Tree Houses

When Phil Duffin’s son found plans for a tree house in a book, he decided it could be an interesting addition to their back yard.

“I was flipping through it and I saw this design for a tree house,” explained Duffin’s son Drew. “And I was like “Dad we should build this!” Half of the family quickly got on board.

“We didn’t really need a whole lot of swings anymore or a slide,” said Phil Duffin. “I thought ‘we have a lot of big trees in the back yard, why don’t we see what we can do.’”

“I thought it was a cool idea,” said Duffin’s daughter Olivia. But the other half was concerned about safety.

“I wasn’t sure if it was going to stay stable,” said Phil’s other daughter Natalie. “So I was nervous.”

“Once he put the side pieces on it, that made me feel a lot better and after it was done he spent some time up there jumping up there to show me it was pretty secure,” said Phil’s wife, Julie Duffin. “So I figured if he could do that the kids would be fine up there.”

Though safety is an obvious factor when constructing a tree house, arborists remind us not to forget what’s best for the tree.

“You want to look at minimal amounts hardware, you want the tree house to be safe, but the more things you nail or screw into a tree the more opportunities there are for a disease or an insect to get into the tree,” said Sharon Yiesla, Plant Clinic Assistant at Morton Arboretum.

And that could threaten not only the tree but the integrity of the tree house as well.

In the Duffin’s case they used large bolts to secure the structure with minimal penetration of the tree.

And if you already have a tree house, you should be checking it two to three times per year because its stability can change with the weather.

“The tree will grow, the branches move in the wind,” explained Yiesla. “That may start to alter the structure of the tree house. Especially after the winter to make sure the wear and tear of winter did not degrade the tree house.”

Yiesla also suggests using trees with harder wood like oaks and sugar maples to house the structure since they’re less prone to storm damage.

“No matter what tree you pick you want to make sure it’s a healthy tree, make sure it doesn’t have a lot of dead wood in it,” said Yiesla. “You may even want to have an arborist come inspect it and see: is it as sound as you think it is?”

If you’re unsure if your tree is stable enough for a tree house, the Arboretum’s Plant Clinic can connect you with a certified arborist that can inspect it for you.

And you can find that information at


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