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I live in a house with a roommate and one door that leads in and out of the house. My roommate recently installed a motion activated led flood light near the door so they could see outside at night and it works for them but I'm photophobic and it blinds me any time I get too close to the house at night, so much so that it's dangerous for me to be climbing our stairs to get to the door. They won't remove it because otherwise it's dangerous for them to be climbing the stairs in the dark. I need a way to disable it or prevent it from triggering while I'm outside but also return it to functioning normally after.

Since I can't live with it and my roommate can't live without it, how do I temporarily disable our outdoor motion light?

Things that have been tried and failed:

  • Portable Illumination (Flashlight/Phone)
  • Eye Shading
  • Squinting
  • Shades
  • Wiring a switch (suggested but we don't have the tools or skills)

The question is "how do I temporarily disable our outdoor motion light?". Please don't make suggestions about how to avoid the light, about replacing it, shopping, or similar. I need a lifehack that can temporarily disable this light and return it to normal functioning again.

  • Hi Demon, Welcome to Lifehacks. Is an automatic switch the only option for turning on the light when wanted rather than a mechanical switch? Do you have more than one room mate with night blindness? – Stan Mar 24 at 17:56
  • @Stan No, it's just me an my one roommate and the automatic function is the only one on the light. There's no mechanical option to turn it on or off. – Demon Mar 24 at 21:47
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    This seems to be an XY problem. The real problem is that your roommate has installed a light without consulting with you, and the actual solution is to replace the light with one that is satisfactory to both of you, by negotiating with your roommate, and communication is the real problem that you need to solve. – Weather Vane Mar 24 at 22:30
  • @WeatherVane No, the problem is that I need a lifehack to temporarily disable our light so it's off when I'm outside at night but on when my roommate is which is why I'm here asking about that and not at interpersonal skills asking about communication. – Demon Mar 24 at 22:58
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    Please provide more information (make, model, picture, kind of sensor, etc.) about the light and a photograph or diagram of the stairs and entrance. Do you own or rent the house? – Stan Mar 26 at 13:29

12 Answers 12

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Disabling the light does not seem to be an option, but you can avoid the bright light going directly into your eyes by

  • shading your eyes with one hand as you approach the light

  • wearing a hat with a broad peak, like a baseball cap, to shade your eyes

  • putting on a pair of sunglasses as you approach the area

  • closing your eyes to a squint so that they admit enough light to see, but not to dazzle

I frequently use the last method myself when entering a dark room at night and putting on the light, so as not to dazzle me. I then gradually open my eyes.


Edit: more suggestions following comments:

  • replace the bulb with another with a different output spectrum

  • obtain various shades of coloured acetate sheet that filter the light

  • replace the system with one that can be en/disabled with a remote control.

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  • Nice! Might be worth adding sunglasses to the list? – motosubatsu Mar 23 at 13:39
  • @motosubatsu thanks for reminding me, I thought of that when out in the sun after posting. – Weather Vane Mar 23 at 13:40
  • In addition to shading your eyes with your hand, you could hold up a larger object to better shade your eyes such as a magazine, backpack, or purse. – BrettFromLA Mar 24 at 15:00
  • That doesn't answer the question I asked and it doesn't really help. LEDs are crazy bright and emit blue light, one of the worst wavelengths for photophobia. Shading my eyes or squinting is not enough to keep me from being blinded by the sudden blue flood light and I have yet to find shades tinted dark enough to truly make a difference. I need to be able to temporarily disable the light, like the question asks. – Demon Mar 24 at 21:54
  • @WeatherVane Because this situation is a recent development. Where I live LED lights are only just gaining any popularity and the old lights which are far more dim and emit less harmful wavelengths aren't anywhere near as much of an issue. The two of us enter and leave the house at very different times so as long as I can return the light to normal after turning it off it won't be a problem for either of us. That's why I asked for a lifehack that will temporarily disable it instead of something else. – Demon Mar 24 at 22:12
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We have a battery powered motion detecting spotlight and when we're home, we put an ice cream tub over it, keeping it from detecting us. You could do a variant of this with a bit of rope and a pulley (or perhaps just a simple hook or the like) that lets you remotely cover the light by pulling the tub up to it.

As you approach the property at night, you pick up the rope/string from wherever you keep it - perhaps one end wrapped around a nail on a fence or something - and before the light goes on, pull the rope to lift the tub up around the light. [Finding a place on the property that doesn't trigger the light and can host this rope end will take some practicing, ideally at a time of day when you can see if the light goes on or not, but it won't blind you.] Still holding the rope tight, and gathering it to you as you go, you approach the house. When you get there, you put all the rope down on the porch, lowering the tub and enabling the light again. (Ideally you are standing somewhere that will not trigger the light.)

The next time you leave the house, whether day or night, you take the rope end with you. If it's night, you first haul the tub up over the light and you hold it tight as you go. Put the end back on the fence or whatever for your next night-time return.

If the way you leave the rope out at full length would prevent you from pulling it to the house when you're on your way out, then you also need to return the rope to the porch when you approach the house in daylight, in order to have it available if you're going to leave in darkness.

A milder version of this is that there is no rope, no pulley, the tub just sits over the light all the time, and the roomie remembers to remove it and set it down nearby whenever leaving and expecting to return in darkness, then replaces it when getting home. You would then only risk being blinded if you happened to return while your roomie was out. This doesn't reduce your risk to zero, and relies on the roomie co-operating. That's why I led with the rope and pulley plan.

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Change the kind of illumination of the stairs.

Remove the automatic illumination and place low power indirect glow light along one side of the stairway.

Neon glow lamps last for years and can be placed at the centre of each stair tread at one end. They are non-directional. A small piece of black tape can block stray light from dazzling you as you ascend or descend the stairs.

Strips of glow lamps are also available for the same purpose.

Good Luck

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Change the kind of illumination for the stairs.

Remove the automatic illumination and ask your room mate to carry a small powerful flash light. Some smart phones have a powerful light for temporary needs like dark stairs.

Without the cooperation of your room mate you may have a deal-breaker for your living arrangements.

Night blindness (nyctalopia), the inability to see well at night or in poor light, is not a disease. It's a symptom of an underlying condition. In most cases, it's treatable; in others, it's not. Fortunately, severe forms of night blindness are very rare.

Cleveland Clinic

There are a few reasons which are treatable; but, a professional eye exam would be a logical place to start. How you approach your room mate is a whole other issue.

Here's the point of discussion: Your room mate has a requirement for additional illumination. The unilateral solution for your room mate places you at an unfair disadvantage. Your room mate can carry additional portable illumination to use when necessary to illuminate the stairs.

Good Luck.

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  • That's a good suggestion but unfortunately one that I also suggested months before they installed the light. Their phone has a pretty powerful flashlight feature and they have a flashlight they could carry but that only works if their hands are free. Can't really aim a flashlight or phone and carry grocery bags. – Demon Mar 24 at 23:06
  • @Demon Are both hands always carrying bags at night? – Stan Mar 26 at 13:22
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Paint the lead edge of each stair tread with phosphorescent paint that will glow after being flashed.

In practice, your room mate would put their bags down (if necessary) to flash a portable keychain light to charge the glow of the stair risers before ascending the stairs.

Good luck.

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You could try to locate and wear RED filter (night-vision) glasses or goggles which would cut the illumination in two different ways.

  • The saturated red will attenuate the blue and green wave lengths almost completely leaving the red receptors which are not so light sensitive.

  • The heavy red filtration will attenuate the amplitude of the lights by its density.

Most normal sighted would have great difficulty with such minimal visual stimulation without several minutes of dark adaptation to let the pupils dilate to the size of manhole covers. That level might be perfect for you under the circumstances.

The (usually military) goggles are portable but a hassle to have to carry.

Good Luck.

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Remove the motion activated led flood light near the door.

Install a normal flood light that can be turned on or off from the top and bottom of the staircase.

This is called a "Basic 3-Way Switch." It will allow either you or your room mate to turn the flood light on or off from wherever you are.

This is not rocket science. Any handyman can do this. Hire one. The diagrams to do this can be located with a web-search for "staircase wiring," "3-Way Switch," "wiring/circuit diagram."

Good Luck.

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In the common areas of the apartment complex where I used to live there were light switches that functioned as a big plunger that you pushed in (turning the light on) and they then slowly (via some oil damped spring mechanism I expect) returned to their former protruding state whereupon the light switched off

They were two way and could thus be configured to either provide power or cut power for a period of time.

I'm struck that one or two of these switches wired in series with the light such that they can be pushed in to disconnect the power to the light for eg 30 seconds will allow you a way to temporarily deactivate the light for your needs but have it return to its normal behavior automatically. I envisage that a switch at the top and bottom of the stairs would allow you to push it then make an entrance or exit in the timeout

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Disable the sensor.
There are different kinds of security light sensors. Depending on the type of sensor, you may be able to hack the intended purpose of the device for enough gloom of night to help your mobility.
You do this by disabling the sensor temporarily.
NOTE: Convenience has not been considered.
NOTE: Only the ability to disable and enable the device which is the subject of the OP has been considered.

Heat-up thermal detectors that work by detecting changes in temperature.

It is only necessary to increase the room temperature to approximately 35°-38°C to disable the ability of the sensor to discriminate between you and the background temperature.

To restore the normal operation of the motion activated LED floodlight, lower the room temperature when you are inside.

Cover a passive infrared sensor with a small piece of glass when you're outside. PIR sensors work with changes in infrared energy that travels at the speed of light — different from thermal energy. PIR sensors are not motion sensors, per se.

Glass does not transmit the range of passive infrared radiation generated by humans. A round flashlight glass replacement lens (purchased at a hardware store) would be ideal. You'll have to use your own ingenuity to fashion the holder to suit your unique situation.

Remove the filter to reenable the normal function of the motion activated LED floodlight

Trick an ultrasonic motion sensor which works by detecting a change in the frequency of a super-audible source (higher than normal hearing range).
You do this by moving very slowly when in the range of the sensor. Soft sound absorbent clothing is better at cloaking than hard surfaces.
An alternative is to cover the sensor with a small thin cloth "filter" with lots of "air" in a loose weave such as a thick dark sheer stocking so that some of the ultrasonic radiation passes through and some is reflected. Experiment with different cloth types and distances from the sensor.

Remove the cloth "filter" to restore the normal operation of the motion activated LED flood light

Good Luck

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unscrew the bulb 1 turn when you want it to not come on. screw it all the way back in when you want it.

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Get and Install an X-10 wireless home automation system component that will allow you to remotely control the power to the Floodlight by a battery-powered switch you carry on your key-ring.

No installation wiring is needed. It works with the installed home wiring system you have already.

There are several different set-ups available that should work. You will need a receptacle receiver and the portable transmitter. It can also be computer controlled with more components.

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I read your question. Turn the sensor of the light around to a different position. You want a position so that the light only turns on when your housemate waves their hand over to one side, but does not sense the stairs. You may need some tape or a "sunshade" on the sensor also.

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