If you're thinking about doing something special for the kids, few projects have as much tradition and mystique as the tree house. Building a tree house is a deceptively simple project. A kid tree house doesn't take the precision or craftsmanship of stone tile or custom built furniture, but special considerations must be taken to create a well-built tree house that is safe both for the occupants and the tree.
Kid Tree House and Tree Safety
Obviously, you'll need to find a mature, healthy tree, but your tree should also require no special pruning. You should build the tree house to allow for tree movement and growth. It's usually a good idea to consult with a local arborist to ensure you're not inadvertently harming your tree. Finding the perfect tree is rare, and you'll almost always need some form of additional support.
The greatest obstacle to maintaining a healthy tree throughout the lifetime of the tree house is afixing the tree house to the tree. The fewer the holes you put in your tree the better. Instead of many, smaller nails or screws, attach your tree house with one large lag bolt with a cleanly drilled pilot hole. Some homeowners believe the safest way to attach their tree house is with rope fasteners. In fact, this is the worst choice you can make. Ropes will typically harm a large area of bark and will begin to strangle the trunk or branch over time.
As for the safety of your kids, you'll want to build them a solid tree house, of course, but more important is providing them a solid ladder, strong railings if your tree house plan doesn't include walls, and remove scraps of spare wood, screws, and nails. Both you and your kids should also wear gloves and/or wash your hands after handling pressure-treated wood.
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Tree House Plan
Some homeowners like to build free form kid tree houses, but given that each situation is unique, creating a tree house plan is probably the best idea. You may be able to modify a pre-existing tree house plan to fit your needs, but be careful as even small modifications can change how you'll need to attach your tree house to your tree and other posts. Several contractors out there have experience specifically in building a tree house. You might consider hiring a contractor to inspect your tree and design you a tree house plan. You can, then, build the tree house on your own without making an honest mistake that could endanger the well-being of your kids and your tree. Of course, these contractors can also build a tree house for you, saving you both time and inevitable headaches. They may also be able to construct a more elaborate tree house than your ability would allow.
Tips for Building a Tree House
Don't forget to include your kids when you build a tree house. They may not be able to take part in every part of the construction, but talk to them about your tree house plan, what they want the tree house to look like, etc. Of course, they may want a tree house considerably bigger than your tree can safely support, but there's no reason this shouldn't be a family project. Even if you decide to hire a contractor, make sure they're included during the design process. You might tell them if they want a door for their tree house, they need to sacrifice some of their allowance or become an entrepreneur and start selling lemonade to the neighbors.
For DIYers, keep things simple. Even a small kid tree house is a considerable project. You can use a tarp for a roof or leave the tree house roofless. Kid tree houses don't need to be particularly high, either. A tree house deck built five feet in the air will seem a lot higher to your kids than either you or they think. You'll need to use pressure-treated wood for the posts, joists, and braces, but salvaged wood can be used for deck planks and walls. This will also help control the cost of the project.