How to Choose the Best Electrical System for a Dollhouse

A clamping dollhouse power centre next to a simple plug in board from China.

Lesley Shepherd / The Spruce

There are many ways to wire a doll's house for electricity. Before you choose one, know what advantages each wiring system has. For a full electrical system, you will also need to choose a dollhouse transformer. This is best done after you decide on your lighting system and the number of bulbs you will be operating.

Main Wiring Systems

  • Round wire is a direct wiring system where each fixture is wired back to a controller or lighting strip. Plug-in lights are possible, and faults are easily found. Wires will need to be hidden under moldings or flooring, or in-wall/floor channels. Each lamp wire will emerge from the bottom or back of the house, wherever the wiring board is located. Wiring boards can be set up for switchable systems to operate or dim lights individual, or a remote control system can be set up. Inexpensive white plastic wiring boards should be avoided except for test purposes.
  • Tape wire uses thin copper tape with adhesive backing to carry the electricity around the house in a ring. The tape can be double and plastic coated, or single and uncoated (must be coated with shellac or varnish to protect it from corroding in contact with wallpaper pastes or paints). Individual lights connect to the wiring ring. Reliable joins between tapes can be a problem. Plastic or mylar coatings can interfere with connections. All lights on a ring will function as one circuit and find faults is more complicated than with round wire systems. Remote control of individual lights is not possible.
  • Hybrid systems use tape wire circuits inside the dollhouse connected to channels on an exterior power distribution unit. Each set of tapes is connected to a round wire which brings in power from the power supply on the back of the house. Remote or switched controls are possible, and several lighting effects (dimming, flickering) are easily achieved by wiring in special units.
  • Battery systems run individual lamps or sets of lights are available using watch case batteries or standard cell batteries. As these must be switched on manually, large systems of individually operated lights are not practical. Single battery operated lights can be easily set to highlight items where wires would be unsightly or hard to install. Sets of battery operated lights should be carefully chosen for how long the batteries will last before needing replacement or recharging.

Other Considerations

  • Who is using the doll's house? A child's dollhouse may not require lights at first, but future installation may be desirable. Copper tape wiring for a hybrid system could be installed now and put to use later.
  • Where will the doll's house be located? If the dolls house is a central display, lighting may make it fit into its surroundings more easily, or enable better displays. You will need to decide if you want any lighting controls other than on and off.
  • How will the various walls and floors be finished? Plastic coated tape wire can be bulky and will show through some wallpapers. Round wires can be run in channels along the base of walls and covered over with filler, or they can run under carpets or flooring if it is not fixed permanently in place.
  • All or nothing lighting: Will you be satisfied if all the lights in a circuit come on at once and stay on, or will you want to have controlled lighting at some points, either through wall switches which control lights for a single room, or timers or remote controls, which can be set to control the entire lighting system. Remote controls will require the isolation of individual lamps, which means you will need to use a round wire or a hybrid round wire/tape wire system.
  • Will you want flickering effects? Flickering effects for candles or fires can affect the regular light bulbs on a circuit. Several electronic/fire units are available but will require their own circuit.
  • Do you have a master plan for your dollhouse completion or are you winging it? If you don't know what rooms may be used for and don't currently have a list of lighting fixtures for each room, you may want to install a tape wire or a hybrid system so that you can electrify your dollhouse as you go.
  • What material is your house made of? Houses made of thin luan plywood may not have walls thick enough to hide round wire channels in, tape wire may need to be joined with thin brass brads (nails) rather than eyelets which means there may be less surface area for contact. MDF houses require pilot holes to be drilled before eyelets or brads are inserted through the tape.

Before Finishing the House Interior

Even if you aren't ready for lights yet, decide on the type of system you think you will use, and plan for its eventual use. If you will be using round wire, make sure you have the means to take the wires to the powerpoint entry point. This might mean leaving flooring loose or using carpet which can be lifted to run wires under. If you will be using a tape wire or a hybrid system, invest in tape wire, draw up a room plan and install the tape wire so that it is in place for future use. If you know you will have several houses or a street of shops eventually plan on using a system that will allow you to wire them as a unit, rather than needing separate transformers for each.

Avoiding Lighting Problems

Lighting problems generally occur when connections are corroded or not secured or when connections in the electrical tape runs are loose or incorrectly installed, or have been inadvertently damaged or cut.

  • Finding faults: Round wire systems generally involve plugging individual lights into the connections on a small plug-in board located on the back of the house or in the cellar or attic. If a light is not working, the fault is easily isolated for identification. In tape wired systems the fault may not be easy to find. Tape wire systems should be installed in several sections or room by room rather than one large ring to make finding problems easier in the future.
  • Make proper joins. Whenever possible, properly soldered joins should be used in wire or tape runs in doll's houses. These joins will stand up to much more motion than will some of the hammered in joins using brads or eyelets. If brads or eyelets are used with copper tape, drill pilot holes before putting in the brad or eyelet and double nail the join.
  • Use a straight edge to cross corners. If the tape does not cleanly adhere to a corner, it may be cut or damaged when interior finishes are applied, press it into the corner with a straight edge.
  • Use a good transformer. When the time comes to light the house, use a quality power supply with good voltage control. Match the power supply to the number and size of bulbs in your system, not the number of light fixtures.
  • Use a well constructed, reliable power board designed for your display.