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Outdoor Lighting Controls Guide

In todays world, facility managers and business owners have to do more with less. Shrinking budgets, expanding regulations and increased consumer demand require outdoor lighting systems that are not only cost effective and maintenance free, but deliver a safe, secure and inviting environment. A lighting strategy that incorporates efficient led lighting with onboard controls helps customers realize significant advantage and saving over lights only options.

It is not uncommon to find or want the use of lighting controls in parking lots and other large outdoor areas, installed in shoebox fixtures. They can also be found in other types of security lighting, like wall packs and flood lights.

Reduction in Energy and Maintenance Costs

Applying lighting controls can save an additional 20 to 50 percent savings over light alone savings, depending on how it is set up and your type of environment. The right control strategy can also have a positive impact on a project’s payback by reducing energy consumption and lowering maintenance costs and extending the life of the LED Fixture. Proper use of controls can even enhance commercial and industrial properties.


Reliable, high quality LED lighting improves visibility, which can help deter criminal activity around you property. But this does not mean your lights need to be on 100% all the time. Dimming your lights when no activity is detected will lower your utility bill and extend the life of the product. Think of it as the car you drive. It will last a lot longer if you drive it at 50 mph and not at the top range of 100 mph. Lighting is similar. Incorporating motion sensors on your lights ensures you have full bright when someone is around, and saving money when no one is near by. Dusk to dawn sensors ensures your lights are only on when they are needed.

Dusk to Dawn Sensors - Photocells

A dusk-to-dawn photo control allows fixtures to turn on / off based on outside light conditions. Simply put, they turn light on at night and off during the day, making this ideal for facility managers and business owners looking to reduce maintenance costs and save energy.

There are two photo control options that can meet this basic controls need: fixture based photo control and circuit wide
photo controls.

Fixture Based Photo Control

With fixture based photo controls, a photo control is installed on each fixture. An important point to consider when selecting the sensor for your fixture is expected life. Customers purchase LED solutions, in part, to reduce maintenance costs. If they have to maintain a sensor on each fixture, it becomes a needless maintenance cost. That is why we recommend you do not reuse photo sensors from old fixtures. These sensors are not expensive and the small extra cost may be worth the replacement in the future.

With this solution, fixtures located in shaded areas turn on sooner than other fixtures that may not be shaded, providing well lit areas even during early evening hours.

Many options are available, and the one you choose depends on the functions you are trying to perform. It must match with the Nema Socket of the fixture. They are typically easy to install, you insert them into the socket and twist lock them into place. If your fixture has a Nema Socket and you do not intend on using a fixture based sensor, then you must install a shorting cap to make sure the light is operational.

Circuit Wide Photo Controls

With circuit wide photo controls, a single sensor is located near an electrical panel that controls an entire leg of a circuit. At dusk, the photo control allows all of the fixtures on that circuit to turn on. At dawn, the lights will turn off automatically together. This option is frequently used instead of a timer.

A key benefit to this installation is that there aren’t any required options (Nema Socket) on the fixture when ordering, which means that this can be added to existing systems.

The trade off between both systems is flexibility versus simplicity. A system with individual sensors is more flexible and adaptable, but slightly more complex. A system with centralized photo sensor is simpler, but many not work well with other controls, like motion sensors.

Motion Sensors

Motion sensors allow for the detection of movement, and then signal the light to turn on or go to a predefined higher level of output, typically 100%. This type of on-off-dim setting is really dependent on the fixture and the driver you have, including the type of Nema socket. Being able to dim a fixture is an option when the fixture is installed with a 0-10V dimmable driver, otherwise, you are looking at an on-off scenario.

There are many different types of sensors available, one of the most common is Passive Infrared or PIR. And there is no one size fits all sensor, mounting height and field of capture can all be captured with the right control.

The best solution is to use a dimming system along side a 0-10V LED Driver. In this scenario, the dimmer, by setting on board toggles, will allow you to set the output at no-activity, output when activity is detected, and the amount of time no activity is sensed before it dims or turns off.

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