The classic backyard treehouse was once a rite of passage for most rural and suburban children. Then sometime in the 1990s, they seemed to fall out of favor, as access to public playgrounds started to expand. Since you are someone who takes great care of their lawn, building a treehouse above the lawn for your kids to play in is a solid plan to keeping that backyard turf in pristine condition.
Today the idea of the backyard treehouse or clubhouse is enjoying a vigorous renaissance. Thanks in part to families sticking closer to home, kids wanting to spend more time outdoors, and some new innovations that help make treehouses safer than ever before.
Choosing The Right Tree For A Treehouse
If you are going to build the treehouse literally in the tree and anchor it to the tree, then you’ll want to make sure you are choosing a relatively long-lived, mature hardwood some of the best options include:
A classic hardwood tree with a knack for sprawling out.
A hardwood tree that is more found in the south, it is known for being rock steady. Though older trees might be challenging to drive a nail into. This is definitely a tree that calls for power tools and possibly lag screws.
This hardwood tree with a little bit of flexibility which makes it good for driving fasteners into. They tend to have a short trunk and wide-spreading crown, which makes a nice sweet spot for building a treehouse mounted to the tree of on a platform.
The scarlet foliage of a sugar maple tree and it’s long lifespan makes a gorgeous surrounding for a treehouse. The branches of a sugar maple aren’t as prone to breaking as it’s sibling the silver maple. Though you still might want to give the treehouse an extra reinforced roof.
This is a tall hardwood tree with a tall trunk and a sprawling crown. It’s probably better suited for building a platform treehouse around it, than mounting a treehouse to it.
There are some boxelders that escaped the beetle problems of the 1970s and 80s, as well as a few boxelders that were seedlings that went undetected by the boxelder bugs. These trees tend to sprawl in random organic ways, so that no two boxelder treehouses are the same. It’s probably better to build a treehouse in a boxelder with support poles, rather than try to cut a half dozen creative holes in the floor of the treehouse.
Western Red Cedar
This type of Cedar is known to resist insects, rot, and mildew. It’s also a relatively firm wood with very esthetically pleasing bark odor.
Should I Attach The Treehouse To The Tree Or Build A Platform?
In the past, the allure of a treehouse often included attaching most or all of the treehouse to the tree itself. Of course, there are a few problems with this idea.
Right off the bat, using the tree as the primary source of support can be a safety issue. Even a rock stead tree can move more than you think in a strong wind. This can easily pull fasteners out of the wood. Even building a treehouse without a supported platform can lead to dangerous falls, cuts, and power tool accidents.
Pick A Healthy Tree
Another problem with mounting a treehouse to the actual tree is that you can harm the tree. Holes and damage bark can invite fungus, termites, ants, and other unwanted pests. If the tree shows signs of decay then it’s probably not a good idea for the long term.
Also depending on where you live, there might be local laws about altering living trees. Especially if the species you choose happens to be rare, or like the ash tree, at risk for invasive insects.
So, instead of thinking as the tree as a structural component, think of it more as a decoration that you can build your theme around. Then you can set in rock-solid footings and support beams for a base platform to surround the tree. Just make sure to leave enough of a gap between the floorboards and the truck of the tree to allow for years of growth.
How Thick Are The Branches?
The added bonus of installing a platform is that it allows you to build in other important safety features. This includes things like solid steps or properly founded ladders as well as safety rails. After all, you should expect that your kids are going to invite their friends over, and you don’t want what was a fun afternoon turning into a homeowner’s liability claim! You want to make sure the branches can support whatever it is you are looking to attach. A good rule of thumb are branches no less than 12 inches in diameter.
Consider The Ages And Interests Of Your Children
The modern-day treehouse is an investment that ideally should last for several years. So, while your seven-year-old daughter might be in love with the idea of a pink princess castle, chances are your two-year-old son won’t be as enthused in a few years when it’s his turn to take command of the family treehouse.
Ultimately, if you have children of different ages and different interests, you’ll want to try to shy away from an overtly strong theme. Unless you want to pony up for more than one treehouse.
Popular Treehouse Themes
Once you’ve selected your tree, and you’ve got the basic platform assembled, you can start to explore various themes. Think of the platform and the tree as a blank canvas. Then take into account the things your children tell you they want. Try to temper expectations with a little reality, without dampening the excitement. A little clever deflection can spare you having to figure out how to install an ice cream maker 20 feet up in a boxelder tree, in place of a tunnel slide!
The Princess Castle Treehouse
Let’s say you are indeed blessed to have one or more girls who happen to eat, sleep, and breathe Disney cartoons. Then the princess castle is might very well be on your radar, and a definite way to win a parent of the year award.
Pinks, pastel colors, and even shutters for the windows can definitely keep the exterior on-theme. A decorated set of stairs is also probably preferable to a ladder. Especially if your kids love to play dress-up with flowing dresses. Ramparts might also be a good idea, but they limit the roof and ceiling, which could be an issue if you live somewhere with a lot of rain.
Then inside cupboards for tea sets, and extra seating for beloved stuffed animals is definitely in play. A jewelry box, and maybe even a full-length mirror would also help keep things on the theme.
The Secret Hideout Treehouse
One of the things that’s nice about the secret hideout theme is that it can be repurposed. Your child can pretend to be a spy one day, a superhero the next, or just have their friends over to solve a mystery.
The temptation here is to accidentally over-do the exterior appearance. There’s a fine line between a kid’s secret lair, and disguising the treehouse to look so sinister that your neighbors start to worry about all the sniper movies you’ve been watching lately. Try to think of things like a tasteful amount of camouflage. A tunnel slide as a secret escape would also be a nice exterior touch!
On the inside, no secret hideout is complete without hidden compartments and secret panels. Flip-top tables, a bookcase on hinges, and seating benches that can double as a treasure chest toy box are all worthy ideas. They’re also the sort of thing you can do yourself with some basic carpentry skills.
The Fairy Treehouse
Fairies, pixies, and tales of wilderness dryads all play well with the idea of a fairy treehouse. It’s also the sort of thing that lends to twisted organic forms like the burr oak, cedar, and the boxelder, rather than a tall standing ash tree.
The exterior concept should be organic. You can even use sponges to paint mottled tones of green, gray, and brown to replicate the look of moss and bark. This is a treehouse that also begs for a ladder and a slide.
On the interior, try to integrate and show as much of the natural tree as possible. This will add to the organic theme. You might also want to try adding a small battery-powered water feature as well as small window boxes to grow flowers. Wall cling decals of snails, bees and butterflies will also add to the theme. They can also be taken off later if your child wants to change things up a little bit on their own.
This is a classic concept that needs to balance the feeling of it being “Exclusive” while also being “Inclusive” to other kids. More than one neighborhood rivalry has been spurned by one group of kids not letting other kids play in their clubhouse!
This is a theme that seems to lend itself to a ladder access. As if one needs to ascend to the shared chamber. Flag holders and hatches also add to the exclusive identity of the treehouse without necessarily barring other kids, or you for that matter from gaining entrance.
The interior of a clubhouse will have an influence on how inclusive it is. You want there to be a lot of seating, as well as a tablespace large enough for a fair amount of children to play at. If possible stock it with a variety of games that several children can play together. This helps to encourage connections between kids who might need a little practice at making friends, rather than creating a fortress of solitude for two or three kids with a lot in common.
The Treehouse Playground
These days parents are looking for ways to keep their kids close to home, yet outdoors and active. Integrating a treehouse with a timber frame playground set is a great way to give your kids a place to play as well as a place to getaway. It might even let you enjoy a little peace and quiet in your own house!
The exterior design concept is something where you really need to absorb input from your child. Try to find out which one they like more, swings or slides? Do they like straight slides or a twisted tunnel slide? Is there room for a safe trampoline? Maybe ladder access to the tree fort as well as a climbing rope.
With a playground treehouse concept, the interior also needs to be fun. The temptation to keep it sparse to put more money on the playground equipment will just leave you with an overly expensive playground parked next to a tree, rather than a treehouse with a playground feel.
If you get a chance cruise by some of the local playgrounds and see what sort of popular features they have. A 3-D topographical maze, or perhaps a magnetic racing game? Maybe an outdoor giant Jenga set or even some lawn checkers. Whatever your child is into, make sure they have some outdoor game options available inside the playhouse to help spice things up. It can also give them a place to rest from time to time.