How to Build a Tree House for Your Kids

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By Kerry Nenn, Wide Open Country

Your dream is to build your kids the best tree house in the neighborhood. Maybe even the county. You also want an amazing hideout they won’t have to risk their lives to play in. And, you’d prefer not to kill that big oak in the process. Here’s what to keep in mind when building a tree house.

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Which tree?

Oak, maple, fir, beech, and hemlock make the best tree house hosts. You’ll want a healthy older tree, with branches at least 8 inches in diameter for load bearing.

Whereabouts in the Tree?

How to Build a Tree House for Your Kids

Photo: house on tree in summer garden

Yes, it sounds cool to have a house in the treetop, but don’t aim for the sky. Keep it simple. You only need to go high enough to walk underneath it. The kids will still have to climb to enter, and that’s the fun part. If you’re in an especially windy area, stay in the lower third of the tree.

Build the tree house platform close to the trunk. Be sure to use diagonal bracing for support.

Remember, the Tree is Still Growing!

Don’t make your spacing too tight. Allow for growth and movement. Use spacers between beams. Leave at least a 2-inch gap around any trunk or branches that pass through the floor and a 3-inch gap for any that go through the roof.

Keep it Sturdy and True

Get your floor level and the rest will be easier. You may want to use multiple trees to get your level surface. Just run the beams between the trunks. Or, lay beams across the branches of your single tree and adjust until level before you continue to build the tree house.

Use the Right Brackets and Supports

How to Build a Tree House for Your Kids

Photo: Michael Garnier

You want to keep things flexible, since the tree will need to move in the wind. Floating brackets are the way to go. Special fasteners are available for tree house building. TABS or GLs will help keep the tree healthier and extend the life of the tree house.

Don’t go crazy with the number of fasteners. You’re better off with one large bolt than tons of screws and nails. Also, don’t shoot that bolt through the tree. Use 1 or 1-1/4-inch diameter lag bolts.

If you can, use fasteners as your foundation to perch the tree house on, rather than attaching beams to the tree. The tree will thank you, and so will your kids. They will allow the tree room to grow and provide better weight support. All the neighborhood kids can come and play.

Keep Your Tree Healthy 

Don’t drape cables or ropes over branches. They will eventually saw through.

Keep your fasteners well-spaced. Too close and they will weaken that part of the tree. Aim for 18 inches apart vertically and 12 inches horizontally.

Have a Barn Raising

Don’t try to sit up in the branches and create this masterpiece. Construct sections on the ground and then raise them into position. Make it a party. Once you have the pieces ready, invite your friends and neighbors to a “tree house raising.” You supply the drinks. They’ll supply the muscle. It’ll be fun.

Trick Out Your Tree House with the Best Accessories 

Building a tree house is more than lumber and branches. Once you have the basic structure complete, add the final touches that will make this your kids’ dream tree house.

  • Trap door
  • Rope ladder
  • Slide
  • Water guns/hoses
  • Fireman’s pole
  • Skylight
  • Captain’s wheel
  • Swing
  • Bridge
  • Custom mural for the wall(s) designed by your kids

It may not be the Swiss Family Robinson’s home, but it will provide tree house memories your kids will treasure for a lifetime.

How to Build a Tree House for Your Kids