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Do LED Lights Work With Photocells?

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Most outdoor lamps use photocontrol systems to switch the lights off and on and to determine the level of ambient light. However, most conventional photocells work on currents that only adapt to ballast loads. So, do LED lights work with photocells? Let’s find out.

Do LED Lights Work With Photocells? 

No, LED lights do not work with photocells. LED Lights are not compatible with photocell fixtures since the electric current flows through the lamps constantly. This is because photocells require some power to know if it’s dawn or dusk.

Moreover, average photocells can’t work during the day when the light is turned off without a small current. Since LEDs operate at low voltages, this current causes flickering and interference. That’s why LEDs require different photocells than traditional bulbs

Outdoor LED lamp lights

What Is a Photocell?

Photocells are also known as light-sensitive modules or dawn to dusk sensors and are used to know the off/on lighting status based on the levels of ambient light. In simple words, photocells are light detectors that automatically switch off during the day and on at night.

These detectors are commonly found outdoors in security lighting and parking. They are perfect for minimizing power consumption because they are designed to switch off lights at dawn when artificial light is not required.

How Do Photocells Work?

Photocells respond to visible light and are designed from semiconductors. So when you expose the semiconductor to certain levels of light, an electric current is formed. In turn, the current switches off the fixture.

However, when the sun sets, the current stops due to low levels of light. When this happens, the fixture is switched back on. Photocells work because their electrical resistance (the rate of opposition to electric current flow) is high when they are not close to the light.

High resistance means the electric current flow is rejected by the photocell. This allows the LED to work without any restrictions. So during the day when photocells have a low resistance, the sensor may buzz with electricity. However, the bulb’s initiator prevents it from switching on because it gets nothing.

Are LED Bulbs Compatible With Light Detectors?

Photocells were designed to work with only ballasted (HID and fluorescent) and tungsten (halogen and incandescent) lamps when they were first invested. However, when LED bulbs became popular, people discovered conventional photocells can’t work with energy-saving lamps. 

Because of how photocells work, they produce small amounts of electric current during daylight when the lights are switched off. Since traditional lighting sources function at high voltages, this small current doesn’t affect them. So the bulbs stay off.

However, this small current impacts LEDs since they require less energy. So it behaves like a capacitive load and causes interference. Unfortunately, the voltage that leaks destroys the electronics inside the bulb. 

Security light

What Happens if You Use LED Lights Paired With Conventional Photocells?

The bulb can burn out prematurely or start flickering off and on. Fortunately, lamp manufacturers have created a photocell system that diverts the current away from the bulb. This means old light sensors may be incompatible with LED lamps. However, modern sensors will be flexible.

Can LEDs Flicker With Incompatible Photocell?

Yes. LED lamps can flicker if you pair them with incompatible photocells. This is due to the photocell’s low current that can interfere with the LED. However, there are other reasons that can make your light sensors to flicker which include:

  • When the Lights Are Turning On or Off: Most people complain that their bulbs start flickering before sunset and sunrise. Unfortunately, there isn’t much you can do to remedy the situation. However, you can keep changing the levels of light if your photocells are adjustable to trigger the lights. It’s important to mention that the flickering will stop in the morning or once it becomes dark. 
  • Photocells Are Triggered by Different Light Sources: The sources can be reflected, artificial or natural. So your sensor can begin flickering on and off depending on the source that’s triggering the lights. However, the easiest way to solve this problem is to cover the photocell. This way, your photocell can only be exposed to natural light.

What To Check To Ensure Photocell Compatibility

Photocell specification data usually includes rated loads for the different types of light the device can control. Below is a summary of the data.

  • Voltage Vac 50/60 hertz-105-130
  • Tungsten-1000 watts
  • Ballast-1800 volt-amperes

If LED isn’t included, the photocell may not work with LED lamps. Also:

  1. Double-check the specification manual for the rated loads to see if it has an LED rating. If it has, ensures the specified LED maximum load will not be exceeded. If it doesn’t, look for another photocell device that allows a higher LED load.
  2. Ensure the voltage specified in the manual matches the installation voltage of your LED lighting.
  3. Assume the existing photocells are incompatible with LED if replacing conventional light in a system with photocells. 
Outdoor LED lamp lights working with photocells

Although the volt-amperes and wattage differ, it indicates the maximum load allowed for that lighting source. 

How To Choose Photocell Sensors

Selecting LED compatible photocells is challenging. You can’t just buy the first one you see in your local hardware. So what should you consider? Ensure the sensor uses the modern photocell technology designed for LED bulbs.

You can confirm this by checking the ‘Rated Loading’ section on the product specification manual. Bear in mind that photocells have three wires no matter the type. However, there can be an additional wire if it has the timer. 

Related Questions

Can Photocells Be Used With LEDs?

No, you can’t use photocells with LED Lights. Photocells designed for conventional bulbs are not compatible with LED lights. However modern photocells may work with LEDs.

Do LED Lights Need a Special Photocell?

Yes, LED lights need a special photocell. Standard photocells need a small current to work during the day when the light is switched off. LEDs also require a different photocell because they work at low voltages.

Do LED Lights Work With Motion Sensors?

Yes, LED lights work with motion sensors with the right configurations. Moreover, most lighting sources nowadays use motion sensors connected to LED bulbs.


Over the coming years, pairing LEDs with photocells may be done successfully since conventional photocell design is being phased out slowly. Moreover, most photocell manufacturers have started creating photocells for different loads and voltages to accommodate LEDs.