View Full Version : Help getting started

01-05-2011, 08:23 AM
Hello all!

I'm working toward opening our home haunt to the public and officially going pro this year. I want to place it in an indoor location preferably in Arvada or Westminster, CO (suberbs of Denver). Ideally, I'd like to build it to code the first time and not have to stress about fire marshalls or building inspectors or having to re-design the whole thing because of something I didn't know going in to it. However, I'm finding the city websites have very little information on haunts or "special attractions". Is there anybody out there who can point me in the right direction or give me some useful "getting started" information?

Moxley Manor
01-05-2011, 08:42 AM
Start with the local Fire Marshall. That is the first person that I talked to when we started looking at opening our haunted house.

01-05-2011, 12:04 PM
I am a fire marshal in SC and we are also opening up a first year haunt. Your Fire Marshal should be very helpful. There is actually a section in the International Building Code and International Fire Code books that have everything you need. He should be able to copy these pages or rules and give you a copy. Usually if someone contacts me before hand I am much more easy to get along with than if you build everything and then ask questions. Fire rated materials, fire exinguishers, and length between exits are going to be your main concerns. If your fire marshal doesn't help you much let me know and I will do what I can.

01-05-2011, 06:09 PM
I wish they were all like you.

01-05-2011, 07:20 PM
Well all it takes is to sit down and make kind of a checklist one time of "things haunted houses have to meet to be in compliance" and then any time somebody needs it, help them out. Where the problem comes in is when I give someone a checklist and then the obviously do something totally dumb and totally against the checklist. Then, even though you think the fire marshal might just be being a hard nose, we can actually be held liable for giving you a clear inspection if someone gets hurt or dies from a violation that we overlooked. It goes hand in hand, luckily my county is pretty laid back when it comes to these type things as long as you stay out of the city.

01-06-2011, 04:37 PM
I have ask one before and I said I want to build a haunt and would like for you to be there along the way to make shure nothing is wrong. he said Dont even try I WILL NOT PASS ANY KIND OF HAUNT NO MATTER WHAT. and he walked off. thats no shit. But it was back in 2004 so things may have changed by then I dont know I have just over looked that county.

Uptown Haunts
01-09-2011, 09:49 AM
Depending on the location, you may have a difficult time, or possibly an easy one, getting your haunt setup and operational. It really depends on who you are dealing with. In my area, most of the municipalities/cities want you to meet all permanent building code requirements even if you are in a temporary location. This is beyond rediculous. If it's being built to be permanent, meeting all the codes is reasonable.

Put a tentative plan together. Review the National Building, Electrical and Life Safety codes before meeting with officials. Do your homework. It will help you to better understand their side of the issues to be taken into consideration. Some officials will be flexible. Others are hard core. In my home town of Bensalem, Pa., the building inspector and fire marshal tend to combine various clauses in the above mentioned publications thus creating new requirements which don't exist.

My local officials would not answer my question: "I've read the national and municipal codes. What are YOUR requirements?" Instead of a sensible, helpful answer, their response was "Draw up your plans and submit them for our review." My next question was: "Based on what?" No response. Bensalem is notorious for shooting down construction plans of would-be businesses as many as three times (or more). Each submission costs $$$ plus $4-5,000 for the plans to be professionally drawn by an approved architect/engineer. Redrawing plans will obviously cost money as does resubmission of the plans to the Township for each time it gets shot down. They won't tell you what you have to do to make it right. You basically have to guess. Don't be discouraged. I'm in the worst case scenario location of the United States. Your experience may be different. Believe me, I certainly hope so. Good luck.


Lisa Mathis
01-09-2011, 10:05 AM
We are looking for a property to lease and I am curious as to how much square footage is needed for a good haunt. We had thought about 40,000 but with financing, we have to go lower. What is a good sq. footage?

Uptown Haunts
01-09-2011, 11:37 AM
Haunts vary in size from as small as 3,000 sq. ft. (some even smaller) to well over 50,000 sq. ft. Many hayrides combine indoor attractions, midway with carnival rides and games, food concessions, etc. One haunt in my area combines two indoor attractions, haunted hay ride, corn maze and monster truck hearse rides. It really depends on the actual location and what you want to pack into it. If you build long hallways, that will eat up square footage. Space that could be better utilized with actors, scares, pop-ups, static scenes, etc.

I would plan the actual rooms, gags and scares first. Don't focus on total square footage until you know how many rooms you're building as well as their combined sizes and necessary passage ways to/from them. If you can scale down some of the rooms, this provides certain advantages. You can build your haunt in a smaller location, if nothing larger is available, and it allows you to concentrate your detailing efforts and talents into a smaller space making it that much better in overall impact and affect. Larger spaces require larger amounts of detailing, wall panels and materials, wiring, props, actors, security, etc. Confined spaces are a little more intimate, you can breathe much more life into your scares and/or build suspense leading up to the next scare.

In New Jersey, there are two sets of rules governing 'special amusements'. The first set of rules limits a haunt to 1,000 sq. ft. if there is no sprinkler system and is not to be used for more than 15 days. You will also need fire apparatus on site. How much haunting can you do in something that small anyway? Not much. If you go larger or longer in New Jersey, this changes the property use and requirements. There are other requirements to both rules but I chose to keep this breakdown simple just to give you an idea of what we're all up against.

Research the rules and regulations before you sign on the dotted line. You should also include an exit clause in your lease agreement just in case the city/town shoots down your plans or blocks your opening all together. Many haunters have gotten screwed out of thousands of dollars due to local officials shutting them down and having no exit clause in their leasing agreement pertaining to local official obstacles. Two haunters in my area lost over $30,000 back in 2005 thanx to ongoing changes in the alleged requirements they were subjected to even after they had their use and occupancy permit. They never opened. What's wrong with this picture? Yep, their haunt was in Bensalem, Pa. Go figure.....


Uptown Haunts
01-09-2011, 12:58 PM
As a regulatory official, I understand these people have a job to do and there are specific requirements in place to even the playing field and make our industry safe ever since the May 11, 1984 Great Adventure Haunted Castle fire. Unfortunately, you found a fire marshal who obviously doesn't know the first thing about special amusements. A very sad and true situation for many of us throughout the industry.

In my area, I cannot setup a haunt in a parking lot inside of a tent. Imagine all the emergency exits I could put in it. The reason? "Because you can't put a sprinkler system in it." And they will not approve a haunt with wooden wall panels even when treated properly with fire retardants or fire retardent paints because "You might miss a spot". But it's okay to sell fireworks from a tent in a parking lot. There's a product that is designed to have a low ignition point, flies, explodes, etc. Am I sensing a double standard or am I just paranoid?