Luke Thill from Dubuque, Iowa, is quite a resourceful 13-year-old teen. Despite being so young, he’s a determined young man, but whenever he gets bored, he doesn’t resort to going online to check out his Instagram page. Oh no. He copes with his boredom in an incredible way! One summer, he decided to build his very own house in his parent’s backyard. Let that sink in! But his project blew up in ways he could’ve never imagined.
Remember when you were a teen and all you could think about was coming home, getting your homework done and then playing video games with your friends? We’re sure Luke’s friends were busy doing that, while he was building his dream home. And it paid off!
If you’ve ever seen kids at play, then you probably know they’re fascinated with building things, so it’s not surprising to see children breaking their toys apart just to see how everything works on the inside. That’s one of the best moments to encourage them to try building something new. It doesn’t matter if they fail, as there is no “right” or “wrong” way to do it.
Kids will soon learn that one single problem can have many solutions, which coincidentally is also the very basis of engineering. Breaking things down and putting them back together is seriously one of the best ways to learn how things work. So when Luke told his parents that he wanted to try his hand at building his own tiny home, they were immediately on board!
Luke was excited to start executing his master plan, but first, he needed resources, materials, and most importantly —money! So he went to his parents for a little guidance. Even though they 100% supported his ideas, they wanted him to handle most of the work all 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.” But how could this young teen manage to finish such an ambitious project?
Luke wasted no time and he quickly gathered enough money and materials to start building. To do so, he mowed neighbor’s laws, ran errands for people who were willing to exchange work or supplies, and even raised funds online. Everyone seemed to want to pitch in, including a dear family friend, who worked as an electrician. In exchange for cleaning out his garage, he took care of the daunting task of installing the electrical wiring in the house. But his project took longer than he expected.
After a long year, Luke had finally raised $1,500. Best of all? He boasted an impressive stash of materials that’d allow him to start building his tiny home! 75% of the house was mostly made out of recycled or reclaimed materials, which ended up being a total win-win situation for everyone. Neighbors and friends were able to declutter their homes and get rid of leftover objects, like his friend’s front door and some random items that were stashed away in his grandma’s garage. But right when his project was finally coming to life, he stumbled into something that took him by surprise.
As you can imagine, neighbors and family members were gushing about the young boy with and his ambitious idea, and soon enough, everybody around town wanted to know how his project was coming along. The attention got so intense, they urged him to create a YouTube channel where he could answer questions and keep everyone updated. Soon enough, he became the talk of town — and school! But at that time, that was probably not in his best interest.
Clearly, Luke was quite a talented and skillful young man, and everybody could see that. He became so popular, he was turning heads everywhere he went, and that included his own school. One day, the principal asked him to step into his office. “I don’t go there very often,” Luke said in one of his YouTube videos. “I’ve never gone there for anything bad.”
He was already getting a ton of attention, but things were about to get a bit more interesting for Luke. The principal knew a newspaper reporter from Indianapolis who was interested in working on a story about the teen’s project. But Luke had a ton of work ahead of him still, and he was facing more and more obstacles as time went by.
Using a few pieces of stained glass and liquid glaze, Luke was able to create his own homemade version of a kitchen countertop. But he didn’t come up with this technique all on his own. He researched it on YouTube first. Only problem was, it wasn’t as easy as it looked! The glaze ended up leaking all through the mold, but Luke still had a plan. He wouldn’t let a little mishap ruin his master plan. Pretty soon, his perseverance would end up paying off big time, especially after getting a surprise invitation!
Luke was contacted by a TinyFest Midwest’s representative. TinyFest is a festival that celebrates tiny houses and small minimalist living, and they wanted him not only to make a stellar appearance, but they wanted him to give a lecture on what it felt like to build his ambitious tiny home. Needless to say, Luke was speechless. But he wasn’t nervous about speaking in front of a crowd, as he had earned a public speaking merit badge a while back. The house was almost done, which would allow him to move in pretty soon, but there was still one problem.
Tiny house festivals such as TinyFest’s allow people to celebrate their love for minimalist living, tiny homes, all while checking out the latest in tiny houses of all shapes, styles, and of course, sizes. The festival is held all across America, and while they celebrate tiny houses, the festival is BIG! Luke was pretty ecstatic about the invitation, so he started working on his speech the minute he was contacted. And even though his home was finally finished, there was still something major he needed to figure out.
Luke’s mini-home was finally complete, and it had everything he needed to eat, sleep, and live. Of course, the house still needed a personal touch. Once he made sure the house was entirely operational, he added a couple of extra things to make it homelier. He needed it to be perfect because he was just about ready to share his special project with his family, his fanbase, and the rest of the world.
Kids will always be better off in the long run if they’re allowed to come up with new projects. This stimulates their tiny brains and gets them to acquire new skills that will be totally useful later down the road. And who knows? Perhaps they’d wind up posting their ideas and mini projects on YouTube and get a ton of followers like Luke!
But there was one tiny issue. The house didn’t have a toilet, and adding plumbing to it was above his level of expertise, but that didn’t matter. He told the Des Moines register: “I liked the minimalism.” So, once he set the house up, he shot a video tour that knocked everyone’s socks off.
Luke poured a lot of sweat and tears into his micro-home. But the question remained, was he happy with the end results? More importantly, could he actually enjoy all of the same amenities that his parents’ home already offered him?
It took a whole year to finish the 89-square-foot home, and it was more than any teenage boy could hope for. It had a couch and TV in the tiny living room, a kitchen with an electric griddle, and a lofted bed. It was so comfy that Luke actually enjoyed doing homework there every afternoon. He also slept in there a couple of times a week. But he figured his fame would diminish now that the project was finished. Boy, was he wrong!
Luke couldn’t believe it! The house might have taken a while to build, but his fame was growing by leaps and bounds in a short amount of time. But he was still a teenage boy. Would all the attention overwhelm him, or would the fame go to his head?
The teen’s story made headlines in various Iowa newspapers, such as the Telegraph Herald and the Des Moines Register, after he spoke with TinyFest. Eventually, local TV stations and other news outlets throughout the country took an interest, including Good Morning America. A GMA crew came to Luke’s house to speak with him and get a tour of the miniature home. But he was blown away by a completely different encounter.
Derek Diedricksen, an author who wrote a guide on how to design and build tiny homes, reached out to Luke. Diedriksen’s book had inspired the teen’s idea to build his micro home. So, chatting with Diedricksen meant a lot, and so did the various messages of support. The two became online buddies. But Luke never imagined that he would become a source of inspiration for someone’s DIY project.
Luke may have had an array of tools at his disposal, but the most useful one was learning through trial and error. The teen undoubtedly had a couple of hiccups along the way. But his experience will help teach his followers how to avoid the same mistakes.
Luke went on his YouTube channel to announce that his brother Cole was going to build a teardrop camper. Cole intended to use a tight budget and reclaimed materials to build something awesome. Best of all, he had the support and advice of his brother, which was invaluable. Luke documented his brother’s progress on YouTube, which has become his main focus recently, and there’s a perfectly logical explanation for that.
Words of encouragement can be a powerful thing when a child is working on something as challenging as Luke had been. Positive reinforcement can push kids to do better and never give up, even in the face of failure. But a little online guidance doesn’t hurt either.
As far as the tiny home community is concerned, the teen’s YouTube channel is a force to be reckoned with. He even has over 9,000 subscribers, too. But aside from showcasing his journey and that of his brother, Luke is also focusing on other people’s small projects, such as his mom’s 1972 camper renovation and a sheep herder’s wagon. But is being a tiny home celeb really in the cards for him?
Most kids wouldn’t dare take on such an ambitious project like this one, no matter how big or how small the house was. But Luke has the heart of a young craftsman. So, he used his brain and talent to achieve the impossible, and he did.
Luke persevered, even when he felt like giving up. And it was that stubbornness that pushed him to the end. Teens can be moody, and stubborn as a mule at times, but if you show them how to channel those feelings into action, they might end up with their very own teen boy version of a “man cave,” just like Luke!
Luke originally intended to build a shed-like home. He never thought something so tiny would end up being so huge. Once he realized he had a knack for it, the project became far more ambitious. But he does plan to attend college someday. Meanwhile, he likes the fact that he’s a role model to other kids. Luke said: “I want to show kids it’s possible to build at this age.”