Motion Detector vs. Presence Detector

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With the introduction of smart home technology, gone are the days that a simple deadbolt is your only defense from burglars; however, with the variety of new equipment available, many homeowners have an overabundance of choice. This is especially true when trying to differentiate between classic motion detectors and presence detectors. The following article aims to provide some background information and distinct features of each of these devices.

The Evolution of Security Sensors

If you walked into a security specialty store in the 1990s, you might see a variety of home security accessories, including motion sensors. Kits sold would include a contraption for you to install in a particular area in your house that would automatically switch on a light or trip a local alarm to scares away a burglar.

A popular use for these at the time was to connect motion sensors to flood lighting, which would illuminate your home’s exterior in response to activity on or near your property. These were usually placed overlooking the homeowner’s car in your driveway or any entrances to the home.

Unfortunately, the effectiveness of these gadgets tended to come into question because of the false positives. Because this technology was based on radar, a technology adapted for residential and commercial purposes by Samuel Bagno in the 1940s, any type of motion could falsely trigger the sensor. In other words, a raccoon scavenging in your trash could easily trigger a false alarm due to the motion detectors’ limited ability to distinguish between difference causes or types of motion.

Fortunately, homeowners can now select from a multitude of motion detector types that won’t wake you up at night because of ambient tree movement or a raccoon vandalizing your trash bin. Today, you can shop for home security equipment from a company such as Brinks Home™, which offers 24/7 professional monitoring, professional installation, and customized solutions for a variety of homes. This will help you end up with a genuine presence detector. How do you tell the difference between the two tools and what best suits your home?

Classic Motion Detectors

A motion detector is the staple of your home security setup, considering it’s the main device that detects movement in open areas. When a sensor is tripped, the device communicates to your security system’s control panel. If your security system is armed, and no motion is expected in the space where the sensor detected motion, this can trigger an alarm, which can be audible locally and generate an alert to your security company’s Alarm Monitoring Center.


  • Versatility: Modern motion sensors are small devices that can be easily installed in either hidden locations that catch potential intruders off guard, or they can be placed in conspicuous locations to promote your home has security installed.

  • Informative: Classic motion detectors may include image capture technology, which can potentially provide pictures of an intruder.

  • Interconnectivity: If connected to your smart home security system, a motion detector trigger can result in the activation of smart home devices connected to the same system. This means, motion detected can cause lights and smart plugs to turn on. When a smart plug is connected to something like a radio, it can help generate ambient noise, which may help suggest the building is occupied to deter intruders.


  • Coverage Limits: Most motion detectors are restricted to a small area, typically room size.

  • Signal Limits: The signal of most motion detectors is limited based on the distance between each device and the security control panel. Radio frequency can further be interrupted when passing through walls or windows.

  • Outdated Varieties: Older motion detectors, such as those hardwired on a loop, may not always be effective.

Presence Detectors—The Modern Motion Detector

A presence detector is one variety of motion detection technology, but instead of collating images into multiple frames and comparing changes, it is not triggered directly by movement. One very popular type of presence detector is a Passive Infrared Sensor (PIR). These are used to identify if an individual has entered a restricted or secured area through based on environmental changes.

For example, in the instance a burglar sneaks into your home, a presence detector tags his or her thermal radiation, which it later converts into an electric signal, alerting you of an intruder. In this case, the burglar doesn’t need to move to be detected; the heat from their body in contrast to the room temperature is enough to detect that somebody is present.

Another feature belonging to modern home security systems is motion detection incorporated into security cameras, which uses advanced video analytics to detect the presence of a person, animal, vehicle, or package delivery, and these can omit motion that would set off older models of motion detection systems.


  • Refined Detection: Depending on the model of the device used, a presence detector can be programmed to omit specific sections within a field of view, which increases the versatility of where it can be effectively installed.

  • Advanced Devices: Today’s motion detectors work with smart home security systems, which allows for motion detection to be carried out by devices that record video. This can include indoor and outdoor surveillance cameras, as well as video doorbell cameras. This can also help you capture video of potential intruders for later identification.

  • Improved Signal Delivery: The signal of most presence detectors can ordinarily travel through walls as well as windows.


  • False Alarms: Because presence detectors identify thermal changes, this means false positives may be an issue. This should be considered when deciding where to place a presence detector, pointing away from bright windows or heating ventilation. Sensitivity should also be adjusted to ensure proper operation.

  • Better Together: Although an improvement over classic technology, the presence detector is only one layer of security, and these devices work best when paired with a comprehensive home security system.

If you are thinking about getting a home security system, contact us today, and speak to a Brinks Home Security Consultant that will provide you with a custom solution to your home security needs.

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