This summer it’s going to happen. I’ve got plans to build a real playhouse in the backyard. Although my kids seem happy enough with the houses they make from cardboard boxes, I want something that will last through the summer, and hopefully next summer too. Plus, I know the kids would go nuts to get a real playhouse this year.
I’ve checked out the ready-made playhouses that the big toy companies sell, and boy do I really hate them. Aside from being pricey, they just look trashy. Last thing I want is a big piece of plastic sitting in the middle of the yard. Looking at some of the larger wood swing set kits, this is more along the lines of what I had in mind, but these are just too expensive to buy.
That leaves me to build a something myself. So now I’m looking at playhouse plans on the Web. I can’t say I’m very happy with what I’ve found. Of course I’ve checked out all the free playhouse plans first, hoping to at least get an idea of what’s involved with this kind of project. It’s looking a little scary so far. Most plans seem to be written by carpenters, who toss around construction terminology as if I were right there beside them on a job site. So I’m off to do a little research in how playhouses are built so I can figure it out for myself. Keep in mind that I’m not looking to build one of those giant-sized playhouses – the ones that are so big you could rent them out as an apartment.
Making a Playhouse Safe
Let’s talk safety first. Of course I don’t want something that will fall over with the first gust of wind. Not that I let my kids play outside during a storm, but whatever I build has to be pretty darn solid for me to feel comfortable letting them play there without me. From the plans I’ve seen so far, looks like the weight of the materials alone will be heavy enough to keep the playhouse standing upright, without me having to mount it to anything. That’s good news.
Getting Started – Make a Level Spot in the Yard
Most playhouse plans start with choosing a good spot in the yard. That makes sense. This step seems to help set the stage for everything else that follows, so it pays off to be careful and get this part of the project right first time out. Of course, to avoid building a crooked playhouse, I’ll need to find a fairly level spot in the yard. This could be trickier than it seems. Even if I think a spot looks level, chances are it’s not. I probably spend a good amount of time and energy just clearing and leveling a spot for the playhouse to sit.
Building the Playhouse Floor
After clearing and leveling a spot in the yard, most playhouse plans have me dive into building the floor. 2×6 treated lumber arranged in a grid-like pattern (joists) seems to be the favored choice of materials for this part of the construction, the same way it’s used in building floors for real houses. I can build the floor right on top of the spot I cleared in the yard, but I’ll probably put down a tarp first to keep the boards dry while I work on them. Building a floor that’s square at each corner will take some careful measuring and maybe a carpenter’s square to make sure everything is lined up. After that, it’s a matter of simply attaching the 2x6s together with galvanized nails. I’ll want a smooth surface on the playhouse floor for my kids to walk on, so that means laying down some plywood on the 2×6 floor joists. A couple 4×8 sheets of outdoor plywood should do the trick.
Building the Playhouse Walls
Building walls for a playhouse is pretty much the same method carpenters use to build a house. Using simple 2×4 studs, I’ll lay the boards out on the ground and create each wall as a separate unit. Then with some help from a friend I’ll raise the completed walls vertically and nail the corners together… just like people used to do when building barns.
Building the Playhouse Roof
While the playhouse floor and wall construction seems fairly straight forward, I think that the roof framing is going to be a little more complicated. Depending in which climate you live, a playhouse roof will get hit with rain, snow, and the sun, not to mention a few kids climbing on top of it, even though they were told not to. So I’m going to try my hand at a little construction carpentry and make a gabled roof. That’s what most of the playhouse plans call for anyway, so I’ll take on the challenge.
The good news about making a gabled roof is that you can buy some pretty inexpensive hardware that will essentially line up the roof rafters where you need them to go. Galvanized joist hangers will solve a lot of my problems here when it comes to hanging the rafters. There are plenty of instructions around for learning how to build a roof – for any kind of house, not just playhouses. So with the pre-made joist hangers and a few instructions, I think I’ll be able to figure out this part of the project without too much trouble.
Decking and Sheathing
Next comes the most rewarding part of the project: adding plywood panels to the roof (decking) and the walls (sheathing). For roof decking, most playhouse plans call for 1/2″ plywood panels that I’ll simply nail down on to the rafters. Getting at the panels to nail them down might be a little tricky, though. Some people suggest you go at them from inside the playhouse – with a step ladder poking up between the rafters. Then, after each panel goes down, I’ll come down, move my ladder and go back up for the next section.
For the walls, a lot of playhouse plans call for 4′ x 8′ sheets of T-111 tongue-and-groove plywood, which should do a nice job of making the walls solid and weatherproof. I might also look into buying outdoor paneling with a decorative side – something to make the walls look more finished.
Finishing the Roof
I guess I haven’t decided yet exactly what I’ll put down on the roof decking. Most playhouse plans call for the same thing that’s on the roof of my house: roofing felt and asphalt shingles. That seems like a lot of work to me right now, so I might shop around a little for some easier alternatives. Maybe a tin roof or some type of vinyl. I’ll have to wait see about that.
Final Playhouse Touches
Well there’s really no limit to what I can add for final touches – everything from window shutters to picket fences to really dress up the project. Most playhouse plans I’ve seen have plenty of extras to make a simple playhouse pretty extraordinary. I have a feeling once I get the basic construction finished, the extra touches might have to wait till next year.