Jul 15

Tree House Building


medium sized tree house

When you were a kids you may have built a tree house, or your neighbor did, it was your place. The wood probably was acquired, some may have been purchased, but most was surplus from your father or the remodel job at the neighbors house, or the new construction a couple blocks away. It was firmly nailed to a tree, or maybe not. It was as much fun to be in, as it was to build. It may have never been finished, since you kept changing things, as materials and time became available.

Today kids may not build tree houses as you did. Perhaps there are no trees suitable, or no construction in the neighborhood, or maybe you don’t have kids. Building a tree house can be something we do for ourselves, or for our kids. A tree house can be built near a tree, in a tree, or out in the yard. Materials can be acquired, from remodel
jobs in our house, from the trash day, or from the building center.
A tree house built as a parent child joint project can be a bonding experience. If the child is the architect or the supervisor, either way they will have pride in the results. If they are allowed to be an active participant, they will build up their self confidence and give them the opportunity to grow.

A tree house can be a place to get away from the world. A place where your imagination can run wild. A place where design is whatever the user desires. Do you want to be Gulliver and build a bamboo hut, high in the tree, or Frank Lloyd Wright and build Falling Water in your yard. What ever you imagine, and your budget allows, can happen.

Certain things must be considered, both for safety and practicality. Building a 16’x16′ house 40 feet up a pine tree may not work, unless it is a hundred year old tree, and is in great shape. It will be difficult to get material up more than about 10feet, without a crane. A large tree house will be heavy, and probably move quite a bit in the wind.  It is best to have a large tree, with a strong trunk if the house is to be substantial, and supported only by the tree. Other options include using posts in the ground to add or be the support.

The tree that the house will be built in or on should be in good shape. Building a house on it will stress the tree, at least at first. Using a 1/2in threaded rod anchored through the tree will be strong enough to get an anchor point started. Additional supports should be planned to insure the house will stay in the tree through the toughest winds and regular use. There is nothing wrong with using poles anchored in the ground, and calling it a tree house, if it is near a tree.

Think about the size of the users. If the house is built for adults, the ceilings should be at least 6-7 feet up. If the house is built for kids, maybe the house will only need to be 4-5feet floor to ceiling. A kids house can be 6foot by 4foot, where an adult place should be at least 8foot by 8foot as a base. More rooms will require more space.

The floor should be solid, to prevent anyone falling out. Even a bamboo hut should have a plywood floor supported by joists. The normal deck type design should be used to keep all the legs supported up in the tree house. Joists with a plywood cover will give the most strength for the least weight. The floor will be used to anchor and support the walls, whatever they are made of.

Consider how the occupants will get in. Will the tree house have a front door, or a trap door in the floor? Will there be a rope ladder, or will there be a spiral staircase that wraps around the tree? Getting up is one thing, getting down can include a fire pole, or a slide. Imagination and budget are the main considerations for the entry and exit.

The choice of materials can be based on how long the tree house will be used. Are your children already soon to be teenagers? Once you children are in high school, they will be mostly done with a tree house. If you are building the tree house for yourself, maybe it’ll be a 20 year design, and should be built to last. Look at how and why certain materials are used for building houses in your area, and use those as guidelines for material selection.

Natural materials can be a lot of fun, and can really show creativity. Logs for siding, and railings really can give your tree house a rustic look. Thatch walls over a bamboo frame can allow a real deserted island feel. Stone and other masonry can require a very strong tree, but used for trim, can give a cottage experience.

Modern materials can be easier to work with as well as be way to save money. OSB and plywood walls are quick and easy ways to put up a house. A simple set of 2×2 joists and a shell of OSB can be the cheapest way to build a tree house, that will be reliable. The OSB and plywood won’t stand up to weather on their own. The exterior should be built with treated lumber and covered with paint at a minimum, and probably some kind of siding, to make the house last more than a couple years.

The roof will need to be protected, since it will be the first line of defense for anything inside. Shingles are a quick and simple way to cover the roof, and are long lasting. Shingles may not match the design of the house, and other materials can be considered, including plastic sheeting or tarps. A hot tar roof, could be a challenge to work on, especially for a small house. The thatch hut look, should still have a sturdy frame to support whatever roofing material is chosen, since it may have to support snow in the winter months. For a high end tree house, solar cells could be used, both for a roof, and also as a power source of lights and other accessories.

The tree house may have some furniture. The insides should be tastefully decorated. Open studs will be primitive looking, and can limit the usefulness of the place. A place to hang pictures, as well as shelves for the users stuff should be considered. Benches or chairs can be custom made for the tree house, to match the design. All tree
houses need a secret compartment, and that must be part of the design. Windows are an option, depending on climate, and final use of the tree house. The windows should be framed to keep the integrity of the structure. They may or may not have glass, or other coverings. Shutters are nice, for either open or glass windows. The windows can be used as ventilation in the summer months when the house is warm, and can also be used for light. Being up in the tree, and having the view would be silly if you didn’t have any way to see it.

Once completed, the tree house will hopefully have many years of happy use. Let the kids think it is their place, but you build it for yourself, or build what they want, and make it a bonding experience for all of you. Use tools and techniques that you haven’t had a chance to and you will learn and be proud of the results.

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