Tree houses are visual and functional pieces of art that many adults enjoy building and children love playing in. While there is no one right way to build a tree house, the construction of this type of structure must be well-planned to ensure security and safety. Remember, you don’t have to be a professional woodworker to create a tree house. Most do-it-yourselfers with basic construction knowledge can build a simple tree house in their backyard using materials and equipment found at their local home improvement stores and lumber yards. Before getting started, here’s what you should know about tree house construction.
Finding an Optimal Site
Where you build your tree house is just as important as how you build it. Choose a spacious area in your yard that is away from potential hazards, such as electrical wires. To act as the foundation for your tree house, you must also find a healthy and mature hardwood tree to give your structure the support it needs.
Ideal trees for tree houses include maples, beeches, oaks, firs, and apple trees. If your design requires the use of branches for support, choose a tree with load-bearing branches that are a minimum of eight inches in diameter. Also inspect the tree to ensure that the roots are deep and well-established, and that it’s disease and parasite-free.
Getting the Go-Ahead
Before you can proceed with your tree house, you must ensure that you can build one legally and without consequence from your insurance company. Start at your local planning department to learn what regulations or ordinances you must follow when constructing your tree house, as there may be some restrictions in place.
You will also want to discuss your plans with your insurance agent. In some instances, building this type of structure on your property may impact your homeowner’s insurance coverage. As tree houses also present with an element of danger, you may want to ensure that your homeowner’s coverage protects you in the event of an accident.
If you have neighbors in the nearby vicinity, you may want to notify them of your plans to build a tree house, especially if the structure is visible from the neighbor’s property. While you certainly do not need your neighbor’s permission to build a tree house on your own property, discussing it openly can help ward off complaints later on.
Creating a Building Plan
Your tree house design plan should be based on one of three major tree house methods: post, bolt, or suspension. The post method uses posts to support the structure from the ground up, allowing the tree house to be built “around” the tree instead of “on” the tree. The post method is ideal when you don’t want to rely on the tree for full support.
The bolt method is a traditional form of tree house building that involves securing the structure directly to the tree itself. This design method must be carefully executed to prevent damaging the tree. The third method, suspension, relies on cables, wires, or thick rope to hang the structure in the air, which is only suitable for lightweight designs.
When creating your tree house plan, there are a number of things to consider, such as tree growth restriction. Live trees will continue to grow; therefore, it’s crucial to leave gaps around the trunk and branches to accommodate tree growth and movement. Branches that cannot be incorporated into the tree house can be cut off completely.
Another major element of your tree house will be your access method, which allows you to enter and exit your tree house safely. The easiest method is a traditional ladder, either purchased or built from a durable material like hardwood. Rope ladders, constructed of tough rope and short boards, can be attached to the treehouse’s platform.
If you prefer a visually appealing and incredibly safe access method, a full staircase is the ultimate choice for tree houses. If you choose the staircase method, be sure to construct a safe railing to prevent children from falling off the stairs. In the event of a fall, the area around the tree house should be cushioned with a soft material, like mulch.
Building a Safe Structure
Safety should be of the utmost importance when constructing a tree house, especially if it’s going to be used by young children. To increase the safety of the structure, avoid building your tree house too high. The platform should be no higher than 6 to 8 feet from the ground.
Choose your support equipment wisely to boost the safety of your structure. Floating bracket supports are ideal, especially if you use more than one tree in your design plan. Special floating brackets allow the tree to sway in the wind, causing less damage while promoting proper tree growth.
If possible, choose a tree that separates into a “V” shape near the trunk. This “V” shape is the perfect platform to hold the bulk of your structure, as it provides extra anchor points which improves strength and durability. The main supports should then be installed flush against the “V” of the tree.
Another highly important aspect of tree house construction is the floor or platform. A level floor will help support the entire weight of the tree house and will help create a more secure structure. Run beams across branches or between the trunks of nearby trees for a sturdy platform.
Using 2×4 boards, create framework to support the tree house walls or railing. Make the walls at least 4-feet high for safety, and use a highly durable siding material that can withstand pressure from children who use the tree house. Wood or a metal mesh material works well for tree house siding.
Tree house roofs can be constructed out of a number of materials, such as wood, plastic, or a tarp draped over a simple wood frame. Choose a roofing material that will repel water to keep the inside of the structure dry. Complete your tree house with a coat of paint or stain for a finished look.