Any kind of treehouse needs to be well thought through, but more importantly you need to understand the feeling you’re getting from the tree and what, if anything, it’s offering in terms of construction. Trees are sentient beings and the ones suitable for building in will likely all be much older and bigger than you are. We need to treat them with respect and admiration. The first thing to do is go up and explore the tree – climb around, jump from branch to branch, walk out along the longest tips and see how it responds to you being up there.
If you don’t know much about the tree you want to work with then do some research, the www.wood-database.com/ is a great place to start. Here you can find data about the tree’s typical size, age expectancy, hardness and strength. When analysing a tree for construction possibilities, there’s a few overarching factors – the trunk, the branch spread, the canopy / foliage and the surrounding environment. Another thing, which you can’t see, is the root system. With treehouse’s generally we don’t have to worry about damaging the root system, but be aware of this if you need to place heavy supports on the ground.
A typical building project is usually planned from the top down. First you plan, after a space is cleared and then the building can be constructed. Treehouse construction however, is quite different. You can make initial designs of course, but it’s likely you’ll end up with something which looks quite different to how you imagined it. This is because it can be difficult to visualise the structure until it starts coming together. You also can’t just plan the house however you like – you have a living tree to cooperate with! The aim is to to gently and delicately place the structure into the tree, so it holds the house comfortably with ease.
Look at the trunk; it should be wide and strong, growing directly upwards. Ideally the branch spread is even, with strong branches growing out in all directions balancing the tree perfectly. Consider the stresses you will put on a branch if it is not thick enough or if it’s sagging downwards. Make sure that the tree is healthy, if large parts of the tree are dead or have rot problems maybe it’s not such a good choice. Look around at the neighbouring trees and plants that your tree is competing with. Is there enough light and space, or does some pruning need to be done? We also need to be considerate to the surrounding environment and other life in the tree, are you going to cause any problems?
Click the link to part 2: Building A Simple Platform – Treehouse Design Part 2 to learn how to build your first platform.