How to build your first treehouse

How to build your first treehouse

Posted by Tiffany Wilson on December 21, 2015

Remember when treehouses were just for kids?

Today, they range from a hideout in the backyard to a complex building with multiple rooms and levels. Kids still love their treehouses, but so do grown-ups, who use them as backyard escapes, hotels and even homes.

When you have country land, you have the space to build a treehouse. But where do you start? We asked one of the nation’s leading experts, Dan Wright, founder and president of Tree Top Builders, who has built well over 300 treehouses. He built his first treehouse with his dad when he was 8. His company started constructing them 12 years ago, and the business became a sensation. Tree Top was even a featured builder on Extreme Makeover: Home Edition when Dan and his crew built a supersized treehouse for a family in need. Dan can – and has – built every kind of treehouse project, no matter how complex. But, truth be told, he much prefers a traditional treehouse, built more for fun than for use as a house or hotel.

Here’s his advice on how to build the perfect treehouse for your land:

RR: What are the first steps to building a treehouse?

A: The first step is to make sure it’s not going to make anybody angry. Talk to your neighbors first if it’s within view of their home. Contact your municipality to find out if there are any regulations. That’s the first hurdle.

Next, choose the right distance from your house. Do you want it close enough to see the kids when they’re out there playing? Or, if it’s more of an escape for you, find something farther away from the house.

Then you need to choose the right tree. If you have a beautiful specimen tree in the yard, don’t build in that tree. Build in the tree next to it so you can admire it.

And, most importantly, make sure the tree is safe to build what you are planning for it.

connecticut treehouse by treetop builders

Treetop Builders built this cozy treehouse in Connecticut. The other side of it has a porch overlooking a pond.

 

RR: Is choosing the right tree to build a treehouse in something the average person can figure out, or do they need an expert’s advice?

A: If it’s just a small treehouse for the kids and you have a good grasp of what’s structurally sound, you may be able to do it on your own. But – especially with larger projects – it’s better to use an arborist. They will see things common people don’t. It’s worth the nominal fee.

If you’re building something with multiple rooms, you’d be crazy not to hire an arborist.

RR: Are there other common mistakes rookie treehouse builders should avoid?

A: We list 10 things not to do when building a treehouse in an article on our blog. The article recommends having a plan before you begin, using the right fasteners – and the right number of fasteners – and adequately stabilizing the foundation. We caution not to pin a beam to a tree and not to girdle it with rope or cable. Another mistake is to build it without leaving room for the tree to grow. You can read more about each of these tips and others here.

RR: We’ve seen the fancy treehouses online and on TV, but if someone is just starting out and has no building background, what’s the best type of treehouse to start with?

A: We actually have our own supply company, Tree House Supplies, which has a starter kit, tree house plans, hardware and kits for additional features like zip lines and rope swings. We have videos showing how to do build them, too.

And if you get stuck, we’re here to help no matter how much help you need. We do full construction, we offer support, and we take calls – even on weekends – to answer people’s questions.

Here’s one of the videos, which is a guide to installing a bracket and knee brace:

RR: What are the biggest misconceptions you find that people have about treehouses?

There are several. In fact, we have a blog post about misconceptions on our website. A few top misconceptions include:

  • Putting bolts and nails in trees will kill them. The truth: It will cause some damage, but healthy trees can respond quickly to compartmentalize around the injured area. Over time, trees will add structural material to strengthen the weak spot.
  • Treehouses won’t stay level. The truth: If you put a nail in a tree at 10 feet above ground, then it will always be 10 feet above ground. Tree tissues only elongate at the tips of branches, not in the middle of the stem.
  • Treehouses don’t last very long. The truth: If you design treehouses with the health and longevity of the tree as a priority and use long lasting materials such as cedar, mahogany, and pressure treated pine, treehouses can last for 10, 15, and even 20+ years. Support posts can sometimes be added if the tree’s health unexpectedly declines, saving the treehouse.

diy network treehouse by tree top builders

The Tree Top Builders team constructs a castle treehouse in a project they did with the DIY Network in Illinois.

 

RR: What is it about treehouses that gets all of us – young and old – so excited?

A: To me, it’s a symbol of a kid’s first taste of independence, when he gets to create his own space. He’s up in the air, where mom and dad can’t even reach the floor.

It’s about freedom, independence and creativity. And today we have treehouses that are actual houses because those kids who had that dream grew up.

RR: Do you build the treehouses that people live in?

A: To be honest, we can do that, but it’s not what I like to do. The stuff you see on TV, it’s not practical, and it’s very expensive to build it to a standard that people could live in. It costs two- to three-times as much as a ground home.

luxury treehouse hotel panama

Although their first love is backyard treehouses, Tree Top Builders was proud to head this luxury hotel project in Panama.

 

RR: So, for someone who has “seen it all” when it comes to treehouses, what type of project gets you excited?

A: I’m building all the things I’ve always wanted to right now at Treehouse World, a treehouse-themed amusement park on 10 wooded acres here in Westchester, Pennsylvania. It’s going to have a giant swing, zip lines, and a huge platform with curved edges that make it look like an oak leaf. I have plans to build a pirate ship that swings through the air. It should be complete in 2 to 3 years.

To learn more about Tree Top Builders and read even more treehouse building tips, visit their website at treetopbuilders.net.

Are you dreaming of having your own country land where you have the freedom to build a project like this? Raydient Places + Properties features rural land for sale throughout the South, in Florida, Georgia, Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. Take a look at RaydientPlaces.com.

rural land for sale

All photos courtesy of Tree Top Builders.

Tiffany Wilson

The editor of Rethink:Rural, Tiffany Wilson has been passionate about writing - and country life - since childhood. She grew up in a log house in the hills of a small town in Upstate New York. She previously worked as a newspaper reporter and hospital communications coordinator. Today, she lives with her husband and children in Yulee, Florida, and in her free time maintains a popular blog for parents in the Amelia Island area.

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