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Choosing and installing security lights

By Rebecca Milligan

Security lights are a practical and attractive way to banish the shadows from the approach to your property. We look at outdoor lighting, the best place to install it and how it can help provide extra security.
man installing external LED security lighting on an outside wall

Outdoor security lights can make your life easier when looking for your keys, and provide reassurance when you approach your property at night. A Which? Trusted Traders survey found that 70% of people worry about home security during the darker winter months, once the clocks go back. A quarter will leave lights on inside the house, to try to show it is occupied.

Security lights can really help to brighten up the area around your home. At the back of your property, external lighting can bridge the gap between indoors and out. This opens up the space for socialising, as well as allowing you to monitor activity in your back garden.

Security lighting should be installed by an experienced electrician who can plan where it will be most effective outside your home. Poorly located lighting can create glare, which actually reduces visibility.

And while security lights can warn opportunistic burglars that they’ve been detected, if not used correctly they can light up vulnerable areas of your home and actually make breaking in easier.

Use Which? Trusted Traders to find an electrician in your area – and read on for tips on installing security lighting.

Where to install security lights

K G Electricals' Sam Grant recommends installing security lights above and to the side of your front door, to give you clear sight of callers. Ensure the light is not too high up or straight above the door, as that can put any caller’s face in shadow, making them more difficult to identify.

He also cautions against installing security lights that could shine on to a neighbour’s property. The Environmental Protection Act 1990 makes light pollution a ‘statutory nuisance’ if outdoor or security lights ‘unreasonably and substantially interfere with the use or enjoyment of a home or other premises’. In extreme cases, you could be issued with an abatement notice by your council.

According to DC Electrics UK’s Dan Collier, it’s also a good idea to use security lights down any side passageway, to pick out unwanted visitors, as well as at the back of the house. This is particularly important if you have any doors or windows that could provide a break-in opportunity.

Your electrician will be able to advise you on the best location for your external security lights.

Types of security lights

You can choose between lights you can manually turn on from inside the home, and those that turn on when they sense movement or heat via sensors.

If you’re lighting areas that aren’t permanently overlooked by you or your neighbours, such as the back or side of your house, it makes more sense to be able to switch security lights on and off yourself. Otherwise, lighting these areas independently can make it easier for intruders rather than providing an effective deterrent.

At the front of your property, or in areas that are overlooked, a movement or passive infra-red (PIR) heat sensor light can be more useful. These automatically detect someone’s presence and turn the light on. If your front door is near the pavement, ensure that the sensor is angled appropriately, otherwise the light could come on continually as people walk past your house.

Cats, dogs and foxes can also set off these lights, which can be annoying. Sam Grant recommends setting the light to stay on for around 10 minutes each time, to avoid it flicking on and off constantly.

Modern security lighting doesn’t have to be expensive. Older security lights using 150-300 watt halogen bulbs were costly, but modern LED bulbs cost pennies to run. ‘With the LED lamps, you’re using 10-30 watts for equivalent light,’ explains Dan Collier. ‘You’re significantly cutting down your energy consumption, and they deal with regular sporadic use much better than the old halogens.’

The prices of the lamps themselves can vary. Small sensor lights can cost as little as £15, but Dan recommends spending around £25-£50 for a good-quality cheaper model. ‘The more you spend, generally the better quality and longer life you’ll get out of them,’ he explains. ‘The sensor itself works like a switch, so the more it’s switched on and off, the more wear you’re putting on that sensor and the lamp itself.’

Sam Grant finds small, versatile lamps the most useful, and often installs a Timeguard model. ‘It’s a small 8-watt floodlight. You can move it around 180 degrees and turn it down, so it isn’t annoyingly bright. It’s got a sensor on the bottom and it’s tiny. Ideal.’

Complete home security

You should install outdoor lighting as much for your own convenience as for providing security. In fact, contrary to popular myth, most burglaries take place during the day, when properties are empty because people are away or at work. Despite the claims of some lighting manufacturers, external lighting is not enough to deter burglars by itself. Security lighting should be complemented by other home-security measures such as audible alarms, motion sensors or CCTV cameras.

Use Which? Trusted Traders to find a burglar alarm and home security system specialist in your area who can advise you further.

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