Gone are the days when treehouses were mere hideouts, forts or magical places enjoyed only by children. These days, tree houses are in vogue with adults, too, be they eco-minded off-gridders, indie-spirited yuppies, or retirement-inclined baby boomers. All around the world, luxury lodges, hotels, palatial retreats, schools and even churches can now be found nestled comfortably atop trees.
In the Western world where treehouses are not customary places of dwelling as they are for native tribes of Southeast Asia and the South Pacific, treehouse-living has been rising in popularity in recent years. Eco-lodges aptly called “tree-sorts” that are sprouting up in Costa Rica, India and many developing countries have been designed to cater specifically to tourists from the first world.
Indeed, most of us never really lose our sense of wonder and adventure, or that playful “inner child” in us – no matter what age. Living “high” does bring a natural “high,” so given the opportunity, many of us wouldn’t mind being Tarzans and Janes for a few hours (or a few days) and literally “live it up” in the canopies.
Whether it’s a yearning to escape the crowd and get some peace and quiet, or pursue an ideal to live more sustainably, or just simply try and get closer to nature, more and more people are finding reasons to go off-grid and high above-ground.
From simple one-deck shacks made out of recycled materials, to deluxe, multi-story affairs carefully designed by professional architects – treehouses are definitely trending.
On the high-end, just Google “luxury tree houses” and you’ll soon be swamped with pages upon pages of construction and design websites featuring the latest, most innovative and grandiose treehouses rising up in the far, exotic corners of the world.
Castle-like structures. Snake-shaped dwellings. Spherical domes. The list goes on. Arboreal abodes are evolving into shapes and sizes nobody’s ever dreamed of.
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There is in fact a current boom in the treehouse industry. Blue Forest, a renowned company specializing in sustainable designs, reported a surge in their treehouse projects these past several years.
Philip Jodidio, an art historian and architectural analyst who co-authored a book on tree homes, hotels and installations around the world, says there is a growing body of interested, paying adults. “I was surprised at how few of the treehouses we came across were really intended for children,” he told the New Statesman. “By and large these are adult ventures.”
Depending on the size and complexity of their designs, treehouses can cost anywhere from $10,000 for a simple platform with basic shelter and amenities, to something with 6 figures for a very cozy, fancy, multi-deck affair with separate rooms, plumbing and electricity. Of course, the more comforts you add, the higher the price goes up. Custom-built, eco-friendly and budget-friendly designs are rising in popularity though, and are becoming more and more feasible. You could even make one just using local, natural and salvaged materials. Solar panels and double-glazed windows can provide energy efficiently; and a water collection and recycling system can be used to add overall sustainability.
But does one really have to be an ape-man, an elf, a hippie, or a member of the Swiss Family Robinson to live in an arboreal abode? Are treehouses actually inhabitable, for the long-term, in this modern, civilized world of the West? We can find out from guys like Nick Weston, who built one and lived in it for six months; or Corbin Dunn, who stayed in his for 5 years. Neither of them is an environmental activist nor a hermit who wanted nothing to do with mainstream society. Both are young, hip, up-and-coming career men who merely opted to do things unconventionally.
Dunn was a college student when he started living in his one-room, 5-year abode, eventually sharing it with his girlfriend. He went on to marry, settle in a traditional ground house, and pursue a hi-tech job at Apple Computers. Englishman Weston, a set designer and professional cook, left 5 years of catering jobs in London to lead a self-sufficient, low-impact life in his rural hometown of Sussex.
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THE PERKS OF THE PERCH
Treehouse-living does have benefits that no traditional on-ground residences offer. Peace and privacy are tops, as you’re literally many feet above everybody else – people, animals and vehicles included. Security comes in a close second — you’re just not easily accessible to thieves and looters.
If you’re surrounded by wood and nature, view is an easy third. What could beat a 360-degree perspective of the world around you? There is in fact a tree-chapel in Crossville, Tennessee, called “The Minister’s House,” reportedly the largest treehouse in existence today. Builder Horace Burgess told the Student Reporter, “The whole message of the thing is if you come to see the site and climb to the top, you’ll see Jesus in the garden, and the preacher didn’t have to say a word.” The tree-church was indefinitely closed by the state government, however.
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A fourth advantage is that you could just build with low-cost materials using manual and low-tech methods. Simple treehouses also wouldn’t need a whole construction crew – you could have just one or two dedicated builders to work on it. If Dunn built his alone at the young age of 17, and was able to live in it for 5 years, what healthy adult can’t — especially with the help of family and friends?
If you’re concerned about the viability of tree houses, because of safety and weather, you might want to consider what British sustainable designer and author Will Anderson told GreenMuze.com about their very foundation:
Trees are remarkable, sustainable structures. They are perfectly adapted to the natural environment in which they flourish, coping admirably with heat, cold and desiccation. They are brilliantly engineered to withstand severe mechanical stress. They are powered entirely by solar energy. They produce no harmful waste and turn all their waste products into valuable nutrients. They are perfectly integrated into the wider ecosystem and support a diversity of flora and fauna.
THINGS TO CONSIDER
If you’re looking to build a treehouse in the future, here are a few things to think about before launching into such a project.
- Your foundation. Go for the strongest tree with the widest branches. One expert builder advises using a minimum of two adjacent trees, for added stability. (He usually uses four to five, whenever possible.) Key factors that should be considered are, of course, the size of the house you want to build, the number of family members who will use it, and the weight of the furniture and appliances you’re going to equip it with.
- Your location. If there are nearby houses within easy view from your tree, or next-door neighbors whose view of the sky and horizon will be obstructed, you may want to opt for another location. You wouldn’t want issues and complaints cropping up later.
- Government and home association rules. Find out if your local government and homeowners’ association will allow you to build one, and to what extent. Laws keep changing these days, and newer ones keep sprouting up, it’s hard to know exactly what we are or not allowed to build right in our own properties. Especially if your tree houses is meant be a permanent dwelling, laws may require you to get building permits, engineered plans and certified professionals (carpenters, electricians and plumbers) to build it for you.
- The climate. In warm, humid areas be sure to use treated wood to fend off termites. In cooler ones, invest on proper insulation. Give special consideration of the floor where a lot of heat loss occurs.
- Expert advice. Concerns regarding safety, rain-proofing, pest control, plumbing, power and other technical matters would best be addressed by the pros. Even a tree specialist’s inputs might come in handy. A tree is a living thing, and you will need to understand the biological aspects of the foundation you’re building on. Especially if you want the domicile to last a long, long time, a certified arborist could help you find out the age, health and strength of your chosen tree(s) and just how much stress it can handle. Using trees with shallow root systems, drilling holes indiscriminately or cutting notches into trunks might all lead to compromised safety.
- Future plans. If you’re going to build it primarily for your kids’ or grandkids’ use, design the house so it can still accommodate them in their teen years. Consider areas for possible expansion, as needs and wants change and budget permits. You never know, you might end up wanting to live there yourself once they’ve grown and left to pursue college, jobs or their separate lives. In that case, install a fixed ramp or stairway so you and other adults can easily get up there, too.
- A support group. There is in fact a thing called World Treehouse Association, a network of residents, builders and dreamers that meets at an annual conference where they get together and share experiences. They usually meet at Michael Garnier’s Out n’ About tree-sort in Oregon.
Could you live in a treehouse? Tell us in the comments section below.
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