When building walls, panels, decor, or any other elements of your haunt with plastic sheeting, be sure to only use flame-retardant poly sheeting (Available in black or white.) Non-flame-retardant plastic poly is not only unsafe for haunted houses, but it may also result in your home or professional haunt being shut down by the fire department before it even opens. Make sure you keep your receipts (and certificates, if they're given to you) from the flame-retardant poly sheeting so that you can show them to the fire marshall if they request it.
Please check with your local city, town or county government and your local fire department for the most accurate set of safety rules applying to home and/or professional haunts.
NFPA 101: Life Safety Code®
The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) has dedicated an entire section of their website to the subject of fire safety within building structures, which is available at nfpa.org/101. The section of the NFPA 101 containing reference to Haunted Houses is 188.8.131.52. You may also want to check out the NFPA article on "Special Provisions for Special Amusement Buildings" contained within the NFPA 101 Life Safety Code. It includes information on The Haunted Castle Incident, the tragedy that originally prompted their new rules for fire safety within Special Amusement Buildings (Haunted Houses, etc). Make sure to check out the Frequently Asked Questions for the Life Safety Code in reference to your own haunt.
Haunted Houses fall under the definition of Special Amusement Buildings by the NFPA's Life Safety Code. Section 184.108.40.206 of the NFPA's Life Safety Code describes a Special Amusement Building as: "A building that is temporary, permanent, or mobile that 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 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".
Section A.220.127.116.11 of the NFPA's Life Safety Code describes Haunted Houses as a "Building, Special Amusement" as seen here: "Such structures include amusements such as a haunted house, a roller coaster-type ride within a building, a multilevel play structure within a building, a submarine ride, and similar amusements where the occupants are not in the open air."
Sections 12.4.7 (New Special Amusement Buildings) and 13.4.7 (Pre-existing Special Amusement Buildings) of the NFPA's Life Safety Code both address additional safety concerns for Haunted Houses. The content of each of the two sections is the same, so here are the quotes just from 12.4.7:
18.104.22.168 Special amusement buildings, regardless of occupant load, shall meet the requirements for assembly occupancies in addition to the requirements of 12.4.7, unless the multilevel play structures are not more than 10 ft (3 m) in height and have aggregate horizontal projections not exceeding 160 ft2.
22.214.171.124 Every special amusement building, other than buildings or structures not exceeding 10 ft in height and not exceeding 160 ft2 in horizontal projection, shall be protected throughout by an approved, supervised automatic sprinkler system installed and maintained in accordance with Section 9.7. Where the special amusement building is movable or portable, the sprinkler water supply shall be permitted to be provided by an approved, temporary means.
126.96.36.199 Where the nature of the special amusement building is such that it operates in reduced lighting levels, the building shall be protected throughout by an approved automatic smoke detection system in accordance with Section 9.6. Actuation of any smoke detection system device shall sound an alarm at a constantly attended location on the premises. Actuation of the automatic sprinkler system, or any other suppression system, or actuation of a smoke detection system having an approved verification or crosszoning operation capability shall provide the following:
• (1) Cause illumination in the means of egress to increase to that required by Section 7.8
• (2) Stop any conflicting or confusing sounds and visuals
188.8.131.52.1 Exit marking shall be in accordance with Section 7.10.
184.108.40.206.2 Floor proximity exit signs shall be provided in accordance with 220.127.116.11.
18.104.22.168.3 In special amusement buildings where mazes, mirrors, or other designs are used to confound the egress path, approved directional exit marking that becomes apparent in an emergency shall be provided. The LSC Annex note to this section indicates that consideration should be given to the provision of directional exit marking on or adjacent to the floor.
22.214.171.124 Interior Finish. Interior finish shall be Class A throughout in accordance with Section 10.2.
Special Amusement Buildings are also addressed in the Assembly Occupancy section of the NFPA's Life Safety Code. Some additional points made include:
• Restrictions on dead end pathways
• Provision of panic hardware on exit doors
• Provision of an adequate number and width of means of egress to accommodate occupant loads within the building
• Stairway construction, including riser height and tread depth, provision of handrails, and fire rated enclosure in some situations.
• Restrictions on the use of open flame devices or pyrotechnic special effects.
• Furnishings and decorations (including all draperies and curtains) are required to be flame retardant as proven in a test in accordance with NFPA 701 Standard Methods of Fire Tests for Flame Propagation of Textiles and Films.
• Any upholstered furniture in the occupancy must comply with testing and labeling requirements.
The Life Safety Code Annex explanation indicates that where a special amusement building is installed inside of another building, such as within an exhibit hall, the special amusement building requirements apply only to the special amusement building. For example, the smoke detectors required by 126.96.36.199 are not required to be connected to the building’s system. Where installed in an exhibit hall, such smoke detectors are also required to comply with the provisions applicable to an exhibit.
Again, please check with your local city, town or county government and your local fire department for the most accurate set of safety rules applying to home and/or professional haunts.
For questions specific to your haunt, check the NFPA 101 Frequently Asked Questions page.