A better sensor for lighting stairwells


I’m having a tough time finding the best way to light a stairwell when occupied. It’s an L-shaped stairwell, the lower half opens into the living room which is seen through the railing, and the upper section curves into a narrow hallway. Using a motion sensor has been tricky, since it can only monitor one half of the stairwell, and the lower half can’t quite be placed in a way that can ignore what’s going on in the living room.

I’ve been thinking about a possible way to use the 1st stairstep and the last stairstep as triggers for the light. I don’t know if vibration sensors would be trustworthy enough, and motion detectors almost seems sort of overkill. What would work great would be a laser-type sensor that points in one focused direction on a stairstep, and changes state when a foot trips it (no pun intended). This is as far as I’ve gotten so far… Can anyone else think of some genius solutions for this common problem?



(ActionTiles.com co-founder Terry @ActionTiles; GitHub: @cosmicpuppy) #3

That’s the best solution!

I don’t understand why there is no ZigBee or Z-Wave smart device on the market for this already.

Kickstarter opportunities?


Totally! Roombas come with virtual wall barriers… There’s no reason why there can’t be a Z-Wave wall barrier slash threshold sensor.


(I moved this to projects so you can get individualized answers based on your specific set up.)

The short answer is that this can almost always be solved with multiple motion sensors assigned to a zone and positioned in appropriate places. And masked, where necessary, to narrow the size of the detection zone.

For an L-shaped stairwell typically a combination of a ceiling mounted motion sensor and some motion sensors on individual stair tread’s with narrowed detection fields will do it.

@mike_maxwell , for example, has used a small tube over the lens of the motion sensor to narrow the field significantly. Lots of other people have just used masking tape in various patterns. :sunglasses:

You might also look at the project reports on the quick browse lists in the community – created wiki. If you look near the very end in the room section, there is a list for “hallways and staircases” that might give you some ideas.

You can go to some other kind of sensor, But it will probably cost more and be more complex to integrate with SmartThings.

Here’s the code for creating a zone:

And a little more on ceiling-mounted motion sensors:


You already know the reason for this. :sunglasses: Z wave and zigbee as used in home automation are mesh. Mesh does not report continuously. And does not have forced sequencing. Messages can and do bounce around the network for a little while, and can arrive out of order. The Roomba-type Detection field is not a good match for the technology.


BTW, if you do want to consider break beam Technology, the following thread on micro-location discusses that and has a link to a project for how it could be done. But it’s not a SmartThings project, and again it would be expensive and complex to integrate it with SmartThings.


Fascinating stuff, JDRoberts, thanks.

Folks have gotten inventive with existing sensors. I think it’s clear that there’s a desire for more narrowly focused motion detectors. Lots of applications, from stairsteps, to doorless entryways, to long dark hallways.


I think the point is that so far the sensors you can buy off-the-shelf are aimed at the DIY market, and it’s pretty easy to narrow the field for a wide field sensor, so that’s what people do.

Mike Maxwells tube innovation, for example, could be embedded in the wall as long as you can still get it out again to change the battery.

Ceiling mount sensors can narrow the field by being put inside a frame or box frame or even a wire free lighting fixture.

So the solution is there, but it’s not off-the-shelf. :sunglasses:


I getcha - I see this as an entirely different type of sensor though. It’s a motion detector at heart, but it’s used in more of a beam-type application. I like Mike Maxwell’s tube innovation. I probably like it enough that I’d pay for it, is all I’m saying. :wink:

(ActionTiles.com co-founder Terry @ActionTiles; GitHub: @cosmicpuppy) #11

Meh… You’re definitely right theoretically… But in a practical sense, I’ve never had a consistent problem with sequencing.

I have Motion Sensors in adjacent rooms, and as I walk between the rooms the events have “never” arrived out of sequence.

I’m quite convinced that a cross-beam at the top of the staircase followed by one on the bottom would sequence correctly (and vice versa). There are many problems, of course, such as when multiple people enter the staircase at approximately, but not exactly the same time; perhaps from different ends…