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Spooky halloween pumpkin on front porch of a haunted house

Haunted houses have been around for centuries. The world’s first introduction to these houses dates back to the 19th century in London. In 1802, Marie Tussaud designed a wax figure exhibition of decapitated French figures and named it the “Chamber of Horrors.” Since then, the popularity of haunted houses exploded. According to a 2016 study conducted by the National Retail Federation, 171 million Americans will celebrate Halloween this year. With so many people celebrating, we’re thinking you’d like to get in on the fun, too. We asked Quicken Loans Instructional Designer Margaret Tirpak and Jokers’ Masquerade’s Digital Marketing Executive Ian Tompkins for some advice.

Start Small

Tips, Tricks and Treats for Homemade Haunted Houses - Quicken Loans Zing Blog

Both Tirpak says both her and her husband love the holiday: “Halloween is our Christmas.” The couple first got interested in doing their own haunted house when the two decorated her father-in-law’s house. “It was nowhere near as extensive as what we started doing with our house, but we had so much fun doing it.” Tirpak started with a simple tailgating tent and some haystacks turned it into a haunted maze. Starting small doesn’t mean you can’t have a fun and scary haunted house, though. “Anybody has the capability to go on Pinterest. Ask yourself, ‘can I replicate that?’ If the answer is yes, then do it.” Tirpak also says the willingness to fail is what will take your haunted house to the next level. “Everyone has seen the Pinterest fails online, those shouldn’t discourage anyone from accomplishing their haunted house. You’ve looked at it for hours, planned to know how it should look, and when that one detail is off by a lot (or many small things off by a little), your perception and ego tells you its ‘wrong’ and throw it away. To someone else who is not looking at every stitch, brushstroke, or layer, it’s perfect.” Other easy ways to start small are things as simple as throwing white sheets over your furniture; this will give your home the abandoned look. Candles are another great way to give haunted vibes throughout the house. If you’re looking to turn your yard into a graveyard; look for spider webs and Spanish moss for an instant spooky feel.

Plan Early

Tips, Tricks and Treats for Homemade Haunted Houses - Quicken Loans Zing Blog

Planning doesn’t just mean getting the décor ready; it also means having a backup plan for when things go south. It’s important to make sure to do a dress rehearsal a couple days before All Hallows’ Eve. Find out which props are sturdy and rehearse where you plan on scaring people. Plan for some of your props to not make it, you’ll never know how your guests will respond to certain scares. Try to distribute the props and people evenly through the house; the flow is just as important as the props inside. Tompkins adds that it’s never too early to start planning. “We notice searches on our website begin to increase for decor in August and it just grows and grows until the end of October. It’s pretty much the same with Halloween costumes for us.”

Who Will Attend?

Tips, Tricks and Treats for Homemade Haunted Houses - Quicken Loans Zing Blog

Image: AllYou.com

Tirpak says the best way to convert your humble abode to a haunted one is to know your audience. “One of the first things we do is gauge who might be trick-or-treating that year, sometimes as early as July. If we see younger kids in the neighborhood who will be trick-or-treating with their parents, we’ll tone down the theme and make it more fun and enjoyable. If we see older kids, then we turn up the scary factor.” Tirpak says a good way to gage this is by asking yourself what would scare you at that age.

Creating a Theme

It’s important to find a theme and stick with it. Weave a narrative into your haunted house that will help carry the theme throughout their experience. Tirpak says, “What would scare you? Zombies? Aliens? Witches? Don’t be afraid to think outside of the box.”

Draw inspiration from what used to scare you when you were a kid. When considering a theme, keep in mind what era it will be in; this will help when you’re ready to shop for props and look for a narrative. Other fun and simple themes are cemeteries, haunted asylums or vampires. Once you’ve settled on a theme, you can start finding and making props.

Which Craft


If you’re not the crafty type, don’t worry. Tirpak says some of her favorite projects are also the easiest. “It’s not always about skill level; sometimes it’s all about what material you use.” But that doesn’t necessarily mean spending a lot of money.

Keep an eye out for ways to repurpose different materials. “We made eyeball lights from old Christmas lights. Not only did it turn out great, but it was also super easy.” Pinterest and YouTube are also great resources for finding fun and easy ways to repurpose old materials.

Sound and Lights

Tips, Tricks and Treats for Homemade Haunted Houses - Quicken Loans Zing Blog

Fog machines, lighting and sound effects are easy ways to set the mood. These are often overlooked aspects of planning, but are very effective. If you have wireless speakers and access to the internet, you can find hundreds of spooky sounds and music to set the mood. Fog machines can get a little pricey, but a simple model will do the trick. Lighting is one of the best ways to shift your house from cozy to spooky. Strobe lights and lasers are easy to find and fairly cost-effective. Tompkins says it’s okay to take a minimalist approach as well. “Overall, less is more. You don’t need to invest hundreds of dollars in lavish decor to make your house look cool. Embrace the dark; use light and decoration sparingly and be creative with glow sticks, pumpkins and silhouettes.”

Regardless if this is your first time or you’re an old pro at turning your home into a haunted house, remember to have fun and make the experience a memorable one for your neighbors, friends and family. For more ideas and DIY fun for Halloween, check out this article on throwing a Halloween party!

Comment below and share your favorite tips and tricks for Halloween decorating.

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