Do-It-Yourself projects are a cultural trend that has been around for a long time. There’s something about creating things with your hands that appeals to a lot of people. And in recent years, some have taken to building their own houses from scratch. The Internet is a great resource in that people can find guides and how-to videos to inform them on each stage of the process. It’s not rocket science, but it’s also not something you’d think a 13-year-old boy would be interested in doing.
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.
On His Own
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…
Another Man’s Treasures
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.
The Buzz Begins
Word of mouth had spread around town about the teen’s little venture. People were eager to know how he was doing so he decided to create a YouTube channel, where he kept
viewers updated on his progress and also answered questions about the process. Before long, everyone in school knew his name, which might not have been the best thing for Luke at the time.
A Date With Destiny
As his commitment and skill became clear to everyone, Luke was turning heads everywhere he went. Then, out of the blue, his principal called him into his office one day. “I don’t go there very often,” Luke said 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 had to focus on finishing the project, and he still had obstacles to face before construction was done.
Trial And Error
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 time came to do it himself, the glaze leaked all through the mold. Though his idea failed, Luke did not let this deter him, and soon his perseverance paid off as he got an unexpected 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, 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… except for one small 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 ensuring that his house was fully
operational, he made sure the place looked warm and inviting. It had to look flawless. Afterall, now was the time to expose a year of hard work, not only to his family but to his entire fanbase and beyond.
Can’t Have Everything
Except he 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.
Meeting His Hero
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.
It Runs In The Family
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.