Our backyard is forested and steep, making it rather difficult to do much. Sure, ziplines are rad but hiking back from the bottom up a scree slope sort of sucks. I’ve been reading up on tree houses for years and I’ve been itching to build something. I have visions in my head of a Taj Mahal type structure, maxing out the 12 feet by 10 feet structure I can build sans permit. A mini Taj Mahal, but still: something really cool.
Unfortunately for me, like most everyone else I suck at the first time I do anything. So rather than invest a ton of money into gluelams and relying on experience I don’t have I decided to start with something a little easier.
“Easier” in my case means a 6×8 platform between two trees. I started a few days ago and man oh man I have learned a lot. Much of this advice will be eye rolling for experienced construction people, so feel free to x out of this tab.
I started with pressure treated wood and learned my first lesson: don’t expect the lumber yard to magically have all of the supplies you need. Especially if you’re planning on weird stuff, you should secure your wood weeks in advance to make sure you have it and if you don’t you can order it. Ditto for fasteners, plan that out in advance if you can.
Build your platform on the ground. The downside of building on the ground is that you need to haul it up and the more you build the heavier it is and the harder it will be to manipulate it in the air. But trying to make a level and square cut while floating in free space between trees is impossible. I did the joist installs in the air and holy crap: that’s tough. It took nearly an hour to do one. If I had done the measurements at least on the ground it would have sped things up quickly.
Most treehouses that you see aren’t actually “tree” houses. Looking around, it’s actually pretty rare to see a structure that is entirely or even somewhat supported by a living tree. More often than not it’s just a small structure on pillars and beams, a few feet up, maybe next to a tree. Actually building in trees is harder, requires specialized tools, and is more dangerous. I’ve been through weeks of formal rescue rigging training. Raising, lowering, ascending, descending, rescuing a second, rescuing a leader, rescuing a top roper, pickoffs, and mechanical advantage: I’ve used half of those for building my tree house and I still required the skills from an arborist friend.
I’m building this first platform ~10 feet off the ground which is plenty high enough to fall down and break bones including your neck. The safety requirements get really high because a simple slip can kill. Even just getting tools back and forth from the ground or raising up lumber becomes an engineering challenge.
We used proper tree attachment bolts, but I should have used ones with a longer perch and built the platform a few inches narrower: there’s that learning thing. Even with that, I have one more on order and will be making cables to grab the far corners for extra support.
Trees are dynamic and it can be hard to do all the physics in your head as to what the movement will be once you really get your platform installed. Once I got my platform installed, I started walking around it, roped in. Pretty quickly I identified places where I need more support and how good my install job was (and wasn’t).
The next phase I’m looking forward to is getting out of rope access work and having the rope merely as a safety backup. By tacking some spare lumber across the platform I’ll be able to rest my weight on those pieces and not Tarzan around the whole time.
Likewise I’ll be putting up a cargo net that drapes at a ~60 degree angle, pegged to the ground, so I can get up the tree by climbing rather than jumaring. The cautionary note with that is once I can make it easy to get up it will then be easy for neighborhood kids to get up which means I’ll need to take the net up with me when I go and rap down.
The big question mark is whether I’ll be able to get a snow-shedding roof on before winter. If I can, that’s cool. If I can’t, I have to keep the decking off so it doesn’t snow load. I’ll try to keep updating.