Treehouses: Where Dreams come true for the home owner if the builder can withstand the force of the wind through the trees
Treehouses have existed in many areas of the world for thousands of years. Now treehouse building in America is going through a renaissance period. Many famous people in America have had treehouses built for them, including George Lucas (both for Star Wars and personally), John Lennon and Florida Georgia Line to name but a few. This surge in interest is partially due to the popularity of movies such as Peter Pan and Swiss Family Robinson, and TV programs featuring deluxe treehouses designed to meet the homeowners desires for example “Treehouse Masters”: which is shown on Animal Planet featuring Pete Nelson. There are many other fabulous treehouse builders, as well as a proliferation of books, plans and photos of these whimsical and awe inspiring dwellings on the World Wide Web. Also home buying clientele is interested in smaller less expensive dwellings in order to have a more active lifestyle which is a need that can be met by living in a tree house.
So with the public’s fascination for these dwellings rising, if you’re in the residential construction industry you may have thought of going out on a limb and adding treehouse building to your services.
No matter what your reason is for building treehouses you need to consider two primary intertwining factors, to wit: the building process and insurance. Building a residential treehouse is basically the same process as building a home as a general contractor with a need for specialized subcontractors and tradesman. You can read more about general contractors insurance needs here.
(Building commercially rented treehouses is beyond the scope of this blog article).
First question is how to proceed. If you are building a standard residence you would start with a design plan, blue prints, plot or site plans and plans for electrical, plumbing and HVAC systems, etc. All of these plans would have to comply with building codes applicable to the specific location. Surprisingly, some states and local bodies do not address treehouses in their building codes or use nonspecific guidelines to determine if building permits are required. This leaves the contractor guessing about vital information. Checking with the local building and zoning authority is a key factor. Just making a phone call is not sufficient, Take your plans to the board and if they indicate no permit is required, you need it in writing.
There are resources to turn to as well. There are numerous articles regarding the do it yourself aspect of building a treehouse structure. There are many fabulous photos of existing tree house structures ranging from simple children’s forts to breathtaking structures. There are scores of books written by people who have built treehouses around the world as well as standard plans and custom designs. Networking with these treehouse professionals could be a valuable resource. One organization, the International Tree House Association, is seeking to provide guidance to tree house professionals and unite to support both enthusiasts and builders.
There is also a dearth of information regarding what insurance you need to protect your business from liability. Most carriers do not have prepackaged treehouse builders insurance. However, you can certainly build a BOP (Business Owner’s Policy) with your agent or broker. You will need general liability insurance required by law along with every type of coverage that a standard residential contractor would require. There is no general liability class code specifically for treehouse builders so you can generally assume your code classification would fall under a general residential contractor for general liability purposes. You will also need to list Class Codes for every task you will perform. Code Classifications 1521 and 1751 under construction, maybe applicable. Since there is no specific classification you absolutely need to articulate within the policy that your primary occupation is building tree houses and list every task you will be doing, even if it has a separate class code, to ensure no exclusions. For instance, if you are doing Tree Removal and construction site cleanup you will need to specifically list this as a task you are to perform. This may be already covered under the policy definitions as a general residential contractor. If not, you may purchase a rider as this is a separate class code (91629) under general liability.
You also need to consider that a residence that is under construction can be considered an attractive nuisance if there is an enticement factor (presumably a tree house would be far more enticing to a child than a standard house). So you need to know if your general liability covers attractive nuisance or excludes it, and whether you need a separate rider which covers liability for attractive nuisance during the ongoing construction.
You would need to ask narrower questions pertaining to each and every build job and review your insurance coverage with your agent or broker to determine if they can all be covered in one policy, or one BOP or if you need separate riders for each build on a job by job basis.
- Is the structure habitable? This depends on whether you are putting in utility services and what utilities you are putting in such as electricity, water, plumbing and sewer for purposes of living either permanently or temporarily in the treehouse. If the answer is yes then it is habitable and you are presumably, acting as a residential general contractor regardless of whether you perform the service or subcontract out the installation of such services. If you are building a simple kids fort without utilities it would probably not be habitable.
The following questions would determine your need for professional liability coverage in regard to each task you might be performing.
- What are the weight/ load bearing requirements to support the tree house? Are you acting as an engineer and making recommendations or have you hired an engineer to consult and sign off the certification? If you are recommending all the specs you will need professional liability for your business or your engineer will in the alternative. One engineer who does certifications for tree houses is Bill Taha, Ph.D. Precision structural Engineering Inc.
- Who is designing the tree house or making recommendations? Have you hired a tree house designer or architect? If you are designing any part of the structure you need professional liability or your designer needs to carry professional liability and supply you with a certificate of insurance.
- Who is selecting the tree or trees where the tree house will be located? If you are not an arborist you would be wise to hire one as of one of the most critical aspects of building a tree house is to select a healthy and hearty tree that can sustain the weight of the structure with minimal damage to the tree. If not you need professional liability for Arborist
- What type of device are you using to anchor and support the treehouse? Does it’s use require products liability insurance? Did the engineer or you select the attachment device? Will you need professional liability?
Other general questions are:
- Are you building on site or are you prefabricating most of the structure in your shop. This is a separate class code (98502) if it is not a building kit, and needs to be articulated in the policy and may require a rider.
- Does the site require you to utilize solar or other types of energy due the inaccessibility of electrical power? This is also a separate class code (99080) which needs to be articulated and may require a rider.
So if you want to go forth and build spectacular tree houses, it is a lofty but attainable goal with the right knowledge and insurance protection.