How To Build A Treehouse: DIY Tips & Cost Guide
We put together a guide with useful tips on how to build a treehouse. We also included a cost breakdown, materials needed and free contractor quotes.
Treehouses are a magical hideaway for kids and a fun DIY project for an adult. The idea of having a safe place where kids can waste away their afternoons playing games we wouldn’t understand is an endearing one. Also, treehouses are not only safe (if constructed appropriately), but are also fun. However, the game has changed and long gone are the days when treehouses were built from whatever scraps and packing materials we could find. Gone are the days when treehouses were rickety structures hammered hurriedly. Gone are the days when design meant nothing and any edifice would do for a treehouse.
Treehouses are more detailed and well planned. Moder day structures are more elaborate and require more attention to detail than treehouses of earlier days. Also, they are not just a child’s dream, but adults are erecting treehouses too. Finally, the costs have changed and constructing one is a small fortune. It can range from as little as $300, with most kids treehouses falling between $8,000 and $15,000 to as much as $200,000. The amount is subject to several factors though. These are:
General difficulty of the project – Constructing a treehouse isn’t a trivial undertaking. There are difficulties, and the more challenging the task is, the more you will have to incur. Complications can be anything from working on the uneven ground to constructing on trees with too many branches. It could also be that there aren’t enough places to set safety rigging lines.
Design – Your desired outcome can influence the amount you incur. For a structure that is simple and functional, you can have a plan without a site visit and is often the case with single platform treehouses. Nevertheless, expect charges if your project requires a site visit and even higher fees if you desire a design by an engineer. A site visit can set you back anywhere between $100 and $3,500 and a plan by an engineer between $1,500 for a modest design and $10,000 for permit ready plans.
Materials – Whenever materials influence the cost, it often boils down to the quality and rarity of materials. You can construct a cheap, safe, and working treehouse from reclaimed lumber and recycled products, or build one that is magazine cover ready from Ipe or composite-wood which will cost two or five times.
Size – A treehouse can be as small as a powder room, or the size of a small apartment. As size increases, lumber required increases as does the number of work hours. Not only that but so does the live-loading capacity of the structure. You will need stronger tree attachments systems to accommodate this weight which in turn leads to higher costs.
Height – If not addressed, height can become the primary cost factor. The higher you require the platform, the more it will cost. Even a small difference in height can cause a significant difference. Say from 7’ to 12’. At 7’, it would be possible to work from the ground but the same isn’t possible when the platform is 12’ from the ground.
Location and accessibility of the site – The chief location costs correlate to mileage costs and reimbursing employees for travel time. The farther you are, the more you will incur. As for the accessibility, there are jobs where you can drive the truck to the site while others might require you to trek half a mile through. Difficult to access sites can double the cost.
Platforms and accessories – Increasing the number of platforms on your structure increases the cost. First, the hardware and design that goes into the first platform has to be repeated for the second as well as more safety features to ensure the tree can handle the weight. As for the accessories, only the significant fittings will make a substantial difference to the budget. These are cable bridges and extensive zip lines. Most additions will have little effect on the amount you spend.
All construction projects have to have a solid plan and groundwork. Treehouses are not an exception. First, you have to choose a fitting tree. You don’t want a tree that is too young or too old as you will not have the support. You are looking for a tree that is mature and sturdy enough to hold the structure. Things to look for when selecting a tree are:
- Robust trunk and sturdy branches
- No parasites and diseases and
- Deep, well-established roots
Inspecting trees requires a level of expertise, and you might have to hire an arborist. The minimum fee for one tree is $25 while consultation and report for anything between one and five trees is $75 to $100. Finally, there is a $35 fee for submission to council. The amounts above are negligible if s/he will help you find the ideal tree and avoid the dangers involved with erecting a treehouse on a young/old tree. We recommend Apple, fir, oak and maple trees.
Second, you might have to check with your local authorities and more so the planning department. You want to ensure you are playing by the book to avoid scuffles with the powers that be. Primarily, you want to know whether you need a permit for your treehouse project, and the height restrictions if any are in place. What’s more, you want to ascertain that you are not constructing on a protected tree species as it might lead to lawsuits. Finally, you want to ensure you are familiar with all local ordinances and regulations surrounding your project.
Finally, you will want to inform your neighbor’s and speak to your insurance agent. As an act of courtesy, tell your neighbors about your project, more so if your treehouse overlooks or is visible from the neighbor’s property. It might prevent scuffles that might lead to lawsuits. As for your insurance agent, call him to certify that your treehouse is under your homeowner’s policy. That way, any damage will be covered by the insurance. Otherwise you will have to foot the bill.
|1 Tree Inspection||$25|
|Consultation for 5 Trees||$75||$100|
|Council Submission Fee||$35|
Planning helps avoid problems later on. You want to have all the details laid out before you make any purchases or hire a contractor. There are tons of free plans available, but if you are looking for a professional, be prepared to pay between $1,500 and $10,000.
First, the size of the structure you are looking to erect will determine the tree you select. For an 8’ by 8’ edifice, you want to ensure the diameter of where the construction sits is at least 12 inches. Just measure the circumference of the tree trunk and divide it by pi (3.142), to get the diameter. A more extensive structure calls for a more massive stem.
Secondly, you want to decide on your support method. Bear in mind that these structures act like sails and move with the wind. Also, you want to pick a support method that does the least damage to the tree and can accommodate the significant weight.
Some support methods you can look into are:
Suspension method – One of the two least tree damaging support methods, it involves suspending the structure from sturdy branches using cables and chains. However, it has several shortcomings in that it cannot work for every design, and can’t carry significant weight.
Support method – Least tree damaging and increases the stability of your treehouse. It involves sinking posts close to the treehouse without damaging the tree.
The Bolt Method – The most common method of support, it happens to cause the most damage to the tree. It involves nailing the supports to the tree. It not only damages the tree, but constricts its growth as well. We advise you use floating brackets as they have very little effect on the tree.
You will need to decide on your access method at this stage. Remember, you are looking for a technique that is sturdy and safe. Also, the steps should be at most 10” apart to accommodate small feet. Traditional treehouse ladders which are nailed to the tree are therefore ruled out as they are neither safe nor sturdy. Some options to consider include:
A standard ladder – You can purchase a ladder for this purpose. Though it will lack the rustic feel of a treehouse, it is safe. A ladder will set you back about $100
A rope ladder – If you are looking for an all-out rustic feeling, the rope ladder is your best option. Though it isn’t entirely safe, it is the closest you will get to a traditional treehouse ladder. It’s consists of small boards tied to a rope and attached to the platform.
Staircase – If safety is what you are looking for, then the stairs are your safest bet.
After the plans and preparations, you are ready to construct your house. However, this isn’t an undertaking you should consider unless you have the requisite skills. As highlighted earlier, gone are the days when treehouses were a bunch of packings hammered together. In this day and age, they require skills and attention to details.
First, you need to install the beams. You will need two pairs attached to the tree but perpendicular to each other. The top pair forms the height of the floor, while the bottom provides some base for you to work on and create the level. You can drill pilot holes through the tree, but we advise you use floating brackets or treehouse fasteners to protect the trees. After the beams are in place, put in the perimeter beams to the top set of beams followed by joists.
The joists should be the same height as the top beams. You can install some stops to keep the joists in place. You also want to level the platform before you can install the knee braces. The permanent knee braces will hold your structure in place. You might want to purchase some hold down brackets to attach to the trees and will set you back about $5 for a pair.
With the support (knee braces) and the joists in place, you want to move to installing the decking or the platform. This is the best part of the project as you will be able to stand and work on the deck. Frame the walls and roof on the ground and only pull them into place once done. When spacing, account for the siding and install the siding while still on the ground. The roof as well but ensure you have the required slope in mind before framing. Finally, rig a pulley high up in the tree and hoist the parts onto the platform. Start with the walls, then the roof. The rise and run should be friendly to stand on while roofing.
Install the access doors, and ladders and finally the railing.
A treehouse has tons of parts that need to be shaped and put together. The good thing is unlike our days; we now have power tools that save time on repetitive tasks. The idea is to reduce the time and save you the hassle.
First, owing to the desired quality, you want to ensure you make cuts with pinpoint accuracy. This means you need to invest in a speed square for about $9. To reduce the strain of repetitive tasks, spend on drills and a circular saw. A circular saw will set you back anywhere between $80 and $400, while drills only cost between $80 and $100, subject to the manufacturer. We encourage you to invest in a cordless drill to save yourself the hassle of having to work with cords. Finally, purchase a pair of folding sawhorses ($60). They fold flat for storage and are lightweight. You will need them to cut planks or support a table to place tools.
You might want to spruce up the treehouse with some accessories. Some fittings you can consider are:
|Zip Line Kit||$250|
|Monkey Hardware Kit||$200|
|Trapeze Bar with Handles||$121|
Things to Consider
Safety – Falling is one of the dangers of a treehouse and seeing as you are dealing with kids, welbeing should be a priority. Also, remember that you will have to account for the neighbor’s kids too. You want to avoid the hospital bills and the lawsuits should one be injured on your property. The good thing is that there are some precautions you can take to protect these little ones. First, ensure you have a railing and one that isn’t less than 36” tall. The balusters too should be no more than 4” apart lest the kids squeeze through. Also, ensure that the structure isn’t too high. It should be 6 to 8 feet from the ground. This is enough room for someone to walk under without hitting his/her head. Finally, you can cushion a fall by covering the area around the house with soft materials.
Model – Plans will help you visualize the structure better, but a model will help you identify potential pitfalls. It’s therefore wise you construct a cardboard model of your treehouse.
Allow for tree growth – Trees will grow with time, and therefore leave some space for growth. If the tree passes through the floor, you want to leave a 2” gap around the trunk and a 3” if it passes through the roof. Space not only allows for tree growth but also leave room for the tree to sway without damaging the structure. Avoid constricting the branches with straps, wires, or ropes, lest you strangle it. Consider putting in spacers between the tree and beams. The spacers allow movement. Finally, consider using long large bolts instead of through bolts as they interfere with very little of the tree.
Distribute the weight – To keep the structure level and sturdy, center the house on the trunk but spread the burden to several branches.
Include your kids – When constructing your kid’s treehouse, involve them. Remember it is for them after all, and ask for their opinions. They will not understand the technicalities and why the treehouse cannot be bigger, but you might learn a thing or two about what they want.
Tree damage – Finally, consider the damage done to the tree and try to minimize it. Treehouses damage trees from the foot traffic that compresses the soil, to the fasteners that infect trees, to the weight of the house that stresses the roots. You want to take the weight off the tree, and you can do this by adding two supports. Also, use the least punctures necessary to hold the structure, and avoid putting fasteners too close together as they can weaken the section. The last thing you want to prevent slinging cables as they cut through the bark.
So, it’s finally spring, and you have to make right with your kids if they aced their papers. Well, before you think of DIYing ensure you have the right skills, otherwise hire a professional. Most parents who construct treehouses either fail, injure themselves or build rickety structures that they have to pull down a few months later. To avoid, such outcomes, it is probably better you engage the services of a professional.
Yes, most of these will be expensive with a carpenter setting you back between $65 and $85 an hour and an electrician about $70, but you have to consider the safety of your kids. Finally, before you say a professional is out of your range, remember that the kids will be spending time up there with their friends and you don’t want one of them injuring him/herself on your property.
Below are some reasons why constructing a treehouse isn’t as easy as most parents presume:
Wood Choices – Seeing as you want a sound structure, you want to ensure that you are building with safe wood, and more so the beams. Every piece has to be checked for insects, splits, or rot which calls for a certain level of skill. Sorry to say, most homeowners lack the skills here, and only a proficient carpenter can help you identify the knotty lumber pieces.
Dangerous Undertaking – Erecting structures on the ground is perilous, but the dangers involved with building a treehouse are life-threatening. From ensuring that the deck is stable and level to working from elevated places, to lifting heavy parts (walls, and roof framing), there is too much to watch out for. To sum up, there are risks of arsenic poisoning associated with treated timber products.
Bolting Beams – Seeing as you are dealing with a growing tree, you want to leave some room. However, most homeowners don’t take this into account and beams snap under pressure. Working with flexible joints is the best alternative, but they are difficult to work with.
If you hire a contractor to erect your treehouse, there are some steps you can take to lower the amount you will incur.
Buy Materials – Taking the time to purchase the materials will save you a substantial amount of money. First, you get the opportunity to shop around, and often you can get 15% to 20% discount on supplies. Also, you purchase the quality required reducing the chances of being ripped off. Keep the receipt so that you can return some of the unused items. Finally, you might not be sure as to the wood required, but you can still purchase anchors, nails, braces, waterproof materials, etc.
Site Preparation – Don’t leave it to the contractor as it will only cost you more. You want to prune the branches and anything that might get in your way.
Plans – Finally, have definite plans that you and your contractor can agree too. Any errors will only cost you more. Also, stick to the plan as changes will only increase the amount you pay.
Treehouses are an excellent addition to any home. They are a safe place for kids to waste away their afternoons without bothering you. It’s also an ideal way to test your DIY skills, and your kids will love you or it. However, they are more demanding than most homeowners think. You might want to hire professionals. Bottom line though is that whether you choose to DIY or engage a contractor, ensure the structure is safe.