It used to be when you didn't have your Christmas lights down by mid-January it would be seen as a sign of laziness by your neighbors.

Now you might be the envy of your neighbors because you've tapped into the latest design trend.

We're talking about year around Christmas lighting. But actually, it's a lot more than that since outdoor lighting around your home has become a big design trend in 2023. 

Nick Hunter, a lighting specialist with Montana Ace Hardware in Missoula says the trend to what can broadly be called "patio lighting" has "become huge" in the past couple of years. 

Hunter tells me that one of the after-effects of COVID and lockdowns was Montana families staying home more, and wanting to spruce up their outdoor space for relaxation and entertaining. It started with simple light strings but over the past couple of years has expanded to include entire new lines of outdoor lighting for the home. 

One of the main upgrades is WiFi control

Hunter says the new outdoor lighting can operate in different cycles that are selected with your phone or other mobile device creating "amazing strings that can change colors and dance". That means the lights you might want to install for Christmas decorations can be adapted for outdoor lighting accents at any time of the year. 

"You might want to have red or green for Christmas, but then change it to orange for Halloween," Hunter suggests. 

What about safety?

"The big thing is making sure you have a GFCI plug-in," Hunter advises. "A lot of people might use a simple retrofit for regular Christmas lighting. But you want to make sure you're plugging in right to prevent electrical shock."

GFCI plugs, or Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter Plugs, sometimes called GFI outlets, are critical for the installation and operation of outdoor lighting. The Leviton Blog has a good write-up explaining the outlets, and what to look for to make sure they can withstand the weather. 

The right outlets will not only protect your light investment, but you, keeping you from getting shocked when you're up on a ladder.

"You need to be well-protected," Hunter advises. "Don't try to shortcut." 

Hunter says many of the newest outdoor lighting kits are rated to last up to 13 years, but he notes that's in a lab.

"They might test them every day for three hours a day," Hunter explains. "That's okay if it doesn't last that long." 

That's because real-world conditions can be much harsher, with longer operating hours and Montana weather. 

But the good thing is, LED lights will last longer and are much more energy efficient. 

That means less time on a ladder. With your neighbors thinking you're finally getting around to taking down your Christmas lights in the summer. 

READ MORE: Missoula's rules for outdoor lighting

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