Step-by-step instructions for converting existing playground towers into playhouses!
Today I’m responding to an email I received from David, who asked how to modify my playground design so that one of the playground towers could be enclosed and used as a playhouse. It’s a great question since there tends to be a lot of space under playground towers, but this space is often unused.
Coincidentally, building a playhouse was how I started my playground project in the first place! My older daughter loves playhouses and playing in them, so initially I started mapping out how to design and build a playhouse. But along the way I decided to modify the plans to make a playground, which I thought my kids might use more long-term.
Since my playground plans did start off as a playhouse, it’s surprisingly easy to modify them to get back to that original playhouse design! And this isn’t something you have to do during initial construction – you can retrofit my playground design and convert an existing playground tower into a playhouse. I’ll even show you how you can add some really cool playhouse features – like a ladder with a trap door that can lead from the inside of the playhouse up to the tower decking!
This is a follow-up to my How to Build a Playground series, where I built a playground that looks like this:
I will be using CAD to respond to David’s email, and will be using the right-hand playground tower (yellow arrow in the below CAD schematic) to illustrate how to convert a playground tower into a playhouse:
Step 1: Add wall studs to the tower
I would use additional 6×6 posts as wall studs. While wall studs are traditionally smaller and more slender than support posts, using additional 6×6 posts for wall studs fits very nicely into this design. These 6×6 studs will give additional support to the tower structure, but in this case I’m really just using them as a means to create space to hold windows or doors for the playhouse, as well as additional framing members to secure the playhouse siding to the tower frame.
Step 2: Add floor joists and blocking to the tower
Just like there’s a surface to walk on the top of the playground deck/platform, you’ll also want a surface to walk on inside of the playhouse. So you’ll simply need to add more joists to the playground tower – this time on the floor of the tower structure. See my guide on playground towers and bridges for how to add joists to the tower structure – and don’t forget to add blocking in between the joists!
Step 3: Add floor sheathing/subfloor
To finish the floor of the playhouse, you simply lay sheathing/subfloor on top of the joists. Sheathing or subfloor are structural panels like plywood or OSB (oriented strand board). They’re engineered wood and are meant to be walked on. Standard dimensions for floor sheathing are 3/4 inch thick with a 4 ft. x 8 ft. size (although they come in different thicknesses and sizes).
Technically you would add two (or even three) layers of sheathing, where the additional layers are added in a staggered manner (like laying bricks) so that the sheathing won’t open/crack at the joints where two sheathing panels meet. But for the purposes of a playhouse (and the relatively light loads of children walking on the sheathing), one layer of subfloor should be sufficient.
If you want to get creative and build a ladder with a trap door that can lead from the inside of the playhouse up to the tower decking, you just need to: (1) remove one of the upper joists from the playground tower to make enough space (my design had joists spaced every 12 inches, so removing one joist would leave 24 inches – plenty of room for a child to get through but still safe to walk on), and (2) lay sheathing/subfloor around (but not on top of) the space where the trap door will go (blue arrow in the below picture):
With the subfloor down, you can feel free to go the extra mile and add flooring to really make your playhouse stand out! Laminate flooring or resilient flooring made out of vinyl are great choices given the outdoor nature of the playhouse.
Step 4: Add wall siding, windows, and doors
To enclose the playground tower and complete its conversion into a playhouse, all you need to do is add siding. You can use the same plywood or OSB that you used for the floor sheathing/subfloor, but that won’t make for the most attractive of playhouses.
I have used reversible, white PVC trim/sheets before for a number of outdoor projects, and it’s what I would have used for the siding of the playhouse. It’s phenomenal for outdoor use: it doesn’t rot, crack, splinter, or split; it’s resistant to mold and mildew; it’s impervious to moisture, insects, and termites; and it doesn’t require painting (although it does accept paint well).
I did also contemplate using Texture 1–11, T1-11, or T111 (pronounced “tee-one-eleven”) wood siding as it would give a quaint and recognizable playhouse look, but PVC trim/sheets are maintenance-free and it’s hard to beat maintenance-free! And as far as windows and doors go, add enough to make it tasteful but not too much so that it overly complicates things or extends construction time too much!
(Optional) Step 5: Add the ladder and trap door
If you’re adding a ladder with a trap door, now that the exterior of the playhouse is complete you can add in the ladder. I would hang the ladder joists using stair stringers (similarly to how I added the rock climbing wall/step ladder and step ramp to the playground):
You can attach the trap door with simple door hinges:
This is what the playhouse would look like from above with the addition of the trap door and ladder:
Congratulations! You’ve successfully converted a playground tower into a playhouse!
Did you find this guide useful? Have any other playground or playhouse questions? Let me know in the comments below!
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