Buying a home is the easy way to property ownership. Gone are the days of getting your hands dirty and building a house for yourself. With an increase in popularity of do-it-yourself projects, tiny houses have become another project for the DIY crowd, even some of the youngest builders.
With school out for the summer, an Iowa teenager decided to make the most of his time. He decided to build himself an impressive tiny house.
For The Thill Of It
Luke Thill could have had a typically relaxing summer like every 13-year-old boy deserves following the long school year. He could have spent his summer months lounging by a pool in his hometown of Dubuque, Iowa. Instead, the energetic middle schooler proactively decided to work on a project generally reserved for dads on the weekend. To fend off his summer boredom, Luke started building a tiny house in his backyard. He would not be deterred.
Turning Obsession Into Passion
Luke got the idea for the tiny house like most people his age get any ideas – the internet. All it took was some stumbling and clicking around to find his sensational project. He told 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?
Since the financial crisis, many people found themselves forced into cheaper alternatives for many aspects of their lives. Tiny Houses have been around since before then but became an increasingly popular option to those looking for an eco-friendly and affordable option. Tiny houses are generally defined as being a residential structure under 500 square feet. The structures are usually fully functional homes with significantly less space popularized by those looking to live simpler lives without excess.
Baby Steps Towards The Masses
The tiny house movement has gained steam over a number of years, but that does not mean by any stretch that it is a popular movement. New homes on average are 1,000 square feet larger than they were in 1973. Only about 3,000 of the 1.5 million homes in the United States are tiny houses. Some cities have local codes requiring houses to be of a certain size. Even with the obstacles, Luke was passionate about getting to work.
Getting The Parents Onboard
As a 13-year-old, Luke had plenty of limitations to what he could do. His parents, Angie and Greg Thill, trusted their son with the big project and gave him their blessing to get started. The Thill’s live on a four-acre property in Dubuque, so they had plenty of space in the backyard for the future tiny house. Luke was so excited about the project, how could they say no while most kids his age roamed freely during the summer?
Cash Rules Everything Around Me
Building a tiny house is no easy endeavor. It requires countless hours of labor in addition to the high cost of materials. Luke was only in middle school and did not have a monthly salary to finance his pet project. He asked his parents if they would help him finance the construction and they said that financing was his part of the bargain. They did not plan to finance the whole thing but would help him out along the way.
Greg and Angie loved that Luke found something to do. Further, they loved that he found something to do with which he could learn something. “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
Greg was proud of his son for attacking this project the way he did. He knew that it could be an incredible learning experience for young Luke. Greg said that he helped work with Luke on it but that Luke was in charge and he was only around to lend a hand. He especially loved how it affected Luke. He said, It was a chance for a kid to do something more than play video games or sports. It teaches life lessons.
A Neighborhood Affair
From the start, Luke realized he would need all the help he could get. His project became the talk of the neighborhood. Everyone wanted to help Luke reach his goal. He had plenty of money to raise, and his neighbors became his best clients. Luke did anything he could for a buck: he cut their lawns, he ran errands, and he simply raised money via crowdfunding online. Every dollar mattered, and he was grateful for all of the support he received.
Learning From The Pros
Greg was able to give his son some instruction on constructing the building, but his expertise only went so far. Luke dug into his network for some help. “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.”
Luke was very serious about raising enough money for his tiny house and hit the ground running. As he began doing any task he could to earn money to support his project, he realized it would take much longer to come up with enough money than he had anticipated. Overall, Luke spent a year of fundraising and collecting materials so he could begin construction. His parents didn’t expect him actually to go through with it. They thought he’d get over it.
Finally, with enough funds secured, Luke began building his house in June 2016. 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
Luke came up with $1,500 from his fundraising efforts. He put that money towards supplies to start construction. For the materials he did not have, Luke became very thrifty. About 75% of his tiny house was built with recycled materials. Anything he could collect from his family, friends, and neighbors for the building process was greatly appreciated. He found his front door through a family friend. Some other necessary materials were taken from his grandmother’s garage and included in the structure.
Do It For The People
Intrigue formed around Luke and his seemingly large project. Everyone in town wanted to know more about Luke’s tiny house building. The Thills continually fielded questions from friends and strangers about their son and how his house was coming along. Luke decided the best way to keep everyone informed without answering every personal question was the use of a Youtube page. Now, he could broadcast updates on his project to every, including those he did not know.
Please Come To The Principal’s Office
In one of his videos, Luke detailed an unfamiliar experience for him: getting called to the principal’s office at school. He had never been to the principal’s office before and had no idea what he could have done to land him in trouble. It turned out that Luke was not in trouble but that the principal wanted to introduce him to a reporter. The media heard about his endeavor and wanted to interview him about the project.
Trials And Tribulations
Building a tiny house was no easy task. Luke refused to let the project slip away and powered through any problems that he had. His father said, “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.” Running out of money was only one of his biggest problems.
Setbacks did not come often, but when they did, Luke showed off his incredible maturity. His biggest setback came when he was laying out his countertop. Luke purchased stained glass and a liquid glaze to create his countertop. He felt like it would be the best method within his budget, so he looked up how to do it on YouTube. Unfortunately, the glaze leaked into the mold and he had to scrap it. Luke did not let it stop him and fixed the problem.
My Boy Was Just Like Me
Throughout the whole process, Luke took one major thing from the experience: he became close to his dad. Luke said, “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 a year and a half, Luke neared the completion of his tiny house. The house was almost ready to become his personal pad where he could do everything from sleep to home to hang out with a friend. The only thing he could not do was go to the bathroom. He realized that adding a bathroom and plumbing would be more of a hassle than he needed. Luke still had his awesome pad (and could use the bathroom in the main house).
In the end, Luke built an 89-square-foot tiny house with dimensions of 10 feet by five and a half feet that he could call his own. Luke made two of the walls out of cedar shake and two out of vinyl siding. The vinyl came from leftover materials at his grandmother’s home. Inside, the house hosts a small kitchen with a counter, some shelves, an ottoman/couch, a fold-down table, and a mounted television. An upstairs loft holds the master bedroom/mattress.
The Grand Opening
With his tiny house finally completed, Luke had only one thing more to do – he needed to unveil his masterpiece to the world. What better way to present his project than to invite his friends and family for a little introductory ceremony. Luke stood up on the mini porch of his tiny house in front of about a dozen family and friends and read a speech about his experience. He thanked them for their help and support.
Allow Me To Introduce Myself
The legend of the 13-year-old tiny house builder spread like wildfire. Everyone wanted a piece of Luke. He was invited to join TinyFest Midwest, a yearly festival which celebrates small and tiny houses. Not only was he invited to the event, but he was asked to address the crowd. While most teenagers would crumble under pressure, Luke had no issue with public speaking. He had just earned a merit badge for public speaking and had no nerves.
Sharing His Experience
Luke was easily the youngest speaker at the festival. Not only did it give him a chance to share his story, but he got to see and hear more about other tiny house owners, including a six-foot-eight man living in a tiny house. 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
Everywhere he went, Luke could not escape the attention. His story made the front page of two major Iowa newspapers: the Des Moines Register and the Telegraph Herald. From there, every local TV network covered his tiny house. This avalanched into a wave of national press highlighted by an appearance on ABC’s Good Morning America. They came to Iowa to interview him and take a tour inside his handmade home. Now, the whole country knew his story.
Meeting A Tiny House Hero
The national attention drew all sorts of people to reach out to Luke. This included Derek Diedricksen, an author, and advocate for tiny houses. Luke was very excited to meet him because Diedricksen had inspired Luke to begin his project in the first place. Derek spoke to Luke about his own story and encouraged him to continue to and expand his passion for tiny houses. He helped inspire young Luke at the same time Luke was inspiring someone else.
Looking Out For The Community
Since Luke built his home, he has become an advocate for tiny houses and downsizing. Luke now understands the advantages of owning such a property even though he still technically lives under his parents’ roof. He told 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
Luke was not the only Thill interested in building and tiny houses. His brother Cole observed as Luke finished his project and decided to do one of his own. Cole wanted to build a teardrop camper using similar methods to Luke, including the use of recycled and reclaimed materials. Through Luke’s YouTube page, the two brothers began building a camper and sharing their updates through various videos. It had become an activity for the whole family to enjoy.
A Young YouTube Star
Luke and Cole have become a hit on YouTube. Currently, they have over 12,000 subscribers to their page, and that number keeps growing. In addition to chronicling the progress with the teardrop camper, the young brothers have published videos showing everything from their favorite tiny house tools to profiles on other cool building projects. One video titled “Staying Warm In A Tiny House” has over 185,000 views. A couple of other videos eclipsed the 100,000 mark as well.
Although he finished the house and it is fully operational, Luke is not ready to throw in the towel on building projects. He said, “The main purpose is to be my starter home. I’m going to save money and expand.” Luke hopes that eventually, he can build a tiny house large enough to put on a trailer. For now, he settles for sleeping in it a couple of nights a week, hanging with friends, and doing his homework inside.