Few things are more fun for kids than their own personal treehouse. But beware, parents: Building a safe, long-lasting treehouse is quite a bit more complicated than nailing a few boards to a tree and telling your kids to shimmy on up. For some guidance, we talked to some experts about how to build a treehouse that can be enjoyed for many summers to come.
Pick your tree (or trees)
As we all probably know, a treehouse is supported by, well, a tree. But what kind?
"Any healthy tree with about a foot in diameter, hardwood or softwood, should do the trick," says Mark Clement, co-owner of MyFixItUpLife. However, although a singular tree makes a suitable support for a smaller treehouse, you can build a bigger one, too -- just use more trees.
Roy Schippmann, owner of Schippmann Construction, says the first treehouse he built was 6 feet by 6 feet, which needed only one tree. Currently he's building a 10-foot-by-12-foot treehouse with a deck, which required three trees (plus a support post).
Check for permits
It sounds odd, but in some counties, you might need a permit. Clement says some areas view treehouses "as an accessory structure," which needs a permit, while others that view treehouses as play sets don't get involved. Call up your assessor's office and ask.
Find your blueprint
If you're not comfortable winging it on the design and construction front, there are plenty of resources you can turn to for guidance. You can purchase premade or custom treehouse plans from sites such as Treehouses.com and Tree House Supplies. But word to the wise: If this is your first foray into treehouse building, don't go overboard and try to build some kind of floating pirate ship you saw on " Treehouse Masters." Keep it safe by keeping it simple.
Get the right hardware
You'll want specialty nuts, bolts, and brackets to build your treehouse. Since trees move with the wind, the ordinary ones aren't the safest to use. Treehouse hardware includes (but isn't limited to) the following:
- Lag bolts
- Loop extensions
- Knee braces
- Pipe brackets
- Treehouse attachment bolts such as the Garnier Limb Treehouse Fastener
If you want to keep it simple, you can order whole kits from Tree House Supplies or Treehouses.com, which include everything you need for a particular treehouse. That is, everything except the lumber. When picking your wood, Clement recommends using species such as Western red cedar or pressure-treated Southern yellow pine for their hardiness.
Rent tools, save cash
Other tools you'll want include a laser level and a heavy-duty drill with appropriate drill bits, Clement says. Keep in mind, drills and drill bits can be rented. According to Schippmann, specialized woodworking drill bits can run about $375 each, so renting might be the smarter option if you're building only one treehouse. Ropes and chain pulleys are also helpful to get beams in place.
How high is too high?
Once you're loaded up, the wood is cut, and everything is in place, it's time to start construction. When choosing how high to build, Clement recommends that you "should not go any higher than you feel safe on a ladder, because you need rippin' big drills to get into these trees."
As for ladder size, you'll want to take into account the treehouse's base level and roof height. For Schippmann's treehouse, which is 10 feet off the ground, he's using a 25-foot ladder to finish the roof. "Any higher, and you'll need a safety harness," he says.
Expect some swaying
Once your treehouse is done, don't be worried if it moves a bit. When asked what surprised him the most about building his treehouse, Schippmann says, "The movement of the treehouse floor was a little surprising." But that's normal. "The whole structure is made to move just a little bit," he explains. But if it moves a lot, double-check the structure and get a contractor to take a look. The safety of your kids (and you) comes first.