Setting Up A Home Haunted House

What is it that comes to mind the most when you think of Halloween? Is it the tasty treats you get to snack on throughout the night? Maybe it’s the crisp fall air and the crunch of the leaves under your feet as you trek from house to house (either yourself or with your kids).  Regardless of what comes to mind first, there’s no doubt in my mind that everyone’s thinking about the best way to get a thrill out of the holiday. Tons of great, scary movies are always set to come out around Halloween, there’s always some kind of spooky happening or event nearby, and, most of all, the haunted house reigns supreme as the ultimate Halloween thrill. What’s that, you want to be able to have all the fun of a haunted house without having to leave home? Well, what are you waiting for let’s get started!

The Setup

The most important part of putting together any kind of project for your home is making sure that everything is properly planned out beforehand. This means having several things ready and prepared before you even begin to start your home haunted house plans. Here’s some things that you should have ready and prepared before you begin your planning:

  •  The size and dimensions of your yard or outdoor space.
  • The budget you have available for supplies and decorations.
  • A list of people available to help in the haunted house’s construction, maintenance, and use.
  •  A list of decorations and supplies you already own to avoid overlap.

These aren’t the only things that you should have ready before planning your haunted house, but these are the most important. Once you have these ready then you can start deciding on the rest of it.

Picking a Theme

No Halloween project can be completed without the driving force of a theme behind it. This is arguably one of the most important steps that you should have completed before you decide on what you’d like to do with your available space and budget. It doesn’t matter what kind of theme that you end up picking, just make sure that it’s one that is reasonably attainable in the time frame you have before Halloween, one that you have the budget to complete, and that you have the available space for in and around your home. Here’s some themes I’ve used in the past you might consider using:

  • A haunted, spooky castle complete with a moat.
  • A desolate graveyard at midnight.
  • The site of an alien crash landing.

If you can’t come up with a theme then you can always play around with a few different themes and make some small, preliminary plans for each one. Try to come up with a few key decorations or features you’d like for each theme and take a look at which ones are the most doable or, more importantly, the ones that you’ll have the most fun putting together!  When you’re doing something like this then you’re building something so you can entertain other people and if you’re stuck doing something you don’t like then it will show through your work. You want your guests to have fun so make sure it’s something you’ll have fun with yourself.

Once you have your theme picked out that’s when the fun can begin!

Calling In Some Help

Putting on a haunted house is a big job and unless you’re 100% sure you want to do it all by yourself, you’ll probably want to call in some help for a project this size.  Call up friends, family, coworkers, and anyone you think might be interested in working on the haunted house with you and check their availability. Especially when it comes to the crunch time of assembling everything and working in the house on Halloween, you’ll want to have all the extra pairs of hands you can get!

Deciding on Decorations

Once you have your theme planned or picked out, you need to decide on how you’re going to decorate your yard and “haunted house space”. Setting up the surrounding space properly is hugely important for setting the mood and creating the proper spooky ambiance. There’s several things you’re going to want to have available when deciding your decorations: What kind of decorations you have already, what kinds of decorations you’re going to have to buy, what kind of decorations and supplies for decorations you’ll have to make for yourself, and what kind of budget you have for all of the above.

Each of those is important in proceeding with putting together your haunted house. Make sure that you stick with your theme when making your choices, but don’t feel like you have to pass up something you ‘d like or you think is cool because it doesn’t mesh perfectly with your theme. Like I said before, the most important part of putting together your haunted house is having fun doing it so if you want to throw together spooky gravestones and creepy aliens then all the more power to you! Just make sure that you have a budget clearly in mind while working on your project so you don’t run into any kind of funding problems while you’re putting together your haunted house, causing you to fall short on your decorations or preparation.

When choosing decorations I like to make sure I have at least one major feature for my yard or space like a centerpiece (whether that’s a crashed alien ship in my yard or a  big spider whose legs are creeping over the side of my roof) that will attract a lot of attention surrounded by some smaller thematically appropriate decorations to support it. However, that’s just my personal preference. Do what you want with your space, that’s all part of the adventure!

Zoning Your Space

This is another majorly important aspect of putting together your haunted house and should be done as soon as you have an idea of what decorations you’ll be using. Unless you live in a field or mansion, you likely have a limited space to make use of for your decorations, so plan everything out to make that finite space count! The process of zoning your yard is simple, all you need is a measuring tape, a notepad, and some string or tape along with some yard stakes or pins. Make sure you’re using your notepad to keep track of your decorations and how large each yard feature is going to me as well as generally where in your display you’d like it to be. Once you have that jotted down, simply mark out where each decoration’s place and allotted space is in your yard with the string or tape and you’ll find you have a much clearer vision of what things will look like as you complete your projects.

One thing to remember as you’re zoning your available space is to leave room for error. You want to efficiently use the space you have, but don’t pack it full of decorations end to end so tightly that if your estimates are wrong or if you make a mistake in construction having things so close together causes you to be unable to properly finish your display. This is the whole reason you’re zoning the space to begin with, make sure that you’ve given yourself plenty of goof room just in case.

Getting Your Decorations Ready

Now comes the fun part! Once you’ve decided on your theme and what kind of decorations you’d like you get to go ahead and make them. This was always my favorite part of putting up my Halloween display (short of watching everyone enjoy the display itself) and I’m sure it will be yours too. There’s a couple different steps to preparing your decorations so let’s get to it.

Choosing Store Bought Decorations

One way to go is to forgo making your decorations (at least to start) in favor of picking some up from your local seasonal, costume and decoration, or big box store. There’s nothing wrong with that at all, your decorations aren’t any less for being store bought in any way, though they’re likely to be a little more expensive at least. However, if you want things that light up or make noise then you’ll probably want to take this route as it’s a little difficult to engineer decorations that will do that if you don’t have any experience making things like that already. Just make sure that your purchased decorations fit the theme of your yard and display and you should be fine.

Picking Up Supplies for Decorations You’re Making

When you finally settle down into making your own decorations (my favorite part) then it’s time to make another list. You’ll want to take stock of all the supplies you’re going to need to put together your decorations. Try to categorize your items so they’re easy to find, either by what kind of items they are, when you’ll need them, or even where to get them. That way your shopping trips are simple and relatively quick, getting you in and out of the stores during this likely busy season without much hassle. Remember to ask yourself important questions like “Is this going to be enough of X or will I need more in case we’re short?” and “Should I get this in more than one color in case I don’t like the finished product?” because if you end up dissatisfied with whatever your decoration turns out like you’ll end up making another trip to the store to correct it or make another one.

Build Your Decorations!

Hooray, you’re finally here! Once you’ve gotten all of your building supplies squared away you’re ready to put together all of the pieces of your Halloween display. If possible, try to keep the supplies for each project stored together so when you go to make each decoration everything is right where you want or need it. Grouping your supplies up beforehand also gives you a chance to double check and make sure you have everything you need so you don’t come up short partway through building. Now’s the time to let your creative flair go wild, do your decorations up as big or spooky as you want. At the end of the day it’s your awesome display so make sure it’s an effort you’ll be proud of!

Decoration Tips

If you’re still on the fence about what kind of decorations you’d like to put together, here’s some of my favorites from years past that I’ve made. If they fit your theme then feel free to put one of them together but if not, I hope they can get your creative juices flowing enough to think of some!

Giant Spider

The classic spooky black spider has been a Halloween icon pretty much forever and now’s the time to pay that respect in spades. The best part is, my giant spider is easy and cheap to put together or repair in an emergency.

What You Need: Several black garbage bags, heavy duty tape (preferably clear and/or weather resistant), newspaper (old, new, recycled, it doesn’t matter!), string or twine, paint, colored construction paper, glue. Optional: Black foam or plastic tubing.

The first thing you need to make is the spider’s body which is simple enough. Take two of your garbage bags and stuff them to the brim with your newspaper. Crumple up the newspaper to make balls, but make sure that it’s not so tight that it looks squashed or becomes to heavy and full. Make the “rear” bag for the spider’s back end a little larger than the front and attach the two together in the middle with your tape. Next is making the legs for which you can either use the black tubing (if you decided to pick it up) or just make the sections out of more garbage bags and newspaper. Which you should then attach to the body in the correct places The last thing you need to do is make the spooky spider face which can be done a couple different ways. If you expect nice weather for the duration of your spider’s stay outside then go ahead and use colored construction paper and glue or tape on some fangs and eyes, otherwise you’ll want to make sure the spider’s face is as flat as possible and paint them on. After that’s done, just make sure he’s properly put together and set or hand him wherever you please! He’s sure to be big so setting him up on your roof where his legs and face just hang over to stare at passers by works great! If you want a web to hang him from or to go with as a decoration, you can use store bought fake spiderweb or even make your own out of the extra string and twine!

 The Crashed Alien Ship

This one is a little more time and labor intensive to put together, but if you’re a sci-fi and horror fan, you can’t beat a replica flying saucer for your yard!

What You Need: A large, flat disc (I used an old plastic tabletop I had lying around, but foam sheeting will work in a pinch, though it is less durable), silver spray paint, flat Styrofoam sheets for the outer saucer, white blinking Christmas style lights, tape, glue. Optional: Plastic half bubble (a little tough to find, but worth the effort!)

The first thing you want to do is put together the body of your alien craft. Take your flat disc (like I said, I used an old plastic table, but any sturdy substitute at least a few feet across will work) and measure out  how many foam sheets it will take to make the outside of the craft. You’ll need to take the sheets and cut one of the flat edges to fit the disc then set them around the disc in a circle to make a sort of /___\ shape. Make sure that you attach each foam sheet to the one beside it as you lay the edges down next to each other. When you’ve finished you’ll have something that vaguely looks like a flying saucer depending on how well you got the edges to line up. Don’t worry if it’s not perfect, most of the people checking it out will be looking at it in the dark anyway! When the saucer is done being built take your spray paint and spray the whole thing down so it’s a uniform color. Silver or gray works best, but it’s your space ship so make it any color you want! The final step is to run the lights around the edge of the “ship” so that when you plug the lights in at night it looks like running lights around the saucer’s edge. All that’s left to do is set your “crash landed” ship up where everyone can see and admire it. If you want to go the extra mile, take a plastic half dome and set it up in the middle of the foam sheets to look like a cockpit (and if you want you can even put in an alien doll or prop for effect!).

Those are just two of my favorite decorations, feel free to do whatever you’d like for your theme and make sure to have fun with it!

Store Your Decorations Until Halloween

If you’re the type that likes a head start like me, you might be putting together the parts of your display weeks or even months ahead of time. That makes for a good way to leave yourself plenty of time to be prepared, but it’s the downtime between being finished and setting up your display that can be a real horror if you don’t properly store your decorations. If you have a storage unit (either a shed or garage on your property or even a rental nearby) then you’re already a step ahead of the game. Provided your storage space is weatherproof (Fall is a notoriously wet season) then all you need to do is make sure your decoration is set safely where it won’t fall or have anything fall on it. If you’re not 100% sure then make sure that any sensitive pieces are kept safely wrapped or stored in plastic or a container. Anything that can be broken down into pieces and reassembled later should be to make storage and transport easier while also giving you plenty of options for storage containers.

Check Your Zoning

Even though you likely already finished your zoning, you might just be struck with a bolt from the blue for inspiration on something else you’d like to add to your decoration list. Make sure that you update your zoning or at least make a mental note (or even a physical one!) about the addition so you don’t end up cramped or out of space when actually setting up your display.

Taking Stock

For just a moment let’s take a breather and make a quick checklist of our progress. So far you should have your theme decided, your yard space properly marked and zoned, your decorations at least planned out (if not built) and stored for later. You’ve reached the halfway point in your journey to put on an awesome home haunted house, but here’s where it all starts to come together and where the real hard work begins.

Being Part of the House

This is your haunted house so of course you’re going to want to be a part of it! Once you have your decorations and theme picked out and taken care of, pick out the perfect costume to go along with it for yourself! You’ll want something that will fit your theme, maybe a witch for a haunted castle or an intergalactic invader for a spooky Area 51. The sky’s the limit, this is your time to shine so have all the fun you want!

Building the Haunted House

Now of course you won’t be building a separate house, but there’s definitely going to be some building or at least setting up involved. The basic idea of a haunted house is to have a sort of “maze” for your Halloween guests to wander through where you can have various frights and decorations planned for them. In practice, though, it’s a little difficult especially in a space that gives you little room to work with, but even with just a side patio, yard, or driveway to work with it can still be done! Let’s take a look at what needs to be done to actually construct the “house” part of your haunted house attraction.

Planning Your Space

This is more or less the same as zoning your yard, but instead of zoning places you’re going to have decorations you’ll be plotting out walking spaces, walls, dividers, and whatever else you’d like to have in your haunted house. You’ll need to make sure that there’s more than enough room for the people visiting your house to walk without being cramped, but not so much room that it feels like an open space or it takes away from the spooky feel of the attraction. Ideally there will be room for one or two people to walk side by side and still have some kinds of decoration on one or both sides. Make sure you have a clearly planned starting entry point and an exit with good flow from one end to another. When you have your floor plan all ready to go, you’re ready for the next phase.

Building the Walls

Here comes the tricky part: How do you build walls outdoors? The answer is simpler than you may think! If you have any kind of supporting structure in the space you’ll be having your haunted house (a fence or arbor works great!) then your best bet is to set up supports between the two structures (something simple like a board or pole) and then run heavy rope or cord across the top to make a sort of faux wall that you can place heavy black plastic sheeting or some other similarly dark, heavy material over that will give the illusion of walls. If you really want to go the extra mile and put something together you can use year after year, a simple wooden frame is easy to build and will last much longer than temporary supports, but you’ll need some carpentry skill (or a friend with some instead) to put it together. You’ll want to put up your “walls” right away so you have a better idea of your available space while you build your haunted house.

 Setting Up the Decorations

Now your hard work will finally pay off as you get to put together your decorations and put them on display! Ideally you’ll want to do this on one of the days right as you’re getting close to Halloween. That way none of the surprise is ruined for your visitors and you’ll have a good idea of the weather conditions as the big night draws near.  At this point you should at the most be putting the finishing touches or last minute repairs and fixes on your yard and house area decorations. Make sure that you follow your zoning plan properly, if you do then you’ll already know where everything is set up to go and you won’t run into any problems like unused space or cramped decorations too close to each other. Once you’ve finished putting everything where it needs to go, make sure to walk the path of the haunted house once or twice on your own as well as with a friend or two to make sure there’s not any clutter issues and there’s plenty of room to safely walk. The last thing you want is someone to trip and fall or hurt themselves in the dark, something we’ll go over later.

Setting Up the Scares

If you’re a real Halloween fan like me than you know that there’s only one reason to go to a haunted house… to get spooked! Make sure that your haunted house isn’t just decorations, you’ll want to have a few… surprises along the way for your guests. This can be anything from a motion activated decoration that lights up and moves or makes a noise to someone waiting to pop out and scare your unsuspecting victims. Here’s some ideas I’ve used in the past for scare ideas that have worked really well.

The Bait and Switch – The bait and switch is a simple idea, take something that they’re expecting and give them something completely different! This works well for yard decorations along the path or, even better, in the haunted house maze itself! Start by having some kind of dummy along the path, maybe a mannequin or inflatable stand-in wearing a costume, something that people will assume is a decoration. I’m sure you already see where I’m going with this. At some point, swap out that dummy or decoration for a live body (someone who’s been helping put the haunted house together with you works best since they’ll know the layout) and have them suddenly come to life when nobody is suspecting it! It can be something as subtle as turning their head and watching people pass for a small spook or jumping out and making a noise (great for older kids who claim that they won’t be scared by cheap decorations). For bonus points, especially if you have repeat customers or people who go again and bring their friends who will spoil the surprise, switch the person back out for the dummy and move the person somewhere else along the path!

The Hall of Masks – This is a simple trick that gets ’em every time. Simply line a section of your dividing wall with Halloween masks, only instead of all hung masks leave one space open with a slit in your dividing material for someone to put their head through. When the unsuspecting victim walks by what they think is another mask, it’s the perfect time to make a spooky noise and give them the fright of their lives! For added effect, make slits in your divider that your mask wearer can slip gloved hands (monster hands or regular black gloves) through to give a quick tug on an elbow, tap on a shoulder, or pull on a candy sack.

Setting the Atmosphere

So you’ve got your “maze” built, your decorations in place, and your scares all set up, that must mean you’re done right? Well, you could be but where’s the fun in that? If you want to make this a truly memorable experience, you’ve got to go the extra mile and set up the perfect spooky Halloween ambiance. At the very least you should make sure to get a “Spooky Halloween Sounds” CD or load up and MP3 player with scary soundtracks so you can set up speakers near the entrance or somewhere behind the scenes and between the walls to provide the right soundtrack to your night of frights.

Once you’ve got the sounds right, it’s time to work on the sights. If you’re a traditionalist, make sure to pick up some dry ice for a creepy rolling fog. Alternatively you can find prop shop fog machines that will produce a good amount of fog at the push of a button, giving you the option to have as much or as little fog as you’d like. A good companion to the fog is alternating strobe lights down the path. Not only will it make it hard to adjust to the dark with the flashing lights, but it makes it harder to see through the fog and get a good look at what’s around the corner.

Haunted House Safety

Having a fun, spooky experience for your friends and neighbors is great, but you should also make sure that the experience is also a safe one for everyone involved. Here’s some things you should do to make sure that everyone has a fun, safe haunted house experience this Halloween:

1. Check the Weather – As the seasons change it’s known to get chillier and damper and depending on where you live or what the weather’s doing, you could run into dangers like unexpected showers or, in the case of ice, slips and falls. No amount of hard work is worth risking an injury just because you don’t want to waste the effort.

2. Tripping Hazard Free Zone – No running cords, low hanging decorations, or any other tripping hazards allowed along your maze’s walking path.  If you can’t find a way to safely add a feature or decoration, it’s probably a good idea to skip it in favor of something that won’t put someone in danger.

3. Proper Lighting – Not just ambiance lighting, you want to make sure that people can see where they’re going. Whether that means having an overhead light high up to provide general lighting for the maze or lining the walls with orange, red, or other Halloween themed LED lights, make sure that your haunted house is lit safely so there’s not slips or falls. Also always have a high powered flashlight ready in case of an accident, you need to be able to quickly and easily find and see what’s wrong so you can help whoever has been hurt.

4. Watch Your Guests’ Ages – Kids, teens, and adults might like to be scared, but you can bet that younger children or the elderly might not get the same fun out of a fright as others. Make sure that you and the people who are helping you run your haunted house can tell when it’s someone who does not want to be scared that’s coming through. Traditionally I’ve used glow bracelets that will be easy to see in the dark to mark people who are more interested in the experience than the scares along the way. Just make sure everyone who’s helping knows that whatever the signal is it means to take it easy on that group or person.

In the case of an unlikely accident in the face of all these safety tips, make sure you have good lighting and a basic first aid kit available to attend to whoever may have injured themselves and make sure that they receive prompt care depending on the level of injury. Have a phone on hand to call 911 in the event of an extreme emergency should the unthinkable happen.

Getting the Word Out

You don’t want all your hard work to go to waste after you put all of that time and effort into making everything perfect, do you? Don’t fret, there’s plenty of great ways out there to get the word out on what you’re doing with your unique Halloween experience. The most powerful and simple way to do it is simply let your friends and neighbors know and tell them to stop by to see the finished product this Halloween.

Word of mouth is a powerful tool and for something as cool as a home haunted house, word is sure to spread fast. Depending on how many people you want to attract, you can also put up posters on signs in the neighborhood like a garage sale and use social networking like Facebook and Twitter to invite people to come take a look at your haunted house… if they dare! Just make sure you’re prepared for the volume of people that you intend to have come to your house with plenty of treats, but don’t be surprised if you get many more visitors than you expect on your second or third year!

Wrapping Things Up

So you’ve had your share of spooks and scares and everyone has thoroughly enjoyed your home haunted house, so what’s left to do? Well, depending on how you set it up and whether or not you’d like to keep your decorations for next year, you’ve still got lots of work to do! The first thing you’ll want to do is dismantle your haunted house’s maze and make sure all your decorations are undamaged and accounted for. Double check that nothing is missing or damaged and break down everything that can be broken down to prepare it for storage.

If you have any decorations with small pieces or accessories you should keep them together in plastic baggies and make sure that they’re all placed in bins with each other so you don’t end up digging and searching in the years to come. Label all of your boxes and bins properly with masking tape or actual labels if you have the means to do so. You should also be sure to walk the areas that your haunted house visitors have gone through, not everyone is respectful of your space, leaving you to pick up candy and treat wrappers that have likely been left behind. Once you have all of your supplies and decorations cleaned and packed up and stored away, you can breath your first sigh of relief, you’ve successfully hosted your first home haunted house, hopefully only one of many!

Now get out there and put on something that will leave everyone talking
for years to come!

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