There’s a certain thrill in setting up that perfect animatronic prop or LED lighting fixture, only to realize it devours batteries like a trick-or-treater going through a candy stash! Whether it’s that Halloween ghoul whose eyes mysteriously glow, the festive holiday string lights, or a unique animated centerpiece for your next party, the continual need to replace batteries can be both a hassle and an unexpected expense. But what if there was a way to keep the magic alive without constantly raiding the battery drawer?
In this step-by-step guide, I’ll show you how to convert your favorite battery-operated animatronic props and LED lights to plug into the limitless power of your AC wall outlets. No more scrambling to find fresh batteries or dealing with dim lights and weak sound effects. With my easy-to-follow tutorial, you’ll have your prop running on reliable AC power in no time.
Say goodbye to temporary battery effects and hello to season-long haunting!
In this Battery-Operated to Plug-In AC Power Prop Tutorial:
- Should You Convert Your Battery-Operated Prop to Use an AC/DC Plug In Wall Adapter?
- How to Convert a Battery-Operated Halloween Prop to Use an AC/DC Power Adapter
- 1. Determine the Voltage and Current Requirements
- 2. Access Your Prop’s Electronics Compartment
- 3. Identify the Positive and Negative Wires
- 4. Splice the AC/DC Power Adapter Into Your Prop’s Battery Compartment
- 5. Incorporate the Female Adapter into the Prop
- TROUBLESHOOTING: What if my prop isn’t turning on after converting it from battery-operated to plug in AC power?
- Bid Farewell to Batteries and Embrace Endless Frights & Delights
Should You Convert Your Battery-Operated Prop to Use an AC/DC Plug In Wall Adapter?
The first thing I do before proceeding with any modifications to a store-bought prop is look up its value online to be sure I’m not altering something that has a high collector value. This is especially the case if your prop is a few years old or is discontinued. There are passionate animatronics collector communities interested in specific props from stores like Spirit Halloween and even manufacturers like Gemmy. It’s not a massive buyer pool, but who knows? You might have something highly sought after! And modifying an original usually decreases its value.
Also, whether you’re just starting out with electronics and wiring, or you’re a seasoned pro, any time you take apart a store-bought prop, there’s always a slight chance that you might damage it. I agree with the old saying that “they don’t build them like they used to.” Today’s mass produced animatronic props use cheap electronics and aren’t built with repair and maintenance in mind like a theme park or haunted attraction prop would be.
If you prefer not to take the risk of damaging your favorite animatronic prop or LED lights, there are battery replacement adapters for AA and AAA batteries that convert your prop from battery-powered to ac-powered in a matter of seconds!
Advantages to Converting Battery-Operated Props to AC/DC Powered:
- Cost Savings: There are certain Halloween props that I enjoy so much that I keep them up all year round. Over time, continuously buying and replacing batteries can become expensive. This is especially true with decorative lighting which is usually powered on for longer periods of time. Using a plug-in power adapter can help save on these recurring costs.
- Consistent Power: We all know when the batteries are just about dead. Lights go dim, movements become sluggish and sound effects …even creepier. Power adapters provide a steady and consistent power source. This ensures that holiday lights have constant brightness and props function reliably, unlike with batteries which provide less power as they deplete.
- Longer Run Times: For items that are displayed or used for extended periods, using an AC/DC adapter means you don’t have to worry about the batteries running out. This is especially true if you run an attraction that includes store-bought animatronics, motorized props or decorative lighting. You don’t want to be preoccupied checking batteries between shows or visitor groups. And prematurely changing batteries is such a waste.
- Extend Prop Life: Battery compartments can sometimes corrode, especially if your prop is left unused for long periods or if you use low-quality batteries. I’m pretty diligent about removing all the batteries before storing Halloween and Christmas decorations but once in a while, one slips past me into the storage bin. Against my better judgement, I tend to use cheap batteries so it’s no surprise I end up with a white crusty mess to clean up the next year. This can potentially damage your prop. An AC/DC adapter removes this risk.
- Convenience: It can be a hassle to frequently change batteries, especially for props or lights that are placed in high or in hard-to-reach places. With a power adapter, once it’s plugged in, you can leave it without the need for frequent checks or changes.
- Limited Mobility & Portability: Once a prop is plugged in, its mobility is restricted to the length of the cord and the proximity to an outlet.
- Appearance: If you’re using string lights, for example, power cords can sometimes be an eyesore, depending on how they’re arranged. For tabletop center pieces, I always find myself trying to cleverly hide the cord under a themed table cloth or runner.
How to Convert a Battery-Operated Halloween Prop to Use an AC/DC Power Adapter
If you’re new to working with electronics and wiring, this is a great project to get you started with animatronic props. You will need to solder wires for this battery-to-AC power Halloween prop conversion so if you don’t have a soldering iron, you can pick up a soldering pen kit that has everything you need to get started for less than $20. If you’ve never soldered before, don’t let it deter you! Beginning soldering skills is all you’re going to need. Don’t let batteries limit your Halloween creativity. Take the leap and embrace the power of AC for your spooky props.
1. Determine the Voltage and Current Requirements
Our primary goal is to replace the battery power source with an equivalent voltage from a wall adapter. If you buy a power adapter that delivers too much voltage, you could end up frying your props and lights. On the other hand, too little voltage and you’ll barely get your prop to work, if at all.
Unlike voltage, providing excess current won’t hurt your lights or props. Your device will only draw the current it needs to operate. It’s actually a safer bet to choose a power supply that can provide more current than what your prop requires because there’s less chance the power adapter will over heat since it’s not continuously operating at its max output.
For instance, if your prop has an operating voltage of 4.5V and a current draw of 1A, you’ll want to buy an AC/DC power adapter that’s rated for 4.5V and at least 1A.
I’m really fond of these universal power adapters with multi-voltage switching because you can select the voltage that fits your animatronic prop’s needs. The voltage scale is in multiples of 1.5 which is perfect for powering a variety of battery-operated props and lights.
In our example, the 4.5V exactly matches what our prop needs and at 3A, there’s more than enough current. Since the power adapter isn’t working at it’s max, it will run cooler preventing the risk of overheating.
How do you know what voltage and current you need for your animatronic prop or LED lights?
On rare occasions, you might have a sticker somewhere on your prop that has the operating voltage information and sometimes, the current draw. But for most of us this isn’t going to be the case. I have many animatronic props where I removed all the visible labels or they never came with one in the first place. In this case, start by checking the battery compartment and counting how many batteries your prop takes. Whether it’s AA, AAA or even C batteries, each one provides 1.5 volts (V).
Assuming you’re using alkaline batteries, the chemistry inside the “cell” determines the voltage. A single cell alkaline battery, no matter how small or large will give you 1.5 volts. The difference between a AAA and a C battery is capacity, or how much energy (measured in mA-hr or A-hr) the battery can store. Larger capacity batteries can deliver more power and for longer than smaller capacity batteries.
If you have a 9V battery compartment, then the math is pretty easy. You’ll need a 9V power adapter. Inside a 9V battery are actually six little 1.5V cell batteries wired in series.
My haunted urn prop takes three AA batteries so I know that my wall adapter needs to provide exactly 4.5V.
As for current, most battery-operated Halloween props and LED lights will be fine with a power supply that can provide 1A. You can go higher on the amps if your prop has more features just to be sure. If you have a multimeter, measuring the current draw with your prop turned on will give you a more exact number. I have a detailed multimeter tutorial that takes you through how to measure current draw with a multimeter if you want to go this route. Otherwise, you should be good with a 1A power supply.
2. Access Your Prop’s Electronics Compartment
You’re going to want to get behind the battery compartment so you’ll have to remove the main panel. These panels are usually held in place with screws or adhesive. In my case, it was adhesive …and lots of it!
If you drew the adhesive short straw then you’ll need a heat gun to soften the glue and gently pry open the electronics compartment. You can use a hair dryer but this will take you much longer depending on how thick the glue was applied at the factory.
Since the electronics used in store-bought props tend to be on the cheap side, you want to use short bursts of heat and work slowly around the edges with a flathead screw driver. I tried to minimize the mangling around the edges of the plastic cover with mild success. You can always straighten it out later with a heat gun and a pair of pliers to bend the edges back into position. It won’t be perfect but you’ll still be able to close up the compartment again.
3. Identify the Positive and Negative Wires
Once your electronics cover panel is loose, pull it out gently making sure the thin wires don’t get caught on anything. Depending on how your animatronic prop is wired, the back of the cover panel may either have minimal wires and electronics or be a spaghetti mess like mine.
In either case, all you want to do is identify the positive and negative wires connecting to the metal contacts of the battery compartment and ignore everything else. The positive wire is almost always red and the ground wire (negative) is usually black. If you have different colored wires you can flip over the cover panel and see what battery polarity each contact corresponds to.
On my negative battery contact, I also have a small resistor soldered to it along with the black wire. You may also see this, especially if you trace that wire and it goes to the on/off switch.
4. Splice the AC/DC Power Adapter Into Your Prop’s Battery Compartment
I always prefer to keep the option of being able to switch back to batteries whenever I want. So we’re not going to be cutting any wires off the battery compartment contacts. Instead, we’re going to share the contacts with the wires that are already there.
Just remember never to use batteries and your wall adapter at the same time. Be sure there are no batteries in the compartment when using the power adapter.
We’ve identified where we need to connect the power from the AC/DC adapter on the prop, but what’s the best way to wire it up?
Method 1: Modify the AC/DC Power Adapter
Power adapters usually terminate in a male barrel jack so most people cut this off and solder the two wires directly to the prop’s positive and negative wires (or battery compartment contacts).
This method involves less steps but does have one drawback. Your power adapter will be permanently soldered to this prop that you probably use one season a year. Wouldn’t it be nice to re-purpose that power adapter from a Halloween prop to a Christmas prop with the same power specs?
Method 2: Use Female Barrel Adapters (recommended)
For this method, your power adapter remains intact with the male barrel jack at the end. In order to plug the male end into your prop, you’ll need a female DC power jack adapter. These come in two main varieties: screw terminals and pigtails. Either one will work for this battery-to-ac power conversion.
Since I do a lot of prototyping, I tend to use more of the screw terminal kind. These have two little screws on the back that allows you to make quick connections for positive and negative wires. But for a more secure connection, I recommend the female adapters that end in pigtails. Soldered connections are always more durable than the screw-in kind.
Once wired, you can hide the female end under clothing or drill out a hole in the plastic near the battery compartment and glue the adapter in place so it looks like it came that way out of the factory.
The advantage with this method is that you can unplug the power adapter when it’s time to put the prop away and use it for something else. Which ever method you choose, the connections you’ll be making to the battery compartment are the same.
Solder to the Battery Contacts
Start warming up your soldering iron because we’re going in hot! Chances are that when you try to solder your positive and negative wires to the metal contacts of the battery compartment, the existing solder joints will melt and those wires that were connected there will pop off. The best thing to do is unsolder the existing wires, wrap each one together with your corresponding wires and solder them together in one shot to the battery contact.
Unlike what I did, it’s always best practice to match your wire color with the existing wires so your connections are easy to identify and the circuit looks consistent. This is especially helpful if you plan to make further modifications to your prop in the future.
In my case, I had some spare wires left over from another project that I wanted to use up and none of them were red or black. I chose green for positive and white for negative. You can buy small spools of 22-gauge wire in red and black, or both colors running in parallel together that are useful for a variety of prop modification projects.
Meanwhile, for the negative side of the connection…
Because I had to solder a resistor, the existing black wire and my white wire all to the same contact, I broke down the process into two steps. The resistor lead is pretty long so I started by wrapping the white wire around the the resistor’s lead about half way down, leaving the very end of it free. Once I soldered the white wire to the resistor, I wrapped the black wire around the free end of the resistor lead and soldered those to the contact.
You can try soldering all three components at the same time but I found they move around too much to get a good solder joint on the battery compartment’s contact.
Secure the Wires to the Female Barrel Adapter
If you’re using a female barrel adapter with screw terminals like me, strip and insert the spare ends of your positive and negative wires coming from the battery compartment contacts to the corresponding terminals of the female adapter. Tighten down each screw until you can tug on the wires with moderate force and they don’t slip out.
If you’re using the pigtail version of the female adapter, then you won’t have any spare wire ends because they’ll already be wired to the backside of the female adapter.
Before we move on, it’s a good idea to test that the animatronic prop is working with the connections we made. Plug the male end of your wall plug into the newly wired female end connected to your prop and watch what happens. Did it work?
Awesome! You’ve successfully converted your battery-operated Halloween prop to AC power. Now you can enjoy worry-free, continuous scares and impress your guests with your fully powered and terrifying prop. Let’s move on to the final step so you can start enjoying your favorite Halloween animatronic prop all season long.
If your prop isn’t working, I’ve outlined some troubleshooting steps at the bottom of this battery-to-ac power tutorial to help get your prop lighting up, moving and making sound effects again.
5. Incorporate the Female Adapter into the Prop
With your animatronic prop still opened up, the last step is to install the female adapter so the barrel end is accessible from the outside. Find a hidden area on your prop and drill a hole for it.
I decided to put my female adapter on the back of my prop, in a crevice where it wouldn’t protrude out very noticeably. As you drill, make sure you don’t hit any electronics components on the other side!
It’s a good idea to hot glue the female adapter in place so it doesn’t come loose and fall inside the prop. I didn’t do this on my prop because it’s a demo prop I use to practice modifications on.
TROUBLESHOOTING: What if my prop isn’t turning on after converting it from battery-operated to plug in AC power?
Chasing down gremlins is a natural part of working with animatronic props and electronics. If your prop is unresponsive after surgery there are a few troubleshooting steps you can take to identify the problem. Ensure the prop is unplugged while inspecting or making any adjustments, and only plug it back in when you’re ready to test.
- Perform a Battery Check: If you wired your connections like I did such that you can still use batteries for your prop, try popping in fresh batteries to see if your prop turns on. BE SURE your prop is unplugged from the outlet before you do this!
If your prop comes alive with battery power, none of your electronics got damaged. It’s most likely that your connections aren’t secure. Continue down this list of troubleshooting steps to pinpoint what’s going on.
If your prop is still dead, then there’s a chance that a component may have gotten damaged or that a wire unrelated to the ones you worked on may have broken when you pulled off the cover panel. Broken wires can easily be soldered back in place. If you truly love your prop, you can always buy replacement components and perform a transplant. Luckily, electronics for store-bought props are very inexpensive. It’s still a good idea to go down the rest of this list to rule out as much as possible.
- Inspect Your Soldered Wire Connections: Take a pair of tweezers and wiggle the wires you soldered to the metal contacts on the back of the battery compartment. If any of them feel loose, try soldering those wires again to try and get a firmer hold. Also, verify that you connected your positive and negative wires to the same points where the batteries were originally connected.
- Look for Possible Short Circuits: Make sure that the metal parts of your positive and negative wires don’t touch. If you stripped too much insulation off the ends of the wires, they might come into contact with one another and cause a short circuit. Check if this is the case both where the wires are soldered to the battery compartment’s metal contacts and at the female barrel adapter (if using the screw terminal type). If so, cut the exposed portion of the wire shorter. Another option is to use heat shrink tubing to cover the exposed parts of wires.
- Examine Wires and Electronics for Damage: Look for any signs of burns, discolored components, or a burnt smell, which might indicate a component got damaged during the conversion or while attempting to power it with the AC adapter (too much voltage).
Sometimes the electronics are very close together and there’s a nest of wiring in your way. In my case, I accidentally burned two adjacent blue wires with the wand portion of the soldering iron. Luckily, it wasn’t enough to completely melt off the insulation.
- Double Check the AC Adapter Specs: Ensure the AC adapter can provide enough current (amperes/milliamps) to power the prop. Even if the voltage is correct, an under-powered adapter might not provide sufficient current, causing the prop not to function.
- Multimeter Testing: Use the continuity function of your multimeter to test connections and confirm there aren’t any breaks in the circuit.
If you’ve gone through all the above steps and your prop still won’t work, I encourage you to post in our community for more troubleshooting ideas and deeper insights.
Bid Farewell to Batteries and Embrace Endless Frights & Delights
As the eerie ambiance of Halloween envelopes our homes, nothing should break the spell—not even the fleeting life of batteries. Transitioning your treasured Halloween props from battery-power to AC power ensures that no longer will you be caught in the dimming glow of a dying battery during a crucial moment of your Halloween festivities. This cost-effective power solution means that your props and lights are ready to shine, twinkle, or spook for as long as you want. As you revel in the hauntingly beautiful atmosphere you’ve crafted, take pride in not only having harnessed the magic of continuous electricity but taking the initiative to learn a new prop modification skill. With your animatronic props now powered for the long haul, let the ghoulish festivities carry on deep into the witching hour!