Tree Houses and Playhouses for Kids

by Jon Nunan 35

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It's good for kids to have a place they can call their own; a place where they make the rules and call the shots (no boys/girls allowed, for example). Having a playhouse or tree house is not just about playing—it's about independence, too. It's nice for them to have a place where they can feel secure and self-sufficient, while remaining within hearing distance of a parent.

Backyard Playhouse
Children are constantly learning and understanding new ideas and concepts. Parents are often concerned (and with good reason), about what these ideas will be. It's one of the reasons why going outside to play is encouraged, while playing video games indoors is seen as less productive. What better catalyst for outdoor fun could there be than having your own pad in the backyard?

Playhouse kits are available starting at around $1000. They can have various accessories like a small table and chair set, and will have windows and a door that are just the right size for a child. Most will require some (but not a lot of) carpentry skill to erect. They will come with materials and hardware, you just provide the tools and elbow grease. Many are meant to be finished, even by a novice, within a weekend.

Tree Houses
Okay, the playhouse wasn't too hard; the tree house is going to be a little more challenging. Tree houses are more novel and exciting than a playhouse, but they also require more skill to build. If you have some carpentry experience, though, a tree house can be built from lumber and end up costing around the same amount as a similarly sized ground structure.

First thing's first: find a good tree. A tree that will support a tree house needs to be very solid and strong, so it's definitely a job for a hardwood species. You want to pick a tree that has thick branches that come out at angles between 45 and 90 degrees (with 90 being the most stable). If there is such a tree on your property, you are a candidate for a tree house! This is the type of tree you need to have the structure entirely contained by only the tree. It is possible to build a smaller tree house that is stationed on a smaller tree if you have some extra support beams or other trees to help bare the weight.

Once you've found your tree, it's a good idea to talk to a specialist (called an arborist) about the tree's health. Even though a tree may look strong, it might have flaws or areas of hollowness inside of it.

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While tree house "kits" are available, they are both expensive and often not what you think of when you imagine what a tree house should be. The best bet for this project is to purchase plans (or, depending on how simple you want it, some plans are available for free online). The plan should describe in detail how the house will be built, the materials and tools you will need, and the length of time it should take to finish. If you already have tools, then you just need to buy lumber and hardware, which is relatively cheap. Those who are a little worried about their carpentry competence can use the money saved by buying materials themselves to hire an actual carpenter for a couple of hours to make sure the structure is sound.

Jon Nunan is a freelance writer who draws on his experience in construction, ranging from landscaping to log home building, for his articles on home improvement.