The lighter side of real estate

Adult Tree Houses: Hey, Kids, Make Like a Tree and Leaf!

Too old for a tree house? Meet the people who turn childhood fancy into adult reality. Come inside to learn what goes into making adult tree houses.

David Cross

Content Editor

235 articles, 24 comments

Courtesy of Shara Di Valerio.

At some point, everyone has wanted a tree house. Imagine a closed-off space where you’re free to do whatever you want. This might not sound so difficult to come by as an adult, but as a child it’s nearly impossible.

This fascination continues to dwell in the in the minds of employees at Movoto Real Estate. Whether big or small, these lofted abodes hold a special place in our imaginations. As it turns out, we aren’t the only ones.

Recently, we spoke with Daryl McDonald of Nelson Treehouse and Supply, one of the leading professional tree house builders in the country.

McDonald, who is the lead builder for the company’s numerous plans, walked us through the finer points of building a tree house.

Nelson Treehouse and Supply, which is based in the Seattle area, has designed and constructed both traditional and fanciful tree houses throughout the country and world. In fact, the designers appear in “Treehouse Men,” a reality TV show that is expected to air on Animal Planet.

McDonald said he answers numerous questions each year about tree houses. Some of the most common are:

  • Are they harmful to trees?
  • Are they legal?
  • Where should you build a tree house?

Tree Huggers with Hammers

McDonald said the most common question he gets is whether his company’s structures hurt the trees. They don’t. In fact, McDonald and co. go through great lengths not to endanger the trees.

“The basis for everything we do is to try to get good tree house knowledge out there and tell people you can build a good, friendly tree house,” he said. “We are tree people; we don’t do anything that’s detrimental to the tree.”

McDonald said the most common misconception is that placing bolts in trees is dangerous.

“The attachment system that we use does not hurt the tree,” he said, emphasizing that they work to minimize the number of times they penetrate the tree. He said it’s better to drill into a tree than to strap something around it, as some people propose.

Make It Legal

Each area has its own rules and regulations that govern tree house construction. However, McDonald said that tree houses will typically exist in a “gray area.” In many cases, tree houses will be under 200 square feet, meaning they are classified as “temporary structures.”

What gets sticky is when tree house enthusiasts want to hang out in luxury.

“The plumbing is really a kind of a make-or-break spot,” he said. “Zoning and building officials view that through a different lens than if it was a shack in your backyard.”

And, yes, there are many folks who want access to plumbing when they are 10 or 15 feet in the air. To keep the rustic appeal, McDonald said his team often builds fake trees to cover piping.

Find a Tree, Buy a Tree

The most obvious necessity for building a tree house is having a tree. The larger the house, the more trees you will need. McDonald said that a large tree house would need trees that are 16 feet from each other. In addition, the trees themselves should be 16 to 18 inches round.

Of course, there are ways around not owning more than one tree.

“There’s a lot of leeway,” he said. “We are not opposed to posting. The other real option is to make a fake tree. It looks like a fake tree that is stopping at the right height under your tree house.”

Who Buys These Things?

Courtesy of Shara Di Valerio.

Shara Di Valerio, who lives in the Seattle area, is one such person. Movoto spoke with Di Valerio about her family’s decision to construct a 300-square-foot tree house 20 feet from her back door.

With a laugh, Di Valerio said her tree house started as a deck for a hot tub. Little by little the deck turned into to a multi-room structure that now includes a living area, a changing room, and a loft.

“It started [out] that we wanted a deck for a hot tub,” she said. “I determined that I would freeze between getting out of my tub to getting to the house. It just kind of grew from there.”

“We just kept adding to it and I’m so happy we did; it’s like our own private Disneyland,” she said.

It took nine months to construct the tree house. Since then the structure has acted as a meeting place for friends and family, and for a year her husband used it as an office. Most recently, Di Valerio’s 16-year-old son has laid claim to the lofted abode.

“He’s informed us that for the next two years it’s his,” she said, laughing.


Who is Movoto Real Estate, you might ask? Movoto is a national online real estate brokerage. Our blog has been recognized for its unique approach to city-based research by major news organizations around the world such as Forbes, CBS News, and The New York Times.

posted on: November 7, 2012
347 views, 2 comments

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  1. Vida

    I love these tree houses, I love people who love treehouses and I loved your informative take on them. I had no idea there were so many zoning and building laws, changes my perspective a bit. Thank you. This is my take on tree houses>

  2. Ben Koshkin

    Awesome post. The house is very excellent. This is great info for kids. Thanks

    Ben Koshkin
    Land development


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