Operation Tree House Rescue

When Gale built this tree house for her kids 13 years ago, she never expected the tree to grow this fast or this big. It was just a sapling back then, poking up through the deck. Go ahead and make what arboreal metaphors that you will between trees and kids, but the truth of the matter is, just as kids slowly take their toll on the resell value of your home, young trees have a tendency to destroy tree houses.

Large, healthy trees are really the best candidates for tree houses. Not only can they bear the weight, but their annual growth rings are very small compared to a young tree. And the slower they grow, the longer you'll have before you they begin to squeeze and pull and bend at your supports.

By the time Gale called me, this ornery pine clearly had it's mind set on destroying her tree house. See that board underneath the tree, the one that is bowed? That's a 2x8, deflected a whopping four inches in a vertical orientation. And here's what's really troubling about that: that board is the rim joist, which is supporting all the rest of the joists, which in turn is supporting the tree house.

If it goes, the whole structure comes tumbling down.



So, after taking out a life insurance policy, crossing myself several times, and filling my nail bags with four-leaf clovers, rabbit's feet, and other lucky talismans, I set to work building a temporary wall beneath the joists to support the structure.

Because at some point I was going to have to cut out that rim joist...with a sawzall. And doing that is the stuff of YouTube disaster videos.

But I'm not a redneck DIYer with a sledgehammer. I'm a professional, dammit! So with a loud CRACK! I cut the rim and, lo and behold, a thousand pounds of tree house did not come tumbling down on my head.

After our hearts regained their normal rhythm, we decided the best plan would be to free the tree totally from the deck. So once the rim was off I began jacking up each joist individually to try and level out the deck, which as you can guess, now sagged about four inches over the 12 foot span.

I ran into trouble though because the upper part of tree was resting, in part, on the tree house's roof, effectively pinning it down. Without removing it, I couldn't jack up the structure to level. After consulting with Gale's wife, Katie, there was no way that we were going to cut that part of the tree off too. I'd already removed a large limb that had grown right at head level on the stairs, and any more was going to cause some serious marital drama. 

Trees are emotional touchstones, as any homeowner will tell you. We get used to them in our backyards, and even though they may become ornery, or old, or diseased, we have a hard time letting go.

Now, I'm a carpenter, so I pride myself on building straight, level and plumb (well, okay, a lot of what I build at Magical Playhouses is NOT straight, level or plumb, but you get the idea). But I'm a husband too, and after Katie left the backyard nearly in tears at our suggestion of beheading her beloved pine tree, Gale turned to me and said, "You know, maybe the deck doesn't need to be level..."

"Agreed," I said.

I like making people happy with my work, and if making something straight and level is going to cause marital distress, I'm not for it. And besides, their youngest is now 13 herself, so this tree house only needs to make it another four years. So I built a very un-level deck, the tree house was saved, and when Katie saw the end result she was thrilled.

I was too: they were happy and I was still alive.