Building a treehouse is a brilliant way of getting your kids out of the house and into the great outdoors, providing them with their own special hideaway to play out adventures from. It also makes a fun project for adults and a great way of putting one’s DIY skills to the test.
However, building a treehouse also isn’t something that should be attempted on a whim – as well as taking time and effort to build, they also require thorough planning. Here is a brief guide to help you along the way.
Choose your tree
Picking the right tree is paramount. The tree needs to be sturdy enough that it doesn’t collapse – ideally not too young or too old. Check that the plant is well-rooted into the ground and that the branches and trunk are thick and secure. The tree can be leaning slightly, but obviously not too much. You should also be wary of trees that are diseased or have evidence of parasites such as wormrot.
Oaks, maples, firs, beeches and ashes are among some of the best trees for the job. If you’re unsure, it may be worth getting the opinion of an arborist or a tree surgeon.
Get planning permission
Once you’ve selected your tree, you’ll need to get planning permission. Gone are the days when you could just build a treehouse anywhere – as of 2009 all treehouses require you to pay for planning, including detailed drawings. There have been many recent cases of unlicensed treehouses being ordered to be ripped down by the council, so make sure you’ve got permission. You should also check that the decision is okay with your neighbours – you don’t want to be sued for blocking sunlight to their garden or breaching privacy.
Choose your design
Before you roll your sleeves up and start hammering at nails, you’ll need to have a detailed plan of what your treehouse is going to look like – both for planning permission, and so that your treehouse stands the test of time. You may have something elaborate planned – be realistic and work within your means.
First choose your support method. Will your treehouse be bolted into the tree or will it be suspended from a cable or rope? Or will it built on posts fixed into the ground (this is by far the sturdiest method).
Next choose your access method – this could be a ladder or stairs. Stairs are by far the safest option, but trickiest to build. You could even fit a net or rope ladder.
Take into account how the branches and trunk will join your house. You should also remember to leave enough room for tree growth. Allow some space around the trunk for growth so that your treehouse isn’t warped over time.
Choose your materials
The materials you use should be carefully selected. Hardwoods and strong artificial timber bought from any building supplier are good for the foundation and frame (although make sure the frame’s wood is not too heavy so that the tree can hold it). Exterior plywood makes a good material for any decking or walls, as it is durable and waterproof. Felt paper or tar paper meanwhile makes a good material for the roof.
Decide how you will join the wood together. For this you could use nails or strong adhesives (you can find an example of such building glues at Kenyon Group). Rafter ties could also come in handy.
Building the foundations and frame
The foundation and frame need to be secure. Many will build their treehouse around a v-shape in between two branches – this offers a very stable base for the platform. That said, you should make sure the platform isn’t two high off the ground – not only do you have to get up there and build it, your kids will be playing up there and you don’t want them falling from a height that could seriously injure them.
Creating a grid out of beams is the strongest method of support – from here you can add the decking. This is done by placing beams perpendicular to one another, secured ideally by rafter ties.
Feel free to add in extra braces – your treehouse can never be too secure.
Lay the decking
Now you can start laying the decking on top your frame. Nail it in with 4” deck screws – this will ensure that the decking is secure (you don’t want loose floorboards!). Account for where the tree comes through the decking. You should also make sure floorboards aren’t directly touching one another – they will shrink and swell in different climates.
Add safety features
Once this is laid out, you should ideally think about building some form of railing or walls so that the kids can’t fall and injure themselves. These should be made of an equally study material that can’t be rocked or pushed. You can fill out windows with Perspex, if you don’t want kids climbing out, or make sure that there is decking outside the window to fall onto.
Other safety features you can add to your treehouse include a safety net. This can be made out of rope and will ensure your kids do not fall and hurt themselves. Alternatively you can put down matts to cushion any fall, but make sure that these are waterproof so that they don’t wear or result in springs popping out.
Place the finishing touches
From here you can put in your ladder or stairs (it’s best to put this in last so that your kids don’t try to sneak up whilst unfinished). You can also add any roofing – this can be secured down with bungee cord. Some people may wish to paint and varnish the treehouse at this point, although you may want to just leave it looking rustic. Make sure any sharp edges and rough surfaces are sanded down.
You can add other features to personalise you treehouse from here, or you can leave this to the kids. Remember to constantly check the treehouse to make sure that weathering or tree growth hasn’t made it unsafe. Given that you’ve probably grown attached to your treehouse by now, you’ll probably be finding any excuse to go up there and play with the kids.