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Building the Perfect Treehouse for Kids

August 9th, 2017 - 8:07 AM

Beginner’s guide to building a treehouse

You’ve bought a house with a large backyard and finally have space to make your kids’ treehouse dreams come true. But where do you start? And how do you make sure it’s safe for them to play in? No matter your experience, making a treehouse can be done easily and safely. All you need are the right supplies, some knowledge about trees, and a little bit of imagination.

Note: Before starting construction, check city ordinances and homeowner’s association regulations for rules in your area. Some may require building permits or have height restrictions.

Every great treehouse starts with a tree house plan.

Choosing the best tree in your yard

The most important decision you’ll make during the building process is which tree to use for support. While location is certainly a factor (think proximity to neighbors and the amount of shade it will have), strength and health should be the primary considerations. Lightweight, simple designs can be constructed in most tree types, but the safest option for heavier houses is a hardwood tree like hickory, walnut or oak with at least a 12-inch diameter trunk. Learn how to recognize them: 

  • Hickory. These trees are most noted for their bark, which grows in a vertical pattern and is easy to identify. If you’re still not sure, look for hickory nuts — they have a dark husk with a tan nut inside.
  • Walnut. Other than looking for the nut itself, you can recognize a walnut tree by looking at the leaves. There will be multiple small leaves on the same twig.
  • Oak. The easiest way to spot an oak tree is to look for acorns. You can also look at the bark — it will usually be hard and gray with deep ridges.

If any tree shows signs of damage or disease (discoloration, leaf loss, soil compaction around the roots, etc.), it’s best to choose another place to build. Consult an arborist or other local expert for help identifying damage or trimming limbs. 

Design and construction

Once the location is established, it’s time to choose a design and start building. Keep things simple with single platform that’s supported by legs on the ground (this is ideal for younger children because it reduces the height). Or make the design a little more elaborate by building a full house with walls and a roof and attaching the supports to the trunk. Whatever you decide, just be sure to use the right materials. 

Building supplies

There are multiple options for wood to construct the treehouse. Basically, any wood from a building supply store will work. Exterior plywood can be used for the walls, roof and floor, and any boards are good for framing and supporting the structure. Instead of nails or screws, use bolts to attach the house to the tree because they can support more weight and won’t require as many puncture points. You can also purchase specialty attachment bolts and other materials specifically designed for treehouses.  

Fun treehouse accessories

No treehouse is complete without a few accessories! To make a fun and exciting place for kids, consider adding a:

  • Rope ladder
  • Slide
  • Tire or rope swing
  • Steering wheel
  • Flag
  • Pulley with a basket

Get creative with these ideas and personalize them to your child’s taste. If they like pirates, make a sail and add a steering wheel. The more fun you have, the more fun they’ll have!

Safety and maintenance tips

Treehouses are great places to spend time, but they can pose some risks if certain precautions aren’t taken. Following some simple best practices will not only ensure a safe area, but will also keep the tree healthy and help the treehouse last. 

Safety tips for children

Adding rails to any raised portions and sanding down areas near doorways or windows will help prevent falls and splinters. You should also routinely check for wasp or bee nests so you can spray and remove them. It’s also a good idea to consider setting rules about how many children can be in the building at one time and who they have to ask about playing in there.

Protecting the tree and house

There are several steps you can take to protect against construction damage, severe weather and age. For example, if the tree comes through the floor, the hole needs to be large enough to allow the tree to grow and expand. Other tips include:

  • Sealing the wood in the house against termites and other insects
  • Waterproofing the roof and other exposed areas to prevent rot
  • Trimming limbs that may break and cause damage

By following these guidelines, you can create a treehouse your kids will enjoy for many years.

Questions and comments

Now that you know how to build a treehouse, it’s time to get started! If you have questions about these tips or want to share a story about your experience, leave us a comment below.

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