Saturday, January 02, 2010

Insulation instulation

Here's a time-lapse video of the insulation being installed.

Video Tour

My friend Nate requested a video tour of the tree house, so here it is!

Friday, January 01, 2010

Christmas in the tree

Kristen and I spent about 7 days in the tree house over the holiday season.  It was a great trip, the tree house is really starting to feel livable.

The weather was relatively warm for late December, temperatures were typically in the 30s.  The Jotul was more than up to the task of keeping us warm for our stay.

One thing I wanted to do was to put up some aluminum flashing around the stove.  The idea was to protect that walls a bit from the heat coming off of the stove, and maybe reflect some of that heat back into the tree house.  Since I was going to cover up the studs with flashing, I figured I might as well put roll insulation up behind the flashing while I was at it.  With the fire roaring, the flashing remains cool to the touch.

Kristen had made some curtains for the kitchen shelving area.  I fabricated some hangers out of steel, and bolted everything together.  The curtains make the kitchen look a lot more organized.  I got the idea while reading up on this cool tree house.

I got the control panel and LED lights installed.  It's amazingly nice to be able to walk into the tree house, flip a switch, and have the lights turn on.  No more messing with Coleman lanterns or flashlights.

I didn't install the solar panel, that will have to wait for another trip.  It was pretty cloudy while we were there, and I knew that the installation would be tricky.  The tree house doesn't face directly south, so I'd have to make a fairly involved mount if I want to place it on the roof.  Realistically, the 40 amp hour battery has enough juice in it to last for a very long stay without needing a recharge.

I'd picked up some cheap LED Christmas lights that I stapled along the roof line.  They were wired for 120 volt AC, so I used a small inverter to power them.  With 150 led bulbs, the string drew about .8 amps when lit.

We also hung a lot of ornaments in the kitchen area to get us in the Christmas mood.

We didn't bother putting ice in the cooler to keep our food cold.  Instead we left the cooler outside on the platform, and could hoist it up whenever we needed something.  We'd typically tie the platform off at night, so in the morning we could just open the door to get to the cooler.

The tree continues to grow at an impressive rate.  The eye bolts are slowly being enveloped by the tree.  There's little concern that these things will pull out.  At this point they are in the tree for the long run.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

October Trip

We spent a long weekend at the tree house a week ago.  The goal was to finish installing the wood burning stove, as we plan on spending Christmas in the tree house.

We arrived late at night, made it up into the tree house, and noticed something was wrong.  Everything was dirtier than we expected, there were a lot of squirrel droppings around, and there was an alarming amount of splintered wood.  Unfortunately we only had a tiny flashlight, and couldn't really  figure out where the splintered wood came from, or how a squirrel could get in.  My main concern was that the trunks of the trees were crushing the tree house.

The next morning in the light of day, we could see that a large limb had landed on the roof, punching a good sized hole through the roof.  Luckily the hole was on an overhung portion of the roof, so no rain had gotten into the tree house.  The force of the impact had popped some of the siding off by a few inches, which explained how the squirrels got in.  A little bit of hammering got everything back together.

We also patched the hole in the roof, cut a new hole in the roof for the chimney, and installed the chimney box.  It took a good full day to get this all done, but it was awfully satisfying firing up the stove for the first time.  The Jotul pumps out the heat, I think we'll stay warm in December.

The large grape vine growing on the tree had come to rest in between one corner of the tree house and the nearby tree trunk.  After the initial fear that the tree house was being crushed, we decided to cut it down.  Originally we liked the look of the vine, but decided it was time for it to go.  Once the vine was down, the tree house returned to its earlier swaying state, which took some getting use to.

Southern Indiana has had a very wet fall.  The area beneath the tree house flooded several times, which completely demolished our original firewood stash.  We cut a lot more firewood, and restacked everything.  Hopefully we'll have more than enough.

The pulley system got a pretty good work out.  We used it to pull up a lot of luggage, and did a few loads of firewood as well.  We're either getting more used to using it, or the rope has lost some of its kinks, we had very few problems with the rope getting jammed in the pulleys.

Saturday, October 10, 2009


I've put together a light fixture for the loft. It'll bolt into one of the rafters, and should provide enough light for reading.

I used a piece of aluminum pipe I had laying around that was just the right diameter for the bulb and base. It was a bit of a tight fit, but I eventually figured out how to cram everything in there.

With the light switched on, it draws about 200 milliamps.  The over-sized battery I have should give me close to 200 hours of continuous light!

I'm planning another fixture for the kitchen. I'll put the switch on the wall instead of in the fixture, which should simplify things.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Solar investigation

One of my original plans for the tree house was to use it as an excuse to play around with a solar photovoltaic system. I eventually questioned the usefulness of this, since the tree house doesn't get a lot of direct sun, especially in the summer.

I decided to at least give it a try. I started doing a little research, and over the last several months I've accumulated some of the necessary components.

Initially I'd like to use the system to power some lighting. Looking around on the web a bit, I found some cheap-ish 12 volt LED lights on Amazon.

I had some old lead acid batteries around from another project that where never used. Unfortunately they had sat too long, and I couldn't get them to hold a charge. I picked up a sealed led acid battery locally from Portable Power Systems. It is bigger than what I need for lighting, but will give me some room to grow the system.

For the charge controller, I went with a Genasun 4 amp unit. It is small, inexpensive (relatively speaking), and supports MPPT charging.

I haven't ordered any solar panels yet, the prices seem to be changing rapidly. Since I have a few months before the trip, I'll wait and see if they continue to drop in price.

I built a wooden enclosure to house most of wiring for the system. I intentionally went a little overboard on this, making it more complicated than necessary. I just naturally like switches, meters, and complexity in general. I had fun doing all the wiring, for whatever reason I really enjoy that task.

The control panel supports disconnecting the solar panel(s), battery, and charge controller individually. It also allows you to check the incoming voltage from the solar panels, the battery voltage, and how many amps of load the system is supporting. Fun stuff!

I'm working on some lighting fixtures for the LED bulbs. Other than the solar panels, I still need pick up some wire, and a few connectors.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Spring Trip - 2009

Kristen and I headed back to the farm for a long weekend toward the end of April. The rumor was that the family planned to have Christmas at the farm this winter. After nearly freezing to death last fall, I was determined to get a stove into the tree. Even with the uninsulated walls I hoped a good wood burning stove would keep the place inhabitable during the cold months.

I eventually decided on a small Jotul stove that is rated for heating 800 square feet of living area. The tree house only has a 128 square foot foot-print, so I hoped the extra heating power would make up for the uninsulated walls.

One thing I'd always wanted to add to the tree house was a swinging boom arm with a block and tackle. This would make getting large loads in and out of the tree safer and more convenient. Earlier in the year I ordered some pulleys and machined a couple of block and tackle housings. At first this seemed to be the cheaper route, but in the long run I'm not sure I saved any money.

At the farm my father and I fabricated a boom arm out of pressure treated 4X4. To allow the arm to rotate we used gate hinges we picked up at a local farm supply store. Building the boom arm took a lot longer than I expected, mostly due to my inexperience with working with wood. Luckily Dad lent his expertise to the project.

To attach the gate pegs to the wall we had to make a few additional 4X4 support blocks, and inlay them into the interior wall.

We set the pegs up so that the boom arm would swing to the midway point of the doorway. In theory this would allow us to swing loads directly into the door.

We hooked up the block and tackle, and I did a quick stress test by putting on a climbing harness and pulling myself a foot off the ground. Nothing broke or made alarming noises, so we were ready for the main event.

Although the stove is small, it weighs a lot more than you'd expect. Even with the block and tackle it was difficult to pull up its 200 pounds of cast iron. Everything worked as planned, with the stove easily swinging into the doorway once we reached the right altitude.

Unfortunately I ran out of time to get the stove pipe and chimney installed. That'll have to wait for a trip later this year. Even though I had to give up some floor space for the stove, I'm sure I'll be thankful for it come December.

Wind Storms

Southern Indiana seemed to have its share of wind and ice storms within the last year. The remnants of Hurricane Ike hit the farm, as did a big ice storm in February.

The tree damage overall was extensive. A forester estimated that 50 percent of our pine was blown down, and the hardwoods suffered as well.

Every time I'd hear reports of how bad the damage to the farm was, I'd find myself holding my breath until I heard the tree house was OK. The sycamore stood strong, protected from the worst of the elements due to its location. A few more bullets dodged.

Freezing my butt off

I'm a little behind in the updates. I made it back to the tree house in November of 2008 for a short visit.

I didn't accomplish much in terms of progress, but I did manage to spend every night in the tree house. The temperature dipped into the low teens which made for some chilly evenings.

No mice had made it in, which was a relief. There were a few dead bugs here and there, but for the most part everything was exactly as I had left it in the summer. While cleaning up, water from the washcloth I was using would freeze on the counter. It made the idea of insulating the place and installing a heat source more attractive.

Even though the Sycamore tree that the structure is in is old, it's still growing at a fairly impressive rate. It's starting to grow around the washers on the anchor points a bit. It will be interesting to watch the tree get closer to the eye of the bolt.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

A month in the trees

An unexpected turn of events at work gave me an opportunity to spend some time in the treehouse this summer. I headed to the tree in mid June, and left in mid July. This gave me plenty of time to make the place a little more livable.

The structure was still up in the tree, and there was very little sign of mice. We'd spent a good amount of time on the last trip closing up any obvious holes, and it seemed to help. There was a bit of mouse sign here and there, but it was hard to tell if it was new, or if it was something we missed the last time around.

One of the first things I did was build a ladder into the wall going up to the loft. While this seemed like a great idea, it is amazingly awkward to climb a vertical ladder like this, and getting in and out of the loft wasn't much fun. I ended up using a normal ladder to access the loft for most of the stay.

I spent at least a day shoving steel wool into any crack that would light in. Apparently it's a good deterrent for mice, as they won't chew through it. I did most of the chinking around the rafter blocks. It seemed easy until I got to the blocks on the high end of the roof, at which point I had to lean through the windows to chink from the outside.

Next on the agenda was getting all the windows screened in. For the lower windows I used the expandable screen inserts you can pick up at Home Depot. For the upper windows I built aluminum framed screens from a kit that I also found at the Depot. It took several nights to get everything secured well enough to keep the majority of the bugs out. It was a bit trickier than I expected, but being bug free was really nice. I'd forgotten just how buggy southern Indiana can be in the summer.

I spent a large amount of time painting the windows. The upper windows weren't too difficult, as I just needed to prime and paint the trim. The lower windows were a real chore, requiring scraping, sanding, washing, priming, and painting. I also caulked to lower window casements to prevent water, smart bugs or mice from coming in. I suspect I made 7 or more passes for each of the lower windows to get them completely finished. Buying brand new windows didn't seem like such a bad idea, in hindsight.

One night as I was enjoying my new bug-free environment, a large thunderstorm blew through. I was in the loft watching the trees and treehouse move erratically in the wind, when an amazing bolt of lightening hit a tree about 200 feet away. It was quite an experience, one I hope not to relive any time soon. After sleep finally found me, a large crashing noise woke me up a bit later. In the morning I discovered that the strike had blown the tree apart midway up its trunk, and it had eventually buckled at that location. The upper portion had come crashing down toward the treehouse making an amazing noise as it whipped through the leaves of surrounding trees. It certainly was an exciting night.

Next I put the finishing touches on the skylight. I had to modify the original Home Depot skylight a bit to allow it to open. It originally was sealed to the frame, and on the previous trip we had separated the frame from the window material. We'd installed frame in the roof and made a rough wooden cap to cover the opening. I managed to use some aluminum flashing and a lot of caulk to modify the upper portion of the skylight in such a way that it fit like a cap over the opening, and was easy to lift up and remove. This gave me some light in the loft, and easy access to the roof.

It was amazing how much light such a small skylight afforded, and it was a lot of fun to lay in the loft and peer upwards into the canopy of the tree. I was amazed to see squirrels playing around at the very highest points of the tree.

Next I turned my attention to making a kitchen area. I had brought a small stainless steel sink and an RV range top with me from Colorado. My friend Ted had picked up the sink second hand for a project that never panned out, and I found the range top at a surplus RV center. The RV center seemed like a great place to find treehouse related items, I'll probably spend more time there in the future.

For building material I used plywood from the Depot, and a lot of rough sawn lumber that was laying around the farm. I made the counter top out of plywood and "wall board". If I would have wandered around Home Depot a bit more I probably would have found and used a more appropriate material.

I rounded out the kitchen with what seemed like a thousand shelves. Even after they were all installed, there still wasn't quite enough room to store everything. I left a blank spot on one wall, and hope to find a good sized cabinet to bolt to the wall.

I haven't insulated and covered the interior walls yet. I want to make sure I solve the mouse problem first. I've heard horror stories about mice getting into wall insulation, and I'd rather avoid that if possible.

The kitchen was quite functional. The sink drained to a bucket, I'll eventually plumb it to the outside somehow. A water collection system for the roof is a top priority, it was a lot of effort to keep enough water in the place to wash dishes.

For refrigeration I used a normal cooler. Eventually I'd like to get a small RV propane fridge up there, hauling ice up to the treehouse on a daily basis was also a lot of work.

For a table I used the platform Nate and I had built as the table top. It's hinged to the wall, and swings out of the way when necessary. There's a central leg that gets clamped to the platform. The table should seat four, although I only have two appropriate chairs at the moment. The view from the table is quite nice.

In the southwest end of the treehouse I set up two camping chairs, and used a storage container for a coffee table. This seemed to work out well, although I eventually want to make a wood tabletop to fit over the plastic container. That should give it a better coffee table feel.

One big issue that came up was various rodents chewing on the T-111 siding material. I was awakened many nights by very loud chewing noises. After about a week of trying to discover the source, I eventually spotted a squirrel chewing on the side of the tree house, and a day later I found a mouse chewing near the roof.

A bit of web research seemed to point out that the glue that is used to make the siding has enough salt content that various animals enjoy chewing on it. It seems like the manufacturers would try to combat this someway. Your siding product shouldn't be tasty to animals.

Regardless, one solution is to use hot pepper spray to help deter the hungry rodents. I found some at Home Depot, and after a week of using it I had no more nocturnal chewing. Apparently you need to re-apply it often, so I'm not sure how long that will help. Right before I left I applied a fresh coat, let it dry, then put a clear wood sealer over the top. I'm hoping this will lock in the hot pepper a bit, and also protect the siding from any further weathering. I may need to paint the entire structure, something I'm not looking forward to after the window experience.

Eventually real life called me away from the tree, so I closed everything up and headed back to Colorado. I may be able to slip back to check on things in the fall, or I may have to wait until the spring. Either way I'm already eager to get back, I really enjoyed my time in the tree.