How to Build a Tree House – Pro Tips & Plans
Advice and tips for building, attaching and furnishing your home in the treetops. Learn how to build a treehouse from experienced builders.
DIY Treehouse Building Tip 1: Site considerations
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.
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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DIY Treehouse 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 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.
DIY Treehouse Building Tip 5: Build sections on the ground and hoist them into position
“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
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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.
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. 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 normal bolts.
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DIY Treehouse Building Tip 7: Buy or Make Cool Accessories
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.
DIY Treehouse Building Tip 8: Beware of the Safety Issues
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.
Neighborhood concerns and municipal regulations:
Do you need a building permit? It depends on local laws and the nature of your treehouse. 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 treehouse. 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.