Pros: Works, more or less
Designed for use with CFL bulbs
Cons: Short operational life
May not fit traditional fixtures
Reduced light output
A few years ago I found I needed two low-wattage security lights to illuminate a carport and covered walkway on my home. After trying a light powered by a solar panel, which produced the weakest blue gleam before failing completely, I decided to make one of the existing wall-mounted carport light fixtures into a night-only light using a light sensor adapter. It turns out that these devices are not as widely available as I thought. After a search, I purchased the GE Indoor Light Sensing Socket Model 18265.
Design and Construction
The Model 18265 is a fairly simple device, consisting of a screw-in adapter or socket that fits standard household lamp fixtures or wall sconces. The socket contains a small photoelectric cell located behind a transparent window that shuts the parent bulb off in daylight, and on at sunset. It is a sealed unit (the maker calls it 'weatherproof'), with no internal electronic parts directly exposed to moisture, though of course the socket itself is not protected from shorting out if it should contact water.
The Model 18265 socket is advertised as being designed for use with compact fluorescent bulbs (CFL). Ordinary incandescent light sensor sockets are not designed for CFLs and should not be used with them. I imagine this is because the socket tends to cause intermittent on-off operation at sunset with light fluctuations, something that tends to be hard on the CFL’s internal ballast (in my experience, the latter isn’t that durable even when operated as directed). Because it is screwed into the fixture, the Model 18265 socket necessarily causes an increase in protrusion of the light bulb. This is not a big problem with a large outdoor wall fixture that uses a bulb-down mounting, but could easily present a fitment problem with household lamps, wall sconces, or other fixtures originally intended for incandescent bulbs.
Even when the bulb does technically fit, the long CFL bulb with its adapter socket may extend above or below the glass enclosure of a wall or ceiling fixture, giving a rather home-made look and uneven light distribution. With CFL bulbs this protrusion issue is exacerbated, as CFL and LED bulbs on average tend to be larger and/or lengthier than their incandescent counterparts.
Though UL-listed, the Model 18265 is sold as an indoor model and is obviously not designed for outdoor use. GE does offer a model rated for outdoors use, the GE 18257 Outdoor Light-Sensing Screw-In Socket, but it is rated for use only with incandescent bulbs. However, while rated for indoor use, the Model 18265 is considered weatherproof, and is advertised as being "very useful in automating commonly used lighting for pathways surrounding the home, any other outdoor security or perimeter lights, and seasonal or holiday lighting". These indoor sensors are often used by homeowners in areas where they can be completely protected from rain or moisture, such as in a protected glass fixture or wall sconce in a garage or under the roofed area of a carport, veranda, porch, or lanai.
According to the manufacturer, the Model 18265 can control a load of 300 watts if installed so that the light bulb is mounted base up, and 150 watts if the bulb is base down. Nevertheless, the heat given off by high-wattage bulbs is anathema to electronic components such as the ones contained in a light sensor socket. The possibility of heat damage increases dramatically with bulb wattages over 60 watts, particularly when the bulb is partially or wholly enclosed by a shade or glass enclosure. Furthermore, the Model 18265’s 150/300-watt rating cannot supersede the maximum wattage rating of the sconce or fixture itself (most fixtures with a close-fitting light shade or glass enclosure are often limited to a maximum of 60 watts with an incandescent bulb because of heat and temperature concerns). For my purposes, I installed a 13-watt CFL 'bug’ light, which was rated by its manufacturer as equivalent to a 60-watt incandescent bulb in light output. The 13-watt CFL bulb puts out very little heat compared to a 60-watt incandescent bulb, and just as important, was about the highest-wattage CFL bulb that would fit inside the glass-enclosed, open-ended wall fixture.
Installed in an outside wall light fixture under a carport, the Model 18265 worked without incident for about seven months. When installing the unit, it is important to ensure that the photoelectric cell is not blocked from the nearest source of ambient daylight in order for it to work as designed. This may require you to relocate the wall or ceiling fixture or reposition the base socket inside the fixture to get the sensor to directly face the direction of incoming daylight, something most homeowners would not be not willing to do. Even then, I found that the bulb would flicker a bit at sunset because of the fluctuations in light levels at that time of day.
The 13-watt bulb (rated as 60W incandescent equivalent) does not seem to put out as much light with the sensor socket in place as when the bulb operates without it. I wasn't able to figure out a way to safely test this by measuring actual wattage, but I’m pretty certain that my ‘eyeball’ appraisal is accurate. I have read elsewhere that the use of these types of devices can result in a wattage output that is only 80% of the actual rated bulb wattage.
After seven months of operation the Model 18265 died suddenly. I found some evidence of discoloration around the plastic housing near the brass socket base, but no real signs of overheating were evident. The photocell sensor aperture remained clear and unblocked. Opening the sealed unit revealed no indications of shorts or moisture intrusion.
A bit of research on this unit revealed that the Model 18265 is made in China. This I could have guessed, but what I did not realize was how tenuous the relationship is between GE and some of its branded lighting products these days. Actually the Model 18265 is made by a company called JASCO, and GE has absolutely nothing to do with the Model 18265, other than licensing their name for use on the package. This is also true for a range of other household lighting products with the GE brand. One hopes that a GE engineer is forced to at least look at each item briefly before the GE brand is stamped onto yet another product of foreign origin.
With the advent of increased energy efficiency regulations for light bulbs, light sensor adapters that can use CFLs as well as incandescent bulbs will be useful devices, as long as the sensors and the new bulbs can be made to last. A well-made light sensor socket designed for new, long-life LED bulb arrays might solve some of these problems, though the issue of bulb protrusion with the adapter will still turn off many buyers. A better idea may be to dispense with the adaptors and connect a separate outdoor-rated light sensor and DC light fixture to a heavy-duty solar panel, one designed for constant all-weather use. Otherwise, I may resort to a light control that uses plain incandescent bulbs.