The Treehouse Part 1

With our first child on the way, I decided that I wanted to build a treehouse/playhouse for our kid(s). My dad built one when I was a kid that was a raised structure on 4 telephone poles raised above a boxed in sandbox. My brother and I spent lots of time out there playing. I want to give my kids the same opportunity.

My plan is to make a similar structure as to what I had as  a kid. I plan to make some improvements over what we had, but once I get to actually building it, I’ll just have to make sure its not going to be more than I can do. I received a fair amount of construction experience in Americorps when we worked with Habitat for Humanity. We spent nearly a month in MA framing the second floor of a multi family home. It was a lot of fun, and I learned a lot. We’ll have to see how much of it I remembered. This time, I won’t have a master builder on hand to consult with. But I do have the Internet.

Currently I am still in the planning stages. I have begun doing some work already in getting the area ready for building. The SE corner of our yard is under a shade tree, and it is the area I have chosen to build in. The East side of our yard has a raised flower bed that also acts as a retaining wall as the yard slopes down from East to West. Our neighbors on the East side have a higher back yard than we do. The area in the Southern end of the raised bed looks like a project that was never finished. There’s no concrete retaining blocks like the rest of the bed has, but just sloped dirt with vegetation. I removed the excess dirt and vegetation to bring that corner of the yard to the same height as the rest of our yard. I installed a retaining wall here as I didn’t want to leave an exposed wall of dirt that would just wash away. Also, my neighbor has a small out building in that portion of his yard. I wanted to make sure the ground retained its ability to hold up their building.

Laying the retaining wall
The finished retaining wall

After getting a free evaluation of our lawn sprinklers and knowing that the treehouse was going to be in the line of fire for our sprinklers, I moved the sprinkler heads that were in this area and plan to not water the grass in this corner of the yard as it will one day be covered by the tree house.

Moving the sprinkler heads
Moving the sprinkler heads

In order for me to get an idea of what the dimensions of what the treehouse were going to be, I had to begin coming up with a idea of what I wanted the treehouse to look like. I began with sketching out on paper what I wanted. I had already come up with ideas in my head, but I needed to put it on paper so things could start coming together.

Once I had this on paper, I needed to get some plans that I could use for building. Thankfully, I took two semesters of AutoCAD when I was in college. It was a long time ago, but I managed to remember some of it. I found a free CAD program called LibreCAD that allowed me to draw 2D drawings. It is still in development stages, so it has some bugs, but for a free cross platform CAD program I’m not going to complain.

Getting dimensions and realizing how they related to the real world was going to be important for me in planning this thing out. First stop, the building codes for my town. Their website said out buildings could be built without a permit as long as they were less than 200 square feet. So that was my starting point. I also knew I had a defined area in width due to the area that I had dug out. One concern that I had to contend with that my flat roofed childhood tree house did not was snow accumulation. Reading around on the Internet helped me to determine that a minimum roof pitch for snow accumulation was a 3/12 ratio (three feet of rise for every twelve feet of length). Armed with all of this information I was able to start making some of my initial CAD drawings. Having dimensions from these initial drawings helped me see how big the footprint was going to be so I could place my sprinklers accordingly.

I chose to go with 128″ wide by 192″ long with a 32″ porch on the side. Since wall studs tend to come in 8′ heights, I decided to make my tall wall 8′ high. Using my 3/12 ratio for roof pitch, that makes my short wall 4′ high. This is low, but this is going to be for kids, so I think it should be OK. I plan to build everything on 16″ centers for the wall studs, floor joices, and rafters. 16″ centers seem to be a standard. I remember this number from when I was working with Habitat and Internet searches validated this number. Also, when you buy plywood, the edges of the plywood will line up on the center of your timbers when you put them on top.

My reasoning for going with this design also has to do with construction. I helped build roof trusses when we were in MA. There was a lot that went in to that. It was a triangular shaped roof. I don’t remember much about how we did it, so I chose to go with a sloping roof in just one direction. Also, having a high side would allow me to make a climbing wall on one side of the treehouse. I plan to add monkey bars coming off one side of the house. I would at some point like to put in a zip line. We’ll have to see about that, but its on the wish list. Also I want a skylight in the ceiling. I found a library book that talks about putting in a skylight that you can open. A door in the floor of the house will be there. I also plan to put in a loft, nothing more than a wide shelf so a kid could sleep in there if they wanted to.

I don’t plan on starting construction on this until later. I’ve got too much going on with school for the next year or so. But I’m sure this will be a fairly long process. Not just a weekend project.


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