How to Build a Backyard Playhouse for Kids

by Team HomeServe
Father and daughter building a wooden house together

Building a Playhouse at a Glance

  • Tools & Materials: Pallets, OSD or plywood, drill, screwdriver, screws, corrugated metal, wood paint, angle brackets, sandpaper or sander
  • Step 1: Choose location
  • Step 2: Construct floor
  • Step 3: Build walls
  • Step 4: Add roof
  • Step 5: Sand and paint
  • Step 6: Finish interior

A playhouse makes a lovely addition to a family backyard and is sure to keep young children entertained for many happy hours. While you could shell out for a premade playhouse, the costs for premium models can be eye-watering. Fortunately, it's reasonably easy and enjoyable to make a DIY playhouse out of inexpensive materials.

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The following instructions explain how to build a playhouse out of reclaimed, heat-treated pallets. It's a simple project that you can complete in a weekend, even if you don’t have any carpentry experience. However, if you're a confident woodworker, there are plenty of free playhouse plans available on the internet with more ambitious designs, including elevated playhouses with slides and swings attached.

How to Build a Playhouse: Step-By-Step Instructions

You can build a DIY playhouse for virtually nothing by using reclaimed pallets. You can often get pallets for free by asking at your local warehouse or scouring social media selling sites.

While most pallets are safe to use, it's best to look for heat-treated pallets carrying the IPPC logo. Discard any pallets that are blue or carry an MB (methyl bromide) stamp, as they may have been treated with chemicals you wouldn't want your kids playing near. Check each pallet carefully for nails and sharp edges that could cause injuries.

You'll need to gather some materials and equipment before you get started:

  • Six equally sized pallets
  • Two sheets of OSD or plywood, each measuring double the area of one pallet
  • Drill
  • Screwdriver
  • Screws
  • Sheet of corrugated metal
  • Wood paint
  • Angle brackets
  • Sandpaper or a sanding machine

Step 1: Choose Your Location

Start by choosing an area of your backyard with level ground. Consider proximity to other buildings and flowerbeds to ensure that your garden layout remains practical. Ensure that you allow enough space between the DIY playhouse and your walls and fences so that there aren't any tight spaces for little ones to get stuck.

Step 2: Construct the Floor

The first step to building a kids' playhouse is constructing a raised floor. Start by laying two of your pallets side-by-side on the ground and cover them with one of the OSD or plywood sheets. Nail the sheet to the pallets around the entire perimeter.

Step 3: Build the Walls

Next, place two pallets upright along the long back edge of the floor and secure them with angle brackets on the inside. Place one pallet on each of the shorter edges, screwing them to the floor and the adjacent walls with more angle brackets.

Your playhouse will have gaps in the walls between the pallet slats, which many people like as it allows natural light inside. If you want solid walls and have some extra pallets, you can deconstruct them and nail on extra panels to cover the spaces.

This playhouse has an open front. If you want a more enclosed structure, you can add an extra pallet at the front to create a narrower doorway.

Step 4: Add the Roof

Create a roof by nailing the second OSD or plywood sheet to the top of the playhouse. You can screw a corrugated iron or tin sheet over the top of the wood sheet for a more durable finish. If you want an angled roof, screw some wood blocks to the front two corners before adding the roof.

Step 5: Sand and Paint

Before you let your children loose on your brand new playhouse, sand the pallets thoroughly to remove any rough edges. Paint the inside and outside with protective wood paint to help it withstand adverse weather and create an attractive finish.

Step 6: Finish the Interior

Now you can go to town adding some personal touches to encourage imaginative play. You could consider adding waterproof flooring or even a patterned outdoor rug. Installing a play kitchen or investing in some kid-sized outdoor furniture will make your DIY playhouse as close to the real thing as possible.

If you're handy with a paintbrush, you could think about creating a themed playhouse based on your kids' favorite TV show or movie. Sourcing some decorative accessories like horseshoes to nail around the door can transform a basic playhouse into a saloon from the Wild West. Alternatively, you could add outdoor fairy lights, pastel wood paint and even a homemade turret to create a princess castle. Creating a theme for your playhouse can turn it into a wonderful prop for an outdoor birthday party that your family can then keep and enjoy for years to come.

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What Kind of Wood Should I Use for a Playhouse?

You can use either reclaimed or store-bought wood to build a playhouse. The most commonly used material for playhouses is pressure-treated wood as it's durable and can withstand the elements. If you're using reclaimed wood, check that it was produced after 2003. Pre-2003, the pressure-treating process often used chemicals that could pose a danger to children.

While pressure-treated wood is the cheapest option and pretty easy to maintain, you may wish to consider hardwood. Hardwood offers the same durability as pressure-treated wood but offers a more attractive finish. It's significantly more expensive, but it can look lovely if you have a generous budget.

A final option to consider is composite wood. This material is the most durable of the three and requires virtually zero maintenance. It's on the pricier side, and bear in mind that it can get uncomfortably hot in warm weather.

It's generally not recommended to use softwood to build a wooden playhouse because it doesn't wear well outdoors. However, you can use softwood to build the internal frame as long as you build a waterproof outer structure around it.

Does a Playhouse Need a Base?

There's no structural reason why you can't build a playhouse directly on the ground. However, there are a couple of good reasons for including a playhouse base.

Building your playhouse on a base helps guard against water infiltration, creating a handy space for storing toys and other outdoor equipment when your kids aren't using it. A playhouse built directly onto the ground will get wet and muddy inside when it rains. If you have small kids who like to roll and crawl around on the floor, a base means that they can play outside in any weather without ending up caked in mud and grass.

How Long Does It Take to Build a Playhouse?

This depends on your skill level and the complexity of your design. If you use the instructions above, you can complete the project in a day with a helper or two. Buying a precut playhouse kit can also speed up the process, but expect to pay extra for the convenience.

If you intend to build a more ambitious structure with a frame and paneled walls, expect the project to take significantly longer. Adding extra features like a swing, slide, deck or doors and windows will all add to the building time. Overall, it's best to set aside a couple of weekends for building an outdoor playhouse from scratch.

How High Can I Build a Playhouse?

There's no limit to how high you can build a playhouse, but it's best to stick to a single level for safety's sake unless you're confident in your carpentry skills. Generally, there's no need to build a structure higher than 6 feet for children unless you want it to double as a storage area for large garden equipment.

People considering building an elevated or two-story playhouse or a treehouse should consider a couple of factors before committing. First, think carefully about whether the structure will block sunlight. You should also take the neighbors into account and avoid building a playhouse so high that it allows your kids a view into their yards or invades their privacy.