How to Build a Tree House – Pro Tips & Plans
Tree houses aren't just for kids – they're for anyone with an imagination. These amazing treehouses will inspire you to create one of your very own. Learn how to elevate your building skills with these tree house building tips from experienced builders, including attachment techniques, site choice, assembly techniques, design ideas and more.
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DIY Treehouse Building Tip 1: Site considerations
When thinking about treehouse ideas, 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 softwood). The best trees include maple, oak, fir, beech and hemlock. You don't have to build it very high, just high enough so nobody gets a bump on the head when walking underneath it. Don't know what kind of trees you have in your yard? Here's how to identify trees.
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Photo courtesy of Sean Milroy
DIY Treehouse Building Tip 2: Keep weight and stability in mind for treehouse ideas
- 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 side.
- 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.
- When building on one main trunk, level the main platform by cantilevering the beams and supporting them from below.
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Photo courtesy of Craig MacLean
DIY Treehouse Building Tip 3: Don't Restrict Tree Growth
- Leave gaps around the tree.
- To accommodate tree movement and growth, allow gaps around any branches or trunks that penetrate the tree house.
- 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 (see photo).
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Photo courtesy of Brenton LaFleur
DIY Treehouse Building Tip 4: Level the floor
To keep a large tree house stable, center the load over the trunk and spread the weight among several branches. 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 when generating treehouse ideas:
- Lay beams across the branches and shim until level.
- Run the beams between trunks of different trees.
- Cantilever the beams out from a single trunk and support them from above or below.
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Photo courtesy of Bob Lackey
DIY Treehouse Building Tip 5: Build sections on the ground and hoist them into position
It's easier and safer to fabricate the main sections on the ground and then hoist them into position. If branches penetrate areas of the tree house, complete the construction up in the trees. "I assembled the platform and house on the ground, then disassembled them. After attaching the supports to the trees, I lifted the platform piece by piece and assembled it on the supports (Photo). An extra set of hands was needed only to raise the four walls and two roof sections. Final assembly took place in the trees." — Bob Lackey Take a look at these great-looking kids room ideas for inspiration.
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Photo courtesy of Michael Garner
DIY Treehouse Building Tip 6: Use the right fasteners
- Allow for flexible supports, especially if you use more than one tree, so that trees can move in the wind. Special floating brackets allow the tree to sway.
- Don't run bolts through the tree. Lag bolts cause less tree damage than through bolts.
- 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.
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DIY Treehouse Building Tip 7: Buy or Make Cool Accessories
Don't forget the accessories with your treehouse ideas! Just a couple of finishing touches turn a "box up in a tree" into the ultimate fort and hang-out zone. Accessories that go great with a treehouse include: zip lines, rope swings, ladders and bridges, speaking tube, periscope, clothesline pulley with bucket between treehouse and kitchen for frequent snacks (or to lower to the ground to fetch provisions), pirates' treasure chest, flag, binoculars, tennis ball/potato launcher, water cannon, fire pole or slide, trap door, solar-powered lights or lanterns, fold-down benches and tables.
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Photo courtesy of Michael Garner
DIY Treehouse Building Tip 8: Beware of the Safety Issues
Building a treehouse 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 damage: 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 ground 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 horizontally.
- Avoid slinging cables and ropes over branches. They cut through the bark as the structure moves.
Originally Published: September 30, 2019