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Building a Treehouse?
How the Internet Can Lend a Helping Hand
by Ken Rubino

Link-Up Digital
May 1, 2006

When was the last time you thought about treehouses? Was it during a dream of your long-lost youth, filled with visions and thoughts of carefree days?

You don’t have to reminisce any longer, because treehouses are back. Whether they are the manifestation of our innate desire for freedom, an attempt to relive those untroubled days of our yesteryears, or an attempt to create the perfect play space for our children, treehouses are sprouting up all over the country.

From Washington and Oregon to Tennessee and New York, the number of treehouses being built is growing. From what I’ve read about them recently, they’re not the simple treehouses of our youth either: Some of these newfangled treehouses have electricity and plumbing in them.

There’s even a schoolhouse treehouse. Go to http://www.grandoakstreehouse.homestead.com/Grandoakstreehouse.html to see how a family in Tennessee built a schoolhouse in a tree and then home-schooled their children in it. They got the idea to build a treehouse when they were doing research at a local library on how to build a chicken coop.

If you find the idea of building a treehouse appealing, the first step is to determine if you have a suitable tree. You can find help with that decision-making process by visiting http://www.thetreehouseguide.com/choosing.htm. Topics and considerations such as tree height, branch thickness, prevailing winds, choice of materials, and construction methods are discussed. I like fireplaces, so I hope to find instructions about including one in the treehouse I plan to build one day.

If you’re good with a saw, hammer, and nails and know your local zoning ordinances, you can buy plans from The Treehouse Guide, which is located in the U.K. At the Web site you will find plans for a one- or two-tree building. The plans range in price from $19 to $27. They come in book format, are approximately 40 pages, and cover every aspect of construction. The two houses that can be built from these plans are suitable for two or three children or a small office, given their 64-square-foot dimension. Oddly, given the amount of useful knowledge on this site, no mention of an author or builder is made.

Another site for help with building a treehouse is http://www.americasbestonline.net/treehouse/treehouse.htm. There you will find a variety of treehouses suitable for adults or two or three kids. There are pictures of completed treehouses along with some photographs of treehouses under construction. Also included here are a list of books that contain treehouse plans and links to treehouse builders.

For a human interest story about treehouses, go to http://users.adelphia.net/~ironmtnarts/page1.html. Here you’ll see Ron and Michelle’s treehouse in New York. Begun in 1995, this couple’s treehouse took 3 years to build, and it even hosted their wedding. While I wouldn’t recommend following their building style (the treehouse doesn’t seem like it was built to code), this is a wonderful example of two people working together and building their treehouse with their own hands, without the benefit of a store-bought plan or contractor. 

Included on their site is a journal that contains photographs taken during the entire construction period. You’ll be able to see how much can be accomplished with a little money, a lot of imagination, and true dedication.

If you don’t have the time or energy to undertake your own construction, there are companies that will build a treehouse for you. The builder who seems to have the most experience has a site at http://www.livingtreeonline.com. The aptly named Jonathan Fairoaks is an arborist with more than 40 years of treehouse-building experience.

His site is quite extensive and includes still photos and virtual tour movies. Also listed on the site are articles written about Fairoaks. These give insight into the man and the driving force that motivates him.

While he is located in Pennsylvania, Fairoaks has nevertheless built treehouses from coast to coast, averaging 12 abodes in the sky per year. He utilized a variety of woods for both the construction of his creations and in the trees he chose to support his structures. The preferred method of construction utilized by his firm is one of “floating mounts,” which prevent any harm to the tree or the treehouse.

These treehouses are certainly of a higher-end, custom design. They feature such amenities as electricity, redwood siding, and bathrooms. Also, they are building-site specific. I’d like to have one myself!

After seeing Fairoaks’ site, the only place left to visit is the Popular Mechanics article “Extreme Treehouses” posted at http://www.popularmechanics.com/outdoors/outdoors/2456277.html.

This article includes a discussion of high-end “treemansions.” It includes useful tips for folks who’d like to build their own treehouses and contains photos of two- and three-story treehouses that weigh in at 6,000 or more pounds.

How do they stay up in the air? Included in the article are a number of different support systems and devices, including clamping and cabling, which are thoroughly discussed. Treehouses on this site are priced in the six figure range and can reach $500,000.

The article contains photos of treehouses from the states of Washington, Maine, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, representing a reasonable cross-section of the United States, with different architectural styles and influences. You’ll see a treehouse named The Lantern in the Sky created by Dustin Feider. Built using an unusual and unique geodesic dome shape and style, the wall panels are translucent, allowing daylight in and artificial light out at night. The shape looks like a Japanese lantern, according to Feider. Another unique feature of this treehouse is the method of access: An electric motor powers a basket, into which one steps, for a ride 45 feet up an ash tree.

Imagination, it seems, is a necessary ingredient when it comes to building a treehouse. When his children wanted a new play set, Alister Orme initially went to a store to buy one. Turned off by the lack of quality and high price of the plastic, factory-made play sets, this fellow built one of the funkiest treehouses you’ll ever see.

A 6-foot by 7-foot treehouse 10 feet in the air makes for the most popular playground in town. Suspension bridges, a slide, and a fort comprise a mentally, physically, and environmentally healthy alternative to the usual red, yellow, and blue plastic play sets that are outgrown and discarded in a couple of years.

So why construct a treehouse? One builder said, “Nobody needs a treehouse, so it’s truly pointless in a way. But a switch [flips] when people go up there. Everybody gets instantaneously quiet and just looks out the windows. Leave the ground, and you leave the rest of the world behind.” Fairoaks said, “Some things transcend words, and maybe that’s the best reason to do them.”


Ken Rubino is a freelance writer and photographer living on the picturesque East End of Long Island, New York. His work has been published in numerous magazines and newspapers. He can be reached at kenlovelanefoto@aol.com.

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