Security lights buying guide

Security lights buying guide

Outdoor security lighting can be a reassuring addition to your garden or drive, effectively deterring would-be criminals and lighting up dark corners to make you feel that bit safer when you come home at night. But how do you choose which system, power option and range is best for your household?

Motion sensor lights can be ideal for limiting your energy output and only being in use when required, but you can consider alternatives like timed switches and ‘dusk-to-dawn’ security lighting. Light sources like halogen and HID give you more powerful choices but if you’re concerned about the environment, solar landscape lights using LED bulbs might be a better option.

You will also need to think about the position of your outdoor lighting to determine what range you need. With all this in mind, we’ve put together a buying guide to help you decide on the right security lights for your home.

Motion sensor lighting

Most outdoor security lighting works by motion sensors, allowing them to operate only when something or someone moves in the vicinity of your home, thus saving you electricity. The technology used can be one of two types: active or passive.

Active motion sensors

Active motion detectors are usually used to protect retail stores, businesses and banks and are more like sophisticated security systems. Some work by outputting a beam of light between two points, such as across the threshold of a door. When this energy output is interfered with – for example, by someone walking through the beam – then the outdoor security light will switch on, or in some cases, an alarm will sound. Others employ a radar sensor, which sends out radio waves and triggers the light when there is a change in the waves being reflected back.

The main thing to note with these systems is that movement, such as leaves or debris blown in from the street may be detected by the active sensor, turning on the light when you don’t need it.

Passive motion sensors

Passive motion sensor lights are the most commonly used at home and only receive signals, rather than give any output. These systems are called PIR or passive infrared sensors and monitor the heat levels in the environment via infrared waves. When a person moves into the area, the sensor detects the sudden change in temperature and switches on the light.

Unlike active systems, passive motion detectors will only sense objects which give off heat, making them more appropriate for household security. They can, however, be affected by passing cars, so you will need to check or adjust the range so that the distance covered by the sensor is limited to your garden or drive.

Timer and light-sensitive security lights

You can also buy security lights which are programmed to come on at set times, and can be adjusted according to the seasons. There’s usually an override to let you switch on and off manually if required. Light-sensitive security lights come on when it gets dark, using a photocell to detect when the light levels drop.

The concern with both of these options is that you will have some level of light in your garden all night. Though these systems often have lower output, this will still use more energy. They also may be disruptive to sleep and neighbours may find them a nuisance.

Solar security lights

These lights can be just as effective as mains-powered security lights and there’s no wiring involved. They also have the advantage of conserving energy for both your household bills and the environment, working by absorbing energy from the sun throughout the day and storing inside a lithium battery. Rechargeable batteries are a good long-term solution for these - at full power, they should emit light for 10-12 hours.

Because solar landscape lights have a softer tone and are often designed to fit complement your outdoor décor, you might find them less obtrusive than things like timed flood lights but their lower output may not be ideal if you’re concerned about securing your home.

Power options

How bright you want your security lighting really depends on its purpose. Security lights tend to range from 120 watts to 400 watts, depending on the power source; consider how much of your garden you want to illuminate. Is security against things like theft a main priority, or do you simply need to light up a dark pathway for safety reasons? A higher power output is better for deterring would-be criminals, while a low wattage is fine if you just need to see where you’re going.

The type of bulb used can also make a big difference. Halogen bulbs have a higher energy output than standard bulbs, making them a good choice for flood lights, as are HID or high intensity discharge bulbs, which are able to cover a broad area. However, these types of bulb do get very hot and use more energy than LED bulbs, which means LEDs are often used in solar lighting or if you just want a simple doorway lamp that doubles as a welcome light.


Think about the range – that is, the area you want the security light to cover - before you buy. Most products will come with an estimated range, which could be anything from 8 metres to 40 metres, depending on the type of light you’re buying.

With motion sensor lights, you will also need to consider the detection zone to determine the area and angle you want the sensor to detect. This is usually given as a degree-rating, such as 360° and a measurement, such as 10 metres.


Wall fixtures are also something to factor in here, especially when thinking about motion detectors. If you’re placing the light fitting flat on a wall, for example, you may only require a detection zone of 180°.

Be aware of the position of your security light, so that it does not cause light pollution – find a model with a shield if required to reduce the glare both for neighbours and your household. Try to fit the fixture above eye level so that no one gets blinded by the sudden light. It’s possible to buy adjustable wall fixtures to change the angle of the beam.

You can also buy pole-mounted lamps which blend in a little more with the outdoor décor and can be used from a more practical point-of-view, for lighting up walkways and the route to the garden shed.