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.
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.
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.