Electrical Modifications for Inflatables

The following instructions will show you how to modify your inflatable to separate the lights from the main power cord allowing you to control both separately.  For items like carousels that spin using motors, you can make a similar modification to control the rotation motor.  This may prevent or help with the twisting problem some of these items have.  

In this article:

Safety Tips 

You should not attempt these modifications to 'musical light show' inflatables since the lights are actually separate circuits that are integrated into the music playing function.

These instructions assume that your inflatable uses 'Zip Cord' wiring.  This wire looks like the wires that connect C7 or C9 holiday lights (the 'Screw In' type bulbs), or household extension cords.  Some smaller inflatables use mini type bulbs and these instructions can not be used to modify those.  I have also seen inflatables that connect to a transformer, rather than be plugged directly into an outlet.  These too can not be modified.

As always, if you have updates, corrections, or comments about these instructions, feel free to use the 'Contact Me' button on the main menu.

Modifying Lights in Inflatables 

Since I run my inflatables during the day, it doesn't make much sense to have the lights inside of them on while the sun is out.   I have tried to generalize these instructions for the 3 different major types of inflatables:  Normal, Snow Globe, and those with rotating parts like carousels. 

If you haven't, you should first read my article on Custom extension cords & C7/C9 Stringers.  Those instructions will help you to install the sockets/plugs described below.

Normal inflatables

These should be the easiest to modify, since there is typically only 1 string of lights running inside of the item.  Trace that wire back to the inflation motor -- you'll be making your modification there.

If your inflatable has multiple sets of lights, IE it is a large scene or each character has it's own lights, trace each of those wires back until they combine into a single wire - again typically near the inflation motor.  If the wires combine INSIDE the motor, you can still do this modification, you'll just have to use multiple plugs and sockets.

Be sure that your inflatable is unplugged at this point.  Once you have found where the lighting wire(s) goes into the motor, grab a pair of wire cutters and cut it near the motor - but leave enough wire on BOTH sides to install a plug and socket.

Grab a vampire socket  and attach it to the wire still connected to the motor.  Now, attach a vampire plug to the end of the other wire.  Be sure you are using plugs and sockets rated for the wire in use.  Typically, the wires running to lights and rotation motors are SPT-1, so you should be using SPT-1 plugs/sockets.

Modified Snow Man Inflatable

Adding the socket inside the inflatable does 2 things.  First, it protects you from electrocution since the bare wire ends are now encased in the socket.  Second, if in the future you don't need to control the lights separately, you simply plug them back in and the inflatable works just like it did out of the box.

If your zipper opens UPWARD, or is located on the bottom, then the easiest way to plug in the lights is to simply run an extension cord into the inflatable through the zipper opening.  Close the zipper as far as it will go around the cord,  There should still be plenty of air to blow up your inflatable, even with the leakage around the cord.

This zipper opens sideways and is on the bottom. Nothing else is needed.

If your zipper opens DOWN and it is not located on the bottom of the inflatable, grab a safety pin and pin the zipper up to stop it from opening.  Alternatively, you may want to cut a small hole in the fabric, string a cord into the inflatable, and then take a few stitches around the hole to stop it from fraying.  The problem with downward opening zippers is that while the inflatable is inflated, the extension cord is putting weight on the zipper.  Eventually the zipper will open too far and your inflatable will droop.

Snow Globes:

To prevent the small pellets from escaping, snow globe inflatables must be completely sealed.  Typically that means the wire going to the lights will somehow pass though the motor housing.  This wire will then continue into the inflatable though the hose that brings the pellets up to the top.  Complicating matters more, there are typically 2 blower motors on a snow globe:  1 for inflation, the other for moving the pellets up to the top. 

The wire to the lights goes inside the motor housing.

Once again, be sure your inflatable is unplugged at this point.

Now, take a close look at the wires going into and out of the bottom of the inflatable.  If you look closely at where the existing plug wire goes into the inflatable, you may also see an access door that is held in place with screws. 

One of these wires is the power plug.  Another goes to the second motor (and should be easy to trace).  The third is the one going to the lights.  If you can't trace them, try taking the small access panel off and seeing if that helps.  If not, disconnect a set of wires and cap them off.  Plug in the inflatable and see what doesn't work.  Note which wire controlled the lights.

The left wire is power in, the middle is for the lights, and the right one is for the second motor.

At this point, you have 2 choices:  If you have an access panel, you can disconnect the lights from the other wires.  Using zip cord and wire nuts, connect the lights to a new plug harness.  Otherwise, cut the wire and install a plug and socket as described above in 'normal inflatables'.  Remember the socket goes closest to the inflation motor, and the plug on the other side.

Although I don't know a good reason why, it is also possible to make this modification to the pellet blower motor. 

Rotating Inflatables

Rotating inflatables typically have 2 motors, one for inflation and one to turn the display, plus a third wire for a string of lights.  The power cord will go into the inflation motor and from there 1 or 2 wires will exit and go into the inflatable, typically up the back wall.  For carousels, the wires may go inside of the inflated base, and from there up one of the inflated support tubes.  Unfortunately, this makes it a bit tricky to trace the wires to see which controls the lights and which controls the rotation motor. 

The best thing to do is to ensure you have 2 sets of plugs and sockets before starting the modification.  I spent 20 to 30 minutes on each of 2 inflatables determining which wire was for the lights.  In the end I was wrong on BOTH.  By having 2 sets of plugs/sockets available, you can quickly fix your boo-boo.

The same rules apply here as for normal inflatables:  Unplug the inflatable, cut the wire, install the socket and then the plug.

Rotation Motor Modifications (advanced)

Many people complain about rotating inflatables, especially large carousels, that get twisted during inflation.  Of course, you should first try fixing the problem by ensuring that: 

  • The inflatable is on absolutely level ground
  • It is properly staked at the base and the motor
  • The proper tethers are used and that they are not too tight. 

If you still have problems, using one of these modifications may help.  There are 2 ways to accomplish the fix:  If you don't already use X10, are comfortable doing some intermediate difficulty electrical work, and only need to modify one or 2 rotating inflatables, go with the Time Delay Relay method.  Otherwise, it is going to be more inexpensive and easier to use X10. 

Time Delay Relay Method

A Time Delay Relay, or more correctly a 'Delay On Make' relay does exactly what it says.  When power is applied to the relay, a timer starts.  Once the time period is over, the relay turns on.  Typically, these relays can be had for around $20.

There are many different types, however the 2 terminal type are the easiest to use.  For example, the ICM Controls ICM102 would work great.

ICM102 Delay On Make Timer

Different relays have different connections and requirements.  ALWAYS read the instructions for the relay you end up using, and follow my instructions as a guide line only.

To use this relay, locate the wire that runs to the inflation motor.  Once you locate it, examine the wire carefully.  One side will have some kind of marking - it will have printing, be ribbed, or striped, and the other side will be plain.  We need to work with the PLAIN wire. 

With a pair of wire cutters, cut ONLY the plain wire in the area where you want the relay to be installed.  WARNING:  Most relays are NOT waterproof!  You should plan on some kind of protection for your relay - one of those cheap, disposable plastic containers should work fine. 

Once cut, carefully split both sides of the cut plain wire from the marked wire a few inches.  Strip the ends, and crimp on 2 spade connectors matched in size to the ICM102. 

The ICM102 also requires that you cut the jumper wire on the relay if using 120V.  Since you are, go ahead and cut the jumper and tape both ends up with electrical tape.  You should also set the time delay - I would set it for the maximum 10 minutes.

X10 Method

This method is by far the easiest method to prevent twisting.  Follow the instructions from above about modifying the lights, but this time locate and modify the wire for the motor.  Simply unplug the inflatable, cut the wire, install a socket and then a plug.

Now, plug the modified wire into an X10 module (like a FLWRD with a unique address).  Add a program to your timer or scheduling software to turn on this module 10 minutes after the inflation motor comes on.   For more information on using X10 in your display please read my 7 part series on X10 Control.