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How A 13 Year Old Built His Own Tiny House For Just $1,500

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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!

13 Year Old, Luke Thill, Builds Own Home For Just $1,500

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.

My Own Two Hands

His Inspiration

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.”

His Inspiration

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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.

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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.


Dad’s Rules

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.

Dad’s Rules

Ground Rules

“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.”

Ground Rules

Housing 101

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.

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Life 101

“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.

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!

Proud Papa

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.”

Luke Thill – The Minimalist


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.

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News Spread

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!

News Spread

An Example

“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.”

An Inspiration

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!

Learning From His Mistakes

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First Meal

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.


Golden Throne

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.

Cozy Setup

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.

Cookouts And Chills

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.


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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!

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.

But Wait There’s More

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.

In Total

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!

Upwards And Onwards

Why Not?

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!

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.”

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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.

An Affordable Option

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.

City limits

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!

Let’s Move

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.

Let’s Move

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”.

No Mortgage

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.

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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!

What states allow tiny houses?

States that are the most friendly to tiny homes are as follows:

  • Arizona.
  • California.
  • Colorado.
  • Florida.
  • Georgia.
  • Idaho.
  • Indiana.
  • Kansas.

Is tiny house worth buying?

One of the greatest benefits of a tiny home is the cost savings. Because the space is so much smaller than the average house, you’ll have lower electricity bills, smaller monthly payments, and lower upkeep costs. On top of that, the house will cost less to buy upfront, or have lower rental payments.

Can you build a tiny house for $5000?

Can you build a tiny house for $5,000? A tiny house shell can be built for $5,000, especially with the help of cheap pre-cut kits. In this case, the exterior structure is completed but typically not the interior. At this extremely low price point, it excludes any trailer or foundation system

Is it cheaper to buy or build a tiny house?

It’s typically cheaper to build a tiny house than to buy one. Sullivan interviewed several first-time builders, whose costs ranged from $12,000 to $35,000. But it’s possible to build a tiny home for less than $10,000: One couple paid $8,000 to build their 24-foot-long, 8-foot-wide, 13-foot-tall tiny house.

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We get the obsession with tiny house designs. The compact gems are so versatile and full of potential they’re practically irresistible. A tiny home is an accessible reality for many first-time home buyers, whether a prefab tiny house or one built from a floor plan.

 They make sustainable living easier because they can run on clean energy and reduce your environmental footprint. You can also take them on the road: Many tiny home aficionados hook their structures up to trailers to travel the country comfortably. And, of course, they can serve as an extra office space, a guest house, or an entirely separate rental in your backyard. 

Given all that, many designers and rental hosts build innovative small-space design ideas to make their tiny houses as well-equipped and stylish as full-size homes.

Whether you’re searching for tiny house designs to elevate your backyard property or considering downsizing, we’ve got all the inspiration your mood board needs, including treehouses, A-frame, English garden cottages, and ultra-modern tiny houses—even one in a windmill. 

Still, trying to decide if you’re ready to commit? They’re all available for short-term stays; you can book a few nights in these tiny house rentals to test out bite-size living. Ahead are 86 tiny house design ideas you can share with your contractor or architect or scope out for what could be a life-changing future vacation.

Lofty Dreams

Nestled among the trees just outside the town of Woodstock in upstate New York, this treehouse-like tiny home is elevated to create sweeping views of the swimmable pond and surrounding forest. Its most desirable features include:

  • A sleeping left entire.
  • Entire walls of windows.
  • A breakfast bar.
  • A wood-burning fireplace.
  • A barrel-style hot tub.

Slanted Exterior

Ask any architect: Walls don’t have to be straight. The off-kilter style of this pro-built tiny house in the Catskills adds visual interest and makes space for a lofted bedroom, built-in shelves and cabinets, and a breakfast nook with a window seat. It also illustrates how much you can do without electricity or running water.

Baby Blue

This New Paltz, New York, tiny home’s interior design is pretty standard, but its showstopping two-tone exterior paint job makes it a standout. The platform it’s built on creates an expansive deck for eating and hanging out—a simple way to sneak in a few extra square feet.

Whimsical Windows

Inspired by the hobbits’ dwellings in The Lord of the Rings trilogy, this Catskills property has all the charm of an English cottage and then some. The Shire’s unique features include rounded windows and walls, a dining nook with built-in benches, ample window boxes, and a one-of-a-kind sauna.

Coastal Views

Set directly on the coastline of Quebec, Canada, this ’70s-inspired tiny house has vast square windows along the front for assessing the surf conditions and taking in the views each morning. Take advantage of the natural wood built-in storage (including the queen beds’ headboards) and ceilings, and clever recessed lighting throughout.

Last update on 2024-05-26 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

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