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A Treehouse…for the children

Treehouse Plan

When we moved to Roswell, GA in April of 2011, we chose this particular house for one main reason: proximity to the kids’ schools. Secondary to that objective was the huge yard, ranch home, and escaping City of Atlanta taxes, not necessarily in that order.

One of the benefits that came with the huge yard is huge trees and lots of them!  I’d talked about building the kids a tree house for a very long time, and now I had no excuse. So, a tree house was my Christmas gift to my kids.  Here is the whole process, plan to completion, with every bump, scrape, and visit to the chiropractor.

First, the plan.  I found 2 huge Georgia Pine Trees about 6′ apart and about 50 yards behind the house. Their trunks were 50 inches around, so, while they do sway in the wind, they’re not going anywhere.  Knowing that, and just enough framing construction knowledge to be dangerous, I drew up this plan.

 
Then I went to Home Depot and priced out all the parts and pieces that I thought I needed: about $500, give or take. In the end, it would be over $600.
On the first day of the kids’ Christmas break, I started work. That was a Thursday. My goal was to be done, and putting the finishing touches on the tree house on that Sunday afternoon. I had a big strong helper coming to lend me a hand on his day off from work, too, so I had high hopes. Unfortunately, it rained over an inch that day, so we cancelled that plan. He  couldn’t be there on Friday, so I started out solo, and a day behind.
So Friday, I woke up early and headed out into the cold. Wasn’t raining any more, but it certainly was cold.  My new goal for the day was to get the main supports and floor up and braced.  Here’s what I actually got done.
That’s right. Two 2x10s spiked into the pine trees. But they are level all around, and spiked with 10″ spikes. Not going anywhere. Tip for future tree house builders: make sure you give the pines room to move. The spikes are 5/8″ across, so I drilled 1″ holes in the 2x10s and used a large washer to prevent the 2x10s from coming off.  Doing so gives the trees room to sway.  The really freaky thing is being up on those 2 boards when the wind is blowing – which it was, from 10-35MPH that day – and seeing the boards move around the tree’s movement. Very, very freaky.
Saturday’s goal: Floor and walls! Do you see a trend here?  Well, we must set our reach just outside our grasp, mustn’t we?  The flooring system was to be 2x8s in a nice square of 6’x12′, using joist hangers.  Building that would be easy. Building it 13 feet off the ground in high winds with no help…not so much.  I toenailed each of the long 2x8s to the main supports, then slowly inserted the 2×8 joists into the joist hangers and nailed them, one by one, until all the interior joists were done.  Adding the end pieces was tough. In hindsight, I should have just used an end joist hanger for each end, instead of nailing the end pieces to the ends of the long 2x8s. No harm done, but it was much harder to do it the way I did it.  Here’s how she looked after this stage.

Actually, that’s after the “V” braces, which I kind of invented. In the above drawing, you can see these braces. I didn’t want to use posts down to the ground on each side or each corner, so I had to come up with away to brace the structure and prevent it from tipping to either side, and give it stability.  Putting two 2x8s at 45* angles, spiked to the tree and lag bolted to the long sides of the floor did just that. That was far easier than it looks or sounds, though again, working by myself, it was quite tedious and time consuming.

That was Saturday. Didn’t get the actual flooring on there until the following Monday. That wasn’t too bad either, except for getting a 4×6′ piece of plywood up 13 feet in high winds.  Angel held the ladder while I hoisted each sheet of plywood up in front of me, and pushed it up the ladder until it tipped over onto the joist system.  Just three sheets of plywood, each the same size (4’x6′), nailed down with 8p galvanized nails.  That’s when my knees REALLY started to hurt. Kneeling on joists stinks. Plywood isn’t much better. Finally remembered I have one of those garden kneeling pads. That helped a ton.  Here’s the result.

Then it rained…and rained…and rained. Finally, Thursday gave us some clear weather and my big strong helper! Woo hoo!  Unfortunately, that plywood did not like sitting bare nekkid out there in the rain, and it had buckled and weakened significantly. That’s when I decided to add 1×6 decking over the plywood. Turns out, running those boards was not difficult, and added a great deal of stability to the structure. I’d show you a picture, but it looks just the same from this angle.
We had time left to get the first wall up, before daylight and, more importantly, my back, gave out on us.
We had put a window where that hole is, but I went back and filled that in. I decided to let the kids enjoy the tree house for a week or so first, and then decide where windows might be best. For some reason, this first wall was very difficult. The other 3 were far easier.  Guess it’s kinda like making your first million, right?
Next morning, after the chiropractor visit, I was back at it. Like I said, the next 3 walls were far easier.  Up, straight, square, and ready to go. I got the other side wall and the rear wall done that day, and the front facing wall the next day. Almost ready for the roof!

As you can see, I didn’t brace the side walls at this time. They weren’t going anywhere, and I wasn’t waiting for any building inspectors that day. The front wall would go into place first thing the next morning.  If you’re paying attention, you’ve noticed that I did not meet my original goal of one long weekend to complete this project. At this point, it’s Dec 30. I started on Dec 21.

On the day after New Year’s Day, the front wall went in. This one was fun, because I had to build it up there with very little room to work. But it went together pretty well. It was the simplest of the walls, just a straight 8′ stud wall with a door framed in.

Then there was the roof. I’m not afraid of heights. I’m afraid of falling from heights. There is no way I was going to get on top of this structure and attach the metal roofing (three pieces, 26″ x 12′). So I had to figure out how to attach it from the inside.  I did a ‘dry run’ on the ground with the roof system, which was four 2x4s on their ends, crossed by 5 1x4s then the metal roof laid across the 1x4s and attached with 1″ screws. I figured it would be too big to build inside the tree house and too heavy to lift it up onto the roof. So, I broke it up into 3 pieces and put them on separately. Easy, cheesy, lemon-squeezy.

The last two tasks were the easiest: the railing for the ‘porch’ and the ladder for the kiddos to run up and down. Nothing but 2x4s and 16p nails, and a lot of sawing.  Here’s the final product.

The ladder is not as sturdy as I had hoped, so I’m going to add some bracing to the sides and bottom.

 

The kids have since added some chairs to their front porch.
The view from the porch, overlooking the trampoline and the tree swing.

 

Inside, this is one of the wide walls. It rises from 7′ in the rear to 8′ in the front.

 

The rear corner, with a peak of metal roofing.

 

Front corner by the door.

 

Doop, doop, doop lookin’ out my back door.
OK, front door, but you get the picture, thanks to Mr. Fogarty and CCR.
There are currently no windows. I decided to let the kids have at it for a while, then decide where they wanted windows. I’ll cut them out with a jigsaw later, and we’re going to use plastic plexiglass, hinged to the siding, to cover the windows and let in light.  They’ve also requested a few upgrades: rope swing underneath, zip line to the trampoline, fireman’s pole, and a few interior shelves.
My personal upgrades will be some camo netting (who knew that almost every outdoors store sells this stuff?!?) and a climbing rope grid from the main supports to the ground.  Good exercise.
And, of course, the very first thing the kids asked is, “Daddy, can we spend the night in the tree house? Tonight?”

 

What do you think about that?