How Haunted Houses Work

By: Cristen Conger

Haunted House Safety and Logistics

Before haunt owners can get the scare, they have to ensure that the attraction is completely safe for customers.
Before haunt owners can get the scare, they have to ensure that the attraction is completely safe for customers.
Darren McCollester/Getty Images

Running a haunted house isn't a one-month-out-of-the-year dream job. First, the house costs quite a bit of money to construct. In addition to purchasing the raw space, one haunt owner recommends allotting $15 to $25 per square foot for decorations and special effects [source: Pickel]. If you have a 5,000-square-foot warehouse, we're talking $75,000 to $125,000. Ricky Dick, who co-owns Pittsburgh's Castle Blood haunted attraction with his wife Karen, stresses that to manage a haunt you need two essential traits -- a love of scaring people and the discipline to do all the boring stuff required so that you can scare people.

One of the primary messages that you'll see mentioned in industry information is the importance of haunted house safety. The purpose of a well-planned haunted house is to create the illusion of danger but never actually come close to putting someone in harm's way. Insurance, safety equipment and maximum capacity will vary, depending on the city where the haunt is located. Those figures could influence where you can rent or purchase space.


­If someone gets badly injured in a haunted attr­action, it could scare away business from other haunted attractions as well. Injury-related lawsuits could also shut down an attraction. Netherworld Haunted House in Atlanta has 32 cameras installed along their mazes and prints a disclaimer on the back of admission tickets to help protect the attraction from litigation. It isn't uncommon for haunted attraction Web sites or disclaimers to include specific warnings for women who are pregnant and people with heart conditions.

After you know the regulations you're working with, let's say you find a warehouse you think will make a perfect haunted space. Before you spray a single drop of fake blood, check out the facility's sprinkler system and fire safety features. Haunt World Magazine recommends being generous when applying flame retardants to materials. If something catches fire in a tightly designed space like a haunted house, disaster could strike. In the case of emergency exits, find where the doors and windows are and if there are any pillars or obstacles blocking those exits. The walls of a haunt maze must be constructed 4 to 5 feet (1.2 to 1.5 meters) away from the structure's walls to provide emergency exit routes and easy access to the maze [source: Dick].

Of course fire isn't the only potential hazard. Haunted attractions have all sorts of props and hardware that could injure customers and employees. Most of the time, haunted house mazes are dark and foggy, increasing the chances for a stumble. Check along maze walls for any nails or screws that could be poking through [source: Kirchner]. Remove loose cords from the path and ensure maze walls are reinforced and won't break or fall over if people lean on them [source: Kirchner]. Props must also pose no danger. Take, for instance, those chain saws that crazed lunatics in many a haunted house wield at guests. Although it makes a bone-chilling noise, there's no blade. Faux fog and compressed air help create a frightening atmosphere but can also raise carbon monoxide levels in the enclosed spaces. As a result, managers must be sure that air is properly filtered in the attraction to keep it safe for breathing.

­Finally, when selecting the location, haunt owners mustn't forget about parking. The haunted house season comes and goes quickly, but for a successful attraction, that means heavy traffic. If you can't move cars in and out of the lot easily, people will go somewhere else for their Halloween frights. And speaking of frights, now that safety and logistics are covered, it's time to design the haunted house.