Families have long treasured their tree houses, with parents and their children working together to build one in the backyard and building memories as the kids enjoy it as they grow up. From the famous tree houses belonging to Swiss Family Robinson and The Simpsons, to the ones in the movies Stand by Me and The Sandlot, tree houses are also part of pop culture.

Today, there are many resources for families to use when learning how to build a child’s tree house. For less than $1,000 and about a couple weekends of work, moms and dads can team up with their children to build a tree house.

And for kids who don’t want to grow up, there’s a niche industry that designs and builds adult tree houses to provide a refuge from the day-to-day grind, or in some cases, serve as a luxurious full-time home. Actor Val Kilmer has a tree house of his own on a New Mexico ranch.

“They just want to take that memory and put it on steroids and make it better,” said Jake Jacob, co-owner of TreeHouse Workshop Inc. “There’s that Peter Pan in everyone. The Tarzan.”

That sense of magic and adventure is inherent in a child’s tree house experience as well, but the idea of building one can be a daunting project for the uninitiated. It doesn’t take an engineering degree, but a little experience working with tools and lumber makes the process easier. So, the most important thing to ask oneself when deciding to build a child-sized tree house is, “Am I up to the task of building one on my own?”

If “Yes” is the answer, the first step is to identify a sturdy-looking tree in your backyard to build on. Tree house expert Michael Garnier says large, dominant trees such as Douglas fir, oak or pine work well.

The tree should not be so young that it has significant growth ahead of it, because it may outgrow the design. You also don’t want one that is fully mature and close to dying, says Garnier, who makes a living building tree houses and operates a tree house resort in Oregon.

“Some trees grow up fast and they die fast. You want to pick a tree that lives a long time and gets large,” Garnier said.

One thing to remember is to find out if you need a building permit for a tree house. This can vary by municipality. Permits are important because you don’t want someone to complain and have your project delayed over paperwork.

Here comes the hardest part: Design and construction. But before starting this stage, remember that putting in bolts and nails is an invasive process and injures the tree, so try not to overdo it when it comes to hammering or screwing things into the tree.

Creative sorts, especially dads whose days jobs are in construction, architecture or engineering, probably can come up with their own designs. However, there are some how-to books available at larger bookstores and on Internet sites such as Amazon.com. that have handy-dandy design concepts for tree houses.

Make sure you have the right tools to start the job. Some essential tools are simple and obvious: Hammer, tape measure, pencil, ladder, saw. You also need a level, some kind of wrench, a block plane for shaving wood, a chisel, and a rope to lift beams into the tree. In the realm of power tools, consider a table saw and a reversible drill.

Next is deciding on what type of lumber to use. Construction-grade cedar is best for beams. Save money by using plywood for the windows and enclosures. Make sure wood is pressure treated if you are going to bury it in the ground as a post.

Before you start
Trees only need to be 20 to 25 centimetres in diameter. Also, tree houses can be built on more than one tree, and also can have posts buried into the ground for additional support, so don’t fret if you don’t have a single big tree in the yard.