In my garage, the light switch by the door is wired to an outlet on the ceiling. I've got two, inexpensive 4' fluorescent lighting fixtures plugged into that outlet. I know that wiring a fluorescent light to a motion sensor directly can be tricky. I don't know if that applies to an outlet.

Is it safe to switch out the switch that controls the outlet with a motion sensor like the Leviton "Occupancy Sensor"?

  • Links broken to Leviton sensor.
    – Tester101
    Dec 15, 2011 at 17:53
  • Fixed the link. Apparently, my copy/paste skills could use some work. Dec 16, 2011 at 1:57
  • The specifications on this particular motion detector say "The PR150 installs in place of a single pole switch, and it can be used with incandescent and fluorescent lighting (Rapid Start Magnetic ballast ONLY)." Newer ballast are gonna be electronic. Watch for that.
    – lqlarry
    Dec 16, 2011 at 21:22

4 Answers 4


It shouldn't be a problem, if you purchase the proper motion sensor. When shopping, make sure the sensor specifically mentions compatibility with florescent lights.

The Heath Zenith Occupancy Motion Sensor Wall Switch

enter image description here

Controls up to 500 Watts incandescent and 400 Watts fluorescent lighting

According to it's documentation.

You can pick one up at Home Depot for ~$15.00 or Amazon for $32 USD (2018).

If you shop around, you can also find sensors that work with compact fluorescent lamps (CFL). Like this one from Hubbell Building Automation, Inc..

  • Compatibility is for the balasts, but ultimately, if you flip a fluoro on/off over and over without some time inbetween cycles, the bulb and other components will have short lifespans.
    – Steven
    Dec 15, 2011 at 18:32
  • 2
    @Steven That just means you have to keep moving while you're in the garage. No standing still, you're supposed to be working.
    – Tester101
    Dec 15, 2011 at 18:42
  • For the motion sensor part, I'm just looking to have the lights automatically turn on when I'm carrying stuff to and from the car. If I'm actually working out there, I'd flip it over to manual. Of course, I'd like tho think that I'm active enough when I'm working that they'd stay on anyway.... Dec 16, 2011 at 1:59

Like everybody is saying, look at the box. Some older technology will say for fluorescent with magnetic ballast only, but now all ballast sold in US and probably most countries are electronic now, so know what you have for a ballast when you buy.

There are 2 different types of technologies most used for commercial use. PIR or Passive InfraRed which looks for body heat, and Ultrasonic which actively sends out ultrasonic waves and then measure movement by calculating the difference in previous waves.

I would look for dual-technology sensors that takes both technologies and combines them into one sensor.

Fluorescent and motion sensors are really nothing new. A lot of commercial building use them in restrooms, and some power companies offer rebates for using motion sensors for controlling aisle lighting in big warehouses. Some detectors 'learn' from it's history to help eliminate nuisance trips.


I'm not sure why a fluoro would be "tricky" - a motion sensor is just like a switch toggling the circuit on/off. The one thing to note with fluoro's is that turning them on and off frequently drastically reduces their lifespan, so while this is technically possible, it is not recommended with this type of fixture/bulb.

  • 1
    I figure it would just act as a switch, but there was something on the package warning about working with fluorescents. My assumption was that the light fixture wouldn't be able to tell the difference since it was just plugged into an outlet, but figured it would be better to verify that than get an unpleasant surprise. Dec 15, 2011 at 17:13

If you would rather place something between the light and the wall, a motion sensor flood light rigged to control a power outlet in a separate box might work well... If you are comfortable and good with electrical work, this may be a cheap fix for you. Motion sensor lights can be purchased at Habitat Re-Stores or other re-use stores for a very low cost. I made one at one point with unused items laying around my house and a flood light from Habitat Re-Store. It works wonderfully to turn on the lights in a small shed.


  • Used Flood Light
  • Outlet Box
  • Outlet
  • Wire (if needed)
  • Plug

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