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Tricked Out Tree Houses

How builders design incredible hideouts above the forest floor

Pete Nelson/nelsontreehouse.com

A company called Nelson Treehouse and Supply built this structure for watching birds in a Washington forest.

As you read, think about how the tree houses described compare with tree houses that you’ve seen before.

When Anna Gardner was 5 years old, her family moved to a dairy farm in Waxhaw, North Carolina. She had only one request: a tree house!

She got her wish. But it’s no ordinary tree house. It has a kitchen and dining area, a lounge, and a balcony. The house has electricity, plumbing, heat, and air-conditioning. 

The elaborate house was built by a company called Nelson Treehouse and Supply. “People love tree houses,” says designer Daryl McDonald. “They’re a way to get closer to nature.”

Anna Gardner was 5 years old when her family moved to a dairy farm in Waxhaw, North Carolina. Anna wanted her new home to have just one thing. She wanted a tree house! 

Anna got her wish. But it’s no regular tree house. It has a kitchen and dining area. There’s also a lounge and a balcony. The house has electricity and plumbing. There’s heat and air-conditioning too. 

Nelson Treehouse and Supply built the amazing tree house. The company is based in Washington State. “People love tree houses,” says designer Daryl McDonald. “They’re a way to get closer to nature.”

Pete Nelson/nelsontreehouse.com

A crew builds a platform for a tree house in Oregon.

Treetop Blueprint

The tree houses built by Nelson Treehouse take a lot of work, and they can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. The first step is to pick a group of trees. McDonald looks for healthy trees that are strong enough to support the load, or weight, of the structure.

Each trunk should be at least 30 centimeters (12 inches) across. Trees should be 2 to 2.6 meters (6 to 12 feet) apart. Spreading the weight of the tree house across a larger area provides more support. 

Tree houses like Anna’s can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. And they aren’t easy to build. The first step is to pick a group of trees. McDonald looks for healthy, strong ones. They’ll need hold up a heavy load. That’s the weight of a structure.

Each trunk should be at least 30 centimeters (12 inches) across. Trees should also be 2 to 2.6 meters (6 to 12 feet) apart. That will help spread out the tree house’s weight over a large area. The result will be better support for the structure.

McDonald avoids building in trees with shallow roots that can easily topple. He also checks for fungus growing on trees. That’s a sign of rot, which could weaken trees.

Once he chooses a site, McDonald sketches a drawing of the tree house. He adds windows and balconies in places that will provide the best views.  

McDonald’s team also uses drones to plan the designs. These robots fly around the trees, taking hundreds of photos. Computers combine the images into a 3-D model with exact measurements of the trees. This step makes the plan more accurate. It also lets builders construct some of the structure off-site.

McDonald avoids trees with shallow roots. These trees can easily topple. He also checks for fungus growing on trees. That’s a sign of rot. It could weaken trees.

McDonald chooses a site. Then he draws a sketch of the tree house. He adds windows and balconies. They’re put in places with the best views.  

The team also uses drones to plan designs. These robots fly around the trees. The drones take hundreds of photos. Computers combine the images. That makes a 3-D model. It will have the exact measurements of the trees. This step makes the plan more exact. 

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