Kids Treehouse Plan - Part One
Building A Kids Treehouse - Introduction
Building a kids treehouse in your backyard will be a challenging, fun and rewarding DIY project to take on. A treehouse project gives you a lot of flexibility in deciding how simple or complex of a plan you are willing to under take. You can literally go as far as your imagination, skill and budget are able to take you. The backyard kids treehouse that I will be detailing in this multipart series is fairly simple to construct but will give you a blank canvas that you can style and decorate to your own personal tastes. The first part of this series will detail the design, approvals, tools and supplies you will need to consider before you begin this project. Part two of the kids treehouse series will discuss preparing the building site and laying out the foundation on which you will build the rest of the structure. The third part demonstrates how to build the backyard treehouse deck which is freestanding on the ground and not actually attached to the tree. The backyard treehouse part four details how I built the actual house structure on top of the deck. This includes framing the walls, building a pitched roof and attaching the siding. And finally, part five will show you how I added railings and stairs to our treehouse to keep it safe and make getting in and out easier.
How to get started
Here is a summary of the topics that I believe are essential to get you started on your kids treehouse build:
- Conceptual Design
- Approvals - Homeowners Association and Code Enforcement Office
- Sketch Some Blueprints
- Assemble Your Tools
- Building Supplies
Step 1: Treehouse Conceptual Design
The very first step you will want to complete as you kick off your project is deciding on a conceptual design of the finished treehouse. There will be a ton of ideas across the web to get you started. You should sketch something out at this point but keep in mind you are not making blueprints or anything that detailed. Just get some ideas in your mind as far as the number of windows and what shape they will be, if you want an actual door or just an opening, the look and materials of the siding and roof (plywood, shiplap, shingle) and the overall style of treehouse. Find some pictures of kids treehouse’s that you like so that you have some inspiration throughout your project to work towards.
Step 2: Get Necessary Approvals
The next and one of the most important steps in building a backyard kids treehouse is researching your local building codes and getting the necessary approvals from both your local building and code enforcement agencies and your homeowners association if you have one. I would reach out to your homeowners association first for a couple reasons. For starters, it is the HOA and its members that are most likely to notice your out-of-compliance structure as they are the folks living in and assigned to maintaining the rules of your community. A building code inspector in your local town hall may never drive by your house and notice the treehouse you built for your kids. However, the president of the association who is retired and has nothing better to do than find infractions in the neighborhood is just salivating at the opportunity to write you a threatening letter about this treehouse you just spent hours building. We all know that guy. Anyway, another reason to start with the HOA is because if they allow these structures in the neighborhood, then most likely the local building codes will allow them as well. In other words, the HOA cannot allow you to build something that goes against code so if they allow it, then there is precedent with the local government. On the flip side, local government could allow a treehouse but the HOA could deem them non-compliant with their covenants.
Once you get the all clear from the homeowners association you still need to contact your local code enforcement office. There will likely be restrictions on the size, height and location of a backyard treehouse if you want to build it without needing permits and inspections. Your local agency may require a permit regardless of these things so it is important to find out before you start. If you are expecting to run electric or plumbing to your treehouse then you can be 100% sure that a permit will be required. My local office informed me that my treehouse structure had to be less than 100 square feet and under twelve feet high in order to build it without a permit. They also told me to be aware of any easements along my property lines and to be sure my structure did not impede those easements. Luckily, I had my home survey handy and noticed there is a public utility easement that prevents any permanent structures from being built within fifteen feet of my back property line.
One final consideration to keep in mind during your design and approval process is your neighbors. I am sure you have heard the saying “good fences make good neighbors.” Well, if you build a treehouse that allows your kids (or anyone else for that matter) to look right into your neighbors house or takes away their privacy around the pool they have enjoyed for so long, then they may not be too pleased with you. Consider building your treehouse low enough to keep your neighbors privacy intact and give them the courtesy of letting them know ahead of time that you are going to be adding this structure to your backyard.
Step 3: Prepare Simple Treehouse Blueprints
Now that you have a general design conceived, you are aware of any size and location restrictions and have received all agency approvals, you can start sketching out some rough blueprints. You do not have to be an artist or an architect to draw out your visions. Just draw the best you can and label the necessary dimensions. If you are going to follow my simple treehouse plans then I would sketch out the deck first then the house. You may also want to draw out how the trusses connect and how the rafters will connect the roof and walls. Again, label the important dimensions like the size of the posts, how deep the posts go into the ground, how high the posts are above the ground, length between posts, etc. Extreme detail is not required but the more details you work through now, the clearer the concept will be in your head, the easier it will be to pull together a detailed supply list and you will have a great reference point to consult once you start your build. You can also try using Google SketchUp. It is free and it works really well once you get use to it. It will allow you to draw very specific dimensions and rotate your 3D drawing in every direction. Below is a quick example that I put together for this post.
Step 4: Gather Treehouse Building Tools
To continue with your treehouse building preparation, you will need to assemble some tools and accessories. Below is a list of tools that I used during my project and some alternative tools that you could use instead.
- Cordless Drill Driver or Framing Nail Gun or Finish Nail Gun. At the time, I did not have a finish nailer or framing nailer so I built the entire treehouse using a cordless drill driver and screws. If you only have a finish nailer, you will need to get either a framing nailer or a cordless drill driver because the finish nailer will only be good for attaching the siding (if you are using my suggested materials). You will need large screws or nails in order to properly build the deck and frame the walls of the house and a finish nailer will not provide this.
- Circular saw, Jigsaw or Miter saw. I had a circular saw and miter saw during my backyard treehouse build. If you do not have any of the saws mentioned and will need to purchase one, I would suggest a jigsaw. Jigsaws are quite versatile and affordable and will come in handy on future projects. If you only have a circular saw, do not worry. In my treehouse plans there are not many miter cuts and probably no bevel cuts. In fact, I think the only miter cuts are for the rafters and maybe a few miters on the siding.
- Level and post level. A level is a pretty critical tool to have on hand for just about any DIY project. You definitely want to make sure that all aspects of your treehouse are level as you are building. If you are building the platform from my treehouse plans and will be burying the posts in the ground, then you may want to pick up a post level. A post level is helpful because you can attach it to your post and see the level measurement for both sides of the post at the same time.
- Post hole digger or shovel. The treehouse plans that I am providing suggest that you bury the deck platform posts in the ground and the easiest way to do this is with a post hole digger. A shovel will work as well but a post hole digger is the better option especially if you have to go deeper than a couple feet due to your frost line.
- Speed square. This will come in handy when you need to mark a board for cutting especially when you are needing to make a miter cut. It will also be necessary when cutting your rafter boards. If you have never used one, there will likely be an instruction guide with it when you buy one or there are several resources on the web that do a great job explaining how to leverage this tool.
- Drill bit. The only time I needed a drill bit for my treehouse plans was when I attached the railing posts to the treehouse deck.
- Tape measure. This one is pretty obvious but you just cannot do this project without a measuring tape.
- Safety goggles and gloves. Of course, staying safe is the top priority and eyewear should always be worn when cutting wood with a power saw of any type. Also, if you are going to use a nail gun, I would also highly suggest using eye protection. I also like wearing protective gloves as they do offer some barrier against a spinning saw blade, a falling board and splinters.
Step 5: Treehouse Building Supplies
As for actual building supplies, I will provide detailed lists in each part of the backyard treehouse building guide but below I am providing you with a general idea of what you are going to need so that you can start familiarizing yourself with the types of building supplies you will have to purchase.
- 4x4 posts. These will serve as the posts that the treehouse platform will be built upon. You will also need some of these for the railing posts later on in the build.
- Cement bags. These are bags of ready mix cement that you will pour into the post holes to keep your platform posts firmly in place. All you will have to do is empty the bag into the post hole, add some water per the instructions and mix it up a bit. It will set relatively fast so be sure to get your posts straight and level.
- 2x6 pressure treated lumber. The 2x6 lumber will serve as both the support beams and the trusses for the treehouse deck. The support beams we will be attached to the top of the posts and the trusses will be attached perpendicularly to the support beams.
- Post cap/base. These are used to attach the beams to the posts. The post cap is attached to the top of the post and the beams are placed between the caps two arms and the post cap is secured to the beams and post with nails or screws of the designated size.
- Truss hangars. You will need two truss hangars for every truss as one hangar will attach to one of the beams and the other hangar to the other beam. Once these hangars are attached to the beams with appropriate nails or screws, the truss board can be dropped right into them and then secured with the same nails or screws.
- Deck boards (pressure treated). These are standard boards you will find on a typical deck and can be found at your local lumber yard or big box hardware store. Feel free to use composite boards in place of the lumber if you want a specific look for your deck. One other suggestion if you are interested in composite decking is to contact a local supplier to find out if they have any excess composite decking in stock. Since your backyard treehouse is likely to be fairly small, it is possible that they have some leftovers from an order or maybe a discontinued line still in stock and they would be willing to sell it at a reduced price.
- 2x4 pressure treated lumber. The 2x4’s will be used for framing the treehouse walls, building the roof supports and building the railings.
- Rafter hangars. Similar to the truss hangars and in fact, you could use truss hangars here as well as long as they fit 2x4’s instead of the 2x6’s. The rafter/truss hangars will attach to the roof ridge board and the rafter will then be placed inside the hangar and secured with screws or nails.
- 1/2” fence pickets. I used the fence pickets for the siding and roofing in my backyard treehouse plans. There is a lot of flexibility here so use a material that corresponds with the overall look you are trying to achieve with your treehouse design.
- 1x3 boards. This is another material that will be used to dress up the railings.
- Stair stringer. These can usually be purchased at your local big box home store or you can try to build them yourself. If you want to build them on your own, do some research on how to build stair stringers before you begin.
- Screws or nails depending on whether you are using a cordless drill driver or framing nailer. Be sure to buy a length of screw/nail that is appropriate to the application so you will likely need a couple different sizes in order to complete this treehouse design.
- Screws or nails for attaching the various rafter and truss hangars and post caps. Be sure to buy a nail or screw size that the hangar manufacturer recommends for that particular model hangar.
- Carriage bolts, washers and nuts. These will be used to attach the railing posts to the deck of the treehouse.
- Decorative supplies. Think about paints, stains, curtains, decorations, etc. There is a huge range of options in this area so use your imagination and get creative.
So that wraps up the first part of the kids treehouse building plan. Part two will be posted soon and that post will explain the site preparation necessary to start the actual building of the treehouse deck.