Treehouse Help
March 16, 2004 11:07 AM   Subscribe

I need help with a treehouse! (more inside)

At my last residence, I built a rather large treehouse for my son. At the time, I simply braced, bolted, screwed, and nailed directly into the tree. After a few years, no real harm seemed to have come to the tree. When we moved for want of a larger house, the treehouse stayed behind…
So at our new home, I am now planning a rather HUGE project, involving a multilevel treehouse with a deck and a spiral staircase for my son. According to my scratched out plans, the house will be composed of approximately 800 square feet of living space, – with electricity and plumbing, no less. (I can’t WAIT to start this!) The bottom floor will be approximately 10 feet from the ground.
Have any of you ever built a treehouse of this scale? I know there are lots of places on the internet that describe the “how to” section of the project.. I am capable of that on my own. My question is this – I’m not really happy about bolting or screwing into the tree too much. I have looked on the internet for possible alternatives, but nothing really strikes my fancy. Also, I am not wanting to brace from the ground all that much, in order to make it a “treehouse,” not a playhouse…. So, if any of you have built something for the kiddos up in the trees, what did you do to secure your project and cause the least amount of possible damage to the trees themselves? Or, even if you have not, what kind of creative design elements can you give?
posted by bradth27 to Home & Garden (16 answers total)
Are there other trees/poles/houses/structures nearby that you could attach the treehouse to via cables? It might not be enough to make the treehouse stable on its own, but in combination with other methods...
posted by crawl at 11:46 AM on March 16, 2004

Response by poster: Yeah, actually. I have thought of that. The treehouse will be built among six rather large oak trees, each having a base of about 4 to 6 feet. The trees are located in the middle of a wooded area next to my house- ( actually, my house is in the middle of the woods.)
But then, how should the cables be anchored? I would want them to be anchored to the tree, and not from the ground, so it's back to bolting to the tree. I thought about looping around the higher limbs and suspending the structure, but... would this cause harm to the tree in itself? I would think something like a cable would cut into the limb/tree, given the natural movement of the tree over time, while a larger structure would simply move with it...
posted by bradth27 at 12:39 PM on March 16, 2004

Wow. Will you be my dad in my next lifetime? Whotta cool treehouse. Cool.

Okay, if even cabling (or, of course, band-clamping) to the tree counts as "bolting to the tree" or causing unnecessary damage, then your options would seem to be limited (but I applaud your tree-hugging attitude).

If you can't cable (and yes, it will cut into the tree, eventually disappearing in places), it seems to me that, logically, you have a few options:

1. Support solely from the ground, leaning against or on the tree in places.

B. Construct the treehouse in such away that it sits in, and is cradled by, various limbs, allowing for gravity and the shape of the treehouse to hold it in place. A true "tree-hugging tree-house," really.

III. Combine '1' and 'B'.


It's all really a strange, abstract concept, when you think about it over the long term, though, as the tree will grow, change shape, and even sometimes "swallow" or consume bolts, cables, or potentially even wood that rests heavy against the tree. Most of us have seen this happen with, for example, electrical wires.

Good luck! Keep us posted, eh? Pictures?!
posted by Shane at 1:09 PM on March 16, 2004

I know this doesn't answer your question, and I hate to piss off the AskMe police, but I just wanted to say that you are my NEW HERO. I have a dream to build one for my son but I don't have many useful trees.

There was an article in the Smithsonian a few years back about a guy who had built many elaborate tree houses. Perhaps if you comb through some back issues you might find some tips. I know there exists a book or two out there.

Good luck!
posted by bondcliff at 1:40 PM on March 16, 2004

You might find some tips here.
posted by dg at 2:22 PM on March 16, 2004

There was an episode of Extreme Homes on HGTV that featured a fairly substantial treehouse that a now-twenty-something lives in. You might look around their webpage for more information, or for a copy of that episode.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 2:24 PM on March 16, 2004


I've got a partially completed treehouse (pictures here) in which I built around three trees, instead of connecting directly to them.

The 6x6 posts are sunk at least 4 feet deep.

The total square footage of mine is much smaller than your plan - it's 12x12, plus the 4' front porch.

I still have much to do, but I hope to have it completed within a couple of months.

Good luck on your project!
posted by tomierna at 4:04 PM on March 16, 2004

Cables starve trees. Drilling and bolting is generally better for the tree. Read The Treehouse Book for a lot of info on this plus ideas from other large scale arboreal dwellings. It rules.
posted by jeb at 4:50 PM on March 16, 2004

I would think running a bolt completely through a large trunk or limb would cause fairly minimal damage to the tree itself; just like taking a core out of a living tree to see how old it is. Just drill a hole all the way through, run a bolt or rod through that, and then attach whatever you need to the bolt or rod.
posted by LionIndex at 4:58 PM on March 16, 2004

Offroaders use tree saver straps to protect tree trunks from winch cable damage. You don't need to bolt anything to the tree; you just wrap the strap around the trunk and attach the cable to it with a shackle. If it's strong enough to anchor a 3,000 pound jeep hauling itself out of a mudpit, it ought to be able to deal with a treehouse.
posted by Mars Saxman at 5:18 PM on March 16, 2004

The problem with using cables or straps is that the tree is growing and, unless you plan to slightly lengthen the cable regularly, you are strangling the tree. Drilling through or screwing into the tree seems to be the least-damaging way overall.
posted by dg at 5:48 PM on March 16, 2004

Sounds cool, but are there any zoning/building permit concerns with building an 800 sq.ft serviced structure in your backyard?
posted by cardboard at 7:52 PM on March 16, 2004

PLEASE can me and my daughter come and visit?
posted by Pericles at 4:48 AM on March 17, 2004

The scale of that project reminds me of this.

I'm curious where you live. I don't mean to demean your project, but in my neck of the woods, that's a house that happens to be around a tree. I'm with cardboard, what permits are there?
posted by plinth at 5:46 AM on March 17, 2004

Response by poster: Thanks for all the advice - I have gotten a few good ideas... especially from Tomierna.
As for permits - I own a little over a hundred acres out here in Texas. In the country, you really don't need a permit to do most anything.
posted by bradth27 at 7:15 AM on March 17, 2004

I also have nothing to add. But I'm jealous. Because your treehouse will be bigger than my former Atlanta apartment or my current New York City apartment.
posted by Vidiot at 7:59 AM on March 17, 2004

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