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Ever want to be a wood elf? Tree houses are a rite of passage. Ideally, a tree house is built from whatever a child and friends can find, lug up into a tree and secure into a platform, with or without walls and a roof. Thanks to adult nostalgia, professionally constructed tree houses are being used as bonus rooms, guest quarters, backyard offices and even as commercial bed and breakfast units. Brainstorm all the features you want to include in your tree house: a fireman's pole, ladder, dumbwaiter, zip line, rollback walls, tree-friendly construction techniques and Garnier limbs to increase weight-bearing capacity. Decide whether to build the tree house yourself or have a professional do the work.
Everything up in the Air
A tree house consists of a platform between two or more limbs or around the trunk of the tree, solid or frame-only walls and at least a partial roof. At a minimum, the platform should be large enough for four adults to move around freely, about 10 feet by 12 feet. Use the same construction techniques for any subfloor: a frame of 2-by-4's, with the joists spaced every 18 inches, topped by 1-inch-thick plywood. Construct a freestanding support frame around the trunk, using a combination of trusses, Garnier limbs and support poles. A hydraulic roofer's lift will be a huge help getting everything up into the boughs. Rent one at any local builder's supply.
You will need at least three 4-foot by 8-foot sheets of 1-inch thick plywood, 128 feet of 2-inch by 4-inch lumber, boxes of bolts, fender washers and lock washers and threaded connector sleeves for a 10-by-12 platform. If you build the support system from 2-inch diameter galvanised steel pipe, you will need four supports cut to the height of the bottom of the platform and eight shoe cups to hold the pipes in place. Anchor support poles by placing them at least 1 foot deep in concrete for every 10 feet of pole height.
Keep It Light
Use styrofoam and stucco to sheath exterior walls. Avoid using oak or other heavy hardwoods, except when building a platform with freestanding support. For information on treehouse building techniques, visit Treehouse.com, whose owner is the inventor of the Garnier limb.
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