6 Things to Consider Before Building a Treehouse

One of the most magical aspects of childhood is going out into the wilderness or the backyard and building a treehouse. For many kids, the treehouse became a private hideaway, a place to themselves to live out boyhood adventures. The first scenes of the movie Stand by Me illustrate this perfectly as the group of boys are playing cards in a treehouse on a hot summer day, plotting a trip to discover a dead body.

But these days treehouses are not just for adolescent boys. They have become man caves, weekend cabins and even replica Victorian mansions. The Animal Planet show Treehouse Masters with Pete Nelson shows that any and everything can be built in a tree. If you’re in the mood to build a treehouse of your own here are six important things to consider before you head off to buy some lumber.

Choosing a tree

The two most important things to consider when choosing a tree to build a structure is location and stability. Is the tree located in a place that you find peaceful and relaxing? Otherwise you are unlikely to want to use it once you put it all this work to build it.

Strength of tree

Will the tree support the structure? Ideally you want to look for a hardwood tree with a trunk at least 12 inches in diameter. This should be sufficient to support a structure about eight square feet. How old is the tree? You want to choose a relatively young tree, certainly not one that’s going to die and fall with your treehouse in it.


Many treehouses are supported entirely by the weight of the tree. To accomplish this, first drill a “treehouse attachment bolt” into the trunk of the tree. This will not damage the tree, although some arborists debate how much stress it actually puts on a tree. You may also consider supporting your treehouse using beems dug into the ground below. In this way you can create a staircase or bear loads that would otherwise be absorbed by the tree. Another mounting technique is to build around the tree with a hexagonal pattern and let the weight of the structure squeeze against the trunk. In this weigh the treehouse more or less hangs from the tree.

Special features

When you build a treehouse it’s often fun to put in some special features like a spiral staircase, a drawbridge or a cabled roof. Decide on these features beforehand so that you can calculate your budget and make an accurate plan.

Do you need permits?

Before you go any further, consider if you need to receive a permit to build your treehouse from the local city or county government. In some cities, there are certain restrictions on building treehouses related to the views of your neighbor and meeting building codes. You will especially need a building permit if you plan to have running water.


The entrance

Remember when you were a little kid and you visited your neighbor’s treehouse? Or maybe you were fortunate enough to have your own. Part of the thrill was always climbing into it. You would step hand over foot up wooden rungs nailed into the trunk. Before you build your next treehouse consider its grand entrance. Will you be lifted through a mechanical pulley, or cross from an adjacent platform by a rope bridge?

Photo credit: Flickr