Treehouse building has exploded here in America. Tree houses usually top most kids' wish lists, although few ever have their own. The popularity, however, calls the topic of safety into examination. Professional treehouse companies like Tree Top Builders are very concerned that one single lawsuit could create extra regulations for back yard kids tree houses and zip lines. Just this week, a boy in the UK died in a rope swing connected to his treehouse. Over there, where the culture is less litigious, it was concluded an unavoidable accident. In America, however, that event would likely have led to suing the rope manufacturer, the treehouse builder, and perhaps the township too, along with giving lawmakers reason to ban tree houses or increase safety regulations. So I'm writing this to hopefully avoid some common safety hazards that are often part of do-it-yourself tree houses. Without any further ado, here are 5 safe treehouse building practices to keep in mind:
1. Keep the height reasonable - If a child climbs on top of the safety railings or out the window, how high will he be off the ground? What height makes spinal or head injury unlikely? Assuming a reasonably soft landing surface, probably somewhere around 6-12 feet is reasonable. If you are more protective with your kids, then keep the treehouse on the lower end of the range.
2. Avoid Rope Ladders and Climbing Ropes - In my experience, while these are quintessential treehouse accessories, they are where most of the falls occur on a project. If you have to have a rope ladder, please anchor the bottom, make the ascent less than 10 feet (preferably 6-8), and put a thick pile of wood chips or other soft mulch surface below. The video says 9 inches, and that would be okay right under a high fall area, but more than 4 inches of mulch can overheat tree roots, so only do it in a limited area and never right against the trunk of the tree.
3. Build Railings to Code - In most places, no part of the railing should have any holes equal to or greater than 4". The top rail should be 36", and if the treehouse is very high, you may consider following residential code for balconies at 42".
4. Attach the treehouse properly to the trees - While tree houses don't usually fall down unexpectedly, these accidents can cause great injury or even death if occupied when they fall. The tree attachment method is a critical aspect the safety of the overall structure and must be done in a way that is more than strong enough as well as a way that allows the trees to remain healthy.
5. Have the structure reviewed for safety by a carpenter, arborist, or both! - If you need help, please get it! While this is kind of a plug for our safety & treehouse consulting services, if you are not in our area, you can always find a good local arborist and carpenter and have them review either your plans, your completed treehouse, or both, looking for anything that these professionals would consider not safe.
Yes, there may be a lot more to keep in mind regarding treehouse safety, but this is a start. Nothing is more important with tree houses than keeping kids of all ages safe while enjoying them! -Dan Wright