Planning a treehouse

21 October, 2014

Sprucing up your patio with outdoor furniture like hammocks, outdoor sectionals and chaise lounges is a no-brainer, but a great way to make your backyard even more family friendly is by adding a backyard treehouse. Whether you decide to build it yourself or contract someone to make one for you, there are a few initial planning steps you'll need to take to take to ensure that your treehouse is safe and fun.

Picking a tree
The best place to start when planning a treehouse is with the tree itself. Important things to look for when making your selection are health, structural integrity and growth rate, some of which are difficult for the average eye to observe. If you're feeling overwhelmed, you might consider having an arborist check out your tree before getting started, just to make sure that it will hold up whatever structure you design. If you'll be working with a contractor later on, they may request a written tree analysis – this is a great time to have one done.

Each tree is so unique that there is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all design, so try making a cardboard mock-up if you are building your house yourself, as it will help you identify problems before they even occur.

Practical constraints
After you've selected a tree, you'll need to give yourself a budget and time scale to work with. The less time and money you'd like to spend on your treehouse, the more simple a design you will need. A square house with a flat roof, for example, will require the least amount of extra wood and cutting.

Sketch out your desired shape, and use it to add to your cardboard mock-up. Does it work with the height and width of your tree? Don't forget to consider how far up you want the structure to sit – building parts on the ground will make assembling the house much easier, but will take quite a bit more manpower to lift up high.

Even if you've selected the sturdiest of trees, you'll need to select an additional support method. There are typically three ways to do so: support posts, the bolt method or the suspension method. Support posts go deep in the ground near the tree, while bolts hold up beams that go directly into the tree. Suspension, on the other hand, holds the structure up from higher branches using ropes, cables or chains.

Legal constraints
There are unfortunately a few restrictive regulations when it comes to building anything, even when it's on private property. Your city or neighborhood may prohibit treehouses entirely, though this is unlikely as long as it isn't visible from the road.

Regardless of local regulations, no part of the treehouse should reach within a 10-foot boundary of your property and it shouldn't overlook your neighbors or the road as a privacy precaution. The key to avoid needing a building permit is to keep it within the boundaries of a "temporary structure." Usually this means that it will need to stay within a certain height and can't be fitted for electricity or plumbing, as this implies that someone is going to live there.

After planning out the skeleton of your treehouse comes the fun part – don't forget about interior decor, paint colors and fun additions like slides and swings. You can even choose a fun theme, such as a pirate ship or a castle if you have young kids who will be playing in it frequently. Not only is this a great way to add to the beauty of your backyard, but it's also a wonderful way to spend time with the family.