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The less-revealed tips to building a simple treehouse…..which also greatly applies to tiny house dwellers, as in some areas, you can get away with building a micro structure in a tree (deeming it “sculpture” or a mere “kid’s fort” when and if any ball-bustin’ authorities come by) which can very well serve as guest quarters, or depending on your locale or county (ie. in a few places in the US where there are no building codes), as your actual micro-home.
Anyway, I’ve read books upon books dealing with treehouse ideas and construction, and I feel a good deal of them tend to get overly technical, in some respects, in terms of treehouse building (many of these books are GREAT though, especially for inspiration). What I also mean by this is that the too often recommend custom or high-end materials or techniques that simply go too far beyond the budget of the the “Average Joe” (or Jane), when it comes to building a treehut/tree-home escape for either yourself, or the kids….
So….as I’ve been doing a good deal of tree climbing lately in order to situate a platform thirty-five feet in the air (for adults only- as its a steep ladder and free climb combo to get up there), here are a few of the tips and methods that have resurfaced as I’m getting more-so back into this genre as of lately. I’ve designed a ton of treehouses on paper, but haven’t slapped one in a tree in some time now (I’m building a small one, to get me back in practice/training (enter: Rocky training-montage theme music) for a much larger one I’ll be building for a client this summer/fall.This later project will serve as a micro guesthouse.
Aside from the all the logical and normal steps (ie. select a healthy. and stout/big tree) here are some less-harped about tips for when YOU decide to do some aerial building…
1. Try to find a tree that is easy enough to free climb (without a ladder)- this just could save your butt if you accidentally knock the ladder down, or find yourself in any situation where you need to get down to earth by a means other than free-falling. Ouch.
2. I’ve never really considered pole-to-earth structures as true treehouses (they still rock…) so try and select a tree with as many large branches as you can (maples- in my regions of MA are usually perfect and plentiful). It makes the siting, climbing, wood and material hauling (in terms of free-climb stops on the way if need be) all the easier. The con- the more branches, the less maneuverability you have to set a ladder.
3. Don’t build a treehouse too close to a neighbors house, or in a direction where a good deal (or any) of the windows are facing the neighbors property, or upstairs windows. It may sound comical, but seriously, if you’re an adult building a treehouse, most others will find that odd enough- nevermind that this treehouse has a plethora of windows angled towards a yard that isn’t yours…..of course, the best idea is to brief and consult your neighbors on the idea first….as to them, a treehouse shaped like a bust of Harry Potter eating a slice of pizza, could be strangely deemed an eyesore.
4. Realize that no matter how much planning you do ahead of time, a tree and its configuration of branches, is not a symmetrical, nor easily-measureable, entity. DO design your plans to anticipate last minute tweaks, changes, and alterations. Don’t beat yourself up trying to fit in plans and walls that just won’t work- you’ll be wasting your time, and well, beating oneself up sounds painful.
5. On one of your initial pre-build climbs, knock or cut down any small, unsafe, rotten branches, that you might be tempted to grab or hang onto at some later-climb. I usually give even the healthy looking ones a test kick, to make sure they’re not rotten on the interior. I heat my home with wood primarily, so I barrel all these sticks and squaw wood for kindling later on.
6. If you have to free-climb, always make sure to hold onto two seperate branches (if you can) while ascending- if one gives, at least you’re already hanging onto another. I’ve fallen out of a few trees back in the day, so take my word for it. One fall was thirty-two feet- into a lake, luckily! Safety ropes are always a GREAT idea too.
7. This one’s often tough, but TRY to build your treehouse in a somewhat aerodynamic fashion in regards to the prevailing winds. If you geographically live in a region, like a valley, with frequent one-directional winds, for example, don’t fight mother nature. If you live atop Mt. Washington, don’t build a treehouse at all!
8. DO take frequent breaks and adhere to a very loose schedule. In other words never rush things for a timeline- you’re IN A TREE, HIGH ABOVE THE GROUND- and any rushed work can easily result in accidents. So far, with the platform I’m building, I’ve only raised and bolted one supporting joist each day- I’m in no rush- especially when I look down at the rock-covered ground three-to-four stories below.
9. In addition to slotting the bolt holes in your supporting lumber (to compensate for tree swaying and movement) I think its a good idea to install additional safety cables, AND secondary joist supports below, should anything give way. If you’re any good at lashings, you can also use HEAVY-DUTY (poly)rope to lash the joists to a tree after they’re bolted in. My cousins in the past have made treehouses at great heights with lashings alone- and they held for a very long time- even when they used only thin bailing twine (which I wouldn’t recommend!).
9B. Have at least 5-6 changes of underwear on hand from all the aerial construction you’ll be doing.No, not really….4 pairs will do.
10. “Bucket your tools”- in other words, tie a long rope to a bucket (and a pulley if you care to set one) and haul this up when you need to bring tools top-side. Don’t climb with and armload of tools, its dangerous, and I can’t tell you how many times in the past I’ve done so, and dropped about half of them on the way up.You can also screw a small hook into the tree to serve as a tool stash for your work up above.
11. Always have someone on hand to spot, and help you. If you’re a minor, always have a knowledgeable adult on hand.
12. And…Bring a cell phone along for the ride. If you fall and end up seriously hurt, you might be able to physically make it back to the house to call an ambulance from a land-line. Come to think of it, for immediate, neighborly help, aside from constantly shouting, a keychain airhorn, might be of help too…or a serious set of lungs for some hollerin’!
And lastly (#13, I lied!), and this is going against my own plans in this case, but you don’t have to necessarily make a treehouse forty feet in the air (I’m doing so for the view), its STILL a treehouse even if its only six feet up.
Any other tips- feel free to add them- we’d love to hear from you….
-Derek “Deek” Diedricksen
(for fans of/about: Treehouses, treehut, treehome, treefort, tiny houses in trees, platform homes, small living)
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