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As she turned the big 0-4 in August, McKinley Annoni is in what her mother calls her "little girl pink-and-purple phase."

On McKinley's birthday, her parents upped her joy by lighting up their entire Farmington home with a special twinkling display featuring her favorite colors.

"We're known in the neighborhood as the people with the cool house lights," said Elizabeth Annoni. "We are standing out."

When the Anonnis worked with the builder of their new two-story, they added a customized home exterior accent lighting system. Mounted in panels that are permanently installed on soffits and rooflines, the colors and brightness of the LED lights can be changed in a snap via a smartphone app.

"They were installed on a rainy night in April and we sat in the car in the driveway and played with the presets," said Nick Annoni.

Since then, the couple have run "fun moving patterns" that pulse, flicker and more. When they dial up a favorite called "The Worm," one color appears to chase the others. It's been a hit for selecting specific hues for the holidays: red, white and green for Cinco de Mayo, pastels for Easter, rainbow colors for Pride Month and red, white and blue for July 4th.

But if you asked the couple when it's their — or rather their house's — time to shine, it's in October when they go all out decorating their yard in the spookiest ways. And this year, their new lights have provided the perfect backdrop.

"Halloween is my favorite holiday," said Elizabeth.

Smart home innovation

In the past decade, a half-dozen national companies that offer permanent residential exterior lighting have sprung up. Most of them originated in western states where the programmable systems have risen in popularity.

More recently, at least five installation companies specializing in smart home lights have popped up in Minnesota, giving homeowners who love technology and holiday lights the chance to deck their halls year-round.

Matt Mueller's cousin started a home lighting business in Arizona three years ago. Inspired by that success, Mueller founded GLO Lighting in Wayzata last spring and has since installed light panels in soffits of about 100 homes in the Twin Cities area.

The majority are in suburban subdivisions, where, Mueller said, homeowners like to create a unique look to differentiate their homes from other similar properties.

"Each light has its own address and can be adjusted for color and brightness. Some people like to adjust the lights every single day, but we can set up a schedule of the holidays [the homeowner] wants on a calendar, program it and it automatically updates the displays so they never have to touch the controller," Mueller said.

Mueller works with licensed electrical contractors who install the accent lights, which come mounted in an aluminum track painted to match the home's trim.

His customers typically spend $3,500 to $6,000 for a whole house system, but, he said, the long-lasting, energy-efficient LED lights burn so cheaply that they make a minimal impact on a homeowner's utility budget.

"It's a very social product. People who have this love to put pictures on their Facebook," he said. "A lot of them love to light up the house on game day with colors of their favorite team."

Whether illuminated for the holidays, special occasions, game day or as a backdrop for everyday ambience, exterior lighting is just the latest element of smart home innovations that have become more prevalent. A May report by the Connected Economy found that 32% of U.S. consumers now use smart home or automated chore technologies in their daily routines, a number that jumped by 4% over just the previous six months.

Today consumers can use Wi-Fi-enabled features and sensors to automate, customize and remotely update a growing range of functions in their homes. Using apps or voice control, they can manage their security systems, thermostats, kitchens and even the water temperature in their smart showers.

"Smart home technology is evolving and becoming simpler and more seamless. These systems are becoming an expectation with younger homeowners, who are the highest adopters of smart tech and actively seek out the latest and greatest," said Allie Martin, manager of design trends for the California-based New Home Trends Institute.

Martin thinks the customizable exterior lights hold special appeal across generations of family members.

"It's just a fun idea, and millennial couples like something they can customize to delight their kids," she said.

Guiding lights

For the past 14 years, Kevin Polski owned a company dedicated to installing traditional holiday lighting at residential and commercial properties. He updated his offerings two years ago. Today, installation of permanent LED lighting sales dominate his year-round business, now rebranded as Trimlight Minneapolis.

While his customers have used the lights in unexpected ways — one couple used the color for their baby's gender reveal — he finds it's the seasonal red-and-green lights that drive people to purchase a system initially.

"The glass incandescent Christmas bulbs have to come down after a year or so; they get brittle and don't last out in the sun," he said. "With this, they can program movement so the color chases forward or twinkles in different patterns."

Polski said that unlike the more traditional C9 exterior holiday bulbs, the lighting systems his company installs are not visible to the naked eye, which he calls a "huge selling point."

While the systems are trending, Polski insists that programmable exterior lights are not a fad.

"I'd say 95% of our customers use them every night, sometimes just white light. It adds curb appeal and security. They can control it remotely from anyplace in the world if they're out of town," he said. "The lights point down so it illuminates the house without causing light pollution."

Polski said the biggest selling point of the systems is the positive emotional response the lights seem to create in the homeowners who purchase them.

"Lights make people happy, simple as that," he said.

That's proven true for the Annonis and their three children.

"I'm sure some people, including my parents, think it's silly to spend money on lights," said Elizabeth. "But they always made our house festive for the holidays, and now we are the adults and we can do that for our kids. They literally gasp when we drive up to the house when it's all lit up."

Nick has a more practical reason for being pleased with the system.

"On our first house, a little rambler, I was comfortable putting Christmas lights on the roofline," he said. "Now our second story feels pretty tall and out of my comfort level. I'm glad to not climb the ladder."