Having your very own treehouse can be a magical thing. It provides a playhouse in the sky for you and your family. But treehouse building is more than just carpentry, it’s an art form. Here’s how to build a treehouse (in 11 steps).
Building a treehouse is a fairly complicated endeavor. If you want your favorite family hangout spot to be in a tree, you’ll need building tips before you get started. For example, where should you build your treehouse? How will it fit in with your landscaping?
The answers to these and other top-o-the-tree questions are right here:
- How to Build Your Dream Treehouse
- 1. Check Local Building Codes
- 2. Pick the Right Tree or Trees
- 3. Create or Buy a Blueprint or Building Plan
- 4. Gather Materials and Tools
- 5. Build the Treehouse Platform
- 6. Add Posts or Braces as Needed
- 7. Put Down Your Treehouse Floor
- 8. Add Walls, Entrances, Railings, and Windows
- 9. Raise a Roof
- 10. Build Your Ladder
- 11. Apply any Finishing Touches
- Important Notes on Treehouse Building
How to Build Your Dream Treehouse
Below you’ll find step-by-step instructions on how to build your DIY treehouse:
1. Check Local Building Codes
Odds are there will be some local building code or homeowners’ association guideline that dictates the size and location of your future treehouse. Check with any local agencies to make sure you’re allowed to build a treehouse and you’re aware of any restrictions or guidelines to follow.
The last thing you want to do is go through all the trouble of building a backyard treehouse only to be told that you have to tear it down.
2. Pick the Right Tree or Trees
The tree you choose determines what kind of treehouse you build. For example, your treehouse might be built around a single tree with added supports to hold up the structure or secured amongst multiple trees. Make sure your tree is all of the following:
- Capable of supporting your treehouse
Just to be safe: Consult a local arborist to determine if the tree can do the job of holding and hosting your treehouse. An arborist can also tell you what sort of tree growth you can expect so that you’ll be prepared for how the tree — and your treehouse — might change over time.
3. Create or Buy a Blueprint or Building Plan
A detailed plan is essential before getting started on your treehouse project:
- Investigate treehouse ideas to decide what kind of treehouse you want to build.
- Map out all of the materials and tools that you’ll need.
- Take measurements.
- Devise a construction plan.
Get the kids involved and enjoy putting together the perfect treetop fun spot. Get your wife’s input, too. After the kids have outgrown the treehouse, it might become a she shed in the trees. (Hmmm, would that be called a she house?)
Premade plans: Rather not do all of this work? You can find premade treehouse plans if you prefer a professional blueprint.
4. Gather Materials and Tools
Round up all of your treehouse-building materials and tools so that you’re ready to go. Use your treehouse building plan to determine every item you’ll need and stage it at the site of your tree. Things such as joists, fasteners, rafter ties, washers, and lag screws should be gathered and ready for use.
Pro Tip: Considering that you’ll be building out in the yard and eventually up in a tree, it will save you a ton of headaches to have everything you need within close reach.
5. Build the Treehouse Platform
When it’s time to build, start with the treehouse platform. This should include the frame and the interior support beams of the frame.
Then raise the platform into the tree at your desired height and add the main supports that will hold up the platform. These might be supports that extend from the platform down to the ground or to the tree trunk itself.
6. Add Posts or Braces as Needed
Make sure that your treehouse has all the added support it needs to be as safe as possible. This depends on the type of treehouse you’re building, but it could mean additional support to the ground, the trunk, or out to sturdy branches using diagonal bracing techniques.
7. Put Down Your Treehouse Floor
Now that the platform is fully secure, start adding your floor of choice. Whether you choose simple flooring such as plywood deck boards or go for something more advanced such as cedar, note that whatever you choose will add some weight. Check again with your arborist to be sure your tree can support all of your tree fort’s weight.
Oh, and since we’re adding the floor…Don’t forget to leave room for a trapdoor or firepole if your treehouse plan includes one.
8. Add Walls, Entrances, Railings, and Windows
After your floor is down, begin on the frame of the house portion of the treehouse.
When building the walls, leave room for windows and doors. If your treehouse has a porch, add a railing for added safety. Once all of these elements are in place, add any other additions such as the following:
- Fire poles
- Zip lines
- Climbing nets or walls
With these, your design really starts to take shape.
9. Raise a Roof
If your treehouse will have a roof (and it most likely will), now’s the time to add it. More advanced roofing options include framing, waterproofing, and shingle work, but a well-supported tarp or prefabricated roof do the trick just as well.
Note: Before you raise the roof, factor in the added weight that a roof (just like you did with the floor) brings to the structure of your treehouse.
10. Build Your Ladder
Now that your treehouse is safely in the trees and off the ground, add a ladder so that your little ones can climb to their treetop hideaway. A simple ladder works just fine, but a rope ladder or even a climbing wall can add some extra fun to getting up and down from your treehouse.
11. Apply any Finishing Touches
You’ve almost completed your treehouse. Now it’s time to add the finishing touches and accents that really make it unique. Have some fun here and think outside the box, like the following:
- Slides, swings, and pulley systems are nice touches.
- Themed pieces make your treehouse look like a pirate ship or castle.
- Doorknobs, lighting, and interior decorations can take things to the next level, too.
Important Notes on Treehouse Building
Use the Right Fasteners
Make sure you use the right fasteners, but don’t use too many. When drilling into a tree, it tends to seal rather than heal. Using too many fasteners in a close space can be a set up for disaster because it makes your supports more likely to rip away from the tree when under stress.
Don’t Pin or Fasten Beams
Never pin or fasten an essential beam to a tree or major branches. This either prevents natural tree growth and harms the tree or it slowly pushes the beam away from its original, supporting position. This is a recipe for collapse.
Don’t gird or wrap wire around a tree. The “veins” of a tree run up and down the tree around an inch beneath the bark. Wrapping a wire around a tree damages the veins, essentially choking the tree by preventing nutrients from flowing where they need to go.
Without vital nutrients, the tree supporting your children’s playhouse will die. Eventually, your treehouse may become unstable without the tree supporting it, and the tree could even topple under its weight.
Let the Tree Grow
Leave room for the tree supporting your treehouse to grow. No matter how old your tree is, odds are that it still has some room to grow.
Even slow growth over time can cause a treehouse disaster. Treehouse masters make sure to leave gaps and spacing in the treehouse anywhere that it gets close to the tree.
Skip the Nailed Steps
Don’t nail steps into the tree. Although this is a classic look for a treehouse ladder, you may have learned from experience that these ladders aren’t always stable.
Too many nails, too close together, can cause damage and become unsafe over time. Although it’s possible to pull off a ladder nailed to the tree, it’s not worth the risk.
Protect the Wood
Use treated wood for your treehouse because it will be outside in the elements for the foreseeable future. Use woods (or other materials) prepared to handle years of sun and rain.
Note that even pre-treated wood decays over time, so plan on adding a coat of sealant every one to three years.
A simple treehouse platform with a floor, walls, and simple roof might cost you just under $3,500, whereas the most advanced treehouse can cost well over $225,000. The more whistles and bells added to it, the higher the cost.
Size, height off the ground, quality of materials, and complexity of design all play a part in the cost of a treehouse.
The short answer is yes. Large screws and fasteners damage the tree and can cause infection. The added weight stresses the tree’s branches, trunk, and roots. Even the increased foot traffic proves bad for the tree’s roots.
The good news: Most trees can handle the abuse of hosting a treehouse and survive without major issues. Just be careful and be sure to consult an arborist before building your treehouse. Many tree care specialists have arborists on staff.
There’s actually a fastener specifically designed for treehouses called a Treehouse Attachment Bolt (TAB). These go deep into the tree and can handle thousands of pounds of weight.
TABs are combined with floating brackets that can move with tree growth or swaying in the wind.
If you’ve planned for this ahead of time (and you should), you won’t have any issues. Properly built treehouses are made with gaps and floating brackets that allow for tree growth.
If you didn’t plan for tree growth, your treehouse is at risk of becoming unstable over the years. It can even fall out of the tree. Just remember that the tree trunk and branches grow wider over time, not longer. New branches add height at the top of the tree.
When to Call a Professional
Treehouses delight young and old, and they can be a fun project for an experienced do-it-yourselfer. We tried to make it easy with an 11-step plan. The more elaborate your treehouse design, though, the more you might want to call a local general contractor or other professional.
Even if you are a DIY pro, knowing who to call if you get bogged down in the details is smart. For example, if your treehouse is intended as a birthday surprise, you may need to call in professionals or reinforcements to make your deadline. The goal, though, remains a treehouse to delight young and old: a clubhouse or quiet space away from the house.
Main Photo Credit: Pxhere