In his new book, Be in a Treehouse, arboreal architect Pete Nelson of Animal Planet’s Treehouse Masters takes backyard play to beautiful new heights. See photos of nine more of the most impressive leafy retreats from the book in our gallery, above.
Plus, get Nelson’s best tips for aspiring builders:
1. Choose the perfect tree.
Before you can really start dreaming up what your treehouse will look like, you’ve got to have the right tree—it will be the foundation for your hideaway and your treehouse will have to be tailor-made for it. Choose a tree that’s healthy and at least 18 inches in diameter, Nelson writes. As for species? “Look for the known long-lived species in your part of the world,” Nelson says. Some of his favorites: Douglas firs, western red cedars, maples, and oaks. Meanwhile, palm trees, alders, and cottonwoods trees are less-than-ideal for treehouse building, Nelson says.
2. Design your treehouse for nature.
Your treehouse will be part of the outdoors—so design it to be part of nature. Trees grow—both in height and in girth—and move in the wind, Nelson notes. “Account for both of these forces in any [treehouse] design,” Nelson says.
This applies to the appearance of the house, too. “Blend into nature as much as possible,” Nelson says, and be mindful of using exterior lights that might be too bright for your neighbors. Nelson also recommends using salvaged materials—try Craigslist or your local architectural salvage company. “Treehouses have a rich history of sustainability,” he says.
3. Get permission.
You’re thrilled about your treehouse plans—but your neighbors might not be. “Be sure to run your plans by anyone who might be impacted,” Nelson says. He also advises to check your local building codes for rules about the dimensions of your treehouse—especially restrictions that have to do with steep slopes or bodies of water.
More importantly, check if your town requires a building permit for the size of treehouse you’re planning. “I do not recommend asking for forgiveness rather than permission” when it comes to building permits, Nelson says.
4. Make construction easier for yourself when you can.
Treehouse building is serious construction—but there are steps you can take to make it simpler for yourself. First, start small. “Limit the scale of the structure to suit your needs,” Nelson says.
When it’s time to start building, do as much as you can on solid ground—not in the air. “Pre-fabricate as much of the project as possible on the ground and lift sections one at a time,” Nelson advises. And when it is time to hoist parts into the air, “build in the lower quarter to third of your tree. Movement is less and the tree is strongest at lower levels,” he says.
And don’t forget about safety. Wear hardhats around the construction site and build sturdy scaffolding, Nelson says.
5. Take your time!
Building a treehouse, when done right, can’t be rushed. “Know that it might take a little longer to build than you thought it might,” Nelson says. “Like, maybe three or four times longer. Sometimes as much as ten times longer.” But don’t let that deter you from setting out to build the treehouse of your dreams. As Nelson reminds us, “Time flies when you’re having fun.”
Ready to start? Get in-depth details about treehouse construction—plus tons of inspirational photos—in Be in a Treehouse. It hits shelves this week.