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Building a Tree House

Tree houses, they are reminders of our childhood dreams and are adult memories. I am sure almost everybody has at one point thought about having one or building one. When building a tree house, it is very much like building any other construction project, with one main difference: Instead of a foundation, a tree house, most of the time, rests on a platform. The platform should be sturdy enough so that whatever sits atop it, in my case a comfortable cabin, including a large comfortable bedroom and bathroom. That same platform should not be attached to the tree trunk. This minimizes damage to the tree and much more important, keeps the swaying on a very windy day from breaking apart the structure. I always desired something that wouldn’t seem out of place in the historic Khao Sok national park, where I live. No cheap plywood huts or semi open air playhouse with a plastic roof that won’t last long. The structure would be modest in size, and the materials would have an outsize effect on how it looked. I asked my good friend Francisco, a more than capable builder who supervised a lot of difficult projects in the area for advice. Because of the weather during the monsoon, strong wind, storm and heavy rain, we quickly realized that is was just unconscious not to use stilts, and that those stilts had to go a least 3 meters down in the ground. It was kind of a cold shower; I couldn’t really visualize a good looking tree house on stilts…… Would it still be a real tree house? Francisco’s idea was to use a tree, and 2 stilts to help support the tree with the weight. Not to make it ugly we decided to use plants to cover those posts, another idea suggested by Francisco was to cover the posts with some kind of green nets and to put wild orchids and other local plants on it to make it look natural. A lot of trees in the jungle are covered by vegetation. We now had to decide on the kind of material we were going to use to build the Tree house. Knowing that the climate in the Khao Sok national park was harsh, about 5 months of heavy rain, with a very high humidity factor in between March and June every year, we had to find good timber that would be strong and rot-resistantant which age beautifully. The wood we were after was not available around Khao Sok, the only way was to import golden teak wood from northern Thailand or Burma, but was it really sustainable? As a green oriented person, I never liked the idea of cutting trees to build homes, especially when you know that the Thai rainforest has shirked by about 60% over the last 15 years due to illegal logging. Khun Niran, a local carpenter told us that a lot of composite materials that looks like wood where available on the market. We finally decided to go for a composite material called “Shera” wood, available all over the country. Knowing that we have a lots of termites in Khao sok and that local wood would not last more than 10 years, we decided to build the structure out 4 inches diameter galvanized pipes, this way we would also not to have to worry about rust and the maintenance. In Case you are not using stilts and that you are building high off the ground across a couple of trees, even your platform needs to allow for a little tree movement. You can either install an expensive system of tree house cables and bolts or rig your own free-floating beam. If the tree is mature and strong and your platform rests in the bottom eighth of the tree, you can use a fixed platform. But again for safety reasons, I always recommend at least to use 1 post to make the entire construction much stronger, unless you are looking to just build a small playhouse. Once my platform frame was complete, I began installing Shera wood floorboards. I knelt on loose boards, tapping each plank into place and then nailing them. I worked around the tree, leaving approximately a 3 inches gap between it and the floorboards to allow for growth. Limit damage to the tree as much as you can Choosing the right tree. Let the tree be your guide since every tree is a bit different. Follow the shape of the tree, allow for movement and growth and keep the structure light, especially when it comes to the chosen roofing material. Keep the different positions of the sun in mind when planning the balcony. It you don’t have one tree that seems good enough, then a few smaller trees close to each other will do. By Eric Limbos

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