9 Misconceptions about Treehouse Building

These 9 misconceptions are widely held by very intelligent people, so don’t feel bad if you learn something! In fact, we spend time with most of our clients to correct these misunderstandings during the design and construction process. Unless you are a professional treehouse builder, you will probably learn something useful about trees and tree houses by reading on.

Putting Bolts & Nails in Trees Will Kill Them.

Bolting and nailing into a tree will cause some damage, but healthy trees can respond quickly to compartmentalize around the injured area. Over time, trees will add structural material to strengthen the weak spot.

That Platform Doesn’t Look Level

crooked treehouseIt is very common for a client to see their partially built platform and question whether or not it is level. Don’t worry, it is. If the ground is sloped, even a little bit, then the platform will not be paralell to the ground, which makes it appear not level. By the way, the treehouse to the right really is out of level. 🙂

Treehouses Won’t Stay Level

The Truth is that if you put a nail in a tree at 10 feet above ground, then it will always be 10 feet above ground. Tree tissues only elongate at the tips of branches, not in the middle of the stem.

Treehouses Are Dangerous

When built with the proper hardware and techniques, treehouses are no more dangerous than being on a deck or back yard shed. The only exception is that you shouldn’t occupy treehouses during high wind or lightning storms.

Treehouses Never Require Permits

building permitIn reality, your building inspector may beg to differ, and he’s in charge unless you hire a lawyer. It is true that many municipalities do not require permits for tree structures, especially in more rural or country areas. However, some will still specify setback or total height requirements. If you are in doubt, you should check with your local township before begining any treehouse project just so you know what you’re getting into.

Treehouses Are Only For Kids

Nonsense! We find that most of our adult clients enjoy treehouses just as much as their kids, some even more so! We have also designed and built treehouses that are primarily adult-centered for a quiet woodland retreat.

You Can Only Enjoy A Treehouse In Nice Weather

By utilizing modern construction and insulation techniques, a treehouse can be built as a weatherproof year-round residence. Complete with plumbing, electricity, and climate control, you don’t need to leave the tree to be comfortable.

Treehouses Don’t Last Very Long

We design all our treehouses with the health and longevity of the tree as a priority. Long lasting materials such as cedar, mahogany, and pressure treated pine, allow our treehouses to last for 10, 15, and even 20+ years. Support posts can sometimes be added if the tree’s health unexpectedly declines, saving the treehouse.
expensive treehouse

A Quality Treehouse Is Too Expensive

Not everyone’s budget has the sky for a limit. We can create a safe, functional, and attractive treehouse starting around $5000, the same price as many full-sized play forts, and those aren’t custom or actually in a tree.

12 Responses to “9 Misconceptions about Treehouse Building”

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  1. Rob Smith says:

    I have already started my treehouse by bolting 2×10 12 foot beams on each side of my large maple tree (40 in diameter). Is it too late to correct any damage done? And how would I correct it?

    • thb98il1Tr3e says:

      Hi Rob,

      There are sometimes ways to improve this without causing too much excessive damage. Of course, it would have been optimal to start the right way, but a lot of people find us after it is too late…

      Assuming that the beams only are installed, and the installation was recent, then the bolts should be turned out and beams taken down. Then, you will likely want to install a TAB on either side of the tree with a pipe bracket to attach to the underside of each beam. This will allow you to space the beam 2-4 inches away from the trunk, allowing room for future tree growth.

      When determining where to set the TABs, you should use a water level (clear plastic tube filled with water) to mark spots on opposite sides of the tree. You will be marking the centers of the TABs. This will probably take 2 people. If the tree is fortunate, you will be able to mark the 2 spots right over the top of the existing bolts holes you made before. Sounds like it won’t work, but most DIYers use 1/2″ or 5/8″ lag bolts, and the TAB uses a 3″ hole, so you may be able to get the 3″ hole to overlap the smaller hole on both sides, in which case you will minimize the total damage done to the tree. At minimum, you will be able to overlap on at least one side of the tree. The new hole will be easier to drill if you start the center pilot in fresh wood. Keep in mind that this will raise the beam height above grade by some inches.

      We can supply the treehouse bolts and hardware should you decide to take this route.

      Good luck with your project,
      -Dan

  2. Mike J says:

    We just had a tree house platform built and after reading your site I’m questioning a little bit the way it was attached to the trees. Two 8×12 boards were attached between two trees about 10 feet apart and the platform was built on them. The boards were attached to the trees by three 1 x 4 1/2 in lag bolts on each board on either side of each tree. Then, two V brackets were placed to support the platform beneath each side of the platform on either tree using 2×4’s attached to the tree the same size lag bolts and underside of the platform. Im reading now that the recommended method is to use only one lag bolt to minimize damage to the tree.

    So two questions: are the bolt sizes and v brackets used sufficient to support the 8′ x 6′ platform? I’ve jumped up and down on the platform putting plenty of weight on it and it feels sturdy. And will the method used end up damaging the tree?

    • thb98il1Tr3e says:

      Hello Mike,

      Most treehouses I have encountered built by homeowners or contractors provide sufficient initial strength for the intended uses. The bad news with more conventionally built tree structures is that the tree typically has reduced growth opportunities, and the long term health and/or structural stability of the trees are threatened. How long do you plan to have the treehouse for? How much do you care whether the trees are still in good shape when you are done with the treehouse?

      I am sorry I can’t be too specific about your situation, there are too many things that can be missed from written descriptions like this – for instance, I assume that “Two 8×12 boards” is a typo because those are really big sticks for a small backyard treehouse, but I don’t know what you meant to write. Also, V brackets can be very helpful when installed well. I’d have to see them to know. If you feel that you need further consulting on this matter, please get in touch with the office and be prepared to send in photos of the structure and the attachment points and we will be better able to comment on the specifics of your installation.

      Good luck,
      -Dan

  3. Brian says:

    Hopefully this is the correct place to post to your blog. I have a 16 inch diameter water Oak tree with an almost vertical trunk – I live in North Florida. I’d like to build a 10′ X 10′ platform for an enclosed treehouse. I’ve been researching building in trees for about a year and from reading through your site, I have come to agree with your assessment that pinning planks directly to trees is not a good idea. The part I need most help with is attaching the platform – do I need tabs for this size treehouse? Could I use pipe brackets and lag bolts instead? Usage will be kids/adults. I have also read on your site that a tree going through the roof is not a good idea, although your portfolio shows a number of treehouses built this way. Other sites suggest rubber inner tubes wrapped around the trunk where it protrudes through the roof.

    • Hi Brian,

      Waterproofing with a tree in the center: The waterproofing can be kept up, but it will require maintenance as the tree grows. If you are willing to maintain it, then go ahead. Another consideration is that if the structure will air out, then perhaps a little water getting in won’t bother you. If it’s a backyard kids treehouse, then perhaps 90% water proof is good enough. However, if you’re putting electric and finished interior walls or drywall on the ceiling, then you may want to rethink the design.

      Bolt Size: I build most 10×10 treehouses with TABs under the floor, and lag bolts at the bottoms of the knee braces. You might be okay with lag bolts everywhere, but it just comes down to how much of a safety factor do you need, how much will all of your materials weight, and how many people are allowed up there at a time. There are many variables, and all I can say is that skipping the tabs to use lag bolts instead may or may not be okay for you. http://www.treehousesupplies.com, our sister company, has 5/4″ lag bolts which support around 400-2000 lbs in various typical treehouse building scenarios. We sometimes use those instead of TABs, when the loads are smaller.

      Best Wishes,
      -Dan

  4. Brian says:

    Thanks for the response Dan. I don’t want to compromise safety, but regarding your comment of a non leaking roof, I may consider building the platform on posts on another part of my property, and using a smaller tree as one of the supports. The tree being considered is 9 inches in diameter. Is this too small to use as one of the supports? If not, what size TAB should I consider? I would like your opinion on the support methods used for treehouse plans at this site: http://treehouseguides.com/

    I recently purchased your book – looking forward to a good read!

    • Hello Brian: I would not put a 10×10 treehouse on a 9″ tree. I would look for a 12-20″ tree. I do not recommend the plans on that website you mentioned – they pin boards to trees which doesn’t leave them any room to grow. You can do whatever you want, but our advice to to build in a safe and tree friendly fashion. It’s harder and costs a bit more money, but you get a better, longer lasting result. That’s our niche in this market – the highest quality, the best for the trees, and the safest treehouses out there. Good luck, -Dan

  5. sean says:

    I’m building a square footprint treehouse using 3 trees and a post. It will be about 8′ above the groond. the trees are all around 12″ in diameter. I put 8″ lag screws through 2×10’s directly around the structure. Is this thing more than likely going to pull apart in the wind?

    • Hi Sean,

      What diameter lag screws did you use? The tree will sway, and when that happens, it will either shear the lag screws or drag the structure with it. I can’t be sure which will happen. From reading our website, you probably know that we use different techniques that allow tree movement and future growth. Bolting 2x10s right to the tree usually creates medium to long term issues.

      Good luck,
      -Dan

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