Introduction: Use a DIY Pressure Plate Switch to Automate Your Haunted House

Picture of Use a DIY Pressure Plate Switch to Automate Your Haunted House

When running a large haunted house, you want most of the special effects to be automated. But for this to be effective, you need to get the timing right. The best way to do this is to use sensors to detect where your guests are.

In this project, I am going to show you how to make a simple DIY pressure plate switch. This is just a pressure sensitive switch that is activated when someone steps on it. A sensor like this is really useful for effects that require someone to be in a specific location.  I also give several examples of ways that you can use it to activate special effects in a haunted house. 

Step 1: Materials

Picture of Materials

Here are the materials and tools that you will need to make your DIY pressure plate switch:

3 Large Sheets of Cardboard
Aluminum Foil
Several Feet of Insulated Wire 

Wire Strippers
A Sharp Knife

Step 2: Attach Foil to Two of the Cardboard Sheets

Picture of Attach Foil to Two of the Cardboard Sheets

Tear off a piece of aluminum foil that is at least as big as the cardboard sheets. Lay it centered on the cardboard. If the foil hangs over the edge of the cardboard wrap it around to the back side. Tape one side of the foil to the cardboard. Then stretch the foil tightly and tape the opposite side. Do this for all four sides of the foil. 

Repeat this process with a second sheet of cardboard and foil.

Step 3: Attach Wires to the Foil With Tape

Picture of Attach Wires to the Foil With Tape

Take one wire and strip about one inch of insulation off of the end. Then lay it on the first sheet of cardboard so the the bare end of the wire is touching the aluminum. Apply a piece tape on top of the wire to hold it in contact with the foil. Repeat this with the second wire and the second sheet of cardboard. This isn't the most secure way of attaching the wires but it should hold together for Halloween. 

Step 4: Cut Out the Center of the Third Sheet of Cardboard

Picture of Cut Out the Center of the Third Sheet of Cardboard

The third sheet of cardboard is used as a spacer between the other two sheets. To make this work, we need to cut out the center of the third sheet of cardboard.

Trace a rectangle on the face of the cardboard that is offset from the edge by about one inch. Then using a sharp knife, cut out this rectangle.

Step 5: Assemble the Pressure Plate Switch

Picture of Assemble the Pressure Plate Switch

Now it is time to assemble the pressure plate switch. Lay down the first piece of cardboard with foil side facing up. Then set the cutout piece of cardboard on top of it. Place the third sheet of cardboard on top of the cutout with the foil side facing down. Lastly, attach the three layers together with tape.

This is the completed pressure plate switch. When you press on the center of the cardboard, the two foil sheets will make contact and complete a circuit just like a regular switch. Now all you have to do is find some way of disguising the pressure plate so that it is not noticeable. The easiest way to do this is to put it under a light rug. 

Step 6: Use the Pressure Plate Switch to Activate an Arduino Program

Picture of Use the Pressure Plate Switch to Activate an Arduino Program

One way that you can use a switch like this is to activate an Arduino program. This works just like any other external switch that you might use with an Arduino. Connect one wire to the GND pin. Then take the other wire and connect it to an input pin and also connect it to the 5V pin with a 1k resistor.

The resistor acts as a pull-up resistor. It will make the input pin read HIGH when the button is not being pressed. But when the button is pressed the switch connects the input pin to GND and the input will then read LOW. You can then use this signal to activate any kind of sequence that you like.

//Here is an example of code that you could use with this switch.
const int buttonPin = 2;     // the number of the pushbutton pin
const int ledPin =  13;      // the number of the LED pin

// variables will change:
int buttonState = 0;         // variable for reading the pushbutton status

void setup() {
  // initialize the LED pin as an output:
  pinMode(ledPin, OUTPUT);     
  // initialize the pushbutton pin as an input:
  pinMode(buttonPin, INPUT);    

void loop(){
  // read the state of the pushbutton value:
  buttonState = digitalRead(buttonPin);

  // check if the pushbutton is pressed.
  // if it is, the buttonState is LOW:
  if (buttonState == LOW) {    
    // turn LED on:   
    digitalWrite(ledPin, HIGH); 
  else {
    // turn LED off:
    digitalWrite(ledPin, LOW);

Step 7: Use the Pressure Plate Switch As an Auxiliary Switch for DC Electronics

Picture of Use the Pressure Plate Switch As an Auxiliary Switch for DC Electronics

You can also use the pressure plate switch to activate function on small DC electronics. By wiring the pressure plate switch in parallel with an existing momentary switch, you can use it to activate that function just like the original button. As an example, I am going to be using a small sound module to play sound effects when the pressure plate is stepped on.

Start by removing the housing of your electronic device. Then locate the button for the function that you want to activate. In this case it is the play button. Find a good place on both sides of the button to connect the wires from your pressure plate. In most cases one side of the button will be wired to the microchip and the other side will be connected to either ground or the positive supply voltage. On my circuit there was an open pin hole on one side of the button so I connected one wire there. The other side of the button was connected to ground so I connected the second wire to the negative terminal of the battery. 

After making these connections, any time that the pressure plate is stepped on, the sound module will play your sound effects.

Step 8: Use the Pressure Plate Switch With a Relay to Activate AC Electronics

Picture of Use the Pressure Plate Switch With a Relay to Activate AC Electronics

This kind of pressures plate switch can only safely switch small DC voltages. So if you want to use it to activate AC appliances, then you need to add a relay to isolate the switch from the AC power line. To set this up, you will need the following materials:

Relay (with a 12 volt coil and contacts rated high enough for your AC appliance)
Insulated Connectors (that match the terminals of your relay)
Insulated Plastic Housing
Extension Cord
12 volt power supply or battery 

Wire Strippers
Sharp Knife

Start by cutting the extension cord into two pieces. If necessary also cut the wires coming from the power supply and the pressure plate. Then strip about 1/2 inch of insulation off the cut ends of all of the wires. Then attach insulated connector to the ends. Use one male connector for one of the wires from the power supply. The rest of the connectors should be female.

Connect one wire from the pressure plate to the power supply. Then connect the other wires from the pressure plate and power supply to the coil terminals of the relay. Connect the male end of the extension cord to the common terminals of the relay. Then connect the female end of the extension cord to either the normally open or the normally closed terminals depending on whether you want the appliance to turn on or off when the pressure plate is stepped on.

The last step is to put the relay in an insulated plastic housing. Use your knife to cut slots in the sides for all the power cords. Carefully fit the relay and power cords into the housing and close it up. 

As an example, I connected the female end of the extension cord to the normally closed terminals of the relay. Then I plugged a lamp into the plug. The lamp is normally on, but when someone walks into the room and steps on the pressure plate, the lights will suddenly turn off. 

Step 9: Alternate Designs

Picture of Alternate Designs

This pressure plate design works well in most circumstances. However, you can make a sturdier version of this design by using thin sheets of wood instead of cardboard. You can also replace the aluminum foil with thin sheet metal. Select the materials that are the most appropriate for your application.


Conor93 (author)2017-10-26

So is something like this safe to use with an arduino plugged into a computer (thats plugged into the wall) thats connected to a TV? I know very little about electronics but have an idea that could use something like this.

Michael Duperly (author)2017-09-07

If i used a mini jack to mini jack cord, plugged one end into my spirit halloween prop, and cut the other end and hooked it up to the step pad, would it work?

Does whatever you plug the step pad into turn off once you step of the pad or will it stay on. For instance if I connected it to my halloween prob, would it only be on while I'm stepping on it or will it complete its whole cycle before turning off. Thanks

This plate acts just like a button. The connection is only made when it is being pressed down. However most Halloween props will finish a preprogrammed animation before stopping. It works just like the "try me" button on the props that you see at the store.

Okay thanks i will try it out

Does this whatever you plug the step pad into turn off once you step of the pad or will it stay on. For instance if I connected it to my halloween prob, would it only be on while I'm stepping on it or will it complete its whole cycle before turning off. Thanks

sresquest (author)2017-08-15


Very useful one

i want to capture the pressure through local WiFi into an app or PC application

can you help me do it

are there third party app or applications

SNEAKxxATTACK (author)2017-07-19

Try embedding it into one of those "Anti-Fatigue" foam mats for workshops and such. To try to make the sudden "squishing/flattening" of the floor more inconspicuous. ~Just a thought. But Maybe someone can think of something better to accomplish this.

I think if you just have a bunch of random stuff on the floor so that the texture and the feel isn't constant, it might not be noticeable at all

Stamps1234 (author)2017-01-17

so useful

qwety_u (author)2017-01-02

will it work if it's smaller? (3 by 4 inches)

zposner (author)2016-12-13

Could have used this for my digital doormat

Mário Césard1 (author)2016-09-02

Great! :D

I'm going to make it to activate a mini water pump I just made, to put in my cats water fountain! :D

They like to drink water from the kitchen sink. But no more. :D

Thanks! Now I just need some other material... The cardboard would get wet and so on. ;)

linalim (author)2016-04-19

Is it possible to use the switch in a reverse manner that if not connected, activate something?

That could definitely work. Just change the code to fit your application.

SuperjamieQ made it! (author)2015-08-19

Yay, i made the pressure plate and i connected it with a led. When you press it or step on it, the led goes on!

Andre'M (author)SuperjamieQ2015-11-23

What kind of wires did you use? I'm having a hard time finding wires that'll fit snug into my breadboard

SuperjamieQ (author)Andre'M2015-11-24

I don't know exactly what kind of wires I used, but I stripped the ends of to fit into my breadboard...

Cool. Thanks for sharing.

Andre'M (author)2015-11-11

can I wire this into a breadboard then onto a an arduino? so I can support more than one pressure sensor one one arduino? or does i have to wire directly to the arduino?

You can wire it together any way that you want. Just think of it as a large switch.

kaylah334 (author)2014-09-05

Can you please explain exactly how to connect the wires to the battery pack and light bulb? thanks

Take a 12V battery or power adapter. Connect one wire to the coil of a relay and the other wire to the pressure plate. Then connect the other wire on the pressure plate to the other terminal to the coil on the relay. Now when the pressure plate is stepped on, the relay will activate. You should hear a clicking sound.

Then take an extension cord and cut it in half. Separate the wires for a few inches and strip the insulation off the ends. Connect the two wires from the male end of the power cord to the common terminals on the relay. Then connect the two wires from the female end to either the normally closed or normally open terminals on the relay depending on whether you want the light to turn on or off. Then just plug your light into the female end of the power cord.

after reading your post and reply to kayah334 i attempted a really rough drawing so i could wrap my mind around what connects to what. what do I do with the male end of the extension cord after the other end is connected to the relay?

as im understanding it I have 1 plate > coil on relay, 2nd plate > power supply > coil on relay . then with the extension cord i have the female half and the male half. female half gets connected to the open or closed terminals on relay > plug in whatever i want to have on/off per the plates. the male half i have connected to the common terminals > then what?

If my "schematic" is correct i just have a male plug hanging in the wind lol

Here is a quick sketch to help illustrate how I hooked everything up.

I put one of these together last year. Normally, a string of jack-o-lanterns is on, but when you step on the switch the jack-o-laterns turn off and a ghost turns on. spooky, right? is there a way to extend the amount of time the ghost is illuminated after the switch is released?

There are time delay relays. Or you could make a time delay relay circuit with a capacitor and a could of transistors. You can search for examples online. Or you could use a relay latching circuit.

ok, I think I got it, thanks!

gwfong (author)2014-10-28

simple, cheap and functional. i love it. definitely one to bookmark for future projects.

littlebigmineshaft (author)2014-05-30

I like it . It's so simple but also extremely awesome

ShadowPatriot90 (author)2014-05-17

Just from watching the youtube video my mind is flooded with all kinds of projects I wanna experiment with now! lol Its beautifully simplistic which makes me want to try it immediately!

nbfox (author)2013-10-25

I most definitely was shorting 5V to ground. Sometimes I have to do stupid things and ask stupid questions to get things done the right way. Thanks for your help. Should be a cool little project.

nbfox (author)2013-10-24

So I have wired the switch up to the microcontroller. I wired 5V from the microcontroller to one end of the switch, and ground to the other, along with the pull up resistor. However, every time I close the switch my Arduino actually powers off.... Anyone else have this problem? Any help would be greatly appreciated.

Check how you have it wired up. If you are shorting the 5V to ground, you would overload the board.

Kzummo (author)2013-10-12

Who said it had to be for halloween only?

foobear (author)2013-10-10

Seems like with extended use the cardboard would start to sag together in the middle and be constantly touching together... How long before this happens?

It all depends on how hard you are on it. It could probably hold up to a night a 10-year-olds occasionally stepping on it. But if you want to use it for a longer time with larger adults, then you probably want to use the wood paneling and sheet metal that I mentioned in the last step.

DaBlakus (author)2013-10-10

You can omit the pullup resistor and use the internal pullup resistor by setting the input pin "HIGH". Just use the digitalWrite "digitalWrite(buttonPin,HIGH)" instruction and set the input pin high in the setup list.

djkraz (author)2013-10-10

Very nice instructable! I have created several similar for our haunted house however I use aluminum duct tape in strips on cardboard like yours but then use thin double sided foam insulation (for insulating windows & doors etc.) to separate the 2. It works great and you can make it much bigger without having to worry about the middle becoming bowed and giving a constant short. Picture a tic tac toe board with a border as the strips of foam insulation.

carlos66ba (author)2013-10-07

Nice instructable. If you use arduinos, another option is to use ultrasonic sensors to detect people. They can be had on ebay for as little as $1 a piece! (amazing, isn't it?)

bremus (author)carlos66ba2013-10-10

But then you need an Arduino which is more than $1.

astral_mage (author)carlos66ba2013-10-07

naw going old school is way better. plus when yr done u can recycle the aluminum 4 money as well.

HowToMakeRandomCrap (author)2013-10-08

Awesome this will help so much!

About This Instructable




Bio: My name is Jason Poel Smith I am a Community Manager here at Instructables. In my free time, I am an Inventor, Maker, Hacker, Tinker ... More »
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