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An Essential Guide to Kids' Tree Houses to Make Your Job Easier

Essential Guide to Kids' Tree Houses
If you are a nature lover and want to spend some peaceful as well as quality time in the midst of it all, why not build a tree house? It's a brilliant option to explore, very eco-friendly, not very expensive, and great fun as a DIY project for you and your kids!
Gauri Huddar
Last Updated: Mar 26, 2018
Tree houses are fascinating! They are a great way of being in touch with nature. As fascinating as these tree houses are, their history is even more so. Here is how they came to be. In ancient times, man had to find dwelling to protect himself from predators, so caves and trees were his options. Trees were safer, as not many predators could climb trees. Dwelling in trees took root during this time. Also, saints and hermits preferred to climb up the trees and meditate there as it was closer to nature and provided the calm and serenity that they wanted. With man's evolution, tree dwelling gradually reduced. The Renaissance Era saw a revival of interest in them, and tree houses were back on the horizon. Now, they have turned into a passion as well as business, with many professional tree house making companies thriving today! Not just that, there are also many tree house hotels that offer you the option of spending your vacation in a tree house, if you cannot have one in your backyard. Some tree houses are also open for sight seeing, for example, Horace Burgess's tree house in Cumberland County, Tennessee and The Alnwick Garden. If you have kids, and you also own a backyard or garden with a couple of big sturdy trees, then why not build a tree house for them? It's a great idea, it will give your kids something to look forward to, as well as help in channeling their energy and enthusiasm into making something that will last for a long time. Specially, if taken up during their vacations, it will be a great way to spend time together doing something fun, without racking your brain to come up with a new activity everyday.
Before Building a Tree House
Here are a few basic pointers before you start working on a tree house:
⦿ Make sure that you are not suffocating the tree when building a tree house. A tree house is technically built around a tree, so that it does not hamper the growth of the tree.

⦿ Although tree houses are not very difficult to build, ensure that your kids are not working alone. Parental supervision and a little professional help is necessary to make sure that they are proceeding correctly and that the base has been set up properly.
⦿ While choosing the tree, pick one that is sturdy, and plan the house in such a way, that the tree can take the weight of the house without bending.

⦿ Draw up a good plan before you begin to work on the house because it is very difficult to make adjustments later on.
⦿ While planning, decide the scale of the house. Is it going to be a couple of rooms with minimal furniture or do you want to go all the way, and make it a home outside a home?

⦿ A tree house will also require maintenance after building it. It will require to be dried properly after the monsoon, swept clean after autumn, and kept free from infestation of termites and other insects, so that it stays rot-free and safe.
Building the Tree House
» The Right Tree
Big tree
⦿ The right trees are hardwood trees as they have a lot of load bearing capacity. Deciduous trees are also suitable hosts for a tree house.

⦿ While choosing the tree, ensure that the tree has at least two sturdy branches on opposite sides that are at the same level, so that you get the optimum support for the foundation of your house.
⦿ The tree should be mature and a few years old. Avoid trees which have been planted in the last 3-4 years, as their growth is faster and they may outgrow your house.

⦿ Also, make sure that the tree is healthy and that its root structure is strong. Suitable trees for building tree houses on are oak, beech, fir, apple, and ash.
» Right Wood
The Right Wood
Several factors go into selecting the right type of wood for the construction of your tree house. The two most important things to consider are:
⦿ Seasoned/Treated Wood: If the wood is pressure treated, then it will be more resistant to decay, less prone to infestation of insects and bugs, as well as less likely to swell up and become brittle due to moisture. Seasoned wood is a safer option than unseasoned wood.
⦿ Moisture Content and Type of Wood: Some species are more decay and moisture resistant than others. Check the content of moisture in the wood as soon as you get it. If you are using more than one species of wood for the house, ensure that all the wood species that you have selected have the same shrinkage factor, so that there is minimal crowning, cupping and warping.
⦿ Good options to consider are:
  • Kiln dried wood
  • Plywood
  • Redwood
  • Pressure treated wood/lumbar
  • Cedar
  • Pine
»The Correct Height
Tree House Height
The ideal height of the tree house varies according to the person for whom it is being built.

⦿ For really young kids, keep the height minimum. Your raised hands should be able to hoist the kid out of the house in case he finds it difficult to get down on his own.

⦿ For slightly older kids, a height of 10 feet or more is appropriate.
⦿ While deciding the height of the tree house, it is important to remember that the house should be based on the lower part of the tree. This is because the sway in the lower part is minimum, thus stability offered is maximum.

⦿ If you are making a multistoried house, it is better to start as low as possible, to make the foundation strong enough to support the structure.
» Proper Support
Tree House Support
⦿ The branches on which the platform of the house is kept, have to be strong and healthy. Ascertain that you are not placing the platform on dead branches that may snap under the weight of the house.
⦿ A tree house is better off when its support structure is 'perched' on a tree rather than 'attached' to it. The contact between the tree and the house should be kept minimum, which means you have to provide optimum support with the help of the perched trusses and beams.

⦿ Perching the beams allows the tree to grow and the house to be more stable and safe.
Tree House Placement
» Placement of the House
Placement plays a major role in deciding the safety of your house.
⦿ Build a tree house which is not too far away from the main house. It should be visible from your living room.

⦿ Other major areas to avoid are the ones where there are utility/electric wires left hanging, places near antennas, electric poles, and roofs/overhanging balconies.

⦿ Choose a couple of trees which are not in a cluster, so that it is easy to escape in case of an emergency and also to avoid other trees from falling on the house in case of gales and violent storms.
» Ladder/Stairs
Tree House Stairs
⦿ Whether to keep a ladder or build stairs for your tree house is your personal choice; although stairs are a safer option, since they are attached. (In case of sudden gusts of wind, there is a chance that the ladder may topple over, leaving you stranded in the tree house.)
⦿ Make sure that the ladder is not too steep and it is securely bound to the tree with strong ropes.

⦿ Most importantly, ensure that the stairs lead exactly to the door of the house and are not offset. Prevent any sway by binding the ropes 3-4 times around the tree.
» Ceiling
Tree House Ceiling
⦿ You can have a flat ceiling or a dome, as you please. String fairy lights along the edges of the ceiling to give a surreal feel to the house at night.

⦿ You can also hang Japanese lanterns. They are safe since they are made of paper, look gorgeous, and there is no fear of them breaking or falling.

⦿ Strictly avoid hanging small chandeliers or attaching sconces made of glass for decoration.
» Furniture
Tree House Furniture
A few things need to be kept in mind when choosing/making furniture for your tree house:
⦿ Glass furniture, be it for a table top, shelves, lamps, or vases, should be avoided as much as possible. Avoiding glass is necessary to ensure safety during storms, as you do not want shattered glass lying around in case the wind knocks down your furniture.

⦿ Next, it is advisable to keep the furniture lightweight and detachable. This helps because you can remove the furniture in case of an impending storm, so that the tree doesn't have to support added weight.
⦿ A couple of wooden chairs or bean bags, a simple table, and a small cot should suffice. Keep it bare minimum and light.
» Storage
Tree House Storage
⦿ Storage for the tree house will mainly be required for food, bedding, and some emergency supplies.

⦿ Make a couple of small cupboards which you can hang up on the walls. Two cupboards should be enough: one to store food and other emergency supplies, and the other for extra bedding and mattresses.
⦿ Again, as mentioned earlier, avoid glass doors/sliding doors for the cabinets and shelves. You can try using plastic instead of glass.
⦿ To make proper use of any nooks and crannies, put up shelves and keep a couple of photographs, and a plastic vase for added decoration.
Embellishments and Ideas
» Embellishments
Tree House Slide
Tree House Bridge
Tree House Porch
Open Play Area
Tree House Landing
For add-ons to your kids' tree house, you can build a bridge, slide, porch, add a tire swing, etc. All these will add to the charm of the house! You can also have various shapes for the tree houses, like a boat shape, UFO shape, airplane shape, lantern shape, etc. There need not be any limit to your creativity and imagination!
» Themes
Themes can vary according to the tastes and likes of your children. For example:
  • Castle theme
  • Space theme
  • Sports theme
  • Haunted theme
  • Princess theme
  • Pirate theme
  • Bird's nest/hobbit theme
  • Airplane theme
As mentioned above, you can have tree houses of various shapes. The important thing to remember is to hire tree house building professionals, to make sure that your idea and design is practical and can be implemented. Use their expertise in order to put the tree through minimum trouble/damage, while still making your dream tree house come true! You can add props and tweak the dimensions a little to achieve the desired effect. For instance, you can have slightly crooked or broken looking poles and roof for a haunted tree house, and you can have a spherical tree house made to look like a football from the outside for a sports based theme. There are also free spirit spheres which have become very popular lately. Instead of a house, you can simply have a small tree hut where you can relax, and do some reading, writing/contemplating or whatever else you wish to do.
Precautions and Tips
⦿ Choose good quality wood, as there is a chance of it rotting during the monsoons. Over a period of time, rotting will make the structure weak, and it may crumble in a few years.

⦿ Treat the wood you choose with polyurethane finish to prevent damage and brittleness due to moisture. This may help in keeping your tree house in good condition for many years, without requiring too much maintenance.
⦿ When you are designing the house, give the floors a slight tilt to one side (an inch or two at the most), so that any water that enters the house runs off and is not collected on the floor, causing the wood to decay.

⦿ When trees grow, the diameter of the trunk increases. So, when building the foundation, ideally you should leave room for the trunk to widen.
⦿ Remember the rule of 1 for 10. Instead of punching 10 nails into the tree, use one large bolt. It is better for the tree and for your safety.

⦿ Consult an arborist if you are clueless about which tree to build a house on, and after deciding the scale of the project, if you think you won't be able to handle it, do not hesitate in getting professionals involved to complete the work for you.
A tree house is a perfect getaway for kids. Almost all kids dream of having their own private space which they can retreat to, when they need some time on their own. What better sanctuary than the one that calms and soothes them, while taking them closer to nature?