Digital Light Timers and Your Home Security

by dave

Digital Light Timers and Your Home SecurityModern digital lamp timers have some great benefits over older, dial-based timers.

Iʼll try to convince you why these benefits make these timers worth considering for protecting your home or apartment. I’ll also report on two specific timer models Iʼve checked out.

A key part of deterring home theft is making potential burglars think someone is home.

This is why we should care about timers. They ought to be part of your basic indoor lighting strategy for home security.

Huge improvements over old-style timers

Older, dial-style light timers turn lights on and off only at pre-programmed times. This improves your home security, but only to an extent.

Such timers deter casual burglars who just happen to be in the neighborhood.

But a burglar doing a little bit of homework may notice that your lights on such a timer follow the exact same pattern each day.

Modern, digital light timers provide a key benefit over the older style: variability in a lampʼs on/off pattern.

Digital timers do this in two different ways:

  • Unique on/off control by day of the week
  • Randomness

This second feature, randomness—the ability to have lights cycle on and off at random intervals—is huge.

Ideally, what you want is randomness, but within a range you can specify, usually from around dusk to sometime during the night. A lamp on when the sun is up but dark during the evening hours doesnʼt do you much good.

Strategy tip

A good combination strategy would be a light in one room, such as a living room, to come on at dusk and then stay on until “bedtime” but have lights in some other rooms (dens, bedrooms, etc.) randomly go on and off.

Shopping tip

When youʼre shopping for a modern, digital timer, look for compatibility with energy-saving bulb types such as CFL and LED.

A limitation of some timers is that they donʼt all work with energy-saving bulbs such as CFL and LED bulbs!

Youʼll need to carefully inspect the packaging before you buy a timer. Why anyone would bother (or should even be allowed) to sell timers without this capability these days is beyond me. Buying a timer should not be a hassle!

Fortunately, over the next few years it will become less and less of a problem as the USA phases out incandescent bulbs.

Test before you rely on your new timer

After you buy one, test it out. You not only want to make sure it works with the bulbs you have, but to make sure you learn how it works.

You donʼt want the first time you use it to be when you go on vacation for two weeks and then find out the lights never came on because you misunderstood the directions. Like anything else these days involving electronics and software, the instructions are often more complex and harder to read than they ought to be.

More expensive, but still good value

The price of modern timers is higher than the old-style timers, which individually is probably OK, given the new features. But the true cost is not in an individual timer, but what it will cost to have enough timers to light up multiple rooms in your house. You donʼt want to light up just a single room!

You can expect to pay about $10 more per timer (although you can find deals that improve on this price difference) to upgrade to digital timers. I still think itʼs worth it.

Timers I checked out

I picked up two digital light timers recently at Home Depot:

General impressions

Hereʼs what I like about these timers, which I thought were very reasonably priced:

  • Both include a backup battery so that a brief power glitch while youʼre away doesnʼt mess up your home security!
  • Both are labeled CFL-ready which saves you some guessing while shopping.
    Regarding LED bulbs, I didnʼt have one to test with, but Customer Support assured assured me they would work fine.
  • Both have a random mode that seems to work well.
  • Both can handle up to 20 different on/off settings. Each on/off setting includes day of the week, so you can build in your own variability if you donʼt want to rely on the random setting.
  • Each of the 20 on/off settings, in addition to being set for a day of the week, can use one of the eight built-in ʻday groupingsʼ, such as “Monday through Friday”, “Saturday & Sunday”, “Monday, Wednesday and Friday”
  • The 2-outlet timer only cost me an extra $2. This is helpful if you have multiple lamps in a room to control (such as a living room). Itʼs much better than buying an additional timer.

Hereʼs what I did not like:

  • The LCD displays are extremely difficult to read. The displays are not backlit, contain very small text which (often near the edge making it extra difficult to see). Even in the printed instructions, the display is difficult to read!

When testing, to make any changes while plugged in, I had to get down on my hands and knees with a flashlight to see the screen and even then I had to guess. With the presence of your fingers introducing shadows, you will most likely not be able to read the display.

Thus, the best way to change anything is to first remove the timer from the wall outlet. This is not going to be at all convenient.

  • The instructions do not indicate how the random feature works, only how to enable and disable it.

I called Customer Service and found out that what the feature does is only to adjust the on/off times in your program by up to 30 minutes in either direction.

Take action

Are you using timers to help protect your home? If not, I hope you’ll change that. For $50, you should be able to outfit multiple rooms in a typical house or apartment.

Put them to use when you leave in the evenings and whenever youʼll be gone when the sun goes down. Keep your home safe!

Your thoughts?

Do you have any other tips for effectively using timers in your home to keep burglars away? Have you used these timers and have an experience to share? Do you have other timers to recommend (or not recommend)?

Please leave a comment. It will be most appreciated!

© 2010, Safe At Home Security Guide: Do-it-yourself home and apartment security. All rights reserved.

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Mike January 17, 2011 at 3:26 pm

Thanks for the article. I’ve been using one of the old-fashioned timers you talked about in my living room. I think now I’ll try out a digital timer and maybe also try using them in a couple of rooms instead of just one.

Are you still using the GE ones in the article?


dave January 17, 2011 at 3:34 pm

You’re welcome, Mike. Yes, I’m still using the timers. I’ve had no issues with them once i got them set up. They work well, they’ve been turning my lights on and off every day for several months now. I’ve got 4 of them in use. My biggest frustration is still (I mentioned this in the article) how completely impossible it is to read the tiny screens.


nguyen June 5, 2014 at 11:38 pm

There are different kind of timer call in-wall timer , It like a decor switch, but it is a timer with multiple on/off for day, and random, auto or manual mode. These switch is awesome the best one I like is Intermatic ST01 Amazon have it for about $26.00 .


Pat October 28, 2014 at 1:57 pm

Can you set these to come on and go off 2 or 3 times a night or is the “random” like you said, up to 30 minutes in either direction?


Cordell Arthur July 17, 2015 at 1:31 am

These are perfect! Very simply but very effective.

Thanks for sharing your review.


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