Treehouses can be a magical place for children filled with imagination and adventure; sail a pirate ship, explore chambers in a castle, a secret clubhouse, or a special and secure place for sleepovers. Build a treehouse that is fun for the entire family.
Safety is a big issue when planning the treehouse, so plan to include handrails and other safety features. Get by sketching out a plan on paper before construction. Kids love to be involved in the concept stage. Children have vivid imaginations and are a great source of inspiration for parents.
Make a list of the lumber, hardware, and tools needed for the project. Talk to your local building department about building regulations that may affect your tree house.
1. Choose the right tree
Walk around your property and decide where to build the tree house. Trees such as oaks or maples make the strongest tree houses. Choose a tree that is at least 24 inches in diameter for a freestanding tree house. If the tree house will be partially supported by posts, an 18-inch diameter trunk will work, too. If smaller children are going to play in the tree house, it should be built closer to the ground. An elevated platform of 5 feet will seem quite high to a child. Tree houses can be:
• Attached to a tree trunk or freestanding
• Partially supported by posts
• Built closer to the ground for smaller children
2. Building the foundation
Most tree houses feature a platform attached the to a tree trunk. Galvanized lag bolts are the preferred method; they avoid rust. Choose lag bolts that penetrate 6 inches into the trunk at several locations. If building a supported platform with two or four posts; dig 24-inch holes for the posts and fill with concrete to anchor the posts.
• Use 4×4 inch lumber for supporting posts
• Anchor the posts in concrete or attach them using galvanized post brackets
• Use galvanized lag bolts and weather resistant hardware
3. The deck platform
Build a treehouse that is safe and will last throughout the winters. Use pressure treated lumber for the exposed floor joists and posts. Select 2×6 lumber for support of 8 or 10-foot platforms. Build the outside edges of the platform first and square it with corner cleats. Hoist into place, level and attach to the tree trunk and posts if needed. Once secured, attach the additional floor joists at 16-inch intervals. Joist hangers are easy to use. Finish the platform and cover with 1×6 inch lumber. If the platform is to be exposed, leave a ½ inch gap between boards for water runoff.
• Use 2×6 inch lumber for floor joists
• Choose galvanized screws and brackets
• Leave a gap in floorboards for rainwater
4. Railings and stairs
All treehouses should have safety railings. Railings should be at least 30-inches high and securely bolted to the floor joists. Use 2×4 inch lumber for the uprights and a 2×6 inch lumber for the top cap. Attach 2×2 inch pickets spaced at 6-inch intervals to prevent children from squeezing through the railing. One-inch lumber can also be substituted for the railing pickets. Keep the openings between them at 6 inches or less for safety.
Stairs can be a vertical ladder or an inclined staircase. Use 2×6 inch lumber for the sides and either 2×2 inch lumber for a ladder or 1×10 inch lumber for stair treads. Stairs resting on the ground should have a couple of bricks as a base to keep the bottom edge off the dirt or grass and prevent rot.
• Bolt all railings to the platform
• Use 2-inch lumber for railings
• Railing pickets close together for safety
5. Going beyond the basics
Treehouses can be a simple platform with railings or an elaborate as a pirate ship or castle. Pirate ship cannons can be as easy as several lengths of black ABS drain pipe. Flagpoles can be made from round dowel or an old broom handle.
Simple walls and a roof can make the treehouse into an imaginary castle or fort.
The only limit is your imagination. Have the kids help with establishing a theme and they will have a lifetime of fun, excitement and imagination.
6. Tools needed
The correct tools at hand will keep the treehouse moving smoother. Gather tools, wood, hardware, and other building materials together at the beginning of the project.
• Building plan or sketch and a list of lumber needed
• Portable skill saw or table saw
• Electric drill motor and drill bits
• Open end or box wrenches or two adjustable wrenches
• 12-foot tape measure
• Framing square
• Lag bolts, nails and metal brackets
• Posthole digger
• Shovel and hoe for mixing concrete
• Quickset concrete