The Time of the Treehouse: Pete Nelson’s Sustainable Way of Living

Host of Animal Planet’s Treehouse Masters, Pete Nelson, takes living a sustainable life to a whole other level with his innovative treehouses.

Having a treehouse in a backyard is every kid’s dream––it’s the perfect hideaway. There’s no better way to be one with nature than by wrapping yourself in Mother Earth’s treasures. Animal Planet’s Treehouse Masters’ television host and author Pete Nelson has had a passion for building treehouses since he was 8 years old and while many kids grow out of their childhood aspirations, Nelson never gave up on his––eventually becoming the master of treehouses.

Living in a treehouse might sound crazy to some, but it’s a dream for Nelson. His and his crew’s over-the-top treehouses are scattered throughout the U.S., with one also in Norway. His evergreen homes are available for guests to visit and although Animal Planet is longer airing new episodes of Treehouse Masters, you can bet he’s still designing treehouses for those interested in having a show-stopping abode in their backyard.
Nelson’s grandmother knew before Nelson did that he was going to be an architect. Nelson would frequently spend time in his grandfather’s woodshop and build whatever he could. Whether it was installing new floors or carpet or building single-family homes, Nelson loved to get his hands dirty.
“I was a frustrated builder,” said Nelson. “The vision I had was clear, but the execution was not. As I grew older, I began to flirt with the idea of trees and design, but I didn’t build them right away.”
Once Nelson realized that he was going to be the “treehouse guy,” he put his first advertisement in a local Seattle newspaper and crossed his fingers. As soon as got his first call, Nelson had an epiphany and decided to create a niche that didn’t yet exist––extravagant treehouses.
First things first when building a treehouse? Nelson emphasized that it’s important to examine a tree’s health. According to Nelson, you never want to build on a stump that’s not going to thrive when a treehouse is connected to it. He and his team consider many factors prior to constructing, from type of species, trunk diameter and distance between trees to view from, and measurements of the treehouse.
“The health of your tree is crucial to the safety and longevity of your treehouse,” said Nelson. “Trees don’t live forever but they live for a really long time and if you maintain your treehouse and tree, it’s a beautiful way to be ultra sustainable.”
When Nelson built single-family homes, he hated seeing the damage it created to the land––especially the trees.
“The worst part about building single-family homes was getting the tractor out and ripping up the ground, bending every living thing and pouring concrete,” said Nelson. “When building a treehouse, all you need is a drill, a pile of wood, pencil, paper and boom––you’re ready to go.”
While Nelson and many of the clients he’s built for don’t live in a treehouse full-time, the arboreal architect is hopeful that the day will come where living in a treehouse is the norm. According to Nelson, in order to continue popularizing treehouses as actual homes, the relevant authorities need to hop on board and see the potential and positive effects this new way of living has on the Earth.
“The truth is, it all begins with the authorities,” said Nelson. “Most bureaucrats don’t want change and when you present these out-of-the-box ideas to the higher-ups and propose investments, they’re not necessarily for it right away. It’s going to take some time to persuade the powers that be, but it’s part of my responsibility to help facilitate that movement.”
So if people aren’t living in these wooden wonders, then what are they being used for? According to Nelson:simply get away from everyday life.
“People write the checks to have their own treehouse built because they’re looking for an escape,” said Nelson. “In a treehouse there’s no real technology. These spaces are intimate and spending time in them allows you to be present with those around you. We don’t get that one-on-one time anymore in today’s world––so it’s really special.”
Nelson’s treehouses aren’t your average walk-in-the-park spaces––he includes features such as kitchens, bathrooms and bedrooms in his treehouses, depending on what the client wants. Who wouldn’t want ane abode ensconsed by beautiful pines, singing birds and the best forest view? This writer is ready to move into a treehouse herself!
When it comes to style, Nelson says that he’s a traditionalist.
“I love symmetry, clean lines and sharp corners,” said Nelson. “Everyone these days wants a modern house, but I’m a sucker for gable roofs, walls with 90-degree angles and lots of windows.”
Treehouses are trending these days and who knows? If the recent worldwide push toward more sustainable building is any indicator, we might be one day wandering in neighborhoods filled with treehouses galore in beautiful evergreens.
“I can’t wait for the day to come when people say, ‘Screw it––I’m living in a treehouse,’” said Nelson.
Now that’s branching out.