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Texas Department of Insurance
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Haunted Houses: Codes and Guidelines

For Builders and Operators

Haunted houses are classified as special amusement buildings by the State Fire Marshal’s Office (SFMO) and the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA).

Special amusement buildings are defined by NFPA as "a building that is temporary, permanent, or mobile and contains a device or system that conveys passengers or provides a walkway along, around, or over a course in any direction as a form of amusement arranged so that the egress [exit] path is not readily apparent due to visual or audio distractions or an intentionally confounded egress path, or is not readily available due to the mode of conveyance through the building or structure."

Special amusement buildings, regardless of occupant load, shall meet the requirements for assembly occupancies.

Consult with your fire department to find out if you have a locally adopted code. If there is no locally adopted code, the rules of the Texas State Fire Marshal’s Office serve as the minimum requirements to be met.

Code Requirements

The following code requirements are summarized from Section 20.1.4 of NFPA 1, Fire Code, 2015 Edition, and are not inclusive of all code requirements. Inspections will be conducted in accordance with all requirements outlined in NFPA 1 and 101.

  1. An automatic sprinkler system shall be installed in all special amusement buildings. Installation shall follow NFPA 13, Standard for the Installation of Sprinkler Systems.
    • If the special amusement building is moveable or portable, the fire sprinkler system’s temporary water supply must also be approved.
  2. The activation of the automatic sprinkler system, other suppression system, or smoke detection system that has an approved verification or cross-zoning capability shall:
    • Increase illumination in the means of egress/exiting the building.
    • Stop any conflicting or confusing sounds and visuals.
  3. A fire alarm system with automatic smoke-detection shall be installed and designed according to NFPA 72, National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code.
  4. The activation of the smoke detection and fire sprinkler systems shall immediately provide an audible and visual alarm at a constantly attended location, such as a , on the premises.
  5. Emergency notifications hall be made by means of voice announcements by the person at the constantly attended location. The voice communication or public-address system should:
    • Have a secondary power supply.
    • Be audible above the expected ambient noise level.
    • Allow emergency announcements to take precedence over any other use.
    • Include visual signals initiated by the person in the control room.
  6. If the AHJ determines that a control room is impractical, both of the following shall be provided:
    • Automatically transmitted evacuation or relocation instructions shall be provided in accordance with NFPA 72, National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code.
    • The system shall be monitored by a supervising station in accordance with NFPA 72.
  7. Illuminated exit signs shall be installed above exit doors and paths of egress/exit. Where mazes, mirrors, or other designs are used to confuse the egress/exit path, approved directional exit markings that become apparent in an emergency shall be installed.
  8. Illuminated floor proximity exit signs shall be installed, not less than 6 inches or more than 8 inches above the floor.
  9. Emergency lighting shall be installed to illuminate paths of egress/exit throughout the structure. The emergency lighting shall:
    • Be tested monthly.
    • Have annual functional testing conducted for a minimum of 1 1/2 hours.
    • Be documented with a written record of testing.
  10. Exits shall always be kept unlocked and readily accessible when the building is occupied.
  11. Doors shall open in the direction of exit travel without the use of a key, tool, or special knowledge.
  12. Doors shall be a minimum of 36 inches wide, with a clear opening width of not less than 32 inches.
  13. Doors are required to be side-hinged, pivoted, or swinging in the direction of egress/exit travel.
  14. All doors serving an occupant load of 100 or more persons shall be equipped with panic hardware.
    • The panic hardware shall not be less than 34 inches or more than 48 inches above the finished floor.
    • No other locking devices shall be installed on the doors.
  15. Any doorway or hallway that is not an exit or an exit path shall be identified with a “NO EXIT” sign to prevent occupant confusion.
    • “NO” must be a minimum of 2-inch-high letters.
    • “EXIT” must be a minimum of 1-inch-high letters.
  16. Dead-end corridors shall not exceed 20 feet.
  17. All corridors shall be a minimum of 36 inches wide where the occupant load is fewer than 50 people, and a minimum of 44 inches wide where the occupant load is 50 or more people.
  18. In the path of egress/exit, ceiling and doorway height shall not be less than 7 feet 6 inches from the finished floor.
  19. In the path of egress/exit, objects hanging from the ceiling shall not be less than 6 feet 8 inches from the finished floor.
    • Decorations, furnishings, or equipment shall not obstruct, impair, or otherwise distract attention from the visibility or use of an exit.
  20. Under no circumstances shall an exit be part of a mirrored wall.
  21. The interior finish shall be Class A throughout.
    • If plywood or oriented strand board (OSB) is used, it must have a Class A rating.
  22. Curtains, draperies, and other loose-hanging furnishings and decorations shall be fire-rated according to NFPA 701, Standard Methods of Fire Tests for Flame Propagation of Textiles and Films.
  23. The fire marshal may limit the quantity and arrangement of combustible contents to improve fire safety.
  24. Exposed or unprotected foam and plastic materials used for decorating purposes shall not have a heat release rate exceeding 100 kW when tested in accordance with UL 1975 or NFPA 289, Standard Method of Fire Test for Individual Fuel Packages.
  25. Open flames and pyrotechnics shall not be used inside the structure.
  26. Fuel-fired equipment or props (e.g., chainsaws) shall not be stored or operated within the structure.
  27. Portable fire extinguishers shall be provided throughout the structure.
    • Extinguishers shall have a current annual service tag.
    • Extinguishers shall be inspected daily by a staff member before opening the structure to the public.
  28. All wiring and electrical appliances must comply with NFPA 70, National Electrical Code.
  29. Extension cords and multi-plug adapters shall not be used in place of permanent wiring.
  30. Power strips must:
    • Be listed by a nationally recognized testing laboratory.
    • Be plugged directly into an electrical outlet.
    • Not be interconnected (I.e., daisy-chained).
    • Not run through doorways, walls, or ceilings.
  31. The haunted house must have at least one trained crowd manager.
    • One crowd manager for every 250 people must be on-duty at all times.
    • Duties and responsibilities shall be documented within a written emergency action plan.
    • Training shall be documented, and verification provided at the request of the AHJ.
  32. Training for the duties and responsibilities of the shall include, at a minimum, the following:
    • Safety and security hazards that can endanger public assembly.
    • Crowd management techniques.
    • Introduction to fire safety and fire safety equipment.
    • Methods of crowd evacuation and movement.
    • Procedures for reporting emergencies.
    • Exits, facility evacuation, and emergency response procedures.
    • Facility shelter-in-place procedures.
    • Familiarization with the venue.
    • Guest services training.
    • Training specific to the event.
  33. All haunted house staff shall be trained and drilled on the duties they are to perform in case of a fire, panic, or other emergency that affects orderly exiting.
  34. Staff shall be instructed in the proper use of portable fire extinguishers and other manual fire suppression equipment.
  35. A written emergency action plan shall be provided and submitted to the local AHJ for approval. This plan shall include:
    • Procedures for reporting emergencies that identify the means of notifying emergency personnel.
    • Staff response to emergencies.
    • Evacuation, relocation, and shelter-in-place procedures appropriate to the building, its occupancy, emergencies, and hazards.
    • Appropriateness of the use of elevators.
    • Design and conduct of fire drills.
    • Type and coverage of building fire protection systems.
    • A building floor plan that includes:
      • Location of emergency lights.
      • Fire/heat/smoke detectors.
      • Pull stations to activate fire alarms.
      • Emergency exits.
    • Other items required by the AHJ
  36. “No smoking” signs shall be posted outside and inside the structure.
  37. A legibly marked electrical disconnect sign shall be provided on the exterior of the building.

Prohibited Items

  1. Power cords with replaced plugs. All power cords must be unmodified, factory
  2. Smoking, pyrotechnic, and open flame devices, such as:
    • Portable heaters
    • Cigarette lighters
    • Candles
    • Canisters
    • Kerosene lamps
    • Flash powder

    Signs shall be conspicuously posted to indicate these materials and devices are prohibited.

  3. Synthetic urethane foam plastics, foam rubber, or similarly highly combustible “cushion” or “molded” material.
  4. Glass items.
  5. Hay or straw that does not meet Class A requirements.
  6. Uneven and/or moving walking surfaces.
  7. Wood shavings or ground-up rubber products, cotton batting, dried plant material, or plastics unless approved by the AHJ.

Recommended Daily Checklist

The recommended daily checklist should include, at minimum:

  • Fire protection systems are operable.
  • E-buttons are operable.
  • Emergency lighting is operable.
  • Exit signs are operable.
  • Walkways and pathways are free of foot, eye, and face-level hazards.
  • Emergency exits and exit doors are clear of hazards.
  • Props are appropriately secured or mounted.
  • Only theatrical props are in use (i.e., no real knives, hatchets, etc.)
  • Indoor chainsaws are battery operated and chains are removed.
  • Outdoor chainsaws have chains removed.
  • Moving, animated, or rotating props are out-of-reach of guests.
  • Flashlights are operable.
  • All communication devices are operable.
  • Evacuation routes and maps are posted at all emergency exit doors and/or points of egress.
  • All evacuation maps are oriented to the building where posted.
  • All barriers, chains, gates, and line posts are in good condition, functioning properly, clear of obstacles, and free of debris.
  • All areas are in good condition, clean, and free of debris.
  • All required signs, both indoor and outdoor, are in place and are clean and readable.

All deficiencies shall be corrected daily before opening to the public.

Recommended Best Practices

  1. Emergency stop buttons (E-buttons) should be in place throughout the structure.
    • If an E-button is installed, it cannot be tied into the fire alarm system
    • It should turn on all house lighting or emergency lighting.
    • It should stop all sound and visual effects.
    • All fog effects, strobe lights, or other effects should be disabled when the E-button is pressed.
    • An E-button should be located at the always-attended location or control room where the fire alarm signals are received.
    • The E-buttons should be out of sight of the public but easily accessible for staff members in an emergency.
    • Emergency instructions should be given when the E-button is activated.
  2. An always-attended location or control room should have a door that leads directly outside.
  3. There should be no dead-end pathways, aisles, or corridors.
    • If there are dead-end pathways, every effort shall be made to prevent occupants from traveling into these spaces in an emergency.
  4. Only theatrical props should be used (i.e., no real knives, hatchets, etc.)
  5. Chainsaws shall have chains removed.
  6. Safety zones should be maintained around moving, animated, or rotating props.
    • Props should be activated to test safety zones.
    • Props should be out-of-reach of guests.
  7. Locations that use theatrical, spot, or area lighting should be clear of combustible materials.
  8. The use of theatrical fog or smoke should be limited to low-lying or fast dissipation fog to reduce the possibility of false activation of the smoke detection system.
  9. Evacuation routes and maps should be posted at all emergency exit doors and points of egress.
  10. Haunted housed should not be constructed in tents, air-supported structures, membrane structures, semi-truck trailers, connex containers, shipping containers, storage containers, or other similar types of structure.
  11. If one of these types of structures is approved by the AHJ, it must meet all code requirements.
  12. Each staff member should be provided with two-way radio communication.
  13. Fire extinguishers can be out of sight of the public but must be readily accessible to staff. This should be approved by the AHJ.