Tree Houses in the Press
A Tree House for Everyone
How to Get Your Project Off the Ground
by Daniel Wright, founder of Tree Top Builders, Inc.
Nothing captures the imagination like tree houses. Simply mentioning a tree house makes adults feel younger and children grin from ear to ear. But no two tree houses are alike because everyone has a different idea of the perfect arboreal retreat and everyone has different trees to work with.
Types of Tree Houses
Children naturally love spaces that they can call their own. They are renowned for creative fort building abilities and they can spend all afternoon playing in and around a well designed and exciting play area. Tree houses are great for sleepovers, snowball fights or paintball fortresses and play rooms with toy chests, and often incorporate peepholes, crow’s nests and secret entrances or hidden rooms. While the tree house is the centerpiece, swings, sandboxes and areas to run create lots of fun below, too.
In fact, tree houses add so much to a home and yard that adults are building them for their own use, too. Some have built home offices in the trees suitable for entertaining clients. Tree Top Builders built a large platform for a family near Devon, PA, where kids climb and play and mom teaches yoga classes. Some tree houses are rented out as romantic bed and breakfasts or used as guest rooms with running water and electricity. Other tree houses become adventure centers with climbing walls, zip lines and rope swings going out in all directions.
Whether for kids or adults, a tree house adds a new dimension to a landscape. Very few landscape designers will consider the vertical dimension in a yard. When marvelously blended, a tree house becomes an excellent conversation piece that visitors will never forget. Be prepared, though, the owners generally become popular with all the kids in the neighborhood.
Choosing the Right Tree
When deciding where to build a tree house, examine the species, health and shape of the trees. Check for evidence of insect infestation, disease or decay. A good tree care handbook will help you with the basics. Ask local arborists or long-time residents about which local trees are the hardiest in your area.
In general, hardwood trees are stronger and easier to build in. Hiring a local arborist for an hour or two before starting a project to analyze the strengths and weaknesses of trees is well worth the cost.
Tree Friendly Construction
Most individuals are rightly concerned about hurting trees during construction. However, the art and science of tree house engineering has taken great strides in the last decade. Now professional crews use the expertise of arborists and carpenters to develop methods that minimize impact and leave trees in better shape as a result of the project.
Trees have an amazing ability to compensate for the added weight load of a tree house. Over a few years, the roots will strengthen to resist the added strain during wind storms. Trees will also grow extra material in the areas where the load is attached to the trunk or branch. After many years they will grow around almost anything attached to them.
If you decide to build your own tree house, however, educate yourself in basic tree biology and keep a few things you shouldn’t do in mind. First of all, never girdle a trunk or branch with a rope, cable, wire, chain or anything else that won’t expand as the tree grows. Limbs are strangled by such practices and will eventually die.
Another common mistake is to attach each end of a board to two trees or limbs. Trees sway in the wind and a tree house foundation built this way will likely snap during the first storm. One way professional tree house builders handle this problem is to fix one end of the supporting beams but let the other end float or slide. This involves either suspending the beam with cables or using custom welded sliding brackets. When properly built, the tree house will sway gently in a breeze and move independently of supporting trees. The first time you feel your tree platform move beneath your feet, you’ll reach for the nearest tree limb to hold on, but after a while up there it will seem completely natural.
Piercing the bark and living cambium layer of trees should be done as little as necessary. Never put several nails in one place because the tree may compartmentalize the whole area as a single wound. Eventually, the area will rot and your beam will fall down. In general, use fewer stronger lag bolts rather than lots of nails. Professionals have developed strong custom machined steel tree anchors. These fasteners are growing in popularity because they are capable of holding 4,000 to 9,000 pounds when properly installed. They are essential when building large tree houses or those intended for commercial use.
Getting Help with Your Tree House
General contractors often scratch their heads at the idea of building tree houses on a living and growing foundation. But for the handy homeowner who wants to build his own, most tree house construction companies will share their expertise, help create a tree friendly design and help acquire the best fasteners.
Once the foundation is properly installed, most handy homeowners who don’t mind ladders and safety ropes are capable of building a tree house for their kids. Getting professional advice at the beginning is a good idea. A quick inspection can help make your project safer and easier to build.
A New Life Perspective
What makes tree houses so wonderful are the reminders that you are not on the ground. Try to use lots of windows so that no matter which part of the house you look at, you can see tree branches. The perspective makes all of the difference. Jonathan Fairoaks, a certified arborist and professional tree house builder, is fond of saying “the higher up in the trees you get, and the more surrounded you are by them, the closer to heaven you are.”
Sitting quietly up in the trees is the best way to reflect on life. You almost forget what life on the ground is like. But my guess is that you’ll get distracted when a bird flies underneath your tree house and then perches a few feet away and looks at you with wonder. After a couple hours of enjoying nature, you’ll wonder how you ever got along without a tree house.