Treehouse Planning and Design
Practical tips from real treehouse builders!
Whether a treehouse for children or adults, a simple play tower or a treehouse for living – with a well thought-out design you will master your project and save a lot of time and money.
We guide you step-by-step, because after more than 200 realised projects we know exactly what matters in practice. If you can answer all the questions from our checklists, your treehouse will be awesome for sure – let’s go!
Treehouse tutorial: 8 steps to the perfect treehouse construction plan
Preparation and ideas
The rough draft – Planning the platform
The exact plan – The art of building tree houses
Preparation and ideas
1. The perfect place for my treehouse?
Ask yourself the following questions:
- Can the tree support my treehouse?? (see topic The right treehouse tree)
- Am I allowed to build a treehouse on this spot? (see topic Planning permission)
- What view would I like to have (large windows, main terrace)?
- Will my neighbours be disturbed (view, noise, shade)?
- Should the house appear dominant or hidden?
- Do I want to be able to see the treehouse from my house (playing children?)
- How do you get to the tree house?
Note for public treehouses and treehouse hotels that long and steep paths cause more work and costs: Path maintenance (leaves, mud, etc.), longer utility lines (electricity, water), higher staff costs, …
A tip Pete Nelson once gave us:
“If you have a favourite place in your garden, think carefully about whether you want to cover it with a treehouse. Sometimes it is better to keep that place and build in the second most beautiful spot.”
2. How, by whom and when the treehouse is used?
Basically, you should ask yourself how long you want to have fun with your tree house? Will it only be a temporary world of experience for the children or do you want to create something for eternity? The longer you want to use it, the more thoughtful the planning should be and the higher the quality should be!
How is the treehouse mainly used?
- Platform to enjoy the view, invite friends, spend summer nights.
- Focus on children and play: Swings, slide, climbing elements, mud
- Small oasis for meditation
- Heated office or creative space (summer and winter)
- Overnight place for friends and guests
- Sauna, bathroom, kitchen, water connection
- How much space do I need for the furnishings: double bed, couch, desk, …
Who will use the treehouse most of the time?
- Small playhouse for children
- Large room for adults
- Will friends and other children come to play?
- How safe is it for small children: access, height, play elements, railings?
- Should children run, climb & romp in circles? Or will that disturb the neighbours?
- How many people should be able to stay there at the same time?
- Are physically handicapped guests also expected?
When will the tree house be used?
- Do I only use the treehouse in summer or also in cold seasons?
- Should it be insulated and heatable? Fire stove or electric heating, lighting?
- How do I get to and onto 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, taking into account the surroundings, the more pleasure you will have with it later.
Tip from treehouse builder Felix von Scheffer
“The more house, the less treehouse! The thicker the walls, the further 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? In contrast to the comfortable home, the treehouse in the garden should be a romantic retreat, a mysterious oasis of peace where you can forget everyday life high up in the tree and totally switch off. Here you have the chance to break out of the standardised shapes and straight walls and design everything freely – like Hundertwasser, Gaudi and Pippi Longstocking!
Get your family involved: the more your children are allowed to participate in the planning and construction, the more they will relate to 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 having several small levels in the tree, e.g. a heated office room 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 treehouse inspiration right here on our site, or on the internet, on Google, on Pete Nelson, on Instagram, Pinterest and so on.
Have you found the perfect place for your treehouse and do you have an idea of how big your project should be? Then it’s time to measure the trees and find a solution for anchoring your platform in them.
4. Find the desired height of your platform:
- Climb a ladder into the tree – this way you will get a good feeling for the height, the view, the course of the sun, as well as possible attachment methods.
- What will the tree look like in winter when the leaves are gone? Will there be any unwanted views of the neighbour?
- How do you get into the treehouse? Ladder, stairs, rope ladder, spiral staircase, intermediate platform. Can you still get up with a drink in your hand?
- From a platform height of 3 m upwards, everything becomes more and more beautiful, but it is also much more complicated to build: Fetching material up, securing, rope technique, building access, fixing the roof.
- Where can the treehouse stand? Where do branches get in the way? Remember that branches will also swing. Individual branches > ø 10 cm can also be removed if necessary.
- Is the height safe for children, neighbours and visitors?
Branches penetrating the treehouse skin are very difficult to seal because the tree grows and moves constantly. We recommend penetrations of roof and walls only for uninsulated houses, these can dry more easily.
Mark the platform height directly on the tree (e.g. with a small wood screw and coloured flag), transfer the height to the other trees (e.g. hose level, extended spirit level, laser, levelling device).
If you are not always on site, take photos from all possible angles. Place reference points in the picture (e.g. metre rule, long spirit level and colourful height marker) – this way the pictures will still be meaningful later.
5. The first draft
Now we switch to a bird’s eye view:
Measure your terrain and trees as accurately as possible and transfer everything to your site plan – it should be approximately to scale:
Draft Step 1 – The initial situation on site
- Exact distance of the trees (bark to bark)
- Tree species (there are good tree recognition apps for this)
- Diameter ø at about the height of the platform
- Inclination / curvature of the tree trunk & direction (sketch tree 1)
- Branch courses ø > 10 cm (sketch tree 3)
- Property boundary
- Point of the compass south (course of the sun)
- Main weather side (driving rain, dominant wind direction)
- Slope (sketch contour lines)
- Best view (sketch eyes)
- Where is the house or the direction from which the treehouse can be reached (sketch red)
This is a really fun way to get the whole family involved – give your kids the floor plan and some crayons and let them draw the wildest dream castles! You’re sure to come up with some fun ideas.
Design Step 2 – Alignment of platform and house
Now think about what your platform could look like – it’s best to make several drafts at once:
- Where is my treehouse (the walls) on the platform? (sketch green)
- Where should the terrace be? (sketch grey)
- Where is the ascent (sketch orange)? Is there room for a staircase?
- How can I move around on the platform? (sketch orange lines)
- Where will branches get in the way?
- Where do I want to direct my gaze? Where do I want to block the view (neighbours)?
- How do I catch the sun?
- How do I protect my house / entrance from driving rain?
- Where do I sit protected from the wind?
- Where do I install slides, climbing elements, … so that children can run in circles?
At this stage you can also start thinking about the layout of your treehouse:
- Where do I need how much space for bed, desk, chairs?
- How do I move around the house?
- Where do which windows go?
- Where do I put wet shoes and clothes?
Design Step 3 – Find a suitable supporting structure for the platform
Step 2 and step 3 are closely linked, the question is how to anchor your desired platform in the tree. Be sure to check out the following pages:
In this example we decide on the combination of a triangular construction (tree 2 yellow) and two laterally attached support beams (red lines).
- Is everything stable and in balance?
- Can the platform wobble, tilt, turn?
- Are there large lever arms if, for example, 10 people stand in one corner of the platform?
- Is the main load well supported by the treehouse?
- How do I mount my cross beams on the support beams (red)?
- Can the trees swing freely in all directions?
- Can the trees grow in thickness?
You can set your stairs / ladder / slide firmly in concrete and thus plan it as an additional stiffening element.
Simulate your platform construction in the tree with a few wooden slats – this way you quickly get a feeling for the finished dimensions and can see where e.g. branches get in the way.
Design Step 4 – Be water my friend
One of the biggest challenges in timber construction is water and moisture!
- Think about where the main rain comes from (blue cloud sketch)?
- Where does the water run off the roof?
- Where does water splash?
- How far should my roof overhang (red lines)?
- Do I want a larger roof overhang to the weather side or above the entrance?
- Important: Does the edge of the roof (including the gutter!) have enough space 2 – 3 m above the platform – even if the tree swings?
The exact plan – The art of building a treehouse
6. The scale 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
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 construction timber
All construction timber for outdoor use, i.e. in the open 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 humid areas; they have stored resins and oils that make them resistant to fungi and rot. A big advantage with the tree house is that the wood is air-circulated at height and can dry quickly.
Woods such as oak or even tropical woods are not necessary for the tree house; they are too heavy, more difficult to work with, and expensive. Avoid tropical woods (uncontrolled deforestation of rainforests, very high CO2 footprint, simply unnecessary!), instead support your local wood dealer!
Treehouse wooden beam dimensions:
- Wooden beams are usually installed upright (see picture).
- Platform beams should be 6 – 8 cm (2.4 – 3.2 in) wide so that they can be screwed together well. The height depends on the span and load and should be 12 – 30 cm (4.7 – 11.8 in).
- Longitudinal compression loaded struts can have a square cross-section, e.g. 8 x 8 cm (3.2 x 3.2 in).
- Load-bearing posts and uprights have a minimum cross-section of 10 x 10 cm (4.0 x 4.0 in), depending on the load and length.
- The platform beams on which the floor boards are mounted have a centre distance of about 60 cm (14 in).
- The floor boards are 25 – 30 mm (9.8 – 11.8 in) thick and 10 – 15 cm (4.0 – 5.9 in) wide, depending on the centre distance of the platform beams.
8. The Art of Building a “Tiny House”
We are approaching the end of the treehouse planning – now it is time to work out the exact dimensions and details.
- Access / stairs / ladder (pitch & width).
- Railing height / shape / regulations!
- How does water run off the house wall?
- How do I decouple the house from the terrace in terms of moisture?
- How do I avoid branches?
- Where do I place play elements?
- How much space do I need for table & chairs?
- What materials do I use?
- Roof pitch / roofing / guttering?
- Wall, roof & floor construction
- Where does the stove pipe go?
- Take care of the detail drawings (windows, doors, corners, …) from the beginning.
Tip “catch the light”
Plan for the sun’s course and the most beautiful views from the beginning. Catch the morning and evening sun through the windows and play with the partial shade of the trees at midday.
- Power lines / sockets / lighting
- Exactly how much space do I need for smooth movements: sitting down, getting dressed, undressing, smooching?
- Plan for the fact that your children will grow up quickly and need more space for themselves and their friends.
If you’re struggling with measurements, walk through your house with a metre rule and measure everything you find comfortable. Move around your home attentively – this way you will quickly get a feel for the desired dimensions.
The art is to create the ultimate cosiness in the smallest of spaces, and to know from the beginning in which corners you will linger once the treehouse is built. Have fun!!!