Lights Out

Light blub lying in grassAutomatic controls can keep lighting costs in check
Source: National Rural Electric Cooperative Association

Whether you can’t train your kids to turn out lights when they leave a room or need a better outdoor lighting scheme, automatic controls might be a cost-effective solution.

No matter what type you use, “the most important thing to remember for any lighting control is to use a type of lightbulb that doesn’t need to ‘warm up,’” says Brian Sloboda, a senior program manager specializing in energy efficiency for the Cooperative Research Network, the research and development organization for the nation’s electric co-ops. “All of the lightbulbs for residential use now on the market will work—incandescents, compact fluorescent lamps [CFLs], and LEDs [light-emitting diodes].”


Occupancy sensors are helpful indoors, as long as they’re positioned to detect people in any corner of the room. They’re also good as task lighting—above places like a desk or kitchen sink—so you get the extra light you need while working, but you don’t forget and leave it on all night.

They are two types of occupancy sensors: ultrasonic and infrared. Ultrasonic sensors detect sound; infrared sensors detect heat and motion.

Timers make an empty home look occupied. If kids are still running in and out, however, timers aren’t as effective as occupancy sensors. Plug timers into a wall outlet or install them in the wall, like a light switch or thermostat. New varieties are digital.

Photosensors are generally best outdoors, but new applications have found they’re also useful for LED nightlights. When an overhead light is on, the nightlight shuts off automatically.


If you already have or are thinking about installing an outdoor security light, consider combining it with a photosensor to keep it from burning all day. A motion sensor goes one step further, if you don’t want continuous light.

Timers are commonly used for aesthetic or holiday lighting, sometimes in conjunction with a photosensor—so they turn on at dusk and turn off at a designated time.

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Source: U.S. Department of Energy (