Halloween decorating is a serious business for my family. It started with my father pretending he was a Halloween prop on our porch and has since evolved into more elaborate decorations, lighting, and sound, making my family's home a must-see stop for trick-or-treaters every October 31st.

With the haunting season upon us once again, it's that time of year to embrace the horrors of home ownership and transform the usually friendly exteriors of our houses into frightening facades. While there are many ways to give the outside of your home a macabre makeover, one of the most important elements in creating a creepy attraction is lighting. Through my experiences scaring the neighbors over the years, I've put together a list of tips on the most efficient ways to use lighting and add in some new technology to your Halloween setup this year.

Create Depth

One of the best things you can do to create a larger-than-life haunted house is to make sure that your decorating goes beyond just the front of your home. Most Halloween decorators will focus 99% of the lighting and props on only the front face of their homes, which gives their seasonal flair a flat, one-dimensional look. Create depth by simply including lighting and props both inside your house and on your front doorstep, and then continue spreading your decorations throughout the front lawn to immerse your guests in a 360-degree horror experience.

Start from the Inside Out

Once you have decided on a theme and color scheme for your decorations, it's important that you set up lighting and props inside your house, so there's something going on in every visible window. Treat every window like the valuable real estate that it is. Windows are the portals to your home's soul, and you want to show just how creepy and scary that soul can be during the Halloween season. Make it look like your house is home to all manner of horrors.

Be careful not to get anything that sticks directly onto the window, though. Using props that can't be completely seen and strategically placing your lighting to create shadows are critical components of making it look like something sinister is going on in the house. You can display skeletons, zombies, werewolves—even unsettling silhouettes can get people talking when they walk by on the street. Be the Kevin McCallister of Halloween and make it look like there is a lot going on inside your home... even if you're the only one inside.

Don't Stop at Just the House

To provide a better sense of depth, make sure that you light or decorate elements in your front yard that are farther away from the house. Do you have a tree close to the street? Are there bushes in front of your driveway? These are opportunities to organically extend your decorating beyond your front door. By incorporating more of your property into your decorating scheme, you have a better chance of immersing people in a 360-degree Halloween experience as opposed to just keeping the decorations in front of them. This strategy also works great if you want to keep people on their toes in anticipation of a jump scare along with their treat. The more you can surround people with decorations, the more unexpected and adventurous their experience will be.

Have a Centerpiece

While it's important to spread your scares around your lawn and front porch, it's equally important to have a centerpiece to draw your guests in and leave their jaws agape (and their knees buckling). You can use your imagination to come up with all kinds of critters and creatures to use as your eye-popping centerpiece, but you can't go wrong with placing motion-activated animatronics in the middle of your macabre mayhem. For some eerie examples, visit Spirit Halloween, which has a wide variety of animatronics in stock, including zombies, witches, and even a skeleton bride and groom.

Choose the Right Lighting

One of my biggest challenges with lighting is the lack of color selection. Since many homeowners are buying from major outlets like Amazon, Walmart, Home Depot, and so on, the colors and light types being used on suburban streets and throughout cities are mostly the same. Seeking a wider selection, I started looking at smart light options, and LIFX was gracious enough to send over some of their Color 1000 bulbs for me to test this Halloween season.

Now, it's important to note that these lights are not officially rated for outdoor use, so be wary of how much wear and tear they might have to endure out in the elements (or among the living dead who roam about on All Hallows' Eve).

To keep your lighting choices easily interchangeable, these LIFX Color 1000 bulbs are all connected via Wi-Fi and can be controlled from your smartphone or tablet using the LIFX app. You can customize colors for the entire set or for each individual bulb, and there are even pre-made themes, as well as custom themes, that you can use to illuminate your Halloween display in horrific hues. Be sure to check out the special spooky theme on the LIFX app for different ways to haunt your guests this Halloween.

To really set a macabre mood as trick-or-treaters trudge up your driveway, utilize the flicker options to keep your lights flashing in frightening fashion. If you're playing terrifying tunes or sound effects outside of your home—whether you're cranking something as unsettling as the Jacob's Ladder soundtrack or playing an old standby like the "Monster Mash"—the music visualizer on the LIFX app can help keep the lights moving to the rhythms of the night.

Aside from color variation, the biggest reason for moving to smart lights is to cut the cords. It often looks like the back of a rock concert inside of my house, with cables running upstairs, outside, and everywhere in-between. Not only did switching to smart lights significantly help avoid clutter, but it cut my setup time down by about half.

LIFX is also expanding their product range beyond traditional bulbs and into light strips. Their LIFX Z starter kit provides a 2-meter LED strip that can be controlled via the LIFX app. It's only available as a pre-order for now, so you won't be able to get it in time for Halloween, but it's never too early to start thinking about next year's Halloween theme and Christmas is right around the corner.

Here's an example of how you can set the stage for Halloween with LIFX:

Additional Apps & Lighting Ideas

You can adjust the lighting of your eerie attractions using a Amazon's Echo or a third-party smartphone app like Yonomi, which allows you to control LIFX lights from the comfort of your own couch, or from the fake coffin you're waiting to spring out of...

Another great third-party app to use with Philips Hue and LIFX lights is OnSwitch, which features a wide variety of lighting options perfect for setting all kinds of macabre moods among your guests this Halloween.

At many homes on Halloween night, the "ding-dong" of the doorbell is synonymous with trick-or-treaters lurking on your front step. If you have a smart doorbell like Ring and smart lights such as LIFX bulbs in your entryway, you can use IFTTT to link them together and make it so that every time your doorbell rings, your lights flash red, green, or any horrific hue you desire.

Want to seem like a true witch or warlock on Halloween night? The Campfire app connects with smart lights and speakers and can be set up to turn on when you say the magic words. Download the app, come up with your own trigger word, such as "boo!" and watch the lights react—it's just like magic.


In my neck of the woods, music is very rarely used for Halloween decorating, even though it's essential for creating the right atmosphere. Having an iconic film score playing in your garage can perfectly complement your spooky presentation, and cackling witches on a more general sound effects track can raise goosebumps on trick-or-treaters brave enough to approach your front door. The music I use to frighten passersby will change depending on my yearly Halloween theme, but the setup is nearly always the same.

On Halloween morning, hours before the ghouls and goblins roam the streets, I'll move my home theater system upstairs. It can be a bit of a haul to move all of that equipment, but when the sun sets and the moon rises, it will definitely be worth it. Once everything is upstairs, place your tuner, subs, and forward speakers in your windows.

Then, providing that you have enough speaker wire to run your home theater system from the top of your house to your front lawn, your outdoor attraction will benefit from using an enhanced sound system that will be heard and felt by your guests on All Hallows' Eve.

For an added effect that will complement your music, plug your sound system into a music visualizer like the FireFly 301. Since it's designed as a storm simulator that flashes lighting in conjunction with thunder, the FireFly 301 can operate in a similar fashion with certain musical sounds like the knife stab staccatos in Psycho or the haunting keyboard chords of John Carpenter and Alan Howarth's Halloween II score.

Interactive Elements

This one may not be for everyone, but trust me, it's worth it. While you can set an eerie atmosphere with Halloween props and decorations, if you want to give your neighbors a truly good scare that they'll remember for the rest of their lives (and perhaps in the afterlife as well), then you need your outdoor setup to be an interactive experience. Motion-activated animatronics can be creepy and fun, but there's nothing quite like being the one to jump out at unsuspecting trick-or-treaters and eliciting enough screams to wake the dead.

This Halloween, consider becoming a "scare actor" outside of your house. If you have them, get your kids and other family members involved, too. The more, the scarier! When you're looking to surprise your guests on All Hallows' Eve, camouflage is key, so be sure to wear clothing or costumes that will help you blend into your environment. For example, if you have a Midwestern Halloween theme with rustic decorations on your front porch, then dress up as a scarecrow and stand (or sit) still when trick-or-treaters arrive. Just when they think it's safe, make a sudden movement and watch them instantly become track stars as they sprint off your lawn.

It's important to note that even though it can be fun to spook your guests on Halloween night, safety still needs to be the number-one priority. Make sure you don't have any tripping hazards on your porch or driveway that might cause a fleeing trick-or-treater to go flying without a broomstick to keep them afloat. And while you'll want to surprise them by springing out of your seat or breaking your statue stance, make sure that you don't accidentally push your guests, especially if they're standing near a step. The last thing you want is for your Halloween night to become a real horror story.

Eerie Extras

When you think of horror, images of a "dark and stormy night" might immediately come to mind. Whether you're going for a creepy Victorian look or a gore-tastic ’80s-esque slasher vibe, having a lightning and thunder simulator on hand can add a hair-raising element to your Halloween decorating. When it comes to conjuring your own storm, you can't go wrong with the FireFly 301 digital storm simulator, which, as mentioned above, can also be a great light flashing accompaniment to your music.

One of the hottest (and most horrifying) ways to make your house look haunted these days is through the use of projected images. Downloadable digital decorations displayed via TV screen, monitor, or a projector can instantly make it look like zombies, ghosts, and all manner of creatures are wreaking havoc in your home. For the best effects, I highly suggest shining a projector on your windows to make unsettling silhouettes and creepy characters visible from your street. For top-notch quality with a sweet and scary selection of digital decorations (including official Trick ’r Treat projections), you can't go wrong with AtmosFEARfx.

While you can project your digital decorations on a bed sheet hung over your window, you should seek out AtmosGEAR Hollusion Projection Material for the best way to display your eerie effects. If you want to go a slightly different route, you can purchase netting at Home Depot or Lowe's to hang over your windows for your digital decorations. You can also project images onto the siding and garage doors around your home to give your guests something scary to look at (or run away from) as they cautiously approach your home of horror this Halloween.

[Special thanks to Derek for editing and additional content, Jordan Smith for the demo photo, and LIFX for supplying sample bulbs!]