Calling A Tree Home

“TREE HOUSE
A tree house, a free house,
A secret you and me house,
A high up in the leafy branches
Cozy as can be house.”

~ Shel Silverstein

Where The Sidewalk Ends

There is something magical about living in a treehouse. It is the idea of being so close to nature that it literally envelops you. Its trunk your foundation, its branches your steps, and its leaves your cover. There is safety high above the rest of the world and there is peace in the crown. It’s relatively easy to see then why if a creative mind is left alone in the canopy long enough he or she will want nothing more than to build a house amongst the foliage.

Treehouses can be childishly simple or they can be unbelievably ornate. For decades scrappy boys have been hauling misshapen scraps of plywood up rickety ladders to somehow attach to a tree, carefully balanced on a few beams taken from an old barn. Girls too have cobbled together their own versions sometimes decorated with “curtains” and ‘NO BOYS ALLOWED’ signs. And on the other end of the spectrum is the island home of the The Robinsons; a truly livable home built right into the natural lines of a tree!

Synopsis: A Swiss family en route to New Guinea is shipwrecked on a deserted tropical island. Luckily most of the cargo also survived. They are forced to remain on the island because of the damage to the ship and the pirates that are roaming the islands. They create a home on the island (centering around a huge tree house) and explore the island and its wildlife.

Swiss Family Robinson

photo courtesy of Kevin Kidney

Who didn’t want to build and live in a treehouse after seeing the gadgets and gizmos, secret hatches and pulley baskets, that the SFR home had? Whatever the case and whatever your fancy – to live in a quiet retreat or just have a bird’s eye view of your backyard – you may want to consider the following before starting your tiny house in the trees:

Ask Yourself Why. Treehouses can certainly be viable tiny houses. Just look at the near 300 treehouse listings currently on AirBnB for proof! They can include heating and cooling options, full electricity, Wifi Internet, satellite TV, plumbing, etc. But treehouses can also just be for fun; an after school escape to look at comics and have puppet shows. Before you start building anything though you need to figure out why you want to do it so you can properly assess the intended structure itself and your plan of attack.

Talk To The Neighbors. Sure, the tree may be in your yard. But unless you live on a large tract sans neighbors it is polite to talk over your plans with those next door. You certainly don’t want to build anything possibly garish directly in their view. Remember, proper communication at this stage can lead to a long and happy life in the leaves.

Building Code and Zoning Laws. This is an area tiny housers are all too familiar with. However, if you plan on spending even one night in your treehouse you have to consider the legal ramifications. You need to know what you’re allowed to build on your property. Your plans could be specifically thrown off course by things like intended size, distance from the ground, proximity to the property line, and even the inclusion of utilities. Failure to build to code or to have proper permits and inspections could result in hefty fines and unnecessary cease orders.

Treehouse 3

Know Your Anchor Tree. Like every tiny house a foundation is most important. When choosing a tree base for your treehouse you need to consider more than just size. Know the species. Take the time to check with your state’s Department of Wildlife or Department of Natural Services to find out if the tree is on any sort of protected list. Trees can be listed as endangered on the national, state, or county level so do your due diligence. You may also want to think about how the tree fills out and goes bare according to seasons and even if the tree is prone to die or lose large branches in its life.

Don’t Hurt The Tree. Adding the weight of a treehouse or even just a treetop fort can potentially damage the root structure of the tree. If a root system is damaged in any way it is more likely to become weak and prone to falling over. It is also important to think about drilling into a tree. You don’t want to stress the tree to the point it dies and can’t support your structure. Consider talking to a local arborist or nursery professional about the trees you intend to use.

There is no doubt that treehouses can be an incredible amount of fun for nature lovers of all ages. With proper planning, well executed ideas, and bigger-than-life dreams, one can thrive high above the rest of the world no matter how fanciful it seems.

Treehouse 4

photo courtesy of AirBnB

By Andrew M. Odom for the [Tiny House Blog]

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Rebecca - November 19, 2014 Reply

I love tree houses, my trees are too small. My second choice was a ranger station! Made of stone and glass of course. High winds and flying debris… not so much. I still love the photos. Five acres of pinons and passive solar with great views is awesome too. Will start building next spring.

david head - November 19, 2014 Reply

That was a wonderful article. Just this morning on my walk through the bush, looking up at an eagle’s nest where i could just see the head of the new chick looking out along the branches. i remembered that wonderful feeling that came to me as a kid in my own treehouse high up in a huge swaying jacaranda. Inside were flickering kero lanterns, and it had hatches operated by pulleys. But that magical feeling of looking out along the moving branches always comes back to me when i look up into a tree and imagine once more being up there. A feeling that comes into my chest and heart. There are no words to express it.

Lora Hein - November 19, 2014 Reply

Trees grow. They are living organisms. Pounding or drilling anything into a tree, or tying anything around it will inevitably harm that tree. Please respect the trees and our need for them to continue to grow and combat the effects of global climate disruption caused by increasing greenhouse gases. Please, plant trees instead of harming them for a brief romantic human thrill of a treehouse.

    judith warrick - November 20, 2014 Reply

    I love tree houses but trees grow, what happens to your tree house ?

alice h - November 20, 2014 Reply

That Swiss Family Robinson tree house and the 1960 movie were among my first inspirations for adventure and alternative housing. I loved the book but seeing the marvellous tree house in full living colour – wowza! And a Shel Silverstein quote to boot! Though my tree house is still in the dream stages there will be one, eventually. Maybe not big enough to live in but definitely good enough to spend a night or two in the treetops.

Casey - November 20, 2014 Reply

That light above the shower head looks like trouble (electrocution hazard) to me!

Gabriella - November 20, 2014 Reply

Great article Andrew! Really appreciate what you put into each of your pieces

    Andrew M. Odom - November 20, 2014 Reply

    thank you Gabriella. I try to make each one a bit obscure but also obtainable and enjoyable.

Patrick - December 7, 2014 Reply

Nice, thoughtful article. Building a treehouse is nothing to rush into. The strength, stability and probable longevity of the host tree(s) are things to consider, as well as personal safety with regard to the integrity of the man-made structure, itself. I agree that it’s easy to harm or even kill a tree, but I think that, with really conscious planning and construction, tree houses can be built without significant injury to their arboreal foundations. There are lots of books out there, now, showing successful tree houses and how to build them responsibly. Trees ARE living things, and I’m an unabashed tree-hugger, myself. I am very leering of harming them. But as living beings, I don’t think they mind us dwelling amid their branches, in carefully built hovels. That can be a joyful experience for us, and quite possibly for the tree, as well. (They are not only living but, I believe, sentient, too. Who’s to say they don’t pick-up on, and share, our own joy? At the very least, they almost certainly appreciate our appreciation of them.)

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