To many homeowners, a treehouse may just seem like another structure on their property, like a backyard shed or detached garage. Garages and sheds don’t typically have any bearing on an insurance policy, so why would a treehouse?
The difference is that insurance companies consider treehouses to be something known as an “attractive nuisance” — structures that can lure children into dangerous situations.
Other attractive nuisances include pools and trampolines. No doubt your kids will love a backyard treehouse, but keep in mind that this addition will most likely affect your insurance policy.
Before taking a hammer and nails to that big oak tree out back, read on to learn more about treehouses and home insurance.
Why are insurers concerned about treehouses?
When homeowners build something on their property, they often make the mistake of thinking they will be the only ones using it or affected by it. This is definitely not the case with treehouses. Here’s why:
- Danger to other children – Treehouses are places where kids like to hang out–your kids, their friends, neighbors, and possibly any other kid who wants to have some fun. If one of those children falls out of the treehouse and breaks a bone (a very common injury), their parents will be coming to you for an explanation and you may be responsible for their child’s medical bills. You may find yourself needing to file a liability claim with your home insurance to cover the cost.
- Vicinity to adjoining property – A bad storm or shoddy construction could result in parts of the treehouse damaging a neighbor’s home. You will likely be held responsible if such an event occurs. In addition, you may be in violation of regulations regarding privacy if you are able to see into a neighbor’s home via the treehouse.
- Vicinity to public utility structures – A treehouse that is built too high may run into electricity or telephone lines. This can obstruct the work of public utility employees and also put anyone in the treehouse at additional risk for injury.
How to build a safe treehouse
If you’re certain that you want a treehouse, the best thing you can do is build it as safely as possible. Here are the steps to follow:
- Contact your city’s engineering department – Construction projects (even small ones) sometimes require the approval of your jurisdiction. An inspector will help you stay within local regulations and help you avoid utility poles and powerlines.
- Keep it low to the ground – Falls from lower heights are usually less severe than those higher in the air. Try to keep the treehouse under 10 feet — this also allows you to make repairs safely from the ground.
- Choose a strong, healthy tree – The tree that you choose will need to be healthy and able to withstand the extra weight and pressure. You should consult an arborist (your state’s cooperative extension program can help you find one) who can determine if the tree is disease-free and not susceptible to common pathogens.
- Work with a professional – Unless you happen to be an experienced master carpenter, work with a professional builder who has experience constructing treehouses. This doesn’t mean that you will have no say in how the treehouse is built. A professional builder can help you design and bring your ideas to life, while also making sure that the final result is structurally sound.
How to use a treehouse safely
If you don’t want to file home insurance claims related to your treehouse, then you should reduce your risk as much as possible. The following tips can help you develop a safe environment around your treehouse:
- Limit access – Consider setting up barriers or using an alarm system to keep children away from the treehouse when they are not supervised. It’s also a good idea to talk to your kids about when it’s not appropriate to play in the treehouse (e.g., at night).
- Use ladders – Build stationary ladders to allow access in and out of the treehouse. Ropes are not reliable and may wear out fairly quickly.
- Develop a pulley system – Kids will want to carry items in and out of the treehouse, but doing so while climbing a ladder is dangerous. Having a pulley system in place will make it much easier and safer to get items in and out.
- Perform periodic inspections – A tree is a living organism that will continue to grow. These changes may affect beams and bolts in the treehouse. You will need to regularly look for changes and make repairs, if necessary.
What can I expect from my home insurance?
Before starting construction on a treehouse, contact your homeowners insurance provider. You don’t want your coverage canceled because you failed to inform them. The mere existence of a treehouse won’t make or break your ability to get coverage. The steps you take to build and maintain a sound structure are important as well. Consider talking to multiple insurance companies to learn more about their individual takes on treehouse coverage.