Like any kind of ‘den’ or a ‘special’ place which children can call their own, a tree house can be a magical place for a child and they’re sure to have so many special memories of their time spent playing in and around their tree house when they get older. Unless you’re a true DIY enthusiast and can turn your hand to most jobs in the garden, building a good, sturdy tree house that will be sturdy and safe and which will weather cold winters, strong winds and driving rain is not a straightforward task but here are some tips to ensure that you do it safely if you opt to DIY instead of getting a specialist in.
Planning Your Tree House
Firstly, you’ll need to consider what you want your tree house to be. Is it to be a larger children’s play area or just small enough to sit in and read a book or to observe the wildlife? Do you want it to be hidden or visible and don’t forget that you won’t want to disturb the neighbours so you shouldn’t situate it in a tree from where they would be overlooked. It should also not be any greater than around 5 feet of the ground in the interests of your child’s safety.
What about the direction of the sun? You’ll probably want to build the entrance away from direct sunlight in the afternoon as the tree house might get unbearably hot to be in at that time of day otherwise.
These are just some of the factors you may wish to consider. Once you’ve come up with answers to those and any other questions you may have, then the next stage is picking the most appropriate tree. Before starting the build, make sure you’ve taken adequate safety precautions. Use a safety harness if necessary, make sure your ladders are well maintained and keep a first aid kit close to hand.
Constructing a Platform
A sturdy and properly constructed platform holds the key to building the rest of the tree house. It should be built close to the trunk and preferably supported by branches or posts. You need to make sure that it’s level so that it can withstand uneven loads and won’t sway.
Floors and Roofs
Once you’ve built your platform, you can move on to the floor which could be constructed from exterior plywood or proper tongue-in-groove floorboards. You might find it easier with larger tree houses to construct the walls and roof on the ground and then haul it up the tree to fix it into position. However, for smaller trees with a number of protruding branches, it may be better to construct these in situ. Once it’s all in position, you can keep the rain out by using roofing felt which could be topped off with thatch if you prefer.
Some people prefer a tree house to be open at one side or just a simple wooden door to get in and out of but if you decide you want ‘proper’ windows and doors, make sure you use Perspex or Plexiglass as opposed to real glass which might get broken and cause injury.
If you choose to build a deck which can act as a form of verandah you can sit out on or walk around, make sure you also fit safe railings to prevent anyone falling off the deck.
You might choose to build a wooden ladder to gain access to your tree house but for those of a much more energetic leaning, you may simply affix a rope upon which your children would have to climb up to the deck. Whatever you choose to help get up to the tree house, make sure it is properly designed, is secure and safe and able to cope easily with the weight of those who would be looking to gain access. It’s also advisable to build a sand pit or install some safety matting or other form of cushioning material below the entrance so that injuries are kept to a minimum, should anybody fall out of the tree house or slip off a ladder or climbing rope on their way in and out of it.
You should make regular inspections of the tree house looking for signs of deterioration in the floors, decks, ladders and railings in particular and look for any signs of weakness or rot which might have set in. It’s particularly important to check this at the end of the winter months when the tree house might not have been used for some months and the winter weather may have taken its toll. Remember that the tree might have grown too so make sure any changes to the tree itself has not had a weakening effect upon the strength and safety of the tree house. Use eco-friendly varnishes and wood stains too. These will not only protect the tree house but will also prevent any allergic reaction to chemicals contained in conventional varnishes.
All safety considerations apart, however, a well-thought out, carefully built tree house will probably still be operational even when your children bring their children along in later years to use it too.