The 13-Year-Old Boy Who Built His Very Own Tiny Home


A Masterpiece

While many school children would spend their summers focusing on anything but another project, a teenager from Iowa decided to spend his summer getting his hands dirty and building his own tiny house.


For The Thill Of It

Luke Thill could have been spending his summer by the pool in his hometown of Dubuque, Iowa, but instead chose a less relaxing activity. While many may wait for the dad to build a jungle-gym or a tree house in their backyard, Luke took it upon himself to take on his very own DIY project in the great outdoors. After a long school year, the 13-year-old boy delved straight into his task of building a tiny house and made this his focus over the next few months.


Turning Obsession Into Passion

Luke’s idea to build a tiny house over the summer began after he had spent some time exploring the web. After clicking on a few sites, he came across what looked like an exciting project. He explained to ABC News, “I was just on YouTube looking around and came across a tiny house idea, and then that spiraled into looking at almost every YouTube video there is, it felt like. I got obsessed with them and decided to build my own.”


What Is A Tiny House?

Tiny Houses have been around for many years but became increasingly popular following the most recent financial crisis. With many families looking for cheaper alternatives in their lives, a popular option was to turn to eco-friendly and affordable housing. A Tiny House is generally considered to be under 500 square feet but are completely functional homes. The only difference to another home is that they have significantly less space, and may be best for those who live simpler lives and those who have fewer belongings.


Baby Steps Towards The Masses

Tiny Houses may be the chosen choice by some homeowners, but that is not to say it is the most popular choice, nor a popular movement. They only acquire 3,000 of the 1.5 million homes in the United States, and some cities have local codes which require houses to be of a certain size. Meanwhile, the average size of new homes has grown 1,000 square feet larger than they were in 1973. However, Luke was passionate about getting on the bandwagon and got to work.


Luxury Tiny Homes

With the popularity of tiny houses growing, the whole concept has moved into a more developed area, and style is not something that is compromised. With many people choosing a tiny home, and not willing to sacrifice their living standards for something poor, has resulted in luxury homes being brought into the market. Such popularity for these houses has resulted in an HGTV show called Tiny Luxury, which sees designers fit luxurious amenities into homeowners’ space in the most stunning way.


Getting The Parents On Board

The parents of the 13-year-old, Angie and Greg Thill, gave Luke their blessing to get on with the project in their backyard. At such a young age, and with limited professional experience as a builder, there were plenty of limitations that Luke would face when building his own tiny house. However, the Thills live on a four-acre property in Dubuque, so there was no problem with building a tiny house in their area. The Thills were going to let their son do exactly what he wanted.


Cash Rules Everything Around Me

Just like any home, building a tiny house does come with a price. With Luke still in middle school, he was not earning an income and would struggle to finance the whole project alone. The countless hours of labor and the high cost of materials was something he had to consider. When he asked his parents for financial help, they told him that financing the project was his part of the bargain. Nevertheless, they supported their son and were going to help finance the project, helping him along the way.


Financial Responsibility

While many 13-year-olds were spending their summer running around, Greg and Angie loved that their son had found a hobby for the months he had off from school. However, they were sure to let him know that such a project would be a great responsibility. “We said, ‘If you’re that serious we have to set some ground rules,’” Greg said in an interview. “We told him he had to have the financial responsibility of it, raise the money and choose the materials and stay in the budget.”


Papa Knows Best

This great amount of responsibility was not going to deter Luke, and Greg was proud that his son got stuck into the project the way he did. Seeing this as a great learning experience for their son, Greg said that he would help Luke along the way but that his son would remain in charge. Greg also saw this as a chance for a young child to do something more than other kids his age were doing such as play video games or sports and gain important life lessons.


A Neighborhood Affair

Luke did not dismiss the fact that this project would require help from others, and he realized he needed all the help he could get. With his vision of building a tiny house becoming the talk of the neighborhood, everyone in the area wanted to help Luke with his project and reach his goal. His neighbors became his best clients and helped him with raising the funds he needed. He would cut their lawns, run errands for them, and also raised money by crowdfunding online.


Learning From The Pros

With Greg offering a lending hand, he was able to assist his son on instruction on constructing the building. Although this was helpful, his expertise was not enough, and Luke turned to his surrounding network. “I have a neighbor who is a professional electrician so I cleaned his garage out and he taught me how to wire the house,” he said. “And in Cub Scouts I knew a guy who was a carpet layer and I mowed at his apartment buildings and he helped me install the carpet.”


Fundraising Frenzy

Luke got straight to work on raising the funds he needed for his project, but he soon learned that it was going to take much longer than he originally anticipated. Working hard on any job that would help support Luke raise funds, it ended up taking the young teen a year before he was able to earn enough to collect materials and begin construction. At first, his parents thought it was just an idea that Luke would soon get over, they never believed he would actually go through with it.


Breaking Ground

In June 2016, Luke finally had enough funds to afford his materials, and he began building his house. To start, he said, “My dad helped me frame it because I had no clue how to frame, but I also had some of his buddies and his friends. I bartered with them and also made deals with them, so they would come over and teach me how it’s done and I would do the work, and they would make sure I did it right.”


The Work Begins

With all his efforts, Luke managed to raise an impressive $1,500 that he put towards his supplies. To make the most of his money, Luke became very thrifty when it came to the materials he did not have. For around 75% of his tiny house, Luke used recycled materials which he would collect from family, friends, and neighbors. The front door of the house was from a family friend, and Luke managed to find other useful materials after digging through his grandmother’s garage.


Do It For The People

Word of Luke’s project certainly made it around town, and the whole neighborhood wanted to know more about the building work. The Thills would be answering both friends and strangers questions about how the house was coming along, and this is when Luke had another idea. He decided to open a YouTube page which would allow him to inform everyone on how his project was coming along. The page was open to all, so even those who did not know Luke could watch updates on the project.


Please Come To The Principal’s Office

This project also landed Luke a call to the principal’s office. Luke explained in one of his videos that this was an unfamiliar experience for him since he had never been to the principal’s office before and assumed he was in trouble but he wasn’t sure what for. Turns out, that the principal wanted to inform even more people about Luke’s project and introduced Luke to a reporter. The media had got word about Luke wished to achieve over the summer and wanted to interview him.


Trials And Tribulations

Luke soon discovered that building a tiny house was no easy task, but his determination meant that he was not going to let any obstacle or hurdle stop him from completing his goal. His father explained, “He’s a very driven kid for his age. There were times the project got stalled out, and he had to earn more money for the next phase. He wouldn’t let it go and kept working at it.” However, running out of money was not the only big problem that Luke would face.


Countertop Catastrophe

Luke took on any challenge that he faced as his project developed. His biggest hurdle to overcome was when he was laying his countertop. After purchasing a stained glass and a liquid gaze to create the countertop, the best option in Luke’s eyes considering his budget, he explored ways to do it on YouTube. In an unfortunate turn of events, the glaze leaked into the mold, so Luke had to get rid of it, but he was sure to fix the problem.


My Boy Was Just Like Me

This project was an even greater bonding experience for Luke and his father who helped and supported his son along the journey. Luke recalled his father’s help, stating, “Me and my dad really bonded through the process. Me and him spent nights and days building it. He was really busy, but he made sure to spend time with me and coached me through the process of building a house. I’m really grateful for a good dad, mom, and a good family.”


One Missing Piece

After working tirelessly for a year and a half, Luke’s goal was finally complete. The tiny house was almost ready to become a space where anyone could sleep or just hang out with a friend. The only thing missing from the tiny house was a bathroom, since adding a bathroom and plumbing would be too much of a hassle for Luke to take on. Nevertheless, Luke managed to create an incredible pad which was an escape from the family home.


Welcome Home

By the end, Luke had managed to build an 89-square-foot house, with dimensions of 10 feet by five and a half feet. His very own house was now complete, fit with walls made out of cedar shake and vinyl siding, a small kitchen, shelves, a fold down table, and a mounted television. The two-story house also fit in a master bedroom and mattress, so is even a space where Luke could spend the night should he undoubtedly wish to.


The Grand Opening

With so much attention focused on Luke and his project, the last thing he had to do when his work was complete, was unveil all his efforts to his followers. Luke invited his friends and family over for the big reveal, and he took the stand to share his experience. He stood up on the mini porch of the tiny house and read a speech about the process. He used this time to also thank everyone there for their help and support throughout.


Allow Me To Introduce Myself

The story of Luke and his house went further than the dozen of people that turned up to his mini-ceremony. Rather, everyone was intrigued by the project completed by the 13-year-old legend, and even secured Luke an invite to join TinyFest Midwest. This is a yearly festival which celebrates small and tiny houses, and Luke was invited to speak to the crowd about his very own house. Luke found this an easy task and had no problem with public speaking, so he took up the offer.


Sharing His Experience

It is unsurprising that 13-year-old Luke was the youngest speaker at the festival, but this was a great opportunity for the teenager to meet and hear about other people living in tiny homes. He was introduced to a six-foot man who lived in a tiny house, and Renee McLaughlin, the festival organizer, spoke about the downsizing. I think we’ve reached a threshold where this ‘stuff’ is running our lives. We spend all our time working to buy it, clean it, and organize it.”


Couldn’t Escape Attention

News of Luke spread like wildfire, and the 13-year-old was gaining great attention. His story reached the Des Moines Register and the Telegraph Herald, two major Iowa newspapers, and every local TV network covered the story of his tiny house. All this attention moved onto national press coverage and even ABC’s Good Morning America covered the story. They came to Iowa to take their own tour inside the tiny home constructed by Luke, and this became a story known across the whole country!


Meeting A Tiny House Hero

Many even reached out to Luke after hearing of his story, including Derek Diedricksen, an author, and advocate of tiny homes. In fact, it was Diedricksen who inspired Luke to begin his project, so, of course, he was very excited when he got to meet him. Derek even encouraged Luke to continue his passion for building tiny houses, showing how it was all worth it. Meanwhile, while Luke had been inspired by Diedricksen to begin with, Luke’s own story was inspiring someone else.


Looking Out For The Community

Having become so popular and well-known for all his efforts, Luke became an advocate for tiny houses and downsizing. Even at such a young age, Luke learned the advantages of owning a property – although he was still living in his parents home. He explained to the Des Moines Register, “Everyone had to have a big house, and now people have changed and realized it’s not practical. You can save money, travel the world and do what you want instead.”


Brothers For Life

Having watched Luke throughout the whole process, his brother Cole became inspired by the project and decided to build his own tiny home. Cole wished to use recycled and reclaimed materials to build a teardrop camper, and together the brothers worked to achieve his goal. They used Luke’s YouTube page to share their updates through videos, and this soon turned into an activity that the whole family could enjoy. With Luke having achieved so much success with his home, this new project was expected to be great!


A Young YouTube Star

With thousands of subscribers on their page, Luke and Cole have become a YouTube hit! With their numbers only expected to grow, their YouTube page has shown people their journey and developed a great interest in tiny homes, downsizing, and DIY projects. Their page shows their own efforts in building the teardrop camper, as well as profiles of other interesting building projects. One video titled “Staying Warm In A Tiny House” has over 185,000 views. A couple of other videos have even surpassed the 100,000 mark.


Recognized For His Work

Luke has not just become a national phenomenon, he won an award which recognized his hard work and creativity. Luke shared on his Instagram page that he “was selected to be one of the top 20 movers and shakers of Dubuque and the top 10 were giving an award.” He continued, “I was one of those and am very thankful.” Quite impressive for such a young gentleman, and an inspiration to others showing if you have enough dedication to a goal, you can achieve it.


Other Talents

Luke has shown off his carpentry skills on the web, but he has managed to show off impressive skills in other hobbies as well. Thill took up wrestling and finished the season with a 10-2 record in December 2017. The young talent also managed to become the team captain, despite having only been on the team for a year. Once again, it seems that Luke’s hard work and determination have paid off, and he is achieving great things at such a young age.


All American Boy

While Luke has shown off his incredible talents, of which have gone viral, he is still very much a middle school student and participating in activities with children his age. When he is not impressing others with his small house crafting and construction, he is a member of Boy Scouts of America. Luke spends his time specifically with Troop 94, and this is an activity away from school more expected of 13-year-olds, as opposed to DIY work and building their own homes!


More Tiny Homes

Luke’s work has certainly been recognized and admired, but that is not to say he is the only teenager to have achieved such an impressive goal. Free-spirit teen Annabel O’Neil is another tiny home builder, who got the idea when her sister was about to go to college. Learning about college fees and how expensive tuition can be, Annabel took the initiative to build her own tiny home. She has, subsequently, adopted a very minimalistic lifestyle, which allows her to save even more money.


Coping Mechanism

Another inspirational story comes from a young woman named Sicily, who, like Luke, built her own home when she was 13-years-old. She worked on the project for a year and four months and was eventually a proud owner of a 128 square foot home, which she had built completely on her own. Sadly, Sicily’s father passed away in the middle of the process, and the project went from a fun idea to becoming a coping mechanism for Sicily. Her inspiring story is documented on her blog, La Petite Maison.


Mission Incomplete

Although Luke is now a proud owner of a fully functional home, he doesn’t wish to end his building work there. He said, “The main purpose is to be my starter home. I’m going to save money and expand.” Luke explained that he eventually wants to build a tiny house large enough to put on a trailer. For now, Luke will sleep in his tiny home a couple of nights a week and will go inside to do his homework or hand out with friends.