At school one day, Luke received a call over the loudspeaker that made his heart drop. The principal wanted to see him right away. Luke had no idea what he’d done wrong, but he knew it had to be about what he’d been getting up to after school.
Later that day, his father demanded that he opened the door. But Luke wasn’t ready.
Luke Thill is a 13-year-old from Dubuque, Iowa. Like any other teenage boy, he has lots of energy and is easily bored. But here’s where he sets himself apart: to cope with his boredom one summer, he decided to build a house in his parents’ backyard.
The end result of this endeavor became so much more than he originally expected.
Luke set out to find the money and materials to complete his project, and first went to his parents for help. Though they approved of his efforts, they decided to let him do most of the work by himself.
“It was a chance for a kid to do something more than play video games or sports,” said his dad Greg. “It teaches life lessons.” So how did Luke manage to get it done?
The teen cut neighbors’ lawns, raised funds online, and ran errands for people in his community as a trade-in for work or supplies. For example, a family friend who was an electrician helped him install the wiring in exchange for cleaning out his garage.
Finally, he was able to gather enough money and materials to start building. Though it took him a lot longer than he anticipated…
Before starting, Luke got a plan together. Sketched lightly with black pen, he drew a rough layout for the floor plan of his tiny house. He thought he had it all worked out, and for the most part he did.
But anyone who has taken on this type of project before would know that things don’t always go smooth sailing. But then again, Luke wasn’t your average teenager…
One year later, Luke had raised $1,500 and collected enough stuff to begin building. He ended up using reclaimed or recycled materials for 75% of the house.
In the process, he helped friends and neighbors get rid of unwanted things, like his uncle’s friend’s front door and many leftover items from his grandmother’s garage. Once building was firmly underway, he realized something that caught him by surprise.
People soon heard about Luke’s venture and were eager to know how he was doing. So, he decided to create a YouTube channel where he answered questions about the process and update his followers on his progress.
Before long, everyone in school knew his name. And then, Luke received the call over the loudspeaker that made his heart drop.
Luke had been called into the principal’s office. His hands shook as he tried to think of a reason why he would be in trouble.
Maybe he should have been focusing more on his studies in his spare time. “I don’t go there very often,” Luke said nervously in one of his videos. “I’ve never gone there for anything bad.”
As it turned out, the principal was friends with a newspaper reporter from Indianapolis, who wanted to talk to the teen for a story. Despite the attention, Luke wanted to focus on finishing the project before he unveiled his masterpiece to the world.
Although he learned a lot from online resources, he soon faced an unforeseen catastrophe during construction.
When creating the kitchen area for his tiny house, the teen decided to make a homemade countertop, using pieces of stained glass and liquid glaze. He researched the technique and studied YouTube videos of the process.
But when the time came to do it himself, the glaze leaked all through the mold. Luke was gutted that the technique hadn’t worked. But then, he received a momentous invitation.
The teen was contacted by a representative of TinyFest Midwest, a festival celebrating tiny houses and small living. They not only wanted Luke to attend, but they also asked him to speak about the experience of building his tiny house.
He was excited about preparing his speech since he’d recently earned a public speaking merit badge. And with the house almost finished, he’d soon be able to move in… But he had overlooked one detail.
Luke’s tiny house was finally done, as it had everything he would need to sleep, eat, and go about his day. Still, no house is complete without a few homely touches.
After all, now was the time to expose a year of hard work, not only to his family but to his entire fanbase. But the house was missing an important feature.
Luke had one problem: the house had no toilet. The teen realized that installing plumbing was more than he could manage, but in the end, he didn’t mind.
“I liked the minimalism,” he told the Des Moines Register. Once the house was ready, he made a video tour that wowed everyone.
The 89-square-foot house, which took a year to complete, was a teenage boy’s dream: a micro living room, complete with a TV and couch, a lofted bed, and a kitchen area with an electric griddle.
It was so comfortable that Luke started spending his afternoons there doing homework, and now sleeps there a few nights a week. Now that the project was done, he thought his fame would subside – but he was wrong.
After speaking at TinyFest, the teen’s story made the front page of major Iowan newspapers, the Des Moines Register and the Telegraph Herald. Then it got picked up by local TV stations and other outlets across the country, until it reached Good Morning America.
The show sent a crew to Luke’s house to interview him and do a tour of the house. But it was a different encounter that blew the young boy’s mind.
Luke was contacted by Derek Diedricksen, author of a guide for designing and building tiny homes. This book was actually the inspiration for the teen in his mission to build his own tiny house, so being able to chat with him meant a lot.
Diedricksen sent him messages of support and they became online friends. Little did Luke know that soon he himself would be the inspiration for someone else’s DIY journey.
In a recent video on his YouTube channel, the teen shared the news that his brother Cole was starting to build a teardrop camper. Like his brother, Cole was relying on reclaimed materials and a tight budget for his build, but he had something invaluable: the advice and support of his brother.
Luke has been documenting the progress on his channel, which has recently become a bigger focus for him, and for good reason.
With more than 9,000 subscribers and growing, the teen’s YouTube channel is becoming a force of its own in the tiny home community.
Aside from chronicling his own building journey, Luke is now also showcasing other people’s small living projects, such as a sheepherders wagon and his mom’s renovation of a 1972 camper. Does this mean being a tiny house celebrity is this kid’s true calling?
When Luke set out to build his tiny house, his intention was just to create a very simple, shed-like house. As soon as he recognized his skill for it, the project grew more ambitious, and the rest is history.
Though he does plan to go to college, he also likes the idea of inspiring other kids to do what he did. “I want to show kids it’s possible to build at this age,” said Luke.
There have been other teens who were enamored with the idea of building a tiny house, too. Annabel O’Neil had the idea when her sister went off to college.
She had taken note of how expensive tuition could be and decided to build her own tiny home. Subsequently, she adopted a minimalist lifestyle in order to save money.
Another teen in Sicily also built her own tiny house, and she was only 13 years old when she embarked on the project. It took an entire year and 4 months to complete the 128-square-foot home.
The project had started as a fun venture, but unfortunately, her father passed away before she completed it. After her father’s death, she used the project as a form of therapy that helped her cope with the loss, carefully documenting her journey on her blog “La Petite Maison”.
Luke’s plans don’t end with the completion of his tiny home, though. “The main purpose is to be my starter home. I’m going to save money and expand,” he explained.
He has plans to eventually build a home large enough for a trailer. For now, he is content to sleep in his fully-functional home a few nights a week, and he uses it as a quiet spot to do his homework.