Overview: The inspiration of tree houses
Climbing trees has always been part of human history,
allowing us to escape floods, saber-toothed tigers and
intruders (especially parents with chores in mind). Building
tree houses has long been part of human history, too. In that
spirit, we’ve gathered tree house building tips, project ideas
and photos from TFH readers and professional tree house
builders. Maybe something here will inspire you to build the
tree house of your dreams, for the special kids in your life or
as a way to escape from modern day saber-toothed tigers
and chore-requesting spouses. Enjoy!
“You get a different perspective
when you’re up in a tree.
First of all, nobody can find
you because nobody ever looks
up. And when you’re up there,
you’re able to look
up, down and all
world up there.”
professional tree house builder
Building Tip 1: Site considerations
Choose a healthy, long-lived hardwood for maximum
support, with load-bearing branches at least
8 in. in diameter (larger if the species is a
The best trees include maple, oak, fir, beech and
You don’t have to build it very high, just high
enough so nobody gets a bump on the head when
walking underneath it.
Building Tip 2: Keep weight and stability in mind
Build the platform as close to the trunk as possible
and add diagonal bracing for extra strength to
support uneven loads.
Put the load over the base of the tree, not on one
For heavy tree houses, consider spreading the
weight among several trees.
A tree house will act as a sail in strong winds,
which can add a large load to the tree’s roots. In
high-wind areas, build your tree house in the
lower third of the tree.
“I built a tree
house for my kids
in our backyard (Photo).
It was tricky getting
the roof in
place and, of
is square. They
drew the wall
design on regular
paper, and we
pictures to the
walls, using a
grid method. We
replace the old
pictures with new
ones each year.”
Building Tip 3: Don’t Restrict Tree Growth
Don’t constrict branches with rope, straps
or wire. This can strangle the tree.
Add spacers between the beams and the
tree to allow movement.
Use extra-long large bolts. This leaves
most of the shaft exposed so you can
mount items on the ends and lets the tree
grow over the shaft (see “Use the Right
Fasteners,” Tip 6, below).
Allow a 2-in. gap around the tree if it
passes through the floor and a 3-in. gap if
it passes through the roof (photo).
Building Tip 4: Level the floor
It’s much easier to build the rest of the structure if the
floor is level and can support the entire weight of the
tree house. Consider these methods:
- Lay beams across the branches and shim until
- Run the beams between trunks of different trees.
- Cantilever the beams out from a single trunk and
support them from above or below.
“I wanted my kids
the same fun
I had in my tree
house as a kid
but without the
risk of killing
I nearly did.”
Building Tip 5: Build sections on the ground and hoist them into position
From one tree house builder:
“I built it in my driveway
and used a friend’s backhoe
to lift it up on the
joists I’d hung in the trees (Photo 1).
The morning of ‘the big lift’
was quite exciting. We
served bagels and coffee
in the driveway for people
who came to watch.”
And from another:
“I assembled the
platform and house
on the ground, then
After attaching the
supports to the trees,
I lifted the platform piece
by piece and assembled
it on the supports (Photo 2).
An extra set of hands
was needed only to raise
the four walls and two
roof sections. Final
assembly took place in
We Believe You, Nate!
“I am 13 years old and I’ve been
building this fort for a few years
now. I’ve had no help from
adults at all. I’ve got a toolbox
full of tools, plus I have a
DeWalt drill and a jigsaw with a
laser. I really want the world to
know about my fort. Remember,
I’m only 13 and I built this
myself. If you don’t believe me,
you can e-mail my mom.”
Building Tip 6: Use the right fasteners
Don’t run bolts through the tree. Lag
bolts cause less tree damage than
Don’t use too many fasteners. One
large bolt is better than many screws or
nails. You get the same strength but
with fewer puncture wounds to the tree.
Whenever possible, perch your tree
house on top of fasteners rather than
pinning beams to the tree. This gives
the tree room to move and grow.
Even for smaller, lighter tree houses
where the load is spread over three or
four attachment points, consider using
1-in.- or 1-1/4-in.-diameter lag bolts.
You can order floating brackets and
tree house fasteners from specialty
suppliers such as garnierlimb.com or
treehousesupplies.com or special-order
them from home centers (Photos). These bolts
are pricey (about $100 each) and often
require special tools. But they allow the
tree more room to grow (they can support
heavy loads up to 5 in. from the
tree) and they hold more weight than
Building Tip 7: Checklist of cool accessories (to buy or make)
Rope swings, ladders and bridges
Clothesline pulley with bucket
between tree house and kitchen for
frequent snacks (or to lower to the
ground to fetch provisions)
Pirates’ treasure chest
Tennis ball/potato launcher
Fire pole or slide
Solar-powered lights or lanterns
Fold-down benches and tables
Back to Top
Building Tip 8: Beware of the dark side of tree houses
Building a tree house is a wonderfully
whimsical and romantic idea.
But it’s important to go into it with
your eyes open. Keep the following
issues in mind:
Tree houses do damage trees. Foot
traffic compresses the soil, which is
bad for the roots. Adding weight in
the branches can also stress the tree
roots, and fasteners can cause infection.
Most trees will survive this
abuse, but think twice before you
build in a treasured tree.
To minimize tree damage:
- Consider using one or two supports
to take stress off the tree.
- Make the fewest punctures necessary
to support the tree house
safely. Any damage to the bark of
the tree is a potential entry point
for disease and bacteria.
- Don’t put fasteners too close
together, which can weaken that
section of the tree. Use at least
3/4-in. bolts spaced at least 18 in.
apart vertically and 12 in. apart
- Avoid slinging cables and ropes
over branches. They cut through
the bark as the structure moves.
Neighborhood concerns and municipal regulations
Do you need a building permit? It
depends on local laws and the nature
of your tree house. If you’re considering
building one that will be visible to
your neighbors, discuss it with them
in advance to avoid problems. Often,
a municipality becomes involved
after a neighbor complains. Stay
away from boundary lines and don’t
build your tree house where it will
infringe on a neighbor’s privacy.
Kids can get hurt playing in a tree
house. Don’t build higher than 8 ft.
and make sure to build safe, strong
rails. Also, nobody should be in a tree house in high winds or lightning.
Tree House Destinations
Type “tree house hotels” and “tree
house destinations” into your
browser, and you’ll be dazzled by
the number of amazing tree houses
you can visit all over the world. Here
are a few close to home:
Vertical Horizons Tree House Paradise, a B & B tree house resort
located in southern Oregon. Three
state-of-the-art tree house guest
quarters. Also offers tree climbing
and salmon run and mushroom-picking
Out‘n’About Treehouse Treesort in
Takilma, Oregon. Michael Garnier’s
B & B tree house complex with 13
custom guest tree houses including
Treezebo, Serendipitree and
Pleasantree. Garnier also offers tree
house building workshops, a zip-line
course, a canopy walk and more.
Mystrees. A large backyard village
of seven child-size tree houses
connected by seven rope bridges
and created by tree house architect
Maurice Barkley. Each is designed
to spark a child’s imagination.
Mystrees is located near Rochester,
New York. mystrees.com