How to Build a Treehouse (in 11 Steps)

wooden treehouse in the snowy woods

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.

Building a treehouse is also 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?

How to Build Your Dream Treehouse

Below you’ll find step-by-step instructions to building your dream 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

Photo credit: Bay Leaf Tree / Naotake Murayama / CC BY 2.0

Once you have the go-ahead to build your DIY treehouse, pick the tree (or trees) that you’ll use.

The tree you choose will determine what kind of treehouse you’ll 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. 

Whatever tree you choose make sure it is strong, healthy, and capable of supporting your desired treehouse.

Just to be safe: Consult an arborist to determine if the trees can do the job of holding and hosting your treehouse.

An arborist also will be able to 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

Photo credit: Needpix

A detailed plan is essential before getting started on your treehouse. 

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, and devise a construction plan for your treehouse. 

Get the kids involved and enjoy putting together the perfect treetop fun spot.

And 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?)

Rather not do all of this work? You can find premade treehouse plans if you prefer a professional blueprint. 

4. Gather materials and tools

Photo credit: Pikrepo

Round up all of your treehouse-building materials and tools so you are 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 like 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

Photo credit: Hajime Ishikawa / CC BY 2.0

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

Photo credit: Andy Roberts / CC BY 2.0

Make sure that your treehouse has all the added support it needs to be as safe as possible. 

This will depend 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

Photo credit: Nicolas Boullosa / CC BY 2.0

Now that the platform is fully secure, start adding your floor of choice. 

Whether you choose simple flooring like plywood decking or go for something more advanced, note that whatever you choose is going to add some weight. Check again with your arborist to be sure your tree can support all of your treehouse’s weight. 

Oh, and since we’re adding the floor… Don’t forget to leave room for a trapdoor if your treehouse plan includes one. 

8. Add walls, entrances, railings, and windows

Photo credit: Needpix

After your floor is down, begin on the frame of the actual 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 like slides, bridges, or fire poles. Now, your design will really start to take shape.

9. Raise a roof

Photo credit: Melville House, tree house / Hilary Green / CC BY-SA 2.0

If your treehouse will have a roof (and it most likely will), now’s the time to add it. 

More advanced roofing options will include framing, waterproofing, and shingle work, but a well-supported tarp or prefabricated roof will do the trick as well. 

Note: Before you raise the roof, factor in the added weight that a roof (just like you did with the floor) will bring to the structure of your treehouse.

10. Build your ladder

Photo credit: Sydchrismom / CC BY-SA 4.0

Now that your treehouse is safely in the trees and off the ground, add a ladder so 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

Photo credit: ELF / CC BY-SA 3.0

Your treehouse is almost complete. Now it’s time to add the finishing touches and accents that really make it your treehouse unique. Have some fun here and think outside the box. 

Slides, swings, and pulley systems are a nice touch. Try themed pieces to 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 as this 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 will either prevent natural tree growth and harm the tree, or slowly push the beam away from its original, supporting position. This is a recipe for collapse.

Avoid girding

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 will damage 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 within 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) that are 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.

FAQs About Building a Treehouse

How much does it cost to build a treehouse?

The cost of a treehouse is going to vary widely depending on what kind of treehouse you want.

A simple treehouse platform just a few feet off the ground might not cost more than $400, while the most advanced treehouse with electricity and plumbing can cost well over $250,000.

Size, height off the ground, quality of materials, and complexity of design will all play a part in how much your treehouse costs.

Do treehouses hurt trees?

The short answer is yes. Large screws and fasteners will damage the tree and can cause infection. The added weight will put stress on the tree’s branches, trunk, and roots. Even the increased foot traffic is bad for the tree’s roots. 

The good news is that most trees can handle the abuse of hosting a treehouse and will 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.

How do you attach a treehouse to a tree?

There’s actually a fastener specifically designed for treehouses called a Treehouse Attachment Bolt (TAB). These go deep into the tree and are able to handle thousands of pounds of weight.

TABs are combined with floating brackets that can move with tree growth or swaying in the wind.

What happens to a treehouse when the tree grows?

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. Your treehouse can even fall out of the tree.

Just remember that the tree trunk and branches grow wider over time, not longer. Height is added by new branches at the top of the tree.

When to Call a Professional

Treehouses delight young and old, and they can be fun project for an experience 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 landscaper or other professional.

And even if you are a DIY pro, knowing who to call if you get bogged down in the details of building your treehouse is smart.

For example, if your treehouse is intended as the perfect birthday surprise, you may need to call in professionals or reinforcements to make your deadline.

The end goal, though, is a treehouse to delight young and old, a clubhouse or quiet space away from the house up in the trees.

Main Photo Credit: Pixhere

Ryan Plank

Ryan Plank

Ryan Plank is a freelance writer and journalist in Orlando, Florida. He studied at Florida State University and is an avid golfer.