Ask the Builder: Build a magic playhouse or clubhouse
Published in Ask The Builder
Many decades ago, I was a small lad, right in the middle of the baby boom created by soldiers and sailors returning from World War II.
There were no fewer than 10 kids on my street that were within two years of me in age. Two were brothers that lived just 200 feet from my house. Woods surrounded all the houses on our street. Behind their house the previous homeowner had constructed a magnificent tiny cabin for his kids. We immediately made this our clubhouse and meeting place for all outdoor adventures.
Thinking back, this one-room cabin measured only 8 feet deep by 12 feet long. It had a small covered front porch. I can’t begin to share with you how much fun all of us had in this tiny building that looked not much different from POW bunkhouses that my own father slept in. The inside walls were not covered; you could see the wood wall studs and the roof rafters. We didn’t care because we didn’t know any better being 8, 9 and 10 years old. We just wanted our own private little space away from our parents.
Mid-winter is a good time as any to start to plan to build a similar playhouse or clubhouse for that special young person in your life. It’s not that hard to do when you consider that the job is not much different than eating a pachyderm. Those are best eaten one bite at a time.
You can have extra fun if you include your little ones in this planning stage. Look at photos online about playhouses and clubhouses. Ask your junior architects what they want in their playhouse. Try to accommodate as many requests as possible that make sense. Talk to them about helping build it so they’ll have rich memories of the project as they grow older.
You can get inspiration to build one of these by just spending 10 minutes looking inside the prefab sheds they sell at big box stores in your town. These sheds are basically carbon copies of the clubhouse I spent time in. They have simple wood floors, plain-vanilla 2x4 walls, and the roof rafters can be 2x6s. Nothing about this is hard.
The first step in the process is to check with your local building and zoning department. You need to see what the stipulations might be for outdoor structures like a garden shed or storage shed. That’s what you’ll call this tiny building that you intend to build. You may discover that a structure like this can’t exceed a certain size and that it must be placed a certain distance from your property line.
In my opinion, the next biggest concern is wind. It’s not uncommon for windstorms and violent thunderstorms to blow outdoor sheds over. This happens if the tiny building is not secured to the ground. Buried concrete piers that extend below the frost level of your area do a great job of preventing your new clubhouse from tumbling. Inexpensive metal connectors connect to steel anchor bolts that are placed in these concrete piers. I have a series of videos at AsktheBuilder.com that show you how to build these piers and place the anchor bolts.
Building the floor and walls for this tiny building is also simple. I’d recommend you use treated floor joists as well as treated plywood. You can buy this plywood at just about any traditional lumber yard that sells treated dimensional lumber. If you use untreated plywood or oriented strand board (OSB), within a few years it will start to rot and become spongy. You’ll discover more videos on my website showing you how to build the floor and the walls.
Framing the roof of your playhouse/clubhouse might be the most challenging aspect of this project. I have videos about this too, and you’ll discover that there are many helpful videos on the Internet showing you how to cut the simple rafters for a project like this. It’s very easy, and all you need is a simple framing square and a circular saw.
In my opinion, it’s best to plan ahead. The little urchins who will use this structure will grow out of it. Think about how you can use it once they get interested in other activities. Maybe you’ll use it to store your garden tractor, snow blower or other yard-care tools. If so, think about how you can add a ramp at a later date to get these things in and out of the shed.
Make use of natural light. The clubhouse I played in didn’t have a skylight. It had one small window. When the door was closed, it was pretty dark inside. With very little effort, you can install a simple skylight in the roof that will make all the difference in the world. As crazy as this sounds, a simple piece of plexiglass plastic laced into the roof shingles will suffice. Be sure to cover the wood roof sheathing with 30-pound tar paper to prevent wood rot should you not be an expert roofer! This inexpensive material is installed before you nail on the asphalt shingles.
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