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House Boo-tiful

A DIY Master On Building The Best Haunted House In Your Neighborhood

There’s a neurochemical explanation for the enduring popularity of haunted houses: Scary situations flood the brain with endorphins, dopamine and oxytocin, and when that happens in a context you subconsciously know is safe, the experience can be tons of fun. Your own house is a perfect place to introduce kids to this kind of thrill, and Halloween is the best time to do it because society mostly frowns on trying to scare the crap out of kids the rest of the year.

Timothy Dahl, founder of the DIY site Built By Kids, and professional set designer Tadd Kroneck both know their way around a good haunted house. Here are a few tricks of their trade to help you get started.

It’s Not (All) About The Decorations

  • Start by thinking of a story that you want your haunted house to tell. Is it the Bates Motel? A witch’s house? “Maybe it’s a haunted butchers shop,” suggests Kroneck. “That sounds pretty terrifying to me.”
  • Once you have a story in mind, plot a path your kids will walk through the house, so the story has a beginning and an end and they aren’t just wandering aimlessly around the space.
  • After you’ve set them on a path through the story, give them room to get lost in it. “The best haunted houses only allow a few people in at a time and keep people at a good distance,” says Dahl.

Creating Atmosphere


  • Kroneck creates drafts in air-tight houses by cutting narrow slots in cardboard or foam core and positioning quiet fans behind them at various points along the path. Increase the effect with a fog machine.
  • Youtube is lousy with looped Haunted House music, but both Dahl and Kroneck prefer less obvious background noises – either ambient outdoor sounds like crickets and wind, or simply long stretches of silence punctuated by loud bangs. In both cases,cheap Bluetooth speakersare your friend.
  • Sudden changes underfoot are unsettling. Kroneck uses piles of dry leaves, peanut shells or bubble wrap. “Not everyone will step on them, they’re just little land mines that some people run into,” he says.

Spooky Lighting On The Cheap

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  • Kroneck recommends varying the locations of your light sources. Bunch Christmas lights on the ground and cover them with dry leaves, or surprise kids as they turn a corner with a blast of light that’s at waist height.
  • Light bulbs that recreate flickering flames are less than $10 for pack of 10 on Amazon. Dahl likes to group these on window sills, where the reflection from the glass creates crazy shadows.
  • You can buy colored bulbs easy enough, but Kroneck says it’s just as effective to pull sheer fabric over your existing bulbs: “You can even use old boxer shorts, the plaid creates weird colors.” Just make sure the fabric is far enough from the bulb to avoid heating up.

Ok, Sometimes It’s About The Decorations

  • Two classic gross-out props that Kroneck likes are bowls of peeled grapes or the guts of a pumpkin with the seeds removed. These can be served up to kids as candy until they realize it’s actually … human eyeballs and flesh!
  • For cobwebs that are significantly creepier than the store-bought stuff, Dahl suggests this DIY cobweb shooter, which only requires a glue gun, an air compressor and some basic plumbing supplies.
  • Finally, for a sure-fire kid freak out, find a place in the haunted house to strategically locate your own head in a jar.

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