If you’ve got kids, then you’ve probably noticed that they never have problems finding a switch to turn lights on. Yet mysteriously, they lack the ability to turn lights off. I’m convinced it’s just never something that becomes important for a human… until they’re paying their own electricity bill. Using an occupancy sensor switch can help — by lowering your electric bill and saving your sanity.

But I had a unique situation at our Utah house where I wanted to combine a motion sensing switch on the same circuit as a standard 3-way switch. As I imagine is the case with most people, we don’t usually enter our Utah house through the front door — we come in from the garage. Our door from the garage opens into a long hallway with a mud room area and coat closet on the right, and doorways to the the laundry and a bathroom on the left. This entrance hallway continues about 20 feet where it hits the kitchen and the living room. The switch for the entrance hallway lights is on the left wall, immediately after you come in the door from the garage. But there’s another switch at the end of the hallway near the kitchen that also operates the hallway lights, meaning the switches are wired as “3-way” switches.

What I needed was an occupancy sensor switch on the wall near the door that could turn on the hallway lights as soon as someone walked in from the garage (especially nice when carrying groceries). But I also didn’t want to lose the standard on/off functionality of the switch near the kitchen to manually control the hallway lights. I also didn’t want a motion sensor on the kitchen end, because it would turn on the hallway lights any time someone moved in the kitchen of the family room. My search for an occupancy sensor switch that could also function as 3-way switch led me to the Lutron Maestro 600 Occupancy Sensor Switch, and this post explains how it worked for me.

Lutron Maestro 600 Occupancy Sensor Switch

Lutron Maestro 600 Occupancy Sensor Switch

The Maestro 600 Occupancy Sensor Switch can support up to 600 watts on one circuit (hence the “600″ in the name). I counted 27 available colors on Amazon, but I settled for the Light Almond to match all the other switches at the house. The Maestro 600′s part number is MS-OPS5M, followed by a two letter designation for the color (so mine was the MS-OPS5M-LA). It can be configured via simple push-button commands to act as an occupancy sensor or a vacancy sensor. What’s the difference? An occupancy sensor turns the light on automatically, then shuts off automatically after a pre-determined amount of time (5 minutes by default in this case). A vacancy sensor requires you to turn the light on manually, but then shuts it off after it doesn’t sense motion for an amount of time. By default, this switch operates as an occupancy sensor, so that’s how I left its settings.

Installing the Maestro in the location near the door was straightforward. Throw the breaker to cut off power, remove the old switch, then install the new switch using the same wires. Here’s a quick video from Lutron, which even includes the additional info needed when wiring to another 3-way switch:

The only slightly tricky part was that I had to rewire the “companion” switch on the kitchen end of the hallway with a jumper wire in order to let it work with the Maestro occupancy switch. However, the included instructions explained it nicely (as does that video above), so it only took a few extra minutes to access the second switch and modify the wiring.

Once everything was wired up and the power turned back on at the breaker, I was pleased to see that everything worked exactly as I’d hoped. When walking in from the garage, the hallway light turns on automatically. I can turn it off manually with the companion switch when I reach the kitchen, or just wait 5 minutes and it will turn itself off. Additionally, I could manually turn on the hallway lights with the companion switch, and then the Lutron would turn them off again after sensing no motion for 5 minutes. When hitting the companion switch, I can hear the “click” of the relay in the Maestro switch, but that’s not a big deal. I also noticed that if I quickly hit the companion switch repeatedly, it would “ignore” some of the clicks. But that shouldn’t be an issue with standard use.

The Maestro Occupancy Sensor Switch retails for $41, but can be picked up for around $30 at most big box hardware stores (I got mine at Home Depot), or slightly less on Amazon.

It’s affordable, easy to install yourself, and does exactly what it promises on the box. It also looks sleek and modern, and will blend in with pretty much any decor. So if you’re tired of constantly reminding your kids to shut off their bedroom lights, I recommend buying one and installing it in vacancy sensor mode. That way, they’ll have to manually turn their lights on (and it won’t automatically turn on the lights if they get up to go to the bathroom), but their lights will shut off if the switch doesn’t sense movement in the room for whatever amount of time you set. Or install one in a pantry, closet, or laundry room and set it to turn the lights on automatically when you walk in with your hands full.

I’ll be buying a few more myself, and installing them in rooms where I’m always complaining about lights not being turned off. :)