Getting the steel fabricated and installed has been a challenge.
The structural engineer that did the drawings did a half-ass job and he didn’t include critical measurements on the spacing of the footers, so the contractor had to do them. That took a lot more time and effort than was necessary to get the caissons laid out and set. While it wasn’t perfect, it was close enough to work. Great job Cary from Backcountry Builders!
Then we had an issue with the crane company. The crane broke down and delayed the start. With the delay, the welders that were going to fabricate the steel on site decided the winter weather was going to be too much, so they passed on the job.
Then Cary had to find a new crane and someone who would fabricate the supports offsite and transport them to the job site…which he did! We’re in the process of sorting out how to get nearly 40′ big pre-fabricated support beams (see image above) up road with several switchbacks. Who ever said this was going to be easy!
More updates as soon as we get the steel figured out. Once the steel is up, it should be relatively easy going then – just like building a regular house. Except this one is 40′ in the air!
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Sadly, one of our treehouse inspirations burned down recently.
It took about 15 minutes for the world’s largest treehouse—a 97-foot-tall wooden structure in Crossville, Tennessee, to be reduced to a pile of ash. The building was built in the early ’90s by Harold Burgess, who said in an interview that he had been called by God to raise the framework: “If you build a tree house, you’ll never run out of material.” And so he did.
Here’s an article about his work in Architectural Digest: https://www.architecturaldigest.com/story/worlds-largest-treehouse-burned-ground-less-15-minutes
We do think about fires – one has to these days. ZenTreehouse has been designed with as much fireproofing as possible – steel foundation, clearing enough space around the house per the fire department regulations, and building with as much fireproof material as possible. And just in case, we’ve thought about fire escape through the back of the house.
The back deck is roughly 40′ above the ground. So, if fire blocks the front door, where do you go? We’re going to build a trap door in the deck that you can only open from the top and that takes you down to our “maintenance platform,” which is a wire mesh floor that’s about 10′ below the house. This platform is so we can access the bottom of the house for repairs of the systems that run under the house (primarily the hot water radiant floor heating system). That platform will also provide an easy way to get out of the house from the back and to safety.
The 25 caissons are finally drilled, set with rebar and ready for concrete (coming tomorrow- more pics after they pour). This is what it takes to hold a 2 bedroom, 2 bath, 1600 square foot luxury treehouse 40 feet in the air.
The picture below shows how the contractors had to dig down to bedrock, drill into the rock (you can see the rock dust around the rebar), and set the rebar into the rock for this engineered foundation. VERY complicated.
The surveyors had to come out once to mark the foundation, again after the tubes were set to confirm the foundations, and then will come back one more time after the concrete is poured to determine the exact height of each of the steel beams that will hold up the treehouse. One reason why this is a very expensive way to build a tree house!
More updates next week on the concrete pour. The steel should be going up by early November, so we’ll see some real progress then. Exciting times!
If you like the blog and project, please share with your friends. Would love to get the word out more about this amazing build in the beautiful Rocky Mountains of Colorado. Cheers friends!
See the little tubes at the lower left of the picture above? Those are the where they will be putting the rebar and concrete that be the foundational support for the metal beams that will hold up the house.
The biggest effort with this was the surveying – to make sure all these were put in EXACTLY the right location so the support beams are in the right location to support the structure properly.
Here’s a few more pics of the work they’ve done and a little accident with the excavator. It’s a very steep site, so it rolled over. Thankfully, no one was hurt!
The foundation should be ready for the steel in the next week or so. I’m not sure that will be so interesting, so won’t be doing another blog post until the steel starts going up in the next few weeks. Stay tuned!
All luxury treehouses need utilities. Water, electric, sewer and gas….and eventually high-speed internet. This post is about some great progress that happened today on the first three items in the foregoing list.
In the last post, I mentioned that the well finally hit water at 1,406 feet. Just to put that into perspective, that’s nearly as high as the Empire State Building that is 1,454 feet from its base to the tip of the tower on top. Needless to say, that is a VERY deep water well. But, since we are near the top of a mountain, it’s not that unexpected. We are very high in elevation (about 8,300 feet above sea level) and hundreds of feet above the floor of the valley we overlook. Also, the static level of the water in the well shaft is 700 feet. This means that even though we hit the aquifer at 1,406 feet, the water in the shaft leveled out at 700 feet. This means we have to put our pump at 700 feet instead of 1,406 feet and that we have 8 gallons of water flowing per minute – a VERY good rate of flow. So, other than the fact the well probably cost (I haven’t received the bill yet) about $30,000, we do have a well that seems to have plenty of water and more than we need for our project!
In addition to the water well, we are installing electric (currently on the grid, but planning on adding solar), and completing the tie-in to the septic system. The leach field has already been installed and we need to complete the system with the septic tank, which will be placed at the end of the driveway. The gas company, at a later date, will install their gas line and meter – this is something the gas utility only does themselves. But, we will have natural gas instead of propane, which is wonderful!
They expect to finish work on the utilities and backfilling the driveway by January 1st, so I’ll have a new post up just after then.
Happy New Year everyone and here’s to a great 2019. We look forward to opening the Zen Treehouse for reservations during the summer of 2019 for bookings starting in the fall.
So, we knew when we bought the land that we would have to drill a well. We also knew that drilling a well was not something that was 100% guaranteed to be successful. When we talked to the drilling company, they talked about “witching” a well and that it was the best way to find the best spot to drill. We did have a limited area that the drilling rig could access, so we had them “witch” around the areas that the rig could access and they picked the spot.
Then the day came to drill this past week. They started on a Tuesday. Two days in, I get an email from my contractor. “They are about 1,100 feet down (after telling us that they thought for sure they would hit water around 850 feet) and they have maybe 1/2 gallon an hour (FYI…that’s not enough). Maybe we’ll go to 1,300 and hope for the best.” OMG I thought. We may not have water!
The next day, I worried…most of the day…and I didn’t tell Delinda. I didn’t want her to worry and I was hopeful I could share good news when it happened. Thankfully, that news came. At 1,406 feet (basically 1/4 of a mile down), they hit water and it was flowing at 8 gallons/minute. Better yet, the static level (where the water settled in the bore hole) was 700 feet. That meant that we didn’t need a huge pump to get the water up from 1,4000 feet. So, good news all around!
My daughter Ashley was coming into town for Christmas, so we drove up on Friday afternoon from the airport to check on the progress. By the time we started up the switchbacks, we passed the drilling contractor’s trucks coming down. So, we didn’t get to talk to them. But we did the the finished capped well. We also saw that the IREA (Intermountain Rural Electric Association) had been out to set two electrical poles and lines to our property. So, we now have water and electric! And we have natural gas that we will tap into, which is great so we don’t have to use propane.
So, a big week of progress on the utilities this week. Not super exciting, but necessary! Hope for some more progress in the next few weeks as they set the septic tank and backfill the driveway. Then, the big wait until April until the main treehouse construction starts.
Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and Happy New Year to you all! ZEN TREEHOUSE will be open for reservations in fall of 2019!
I hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving holiday! We were fortunate that my daughter came into town for a few days and I got to take her to the site for the first time. It was nearing sunset, which was great because you can see in the pics how the sun lights up the valley at that time of day. Gorgeous! She also took a short video of the Valley at Sunset of me describing it to her (I didn’t know she did that, but it worked out great so you could see it better than in a picture).
My daughter at the site
Then today my youngest son came with Delinda and me to the site to meet with our general contractor, Cary Dunn (Back Country Builders). Now that the retaining wall for the driveway was in, we had to discuss the placement of the cabins relative to the wall and relative to a large rock outcropping on the site. We also scouted out a nice grove of trees for the barrel sauna we will be installing near the cabins.
Delinda below the retaining wall
Delinda and Peter at the upper part of the treehouse driveway
The view of the driveway from the turn off – note the slight downslope to the back of the retaining wall.
In the next two weeks, the following work will be completed, so look for a lot more activity on this blog about the construction progress:
Water well will be drilled and water line run to the cutouts in the retaining wall. Note that the water, gas, electrical and sewer will run underground up to the cutouts in the retaining wall and through a heated chase under the bridge to the main cabin.
The gas line will be run (we are lucky to have natural gas available at the site and don’t have to have an unsightly propane tank!)
The electric lines will be run and a temporary meter installed
The sewer line will be run up to the cutouts (the septic field has been installed prior to the wall being constructed)
The wall will then get foam insulation installed prior to backfilling
And finally they will backfill the retaining wall and grade out the driveway.
In the meantime, the following has to happen to finalize the architectural drawings:
Cary, our builder, has to roughly stake out the cabin positions on the site based on our discussions today about cabin positioning on the site. It’s hard to do because it’s a steep lot and it’s hard to get things square when it’s so steep. But, he’ll get it close.
Then we have to get the surveyors out to precisely mark the corners of each cabin so that they are perfectly square and marked for the caissons to be installed in the spring.
Once that is done, the architect needs to revise the drawings one last time to account for the exact position of the cabins relative to the retaining wall. It is this wall that will serve as the reference point for the placement and building of the cabins.
At this point, the schedule is that we will begin the work on the cabins by the end of March. We’ll see…we hope so!
The retaining wall for the driveway is poured and is curing. Next step will be backfill. Then we’ll be able to finally get a sense for how the entryway to the treehouse will look in reality. Can’t wait to see that next week!
Great progress on a big part of the project – a massive concrete retaining wall that will hold back the driveway so that it is wide enough for what we need in terms of parking and the crane that will arrive in the spring to begin moving the structural steel. You can see how the mountain drops off. Imagine the walkway from the drive to the main cabin being level with the drive and extending about 15′ out to the front door of the main treehouse cabin. Yes, that makes the entry door VERY high off the ground and up in the trees. Now, imagine walking through the cabin to the back deck the cantilevers off the back of the house and how high in the sky and trees that will be. It will be something to behold! We can’t wait to show you the progress as we build this amazing bit of an architectural gem in the beautiful mountains of Colorado. PS – did you notice the views??
More updates coming soon! The retaining wall should be poured and the septic tank should both be in soon.
Thanks for reading our blog and be sure to share with your friends!
It’s been a while since I have posted. The reason for this is that not much has happened until recently. We were hung up primarily by our structural engineer being inundated with other work and not being able to get to our project for some time for some critical revisions. Never did I believe that it would take nearly a year after we started thinking about design and construction of the Zen Treehouse that we would start construction. As they say with these type of projects, they take twice as long and cost twice as much as you think. I have to say, this is definitely a truism.
The revisions of the building plans were necessitated by (a) my instance on having the decks cantilevered and NOT supported by posts to the ground and (b) the contractor’s assessment that we have to move both structures a bit up the hill – the way they were positioned, we would not be able to get a crane big enough up the switchbacks to hang the steel. So, we had to make some modifications to the architecture and the structural aspects of the construction.
In the meantime, the only work the contractor was able to do was to clear some of the trees that needed to be removed for the construction. The end result of this will mean much improved views from both cabins and less fire danger for the structures, yet with plenty of trees still surrounding the cabins and, of course, countless trees in the valley that the cabins overlook.
We got the structural aspects completed enough (primarily the structural design of the retaining wall) to get a building permit. So, Delinda and I are pleased to say that construction has begun!
Some of the changes to the last drawings are:
Moved both treehouse cabins up the hill to accommodate limitations on the size crane that we can use.
Installation of a 6′ (or so) reinforced concrete retaining wall to raise the driveway up so it’s at a better grade, wider, and so that we don’t need to enter the main treehouse cabin up some stairs – the entry bridge will be at the same level as the drive.
Both cabins will be at the same level and connected with a glass bridge. This was necessitated because Park County counted the two structures as two houses, which would have required us to get a variance ($1,700 application fee) as only one house can be built on the land we own, and to purchase more water rights ($10,000+) for the second structure. Now, both will be connected by a glass enclosed “hallway” that makes it one structure for building department purposes.
We’re excited to get the building going finally! They plan to get all the utility and major excavation/dirt moving work done before winter sets in – septic, well, and electrical as well as finishing the concrete retaining wall and grading the driveway. Over the winter when it’s not possible to work on the house, fabrication of the steel supports and beams will take place. Then in the spring, we will be ready to bring the steel up and get the Zen Treehouse completed by summer.
Thanks for following our progress – more photos coming soon as Delinda and I will be up at the site later this week.
Peter and Delinda
Leach field for the septic tank – we didn’t need to blast anything, which saved us a lot of money!