How To Build A Treehouse
Important tips for planning and design, from real treehouse professionals!
Whether it’s a small treehouse for children or a treehouse for adults – with good planning you can master your project and save a lot of time and money.
We guide you step by step, because after more than 250 completed projects, we know exactly what is important in practice. Once you have gone through all the questions in our 11 checklists, your treehouse is guaranteed to be a real eye-catcher – let’s go!
How-To: 8 steps to the perfect treehouse construction plan
The rough treehouse draft – platform planning
The exact plan – The art of treehouse building
Collect treehouse ideas
1. The ideal spot for a treehouse?
Checklist I – The ideal place:
- Am I allowed to build a treehouse on this site? (see topic: Building permit)
- Will the tree withstand my treehouse? (see topic: The right treehouse tree)
- Will my neighbours be disturbed (view, noise, shade)?
- Should the house appear dominant or remain hidden?
- Where do I want to direct my view (where windows, where terrace)?
- Do I want to be able to see the treehouse from my house (children playing?)?
- How do I get to the treehouse?
Pro tip from Pete Nelson:
“If you have a favourite spot in your garden, think carefully about building a treehouse in it. Sometimes it’s better to keep that spot and build in the second nicest place.”
2. How, by whom and when is the treehouse used?
Basically, you should ask yourself what purpose you want your treehouse to serve. Should it only be a temporary world of experience for the children, or do you want to create a house for eternity? Maybe you want to rent it out later – a lucrative business!
One thing is for sure: the longer you want to use it, the more thoughtful the planning should be and the higher the quality of the materials should be! This quality is of course also reflected in the construction costs, so for an insulated house you naturally need tighter double-glazed windows, etc.
Checklist II – How the treehouse is used?
- Platform for enjoying the view, inviting friends, spending summer nights out
- Focus on children and play: Swing, slide, climbing elements, mud area.
- Small oasis for meditation
- Heated office or creative space (summer and winter)
- Overnight accommodation for friends or guests
- Occasional rental (AirBnB, Booking.com, …)
- Sauna, bathroom, kitchen, water connection
- How much space do I need for furnishings: double bed, couch, desk, …
Checklist III – Who will mainly use the treehouse?
Only small playhouse for children
Or big room for adults (and big children).
Do friends or other children come to play?
How safe is it for small children: access, height, play elements, railings?
How many people should be able to be in it at the same time?
Should the children run, climb & romp in circles? Or will this disturb the neighbours?
Are physically handicapped guests also expected?
Checklist IV – When is the treehouse used?
- Do I use the treehouse only in summer or also in the cold season?
- Should it be insulated and heatable? Wood stove or electric heating?
- Do I need electricity and lighting?
- How do I get to the treehouse in rain and snow?
3. What should the treehouse look like?
Take your time and do some soul-searching! The more precise your idea of the treehouse and its use is, the more pleasure you will have with it later.
Professional tip from tree house builder Felix von Scheffer
“The more house, the less treehouse! The thicker the walls, the further away you are from nature. When I think of a treehouse, it’s a romantic wooden hut, crooked and nailed together, you can hear the leaves rustling and the birds chirping inside, as if you were in the middle of nature.”
How about a short holiday! As a contrast to the comfortable home, the treehouse in the garden should be a romantic retreat, a mysterious oasis of tranquillity where you can forget everyday life high up in the tree and switch off completely. Here you have the chance to break out of the standardized shapes and straight walls and design everything freely – like Hundertwasser, Gaudi and Pippi Longstocking!
Involve your family: The more your children are allowed to participate in the planning and building, the more they will associate with the treehouse later on. I bet they will love the treehouse and be very proud of themselves and their parents!
Instead of one big room, consider creating several split-levels in the tree, e.g. a heated office at the bottom, a cool sleeping room with a view above and a free viewing platform at the top of the tree.
You can find lots of inspiration directly on our website or on the internet on Google, Pete Nelson, Instagram, and Pinterest.
Planning the treehouse platform
You have found the ideal spot for your treehouse and know how big you want your project to be? Then it’s time to measure the trees and find a solution for anchoring your platform in them.
4. Find the right height of your platform
Checklist V – Position of the platform:
- Climb the tree with a ladder – this way you get a good feeling for the height, the view, the course of the sun and possible attachment points.
- How does the tree look in winter without leaves? Are there any unwanted views to the neighbour?
- How do you get into the treehouse? Ladder, stairs, rope ladder, spiral staircase, intermediate platform. Can you climb up with a drink in your hand?
- Where should the house be? Where will branches get in the way? Remember that branches will also swing. Individual branches < ø 10 cm can be removed if necessary.
- Is the height safe for children, friends and visitors?
- Remember: From a platform height of 3 m, everything becomes more and more beautiful, but it is also much more complicated to build: Fetching material, securing, rope technique, building access, fixing the roof.
Professional tip from Baumbaron – avoid penetrations:
When the treehouse is penetrated by branches, it is very difficult to seal because the tree is growing and constantly moving. Penetrations of the building (roof, walls), we recommend only for uninsulated houses as these can dry more easily.
When you have found the perfect height for your platform, mark it directly on the tree (e.g. with a small wood screw) and transfer the height to the other trees (e.g. with a hose level, an extended spirit level, laser or levelling device). If you are not always on site, take photos from all possible angles. Include reference points in the picture (e.g. metre rule, long spirit level and coloured height markers) – this way the pictures will still be meaningful and ease your planing later.
5. The first draft
Draft step 1
Now we change to a bird’s eye view: Measure your terrain and your trees as accurately as possible and transfer everything to your site plan – this should be approximately to scale.
Checklist VI – Measuring the treehouse site:
- Exact spacing of the trees (bark to bark)
- Tree species (there are good apps for tree identification)
- Trunk diameter ø at platform level
- Inclination/curvature of the trunk & direction (sketch tree 1)
- Branches ø > 10 cm (sketch tree 3)
- Property boundary
- Point of the compass south (position of the sun)
- Main weather side (driving rain, prevailing wind direction)
- Slope (sketch contour lines)
- Best view (sketch eyes)
- Location of the parents’ house or path to the treehouse (sketch red)
Our tip – family planning:
This is where it’s really fun to get the whole family involved – give your kids the floor plan and some crayons and let them draw the wildest dream castles. They’re sure to come up with some fun ideas!
Draft Step 2
Now think about what your platform could look like – it’s best to make several drafts:
Checklist VII – Align platform and treehouse:
- Where should my treehouse (the walls) be placed on the platform? (sketch green)
- Where should the terrace go? (sketch grey)
- Where is the stairway (sketch orange)? Is there room for a staircase?
- How can I move around on the platform? (sketch orange lines)
- Where do branches get in my way?
- Where do I want to direct my gaze? Where do I want to block the view (neighbours)?
- How do I protect my house entrance from driving rain?
- Where do I sit protected from the wind?
- Where do I put slides and climbing elements so that the children can run in circles?
Our tip – Capture the light:
Plan for the course of the sun and the most beautiful views from the beginning. Catch the morning and evening sun through the windows and play with the penumbra of the trees at midday.
Draft step 3
Step 2 and step 3 are closely linked, the question is how to anchor your desired platform in the tree. Be sure to take a look at our following pages:
In this example we decide on a combination of a triangular construction (tree 2 yellow) and two laterally attached support beams (red lines).
Checklist VIII – Structural framework and statics:
- Is everything balanced well?
- Where could the platform wobble, tilt or turn?
- Is the structure supporting the weight of the house well?
- Will there be large lever arms if, for example, 10 people stand in one corner of the platform?
- How do I mount my platform beams on the support beams (red)?
- Can the trees swing freely in all directions?
- Can the trees grow undisturbed in thickness?
Our tip – prototype from slats:
Simulate your platform construction in the tree with a few wooden slats – this way you will quickly get a feeling for the dimensions and can see where e.g. branches get in the way.
Our tip – against wobbling:
You can set your stairs / ladder / slide firmly in concrete and thus have it as an additional stiffening element.
Draft step 4
One of the biggest challenges in timber construction is keeping water and moisture out!
Checklist IX – „Be water my friend“
- Where does the main rain come from (sketch of blue cloud)?
- Where does the water flow from the roof?
- Where does the water splash?
- Where is water absorbed by the wood?
- How far should my roof overhang (red lines)?
- Do I want a larger roof overhang on the weather side or above the entrance?
- Important: Does the edge of the roof (incl. gutter!) have enough space 2–3 m above the platform – even if the tree swings?
The exact plan – The art of treehouse building
6. The scaled plan
Once you have sketched your floor plan and know how you will attach your platform, draw a new plan to scale.
If you are oldschool, use a large sheet of paper for drawing.
Drawing to scale means, e.g. for M 1:50 ; 500 cm “in real life” are 10 cm on the paper. Choose your scale so that your drawing sheet is well filled, but you still have room for notes.
Why draw to scale?
- You get a better feeling for the distances
- You can measure rough dimensions directly from the drawing
- Errors and sticking points quickly become visible
Our tip – 3D software:
If you know your way around a PC, we recommend a 3D drawing programme such as “Google SketchUp” – you can test this software free of charge for 30 days, it is intuitive to use and there are lots of tutorials on the internet. You’ll see immediately if you make any mistakes in your planning, so you’ll save time later!
7. The right timber
All building timbers that are used outdoors, i.e. in the fresh air, in splash water areas or directly exposed to rain, should be particularly resistant:
Wood species such as larch, Douglas spruce or cedar are optimal for this; they have stored resins and oils that make them resistant to fungi and rot. A great advantage in treehouse construction is that the wood is washed around by the air at height and can dry quickly.
Woods such as oak or even tropical woods are not necessary for treehouses, as they are too heavy, time-consuming to work with and expensive. Avoid tropical woods (uncontrolled deforestation of rainforests, high CO₂ footprint, simply unnecessary!), instead support your local wood dealer!
Treehouse wooden beam dimension:
- Wooden beams are usually mounted on edge (see pictures).
- The width of the support and platform beams should be 6–8 cm (2.3-3.1 in) so that they can be screwed together well. The height depends on the span and the load and should be 12–30 cm (4.7-12 in).
- Compression struts can have a square cross-section, e.g. 8 × 8 cm (3.1 × 3.1 in).
- Load-bearing posts have a cross-section of at least 10 × 10 cm (4 × 4 in), depending on the load.
- The platform beams on which the floor boards are fixed have a centre distance of approx. 60 cm (24 in).
- The floor boards are 25–30 mm (0.9-1.2 in) thick and 10–15 cm (4-6 in) wide, depending on the centre distance of the platform beams.
Further information on this topic can be found in our FAQ Section.
8. The Art of Building a “Tiny House”
We are nearing the end of the treehouse planning – now it’s time for the exact measurements and details.
The saying “the devil is in the detail” is no coincidence: take care of the detail drawings (window connections, doors, roof connection, wall and corner details, …) right from the start. You can find these detailed sectional drawings in books and on the Internet, e.g. search for “detail drawing wall construction wood”. With these details in the plan, you will save a lot of time later and avoid annoying tinkering!
Checklist X – Detailed platform planning:
- Access / stairs / ladder (pitch & width)
- Railing height / shape / TÜV regulations!
- Where does the water run off the house wall and where does it want to go?
- How do I decouple the house from the terrace in terms of moisture (joint)?
- How do I avoid thick branches with the railing?
- Where and how exactly do I place play elements?
- How much space do I need for the patio table and chairs?
- Where do I put muddy shoes and wet clothes?
Checklist XI – Detailed planning of the house:
- Which materials feel good (indoor climate, types of wood, clay plaster, fabrics)?
- Roof pitch / covering / overhang / guttering?
- Where does the stove-pipe run (sufficient distance from branches)?
- Details: wall, roof & floor construction
- Where do the electrical cables / sockets / lighting run?
- Where do I achieve the best effect with which window (panorama, tilt, slide, turn window, opening inwards or outwards)?
- Where should ventilation take place? How do I avoid a “greenhouse climate” in summer? How do I capture the most solar energy in winter?
- How much space do I need for smooth movements: sitting down, undressing, getting dressed, making out?
- Where are the bed, desk, chairs?
- Where do I need storage space for toys, shelves for books, space for the guitar??
If you have difficulty visualising the dimensions, walk around your home with a meter stick and measure everything that seems comfortable. Move around your home carefully and deliberately try out movements – you‘ll quickly get a feel for the perfect treehouse dimensions. Remember that your children will grow up quickly and need more space for themselves and their friends.
“The art is to create the ultimate cosiness in the smallest space and to know from the beginning in which corners you will spend your time later on. Have fun!“