If you say you have never wanted a tree house, you are probably lying. Everybody loves tree houses! There are a lucky few who have them, and then there are the even luckier few, like Pete Nelson, who actually get to build them. Nelson, a professional tree house guru and star of Animal Planet's new series, "Treehouse Masters," share his thoughts about the job and the joys of living up high.
HLN: Why do people have such a fascination with tree houses?
Pete Nelson: I think it's a sentimental thing. Most people are clients that call us, well, it's generally the baby boomer age bracket that probably either had a tree house as a kid, or maybe didn't have one. They see this renewed interest and go, 'Wow! I'd love to have a tree house!' There's also an underlying thing that people are yearning to get back into the woods and into nature.
HLN: Yes! What is this connection between a tree house and nature?
Nelson: It's such a powerful influence on it, and I've noticed it in my own hectic life. When I go out into the woods, you know, we have a tree house surrounded by beautiful trees in a quintessential northwest forest, and when I go there, it just relaxes me. When you climb, or go out on a hike, it just calms you. It just puts you back into perspective. And tree houses are the ultimate way of connecting like that.
HLN: Even thought it's sentimental, tree house building is no easy feat. What do you have to consider when building a tree house?
Nelson: Oh, well it involves a lot, but there are two main things: The tree is growing, and the tree is moving. So these are the two big considerations you need to bring into your plan. The fact is, when you look at a tree, say 10 feet off the ground, those beams are going to stay 10 feet off the ground, but the tree grows in girth. It's getting fatter, and that's an interesting phenomenon, and you have to consider how long before the tree begins to envelop the house. The second thing is, they move! They are not static. A tree in a windstorm is moving. As a tree blows, that force is incredible, so if it's just pinned up there with a few small bolts, they are going to shear right off. Growth and movement. It's not rocket science, it's really kind of fun.
HLN: It sounds fun, but there has to be some risk. How dangerous is it for you and your crew?
PN: It is dangerous. If you're not paying attention, there could be some serious consequences. We've done some pretty outrageous building, and you never want to feel overly comfortable. Even 12 feet off the ground, we've got line set around the trees that we're attached to, not unlike steel workers who work on skyscrapers.
I always said I was afraid of heights, and what I'm finding is that I'm not as afraid of heights as I am respectful of heights.
HLN: What are the most challenging and rewarding aspects of your job?
Nelson: We have been so lucky with clients. Tree houses attract great clients. The challenges, being a builder, is how to create a platform like the client wants, et cetera. Creating something that the client really wants, and working with what the trees are giving you. It's a fun challenge, really. And the reward is absolutely seeing the reactions from the clients. Invariably, it exceeds expectations. Their reaction is always fantastic. We're building something that we'd like to think will last as long as the tree, so we want to put together high quality products here and we're having fun doing it.
HLN: OK, what are some of the craziest, most memorable assignments you've completed?
Nelson: There's one coming up in the series that's a 144-foot crow's nest at the top of a fir tree. As I said, I'm deeply respectful of heights, so that was... really, just amazing. When you go up there at the end of the day, and everybody sees the views, you've gotta pinch yourself and say, 'Look at what we DO for a living'!
In Huntington Beach, we built this kind of Irish cottage. The client was this bodybuilder guy, Chris. He was such a neat, strong guy and at the end, he was blubbering. And I'm kind of a crier, too, and so I started! And there was just these two grown men crying over what we accomplished. I'm still surprised at what they bring to the table, these little structures, to end up hugging and crying after you build something as simple as a tree house.
HLN: Why do you do this?
Nelson: We’re really trying our best to get information out there in a format. It’s difficult to convey. Its really our mission to get excellent information out there. We have no intention of building every tree house. We want people to go out there and have people understand the information, and tree houses are open source, they’re public domain, and I would love for people to see that there are ways to do this responsibly.
I would be thrilled if more people were doing this because of what it brings to families and friends. Getting into the backyard and building a treehouse, it’s the ultimate bonding. They bring people together, it gets them into nature. Just do it, get out there and do it!
Catch "Treehouse Masters" Fridays at 10 p.m. on Animal Planet.