is installed and the conditions it is used under.

There is the possibility of moisture effecting the circuit (either recently or over a long period) causing final failure by way of corrosion or a high resistive short.
CDS cells are known for having a shorter life in higher humidity situations. 
Strong UV light will also shorten it's life tremendously.  However, even an elevated amount from, say a CFL or other florescent tube might still shorten its life over time.
Cleaning with ammonia, or alcohol can be detrimental also, but if you are not cleaning them directly (the cell, that is) it might be from the fumes of cleansers, that caused a slow breakdown.  The switching transistor could have failed or the holding (drop down, or up) resistor may be failing.
If you recently did install CFLs to replace incandescents, could that alone explain the problem? 

'Tis either a haunting... or designed obsolescence! Two of the scariest things evar!!

Sounds like a fault on the high voltage dropper resistor to me, the part that converts 110V to something to drive the electronics - these things don't use transformers.

Its trying to start up, occasionally makes it, but most of the time gives up

Isolate it and look for either a hot part or a crack on the internal circuit board - its not unheard of for the whole joint to lift away, leaving a perfect LOOKING joint, not touching the track underneath, so poke it with a voltmeter.

If you are either brave and foolish, or actually know what you are doing, try wiring the switch to an outlet and a table lamp, while poking around with a voltmeter.

BEWARE this circuit is NOT isolated from the mains, and may give you a nasty shock, so be extremely careful.


8 years ago

Oh yeah, electronics like this can fail after a few years.  Heck, I repair military-grade electronics for a living and we get stuff back that fails inexplicably.

Replace it with a new one, and have fun taking this thing apart to see what makes it tick!  Hey, you might even be able to see what's wrong with it so you can fix it.

My guess...

I think it depends on the quality of the individual components inside. All it takes is one capacitor or resistor that was made with poor quality.  They could degrade over time and eventually cause the device to fail.  You could have also had a voltage spike at some point in time that added stress to the components (such as resistors).  If the component is taken to it's limit, it will work for a while, but it will have a fairly short lifespan and will eventually fail (this is true for all electronic components for the most part). If you have a quality component and you run it well below its maximum rating, it will pretty much last forever.

I think the only way to find an answer to your question is to replace your existing switch with another, and then take apart the the faulty one to investigate.  You could measure the values of such components to see if they are still correct.

Incidentally, I also have one of these exact same switches and mine has been working for about five years without any trouble.

Good luck! I'm curious what you find.

- John

.  Yep. As a rule of thumb, electronics are either DOA (or fail quickly) or last almost forever. But there are always exceptions, especially with units that are switching more than a few Watts.

Is it clean, and unaffected by weathering? (Guess)


I can't answer your exact question, Eric, though I do know that solid-state electronics can either fail or behave erratically for no obvious reason (we physicists blame cosmic rays; the engineers call them SEUs).

Do you have it installed in either a humid or smoky area? (I presume neither you nor Christy smoke with Corvidae around :-)  It's possible that the IR shield is wonky, but that wouldn't explain the visible-light sensitivity.  Argh, I'm out of ideas.

Have you tried calling your manufacturer's tech support?  Not the crappy big-box store where you bought it, but the actual manufacturer?  I have had better than 50% success over the years calling companies directly, sometimes using Google to find their corporate office (local toll call), rather than an 800 call center.

You might also try a Google search on your model number.  There's always the chance of a recallable defect.

Yeah, I know you already know all this stuff (it's pretty obvious to anyone who does their own projects), but sometimes having someone else point things out can be helpful.  Good luck!