How A 13 Year Old Built His Own Tiny House For Just $1,500
Buying your own home is no easy feat, then again, neither is building it. However, that’s exactly what 13-year-old Luke Thill did – he built his very own tiny home in his parents’ backyard – and all for $1,500 buckaroos! I know, it sounds too good to be true, but that’s exactly what happened! Read Luke’s impressive story to discover all the ups and downs that building your own home presents – and there’s plenty of tips here so you can build your own (tiny) home someday!
My Own Two Hands
Now, Luke Thill is only an 8th grader from Dubuque, Iowa – who had the idea to build his own 89-square-foot “structure” but guys, he refers to it as his “starter home.” Go figure. Many of Luke’s efforts involved him rolling up his sleeves and doing odd jobs to earn the cash required. But he would stop at nothing to achieve his dream.
So just what Luke’s inspiration? “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,” Luke told ABC News in October 2017. “I got obsessed with them and decided to build my own.”
No Ordinary Kid
Moreover, there is just one other reason he decided that he wanted to create his own home, was because he found himself getting really bored during his summer vacation. While some kids might complain or lock themselves indoors with their PlayStations and what-not, he was getting ready to build.
Once Luke started to plan the in’s and out’s of building his tiny home, he needed to ask his parents for permission of course. Greg and Angie Thill, Luke’s parents, immediately recognized that their son was on a serious mission. Therefore they gave him the all-clear to build his home on the family’s four-acre property.
Greg, Luke’s dad, told his son that when he began the project, there were a few simple rules to follow: Luke has to raise the money on his own. Build it on his own. Lastly, Luke’s the owner. Now I don’t know about you but those sound like some tough rules to follow! But with Luke’s determination, things were moving in the right direction.
“We said, ‘If you’re that serious we have to set some ground rules,’” Greg Thill told ABC News in October 2017. “We told him he had to have the financial responsibility of it, raise the money, and choose the materials and stay in the budget.”
Of course, Greg Thill was there to work alongside Luke in order to guide him, but ultimately he wanted Luke to learn a lot all on his own. Such as framing a structure, wiring the home, dealing with grown-ups, making crucial financial decisions, and not wavering from the budget. Important lessons we can ~all~ learn from.
“It was a chance for a kid to do something more than play video games or sports,” Greg said. “It teaches life lessons.” Of course, Greg couldn’t be more right with his decision. In today’s viral world, many children often focus on digital things than what’s right in front of them.
Honor Thy Neighbor
When Luke first started, he set out to raise money by mowing lawns, raising money online, and used reclaimed materials. Plus Luke even bartered for extra hands to help out. A lot of planning went into Luke’s house-building mission – while some plans went out the window, others went off without a hitch.
Rolling Up His Sleeves
Some of Luke’s bartering was pretty solid. He cleaned the garage of his electrician neighbor so he would help Luke wire the house. He cut a Scout leader’s lawn so that he’d add carpet in the loft bedroom. Nothing like a bit of hard work to build your own house!
Now Luke’s dad is incredibly proud of what he’s doing and his determination. “He’s a very driven kid for his age,” said Luke’s dad. “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.”
Luke Thill – The Minimalist
However Luke didn’t just do odd jobs in exchange for help to build his house. He recycled too! Luke used some leftover siding from his grandma’s house and also a front door his uncle’s friend gave him. “I liked the minimalism,” Luke said (sounding way older than 13). “And I wanted to have a house without a huge mortgage.”
His uncle’s friend didn’t stop with the door, though. Later he came to Luke’s rescue again with some old windows. Well, what is a house without windows? We just hope he doesn’t have any pesky, nosy neighbors peering in!
Oh, Luke’s house is made from nearly 75% of recycled materials! Most of his windows are recycled too. Can any of us homeowners say the same thing? Probably not. Having a house that’s economically friendly costs a ton and is often difficult to achieve but for Luke, it was easier than he thought.
Luke’s home is a staggering 5½ feet wide and 10 feet long! However, it also features a loft. With a small deck outside, Luke had a pretty stable floor plan. Before we forget, the siding is also half cedar shakes, half vinyl.
Come On In!
If we take a look inside then we’ll see a small kitchen area, complete with a counter. Moreover, there are shelving leads that lead to a back sitting area that has a large ottoman, a flip-down table, and also a wall-mounted TV.
It’s A Shed
Get this, there’s even a ladder that leads up to an upstairs loft, which has a mattress for sleeping. Greg Thill told reporters that city codes actually consider the tiny house “a glorified shed.”
Hard Work Pays Off
Even though he got some negative feedback from some people at school, he brushed it off and kept working at his dream home. There was absolutely nothing that could bring down his aspirations to realize his goals.
It didn’t take long for the rest of the town to hear of Luke’s adventures. With a population of some 58,000, we’re not surprised at how quickly word traveled. Every time someone saw Luke, they would ask him questions about the house – so Luke decided to create a YouTube channel so that everyone could follow along with progress. This channel caught the eye of the media too!
“I couldn’t find anyone younger than 14,” said Luke when he first began watching tiny home construction videos. “I thought if no one is out there, I might as well do it so I started documenting the whole process and putting it on YouTube.”
And it looks like his decision to post on YouTube was the right one! Luke said, “Now lots of kids have messaged me and showed pictures of their tiny houses that they’re building and they’re even younger than me.”
Come On Down
In one specific video, Luke says he was called down to the principal’s office. Considering that he’s a good student with good grades, he was really nervous. “I don’t go there very often,” he said in a video of his. “I’ve never gone there for anything bad.”
You’re A Star
However, he had no reason to worry as it turns out the principal called him down because he was friendly with a reporter who wanted to report on the story. Now that’s pretty cool when you’re 13 and the paper wants to do a story on you!
Quite The Mess
Now Luke Thill admits that one of the biggest things he learned over the course of building his home was learning to overcome disappointment. One big moment was his total “counter-top fail.” He used broken colored glass below for what was meant to be a lacquer surface. Unfortunately, when Luke poured the lacquer, it was far “too watery,” and completely ran all over everything.
Learning From His Mistakes
Instead of throwing his hands in the air and giving up, Luke was determined to make the most of it. So that’s exactly what he did. The lacquer then created a bond that held the counter to the wall – job done. See what Luke did there was attach a traditional counter surface over the already messed-up lacquer surface that has a hinge for lift-top storage space. Nice work, Luke!
So Luke is not only a visionary and a builder, he is also a chef! Well, somewhat of a rookie at that for now. He proudly posted on YouTube his “first meal” in his new home, and got a lot of attention. Nothing like having breakfast for dinner!
While city code may have considered Luke’s home a “glorified shed”, the people from TinyFest certainly didn’t. There was a tiny home festival in Colfax, Iowa that Luke Thill was asked to attend as a special guest. As it turns out this was Thill’s first speaking engagement after receiving tons of attention! And yes, the speech went off without a hitch.
With the construction of the home nearing the end, Luke had a place to sleep, eat, and relax. However, there was just one hiccup…it didn’t have a toilet! In order for Luke to install plumbing to his tiny home, it would require a ton of work and way more cash. Something he just didn’t have.
It took Luke Thill a year to finish building his tiny home but he did it! Does he use it? You betcha. Luke sleeps in it a few nights a week, does his homework there, and also entertains his friends in his own tiny home. While it took a year, it didn’t matter – Luke accomplished what he set out to do. And people took notice.
Cookouts And Chills
Now even though his home might be small, he has a massive backyard where he hosts some great cookouts with friends. Sure, he shares the space with his parents, but then again, which kids don’t? At least he can say that he has his own home.
Read All About It!
Luke Thill’s story was front-page news! Two major Iowa newspapers, the Des Moines Register and the Telegraph Herald, made Luke their front page. Shortly after some local TV stations, and also other media outlets, picked up Luke’s story. Guys, he was even contacted by Good Morning America!
Now Good Morning America wanted a tour of Luke’s tiny house and of course to interview him. After the Good Morning America interview, Luke was contacted by a house designer. Someone he deeply admired too! Luke just couldn’t believe his luck.
As it turns out Derek Diedricksen, an author of design and building tiny homes, contacted Luke. Understandably Luke was over the moon, Diedricksen ~was~ the inspiration behind his tiny home. Chatting one-on-one and hearing words of encouragement meant the world to Luke – Derek and Luke are also friends on social media platforms! Just like Derek is an inspiration to many, so is Luke.
In The Family
Cole, Luke’s brother, followed in his footsteps by creating his own teardrop camper. Oh, and the camper also used a ton of recycled and reclaimed materials – just like Luke’s tiny home. Cole also worked out a budget and shared his success on YouTube. However Cole did have one advantage that Luke didn’t – a brother with the necessary experience to help through the project!
But Wait There’s More
At this rate, Luke and Cole’s YouTube channel has more than 9,000 subscribers! Now that’s impressive. Furthermore, their channel doesn’t just focus on their own projects. Luke also features other people’s projects, including his own mom’s renovation of a 1972 camper and also a sheep herder’s wagon.
His Own Space
Luke explained that his new home grants him the space he needs from his family sometimes. “I have a twin brother so it gives me the chance to have my own space,” said the confident home builder.
When he gave a tour of his finished tiny home on his YouTube channel, he spoke about the cost of the building. Luke said that the total cost of the structure was around “more like $1,200, but I rounded it up just in case I forgot anything.”
There was no way for Luke to know that his tiny home would bring him so much attention, that’s not what he set out to do. After it’s all said and done though, Luke has a message to share, “I want to show kids it’s possible to build at this age.” That’s admirable, Luke! But what’s next in store for Luke Thill?
Upwards and Onwards
“The main purpose is to be my starter home,” Luke said. “I’m going to save money and expand.” Within a few years, Luke hopes that he can build a slightly larger tiny home that goes on a trailer – maybe he can use this as an alternative to campus housing. It’ll certainly be cheaper!
Luke told ABC News, “In a couple of years I want to build a bigger house and stay in it full-time.” I guess if you’ve built a tiny home, you’re probably better equipped to build a large one too. And with Luke’s determination, it seems highly likely that he’ll succeed!
The Best Part
What was the best part of building the tiny home? For Luke, it was bonding with his dad! “Me and my dad really bonded through the process…he was really busy but he made sure to spend time with me.” What a sweet kid.
For Luke, he’s thinking ahead, the future is closer than ever. “Everyone had to have a big house, and now people have changed and realized it’s not practical,” said Luke Thill. “You can save money, travel the world, and do what you want instead.”
Meet Renee McLaughlin
Renee McLaughlin is just like Luke Thill – she built her own tiny home. Not only did she sell her 3,300-square-foot home, but she is now living in a tiny home – one that’s only 87 square feet. “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,” said McLaughlin. “It’s not making us happy.”
The New “In”
Tiny homes, which are less than 500 square feet, are becoming quite the ‘in’ now. Renee McLaughlin is the organizer of TinyFest Midwest and she’s the one who invited Luke Thill as a guest speaker at the festival. She absolutely loves her tiny home – which is on wheels – and she’s not ashamed either!
An Affordable Option
While some people laughed at her, they’re not intrigued with housing prices, tiny houses seem to be the obvious choice now. “I now own everything outright with no debt,” she said. “I can move around. It’s nice to know I can just go.” And yes, tiny homes CAN be stylish, just look at the image below! That looks amazing.
Chuck Em Out
Renee advises getting rid of excess things that we all tend to hold onto. She shops less and gives away clothes that she doesn’t need anymore. She did admit however that chucking out shoes and clothes was difficult – “I’m a simple girl, but a girl, nonetheless,” she said.
While the idea of tiny homes is tempting and the chance for us all to cut down on what we use and need, most infrastructures don’t support it. For example, city codes usually require a house to be larger than a certain measurement. In Des Moines, housing codes demand that a home be at least 24 feet wide, so for our young innovator, he’s just made the cut!
In today’s “tiny house movement”, not only is it an architectural idea. But it’s also a social movement which advocates living in a small home. With everyone looking to downsize, this is surely one way to go.
Looking At The Numbers
The idea of living in a tiny house seems exciting, doesn’t it? But when you look at how much influence this movement has created, we can understand that there is much work to be done still. According to a recent survey, only 3,000 out of 1.5 million homes listed in the United States were “tiny homes”.
Now on average, a tiny home costs around $23,000. What does this mean? It means that almost 70% of owners of tiny homes have no mortgage. If you’re a homeowner, you know one of the biggest killers is the monthly mortgage which usually lasts for around 25 to 30 years. Having a tiny home cuts that out almost completely.
It’s In Our Hands
The chance for us to change the way we live can be greatly influenced by this young man’s determination. With a future that seems to be heading to mass consumption and even greater disposal, it is important that we find other methods to soften our carbon footprint. Small homes are not just an idea for the future, they are the future!