Since 1987, Barbara Butler has been committed to creating eco-friendly, strong, safe and durable play structures that are made from natural renewable resources for the next generation to play on. We are a small company with big ideas: we want to see kids outdoors, up in trees, on play structures built with craftsmanship, integrity and sustainable materials, purposefully designed to spark imaginative and uproarious play – all while imbuing a sense of appreciation for the natural world.
We are committed to using materials that are non-toxic to kids and do not harm the ecosystem or the environment in which we are building. Long before it was popular, Barbara refused to use chemically-treated woods that were supposedly “safe for kids”, preferring instead all natural redwood.
Choice of lumber: We use sustainable second-growth redwood from well-managed forests. Redwood is the perfect lumber for children’s play structures. Redwood is naturally durable (meaning it resists decay) and with thoughtful construction techniques and simple maintenance it can last for generations outside in the elements. Redwood is also structurally very strong and yet soft when kids bang into it.
Grade of lumber: We use Construction Heart and Heart B grades of redwood, as opposed to Clear Heart Redwood which comes from a much older tree. Construction heart is graded for structural strength, but has knots and surface defects. We like the knots and surface defects and we can work with that. And we use lumber that is “air-dried” as opposed to kiln dried lumber (kiln-dried lumber takes considerably more energy to produce.) We buy our redwood in large quantities and sort it into our own grading system, using the better pieces for doors and shutters and using the coarser pieces for hidden floor joist or inaccessible wall panels. We try to find a use for every stick of lumber that comes through our shop.
Wood Stains: We make and use BB COLORS, our own natural tung oil wood stains in 59 custom colors. Our tung oil stains, once dry, are transparent and non-toxic. The tung oil stains are not only beautiful, they are good for the wood, protecting the wood from the effects of weathering while letting the natural wood grain show through.
Lightfast: Heavily pigmented and extremely lightfast, BB COLORS are made with premium quality pigments. They can stand up to the sun and weather for years, fading slowly instead of chipping as painted finishes are inclined to do.
Non-toxic: Besides creating a tough, lasting finish, BB COLORS are non-toxic when dry. We use an old-fashioned recipe that contains low-odor petroleum distillates as its medium. This allows the stain to penetrate deep into the wood and provides a durable long lasting finish that extends the life of the wood.
No Fungicides and Biocides: Our stains are free of toxic Fungicides and Biocides that are often added to paints to prevent mildew growth and extend the shelf life of the product. They may be good for the paint, but they can be bad for your health.
Low maintenance: Our stains are easy to maintain. We recommend that you hose the structure down and wash it with a gentle bio-friendly cleaner, then apply a coat of BB COLORS Clear Tung Oil Solution once a year. The tung oil solution extends the life of the wood by acting like a moisturizer for the wood, keeping it supple and splinter-free. The colors can be reapplied every few years without any stripping or elaborate surface preparation. Many people let their structures fade gracefully, just applying the yearly tung oil solution and waiting 8-10 years before reapplying the color coat. When you do decide to re-stain, we will have your color selections on file and we can estimate how much stain you’ll need. You can do the work following our simple instructions, or you can hire us to do the work.
GREEN METHODS OF CONSTRUCTION
Durable: Every structure is designed and built to be durable and to withstand the tests of time, weather and heavy-duty play. All surfaces have been routed and grinded to eliminate splinters.
Rot-Resistant: Our unique custom metal boots protect the posts from rot where the post meets the ground and/or bark chip. The redwood post is fitted into the boot, which is then encased in the concrete footing. Besides protecting the wood, this allows us to keep the top of the concrete below the ground and out of the bark chip area, making it safer for kids.
Tree Attachments: When we attach to a tree, our arborist-approved methods allow for dynamic movement, continued growth and continued health of the tree. When we build a treehouse, we are mindful that we are building a structure in collaboration with a living organism and we are passionately committed to protecting the health of the tree.
Modular Construction: We build every structure so that it can be repaired and remodeled numerous times. This really extends the life of the structure!
Made to Order: Every play structure or treehouse is made to order in our woodshop, with a team approach and an eye towards quality, durability, and appropriateness to the site.
Create outdoor playrooms: A treehouse or play structure is a more ecological way to create a play room for the kids than to build an interior playroom. The rustic construction of the treehouse uses less building materials than an addition to the house. Plus a treehouse or play structure inspires kids to go outside and play - in natural light, in the fresh air, away from the TV for a while. By adding in lots of physically challenging activities, kids are going to get more exercise too. Plus their imagination will be exercised as well!
Integrated with the site: Every play structure is designed to fit the site and to complement the natural environment. Often we place play structures next to the trees, hidden in the branches to give the feeling of a treehouse and to create a sense of wildness, even in a small yard.
Involve the kids: At the beginning of the project, Barbara likes to brainstorm with kids and get them involved in figuring out how to integrate fun and cool ideas with safety, budget and site conditions.
Energy efficiency: Windows, doors and skylights in a treefort or playhouse eliminate the need for a lot of electric power. Our favorite way to light the treefort or play structure is to add a single low-voltage fixture with a mechanical timer/switch. That way, if the kids forget to turn off the lights, the timer turns the lights off in 20 minutes.
GREEN SITE PRACTICES
We strive for a minimum of site disturbance when we install a new play structure or treehouse. We build most of the structure in our shop and when we come to install on site, we make a minimum impact. Often we install within inches of existing trees and plants without hurting them.
Site selection: We encourage selecting a part of the yard that does not require any removal of plants or trees - we are always happy to work with obstacles and the existing landscape. Often the best spot is a part of the yard that has been underused: we can make it into a special spot.
Tread Lightly: We do not use heavy equipment to haul in our structures or to dig our footings. This allows us to not disturb the nearby plants or trees in the area. By hand-digging our footings, we can avoid hitting tree roots: if we find a large tree root with our exploratory dig, we will revise our footing location in order to avoid the tree root.
Work with the Lay of the Land: We like to try to work with the grade and the terrain “as-is” without insisting the grade be leveled first. Not only is it more cost-effective that way, it makes for a more interesting play area and it has a minimal impact on the trees nearby. However, if retaining walls are necessary or preferred, we can work with the walls and the changes in grade, integrating them into the play area. Our goal is to have the design bend to the site, not the other way around.
Impact of Construction: We are concerned with the impact of the construction on the whole environment and for each installation we take steps to avoid erosion or damage to the terrain.
Built for Generations: Every structure is made to be reused for generations. We have designed the structures so that they are simple to maintain and to repair. We offer services to refurbish the structures or we can teach families how to do the work and supply them with the materials.
Recycle: We recycle materials from our office, manufacturing and installation processes. Inks, paper & cardboard, bottles & cans, lumber, stains, sawdust, computer equipment: all get re-used as much as possible and then recycled. We even use redwood shavings mixed with kitty liter for our two shop kitties!
Reuse: While there is very little leftover stain in our process, when there is, the left-over stain is mixed together to create a Base Mix which we use on the underside of floors and other areas that need protection from the elements but do not need to be a specific color.
Salvaged lumber and logs: For several rustic designs, we use salvaged logs left over from landscape removals to make railings and ladders.