The deserted summertime nest of a New Hampshire field mouse, a mound of woodchips and chewed cloth, once plugged the stovepipe of a treehouse abode. It's the happy coexistence with the natural world that happens with treehouse living. "Abundant natural resources allow us to build with onsite wood, recycled windows and roofing and minimal impact," explains Josh Trought, executive director of D-Acres Organic Farm and Educational Homestead. "Mine cost $125 in materials, and I've lived in it for eight years ... the mortgage is about 25 cents a month."
Akin to this basic model are treehouses of vastly different proportions and function. Organizations such as the nonprofit Forever Young Treehouses and Out 'n'About Outfitters build public and private structures that promote environmentalism as a way of life.
Out 'n' About operates the "Treesort" treetop hotel in the Siskiyou Mountains outside of Cave Junction, Oregon, essentially a bed and breakfast in the trees. Guests stay in suites as high as 37 feet in the air, complete with swinging bridges, balconies and bathrooms.
Forever Young, based in Burlington, Vermont, builds handicapped-accessible treehouses. "Most treehouses are ultra-private, luxury structures that shut the rest of the world out," says cofounder Bill Allen. "Ours are intended to be open to everyone. We want to provide access to people who would not normally have the opportunity to spend time in a tree."
Building a treehouse begins with location, one that strikes a balance between privacy and accessibility. "Effect and access can be improved with dramatic slopes by entering at the uphill side and framing the vista on the backside drop off," says Trought.
Straight, young trees are ideal for treehouse longevity. Tree growth is from the tip, so the platform will not change elevation as the tree matures. But height should be comfortable--the house will creak like an old ship if it is attached to multiple trees too far off the ground, Trought warns.
Other aspects to consider are size and functionality. Cold weather use may mean adding a wood-burning stove. Windows provide a view, but not much insulation. Larger treehouses may require ladders, ramps and more involved structural support.
Most treehouses are bolted into living trees, which almost always survive the intrusion. However, owners who want to avoid inflicting any harm on trees use tripod-based stands and pin foundations. The general...