This 13 Year Old Kid Built His Own House

October 5, 2018 | Matt


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What did you do when you were a kid on summer break? You probably watched a lot of TV, maybe played some hide and seek when your sugar rushes (or your parents) drove you out of the house. You probably never accomplished something so remarkable that the entire world took notice, and made yourself a minor celebrity in the process.

Facebook – Luke Thill

Such was the life of a kid named Luke Thill, who spent one summer in Dubuque, Iowa working on a project that would intimidate most adults. Luke, who “wanted something to do during the summer,” was browsing the internet for DIY craft projects when he stumbled upon an idea that would change his life forever.

He found out about something called “tiny houses,” a new trend in construction where people built extremely small homes for themselves. They are exercises both in economy of design and in sustainable living. Some people’s ideas are fairly brilliant. Others are just little tiny houses. Thill was enamored with what he saw.

So, instead of spending his attention on Angry Birds, he revved up some power tools, rolled up his little sleeves and got to work on his own tiny house. The results were nothing short of incredible. His accomplishments were so significant that the news quickly took notice.

Getting To Work

YouTube

Luke Thill first got the notion to build a tiny house by browsing videos on YouTube. He eventually stumbled into a video niche about Tiny Houses, a new idea to him. The tiny house movement is fairly new. Its proponents advocate a highly stripped-down, simplified life of living with bare necessities in a confined space. While that may not strike everyone as a very appealing prospect, Thill fell in love.

He was only twelve when he first got the tiny house bug. Thankfully, his family’s back yard was large enough to accommodate the project. While most kids (and adults) would embark on such a journey only to cut it short after an initial flurry of activity, Thill stuck with it to completion. With the aid of his parents and many, many how-to YouTube videos, he was ultimately successful in building his own tiny house.

While the house may be tiny, Thill’s sense of achievement, and the scope of the accolades he got from people who learned about what he did, were enormous. Thill will certainly go on to accomplish many bigger projects than the tiny house. But in the meantime, he’s the Tiny House kid. Not a bad title.

Off With a Shot

Facebook – Tinyfest

It didn’t take Luke Thill long to decide that he wanted his own tiny house. And, surprisingly, it wasn’t hard for him to convince his parents to let him do it. His parents loved the idea. They thought that it was a far preferable alternative to having him sitting around the house all summer, or playing video games, setting things on fire, or whatever else it is that twelve-year-olds do (my words, not theirs).

Obviously, Luke could not have done this without a significant amount of support. A lot of it came from his parents, and a lot of it came from advice he found online. This isn’t to diminish Luke’s moxy, or resourcefulness, etc. He did was basically nobody does – start and finish a major project.

Lest you mistakenly think the parents just subsidized the whole project whole cloth, they laid down some ground rules that he’d have to provide most of the funding himself, by earning it through work. Once word got out about his plans with the tiny house, though, many people were quick to rush to his assistance, in the form of resources and work opportunities. The world loves seeing a kid actually apply themselves. In this particular instance, they also got to see the kid succeed.

It Takes a Village

Facebook – Luke Thill

It wasn’t long before Luke’s entire neighborhood knew what was going on in the Thill back yard. Needless to say, they were pretty smitten with Luke’s gumption. It wasn’t difficult for him to find odd jobs with his neighbors, to start saving money for the tiny house project. He was an eager worker, as well, driven by his vision of the tiny house he would be able to call truly his own. That day would come sooner than later.

Among the many tasks Luke performed to make the change needed were mowing lawns, cleaning out cluttered garages, and other domestic chores that the neighbors were happy to outsource. In addition to collecting paydays, he also collected materials that he could use to build the house and outfit its interior. This was in keeping with the guiding ethos of the tiny house movement at large, which endorses recycling and reusing.

So, Luke would not only have bragging rights over all his peers for building his own house. He would also be able to lord it over them that he was a more ecologically responsible citizen. Not that that curries a lot with twelve year olds. But it’s certainly an interesting claim to fame.

Building A Dream

YouTube

People’s garages, back yards and storage sheds provided quite a bit of reusable material for Luke’s tiny house. As he cleaned them out, he also set aside bits and pieces to keep for later use. It was a brilliant strategy to cut the overall cost of the project.

There’s certainly no shortage of junk to be found in most people’s garages. Instead of seeing it all as trash, he saw it as an untapped resource pool. He was likely turned onto this perspective by the videos he watched about tiny houses, as well as the written material he started inhaling. Tiny houses became his life.

He made some great scores, too. Who would have guessed a Thill family friend would have a spare front door sitting around that they were trying to get rid of? This was one of many stars that aligned nicely for Luke to achieve his vision.

Is your power tool hand itchy yet? Eyeing that novel manuscript you never finished? Keep in mind, as you continue reading this story, that he actually completed the tiny house. And the results were as impressive as anything you’d see in one of the tiny homesteading magazines Luke loves so much.

Hiring Help

Des Moines Register

Like a modern day Tom Sawyer, Luke also recruited others to help him finish a lot of the hardest work. But unlike his fictional counterpart, he didn’t do it through trickery. In addition to money, Luke also worked in exchange for services that he couldn’t do himself, like electrical work.

Instead of taking unnecessary risks, trying to teach himself how to wire a house, Luke got more experienced professional adults to help him do it as payment for jobs he did for them. In addition to being an industrious kid with big dreams, Luke is also very, very smart.

Lest you think that this kind of thing is only possible for a handful of especially gifted or driven kids, a New York City teacher named John Taylor Gatto is proof otherwise. An award-winning teacher and author, Gatto became famous for teaching his kids to seek out real-world professional mentorships and professional relationships with adults, just like Luke. His results were unprecedented. People are capable of amazing feats, even if they’re very young. Just because you’re a kid doesn’t mean you can’t start flexing your force of will, setting goals and seeing them through to accomplishment through hard work.

He Started His Own Channel

Facebook – Luke Thill

Yep, a twelve-year-old built that. This is a photo of Luke’s finished tiny home. All warm and cozy in the snow.

Pretty soon after he started building it, it wasn’t just the neighborhood that was fascinated by Luke’s tiny house. The world at large caught wind of what he was doing. People wanted updates constantly. Luke was happy to oblige them, but thought that it would be easier to just start a YouTube channel of his own to keep his admirers posted on progress. It was a natural fit – he already spent a ton of time on the video streaming site for guidance on the project anyway.

It wasn’t long before his channel had accumulated quite a significant number of subscribers. People are naturally inclined to take interest in a story like this. How can you not root for the kid, or be inspired by his work ethic to accomplish things in your own life?

Sometimes we need to be reminded that we’re capable of doing great things. Obviously, not all of us have the advantage of being twelve and adorable. But where there’s a will, there’s generally a way. He is probably responsible for many other people building their own tiny houses.

The News Takes Notice

Facebook – Luke Thill

It was a foregone conclusion that Luke would wind up in the newspaper. He found out about his first article in an interesting way. One day at school, he was summoned to the principal’s office. This generally is cause for alarm. But it wasn’t bad news that Luke was receiving.

The principal surprised Luke by presenting him with a copy of the day’s Des Moines Register. There was his house, splashed across the front page in a big story.

His newspaper coverage was largely due to his success on YouTube. It was an interesting story anyway, but add to the credential of “Tiny Home Builder” the title of “Self Made Viral Star” and you have the makings of a media sensation.

Needless to say, he was also a known figure in the tiny house movement. It must be a weird feeling to get a bunch of kudos from your friends and family for building a tiny house, and then have a twelve year old come along and accomplish the same thing. If people were jealous, they certainly couldn’t say so explicitly, at risk of looking like the world’s biggest scrooge. Of course, how can you not be a little bit embarrassed considering his accomplishments, even if you’ve never thought about building a tiny house?

It Was Cheaper Than You Think

YouTube

One of the selling points of the tiny house is how radically less expensive it is than buying or building a traditional, full-size house. If you can afford a used car, you can probably afford a tiny house. In total, Luke earned about $1,500 to finish the house.

That’s certainly more expensive than buying something like an XBox, what kids his age typically save up for. But it’s not totally unrealistic to expect that someone his age could raise that kind of funding. Factor in benevolent adults donating money on top of earnings from odd jobs, and that sum really starts looking pretty attainable.

Luke was already getting a significant amount of eyeballs on the project before he actually started putting nails in wood. Before he started construction, he underwent a very intense period of research and planning. He had a distinct vision of what he wanted the finished tiny house to look like.

It will surprise nobody to hear that the construction process had its fair share of problems. That’s inevitable in anything, especially when you’re doing something complicated and physically demanding for the first time. However, these setbacks weren’t big enough to keep Luke from seeing it through to the end.

It Was Designed With Flair

YouTube

Luke wanted his house to be both practical and aesthetically pleasing. He incorporated many little design flairs that pushed it from being a utilitarian house to being a welcoming, beautiful home.

One such flourish was a home-made countertop that he made from stained glass fragments and glaze. Where did he learn how to do it? YouTube, of course. You can apparently learn how to do anything from YouTube. The countertop, like the rest of the house, was both visually impressive and easy on the pocketbook. There’s no shortage of what you can do with a little bit of money and a little bit of expert advice.

Unfortunately, the countertop was not to be. When he added the glaze to the glass arrangement, it wound up leaking through the mold. It was a headache of a mess to clean up. He had to recoup and think of an alternative. Nevertheless, he soldiered through and found an acceptable alternative. As with a lot of missteps along the way, it wasn’t a fatal error and he ended up learning a lot from it. If he ever chooses to make another countertop in the future, he’ll know what to do, and what not to.

An Instant Celebrity

Des Moines Register

As described before, Luke’s endeavors caught a lot of eyes. The Tiny House world was definitely smitten with him. So much so, that TinyFest Midwest hired him to deliver a speech for them. TinyFest is a tiny house festival.

Their website describes the festival thusly: “Tour tiny houses of all shapes, styles, and sizes. Learn how to minimize your clutter, your debt, your carbon footprint, and to MAXIMIZE your life!  And, meet like-minded Midwesterners who value the ideals behind building small and living large.”

Serendipitously, Luke had just been awarded a Boy Scout merit badge for public speaking. Are you surprised that Luke is a boy scout? Neither am I.

Luke is still listed on the TinyFest Midwest website as a speaker. “Luke built his first tiny house starting at age 12 years old.  The 89 sqft house was a great learning experience and he documented much of the build on his YouTube channel. After his debut in the tiny house community at TinyFest Midwest 2017, he has been recognized around the world launching the young tiny house enthusiast.  He takes great pride in helping to inspire other youth and teens to start their own tiny house builds.” Sounds about right.

The House Lacked a Few Amenities

YouTube

When it was all finished, Luke’s tiny house had 89 square feet of floor space and quite a few creature comforts. There were, however, some missing pieces. Plumbing, for example. Installing a plumbing system in the tiny house proved to be a little more than Luke could chew, even with the aid of YouTube videos. Since the house was built in the back yard of the family home, walking the few feet to shower and use the bathroom seemed to be a reasonable compromise.

It wasn’t for lack of trying. Luke drafted up multiple different plans to install a plumbing system. Sadly, none of them came to fruition. It was just too big of a project. Nevertheless, the house was still equipped with a working electrical system. The system was installed with the help of his neighbor, in exchange for cleaning out his garage.

Luke calls the house a “starter home,” which is a contender for Understatement of the Century. “I liked the minimalism. And I wanted to have a house without a huge mortgage,” Luke said of the project, probably with a very good deadpan. Luke’s not the only one who feels that way. Tiny homes had a moment in the spotlight recently, when they were the architectural novelty du jour. Many people swear by them.

His First Trial Run

YouTube

During the house’s construction, Luke was understandably excited to get to sleep in the house that he built. So excited that he couldn’t hold out until the project was actually completed. So, one very cold night in the dead of winter, with a thick blanket of snow on the ground, Luke bundled up and hunkered down for the night.

Surprisingly, he wasn’t cold. He reported that he actually got so warm in his upstairs loft bed (yep, the house has stories), he had to crack a window. It was a testament to Luke’s design. Thankfully, he built the house with adequate insulation to make it more than habitable during the sub-freezing temperatures that characterize Iowa winters.

Sleeping through a winter’s night in a house you built with your own hands is typically an experienced reserved for mountaineers. But you don’t have to be a far-flung wilderness homesteader to build your own habitation. Lest you think tiny houses are only compatible with tiny people, another TinyFest speaker was 6’8″ tall. Fully grown adults can also live reasonably comfortably in homes as small as Luke’s, or even smaller. You have to sacrifice most of your belongings to do so, but that’s part of the appeal for many.

A Viral Star Is Born

Des Moines Register

Luke’s videos made some great numbers. But it wasn’t until he uploaded the video of his first house tour that he really blew up. The video garnered around seven and a half million views. You don’t have to be famous to do Rihanna numbers. You just have to show people something they’ve never seen before. This definitely fit the bill.

The video currently stands at over ten million views. His channel has almost 47,000 subscribers with only 120 videos – a ratio that would make most aspiring YouTube stars salivate with envy. And when you consider the story being told, it’s not hard to understand why it would strike a chord with millions of people all over the world. With very little money, Luke was able to completely change his life forever.

The story plays out in his video comments. Many people reach out to express their gratitude for Luke sharing his project, saying that he inspired them to follow their own dreams and achieve great things. Others simply praise his industriousness, recounting ways they spent or misspent their own time when they were his age. It only took about a year and a half for Luke to see the house from idea to completion.

A Life Of Luxury

YouTube

The house looks great from the outside. It looks like a tiny house you ordered from a tiny house catalogs. Not sure if there are actually tiny house catalogs, but if there were, his house would be in there.

It has all the trappings of a normal-sized house, sans the bathroom. It has its own little kitchen, a dining area and its own bedroom that’s separate from the rest of the house. This is much, much more than the clubhouse or tree fort most kids his age would be making in their summer months.

The separate bedroom even affords some degree of privacy if Luke has guests over. Which, considering how novel the tiny house is, he probably does quite frequently. It’s crazy to think just how much comfort can be packed into such a small space. You’d expect to be banging your head against ceilings and rubbing shoulders with the walls, but once you get used to the limited space, it’s apparently quite natural to live in one. There is, of course, the lingering feeling of being trapped in a closet. But considering the savings on rent and etcetera, it’s probably worth the price of admission. Especially when it’s only $1,500.

Inside the House

Des Moines Register

This is a view looking into the house from the front door. To the right is the kitchen area, which can be hidden by drawn curtains. The countertop lifts up to reveal storage underneath, and below that, there is a mini fridge and another storage area. The walls were decorated with linoleum tiles that were originally intended for flooring, but are quite handsome in their new context.

The backlit glass piece is a pane of glass taken from a door. It separates the storage shelves / loft ladder from the rest of the house. Even just from this one snapshot, you can get an idea of how economically Luke used his space. It looks, for all intents and purposes, like a part of a more conventional house.

Although he doesn’t have indoor plumbing, he does have a large pitcher of water he can pour into a bowl for toiletries and cooking. He has a little cooking element he can use to prepare meals, and even a little bottle of seasoning for when he does so. There was clearly a lot of thought put into what should be in the house. And from the looks of it, he did a pretty bang up job.

The Grand Tour

YouTube

In his most-viewed video, Luke gives us a full tour of the house. Admittedly, it doesn’t take long. The house is, after all, only 89 square feet. However, there is a lot to see. Like this storage cabinet, which he installed over the kitchen counter to hold some necessities like flashlights and seasoning salt.

His dad also made him a foam mattress, which lives in the little upstairs loft area, accessible by ladder. There is also a living room area, with a small couch and a television attached to a folding arm. Many college students would probably be happy to trade living arrangements with Luke, over their crowded, expensive, dirty dorm rooms.

Luke doesn’t live in the house full time, but he does spend at least a couple nights a week sleeping in it. While he may be thirteen with his own house, he’s still a teenager and still not fully independent from his parents. Hopefully, when he gets older, he won’t feel cramped in the house that he built. By that time, he may want to move out of his parents’ back yard anyway. Or at least build a slightly less tiny house. Maybe one with a toilet.

Picture Perfect

Facebook Luke Thill

Luke took progress photos along the way. The results are pretty remarkable. It went from a plywood box to a real house, all in the course of a year and a half. The news was all over it.

Luke, thirteen, had stories written about him in both the Des Moines Register and the Telegraph Herald. It’s a story almost tailor made for the news. Not just the local news, either. Luke got a spot on an episode of Good Morning America, as well. Most famous kids get that way because their parents thrust them into the spotlight. Not Luke. Luke got famous because he actually accomplished something on his own conviction. He didn’t even have to yodel.

Unlike other child stars, Luke will also have a skillset that he can directly apply to his future work life that has nothing to do with clicks, likes or fame. He is now more equipped to make money for himself than many adults. Not just because of the manual skills he learned, but because of the process he undertook of raising the money and establishing relationships to make the dream happen. It was truly an invaluable lesson in how the world really works, and how willing people actually are to help when you ask.

An Unusual Kid

YouTube

There aren’t many thirteen-year-olds who would drolly answer that they “wanted to have a house without a huge mortgage” when asked why they built a house. Not that many kids would get asked that question in the first place. Luke’s demeanor in his videos is about what you’d expect it to be. Smart, lucid and preternaturally in command.

The majority of the house was built out of materials that Luke found, bartered for or otherwise acquired without having to pay for it. Around 3/4 of it is constructed of reclaimed material. Goes to show – if you want to do something, you may have more resources available to you than seems readily apparent. When was the last time you cleaned out your garage? Or had a precocious teenager do it for you? There might be more valuable stuff in there than you recall.

Luke will probably ride out his Tiny House fame for a while. It will probably be a little bit tougher to sit still in class, when you know you’re capable of doing pretty much whatever you want and actually seeing it become a reality. What a wonderful head start he gave himself on actually being able to do real things in the world.

DIY Air Conditioning

YouTube

Some of Luke’s cost cutting innovations border on genius. Not sure if this was his original idea or not, but instead of installing an air conditioning unit for the summer months, he implemented a much simpler system. He used furnace filters to accomplish basically the same thing. He dipped the filters in water, then set them up in an open window or next to a fan. This cools the air. Much cheaper than an air conditioner.

Air conditioning may also have not been a possibility, as he only has a 15-amp electrical system. That is not enough power to run even a small window-mounted air conditioning unit. He made do with what he had.

The system apparently works quite well. The house stands up not only to the harsh Iowan winters, but also the hot summers as well. And if conditions ever get exceptionally severe, it’s a quick walk to the main house. His house really does embody the spirit of small footprint, low cost development. It’s earned him kudos not just from an adoring fanbase of laypeople, but also from experts in the field of tiny houses. Not that you can get a degree in tiny houseology or anything.

Money On His Mind

YouTube

Luke didn’t sit idly as he saw his viewer count grow. He took advantage of the situation and started merchandising himself. Luke printed up a run of t-shirts and sweaters, that he designed himself. Go figure.

It wasn’t a massive marketing push – the run was very limited. It was, however, yet another valuable lesson in how to promote yourself, earn money and build relationships. There aren’t that many thirteen-year-olds who have enough notoriety to sell even ten shirts. In addition to promoting himself, Luke also hoped the merch would help promote the tiny house movement as a whole. A movement which he’s embraced, and which has embraced him back.

When he started the project, Luke’s dad Greg told him that once he raised the money and built the house, he would own it. The house is, indeed, Luke’s. Dad Greg said of the project, “It was a chance for a kid to do something more than play video games or sports. It teaches life lessons.” That is certainly the case. Luke learned about a decade’s worth of life lessons over the year and a half of work he put into the house.

Small House, Small Chores

YouTube

If you hate cleaning house, you might want to consider just moving into a smaller house. Tiny Houses are exceptionally quick and easy to maintain. Considering how few surfaces there are, cleaning takes only a fraction of the time as a full-sized house. The real trick is not cluttering up the space with extra stuff.

That doesn’t mean you can totally let your cleaning duties slide, though. Luke cleans his tiny house around four times a week to make sure it’s in top shape. Either Luke is an especially fastidious young man or that’s what it takes to keep such a small place from feeling overcrowded by belongings. However, each cleaning only takes somewhere around 15 minutes. It must be very easy to get that cleaning regimen streamlined when there’s only a handful of things to clean. Wipe down the kitchen, make your foam bed, sweep the floor, swivel the TV back into position and you’re pretty much done.

The house is 5.5 feet wide and 10 feet long. Pretty much the size of a large bathroom. So if you can clean your bathroom four times a week, you can clean a tiny house. Except it’s less gross.

Quite An Entertainer

YouTube

Despite the limited space, Luke still makes room for guests quite frequently. If you were his friend, you would probably want to spend time in the cool tiny house as well. Especially considering the fact that there’s not enough room for parents.

Luke has more than just construction skills. The enterprising young guy can also cook. Cooking inside the tiny house does pose some problems. For example, it is prone to rapidly filling with steam. He’s found some workarounds, and has settled into a nice groove of being able to prepare some signature dishes with the resources he has on hand inside the house.

His favorite is something called “camper stew burritos,” a recipe invented on the fly by his father during a camping trip. Luke cooks it for his family often, using a hot plate that he places on his kitchen counter. It often takes people well into their college years, or beyond, to learn even the rudimentary cooking skills needed to make camper stew burritos. By the time he gets to college (if he goes), he’s going to have the life skills of an average 35 year old man. Not a bad position to be in at all.

Another DIY Project Is In The Works

YouTube

Luke isn’t the only Thill who’s caught the construction bug. Having seen his younger brother’s runaway success with the tiny house, older brother Cole Thill has started his own endeavor. Cole is making a teardrop-shaped camper. Kind of like a tiny house, except it’s towable. Hopefully, he’s open to listening to advice from younger brother Luke.

Like his brother, Cole has also started a YouTube channel to keep followers up to date on the project’s progress. And like the tiny house that preceded his camper, Luke is relying mostly on reused materials. He’s also operating under the same ground rules, as laid down by their father: they raise the money, they do the work, and they own the product.

Greg Thill is certainly coming out of this looking like a wonder dad. Credit is due all around the Thill family – certainly an unusual one. There are certainly worse things to be known for than being the family full of hyper-driven people. Pretty soon the whole family’s going to be living in their own homemade houses in the back yard, and they can just rent out the big one. Parents want to be overshadowed by their kids’ achievements, right?

Some Hiccups

YouTube

Luke may be an impressive thirteen-year-old, but he’s still thirteen. And he’s still a first-time home builder. Mistakes were inevitable. He made quite a few, as to be expected. There was, of course, the problem with the counter tops. But there were many other problems that arose over the course of building the tiny house. Ever the industrious kid, Luke rose to meet, and ultimately overcome, those problems.

Some of his viewers asked him what errors he stumbled into along the way. He reported that the loft proved quite a challenge. The light fixture, specifically, was a thorn in his side for some time. The fixture he installed was too big. People who climbed up there routinely hit their heads on the light. Not a great recipe. Head plus glass bulb equals potential injury. Not to mention that it’s just annoying.

Luke also said that he installed the paneling a little too hastily. Had he taken more time, the paneling would have come out with many fewer blemishes on it. As it stands now, it bears quite a few scratches and scuff marks from where he wasn’t quite careful enough in handling it. Nevertheless, overall, it’s pretty amazing that the house suffered no major structural problems.

It Runs In The Family

YouTube

First Luke built his house. Then his older brother started construction on his rolling tiny house. Then, their mother threw down her own gauntlet. However, it seems like she’s not quite as into the heavy lifting as the kids. Her approach to her own DIY project is a little more civilized.

Instead of building her own habitation from the ground up, she bought a 1972 Forester Kayot camper. She’s renovating it, and she doesn’t even have to clean out her neighbors’ garages to raise the funds necessary to do so. Luke is still giving her a helping hand, but it’s more in the media department than construction. Luke took it upon himself to film her progress for her, and upload it to YouTube.

Pretty soon, the entire family is going to be branded as the DIY family. Honestly, that’s already pretty much happened. Hard not to, when one of your kids is famous for being a bootstrapping tiny house guru, known the world over for his unprecedented achievements. Mom’s camper will probably look great next to the tiny house and the ground-up teardrop camper. Hopefully she can find a way to make it as inexpensive as her kids’ projects.

Luke Marches On

Country Living Magazine

Unsurprisingly, Luke has plans to continue building tiny houses. His first run through gave him the basic literacy to know how to build them faster and better. And possibly bigger. It seems like his long-term outlook on a career may actually be focused around tiny houses, or something like them. They are still his passion. Possibly his destiny.

Luke wants to build another tiny house, but a little larger than his first one. 89 square feet is still pretty small, even by tiny house standards. When he finishes his new one, he’ll be able to stretch out his legs a little more. And considering the fact he’s about to hit puberty, there might be quite a bit more leg to stretch by the time he’s done with it.

The next house will be a permanent residence. He wants to get it right. In order to pay for it, he’s actually planning to sell the first house. Considering how famous it is now, it shouldn’t be too hard to find someone who’s willing to pay top dollar for it. It’s not a bad deal, either. He’s a kid, but he made a quality house. Of course, fans can expect Luke to publish video progress of the new construction progress on YouTube.

Showered With Praise

Dubuque Area Chamber

Luke and his family live in Dubuque, Iowa. Every year, the town names a list of “Movers, Shakers & Newsmakers.” Luke placed #10 on that list, making him officially one of the most interesting people that lives in Dubuque. He was nominated not only for his accomplishment in finishing the tiny house, but also for pioneering such an impressive following on social media. There probably aren’t that many people in his town who are that experienced with building a social media empire. So, Luke was a shoe-in for the award.

As his reward, Luke was invited to a ritzy dinner party, and even got a trophy. By Luke’s account, the food at the dinner was so high quality that he’d never tasted anything quite like it before. It was probably a big improvement over camp burritos, though those will always have a place on his plate.

He was only fourteen when he got the award. Luke’s career continues to build as he ages. The initial flurry of media coverage has subsided, but he’s still got a ton of devoted subscribers on YouTube, and is still inspiring people with his story. Pretty soon, once he starts building other houses, that will be stories, plural.

Nice Guys Finish First?

YouTube

Luke’s YouTube comments are a testament to just how impressed most of his viewers are by what he’s done. By his personality, as well. This commenter hit the nail on the head, advising any girls watching the video to keep their eyes peeled for a guy like Luke. There probably aren’t that many of them floating around in the world. If you see one, claim him.

His ten-million-view video only has around a thousand dislikes, versus thirty-seven thousand thumbs up. That is an impressive ratio. People love Luke, and for good reason. He’s a wholesome kid who put his money where his mouth was and made something impressive happen. When strangers start calling you “superb husband material” when you’re only thirteen years old, it probably means you’re doing something right.

Luke certainly fits the mold of the wholesome plucky kid. Hopefully he’s able to stay level with the whole world telling him he’s a prodigy. By the looks of it, he’s going to be just fine. He should have no problem finding friends and supporters, even as he inches towards adulthood. When the “cutie pie” ness is gone, he’ll still be a capable man.

Not Everyone Bought It

YouTube

Critical comments are unavoidable on YouTube. YouTube, like the rest of the internet, is a place where people can express their opinions anonymously. It’s therefore no surprise that even Luke Thill got a portion of his viewership throwing criticism his way. Like this commenter, who accused the whole thing of being rigged by the dad.

Luke’s supporters were quick to rush to his defense. When you accuse a child of being a patsy for their parents without any kind of evidence, and undermine their accomplishments in the process, people can pretty easily ferret out that you’re probably commenting from a place of jealousy. It’s kind of easy to be jealous of Luke, honestly – he did more as a thirteen year old than many adults do in years.

Just because Luke got help from some more experienced adults doesn’t mean he should be denigrated as a fraud. Just because you get expert help in areas that you’re not qualified in, doesn’t mean you’re not worthy of praise for the finished product. Even though adults installed his electrical system doesn’t mean the kid didn’t build the house himself, and doesn’t deserve to be recognized for doing something extremely difficult.

More Praise

YouTube

So where should Luke go from here? He’s built a big audience, he has people’s confidence, and the world appears to be his oyster. Maybe this commenter has a point. Building one tiny house at a time is impressive. But capitalizing on his celebrity and undertaking some kind of larger manufacturing project related to tiny houses might be a more lucrative move, with much wider reach. You can only sell a single house for so much.

After all, he’s already marketed his own merchandise. Why not take it bigger?

The commenter also has a point about affordable housing. Most people would probably prefer to live in a full-sized home. But with housing prices skyrocketing and homelessness on the rise, tiny houses are probably better than no houses at all. Consider all the less useful things you can buy for $1,500. That barely even covers a gaming computer, or a lower-end used car. Might as well take that money and put it into a house that you can live in, permanently, and you only have to clean for fifteen minutes. Luke has given a lot of people a lot of food for thought, on multiple fronts. He’s already inspiring people to start their own tiny houses. People who aren’t even related to him.

Jacob On The Case

YouTube

Luke is a test case for kids building tiny houses. A successful test case. There are lots of kids who, having seen Luke do it, want to do it themselves. It remains to be seen how many of them will actually follow through with it. Some of them will. Hopefully, Luke will derive satisfaction from seeing his efforts have that kind of an impact on total strangers’ lives.

This commenter says that, like Luke, he is also thirteen. He also says that he’s planning to build his very own tiny house, just like Luke’s. We wish him all the best. May his neighbors have cluttered garages and also be experienced electricians.

At the festival, Luke said that one of his missions was to prove to kids his age that they, too, could do what he did. Looks like a lot of them have taken heed of that message.

Luke is going to be living in tiny houses potentially for a very long time. The next one he builds will be on wheels, so he can take it to college with him. It would be preferable to sharing a communal shower with a bunch of weirdos, or falling asleep every night to the sound of Sublime coming through the walls.

The Tiny House Movement

Tiny Sip House

The tiny house movement was very much talked about for a period of time, recently. It’s still popular, with more and more people becoming amenable to the idea. It fits with a general ethic of ecological conservation and minimalist lifestyle. It also looks cool in Instagram photos.

The definition of what makes a tiny house a tiny house is open to interpretation. As a general rule of thumb, tiny houses are smaller than five hundred square feet. They go all the way down to micro size, which is around where Luke’s house lands. The tiny house boom stands in contrast to an expansion in the average American house size over recent years. In 1978, the average house in the United States was 1,780 square feet. In 2013, that number jumped to 2,662 square feet. Did the average size of the American family grow concurrently? No, it did not. It actually shrank. America was building more house for less people.

Tiny houses may be an overkill solution to that imbalance. But for the people who live in them, they represent an attitude towards life as much as a reasonably priced housing alternative. You probably don’t know anyone who has one, but in a few years, you might.

The Movement’s Roots

Flickr – Paul VanDerWerf

Tiny houses were first popularized by an author named Sarah Susanka, who brought the phenomenon to the attention of the general American reading public with her book The Not So Big House. Since the book’s publication in 1997, the idea of the tiny house has become more and more mainstreamed. Thanks, in large part no doubt, to the tiny house’s novelty and aesthetics perfectly suited to glossy photo spreads.

Susanka wrote the book with a mission – to show people that they should “build better, not bigger.” She wasn’t the first writer to propose this idea, or to cover tiny houses, but the first whose work really struck a nerve with a lot of people. Before her, an author named Lloyd Khan published a book titled Shelter in 1973 that is considered a classic of the tiny house library. In 1987, Lester Walker published Tiny Houses, another foundational text of the tiny house movement.

And of course, this very brief bibliography would be incomplete without Henry David Thoreau’s WaldenWalden is held as another foundational text for the tiny house movement, as much for its spirit of self reliance as for the actual logistics of his living situation (which were hazy – he actually spent much of his stay at Walden not actually at Walden).

Tiny Houses and Hurricane Katrina

Tiny House Listings

Tiny houses made the news in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, when there was a pressing need for affordable housing that could be erected quickly. A designer named Marinanne Cusato came up with something that came to be nicknamed the “Katrina Cottage” – essentially a tiny house. It was a residential shelter that was three hundred and eight square feet, big enough to house a family in relative comfort.

The tiny house idea also got traction in the media following the financial crisis of 2008, when more and more people with less and less money needed to come up with a reasonable solution for housing. Most people don’t have the technical knowledge and experience to build one from the ground up. Or the money – even though it’s relatively much cheaper than building a full scale house.

Some people have found interesting compromises. One popular one is to convert garages into self-sustaining domiciles of their own. This isn’t the traditional “my uncle sleeps on a couch in the garage” situation. People build them into welcoming habitations replete with all the amenities and creature comforts you’d expect from a standalone tiny house. It certainly beats living on the streets, or in some ramshackle tenement.

It’s Not All Glory

The Pinafore Tiny Home

Tiny houses come with a long laundry list of pluses, many of which have been enumerated in this article. As you could expect, though, they also come with a litany of drawbacks that have to be considered before you make plans to move into one of your own.

For one, you have to dramatically reduce the amount of belongings you own. Or otherwise find storage space for stuff you’re not willing to part with but won’t fit inside the house. Storage fees can add up over time. You’re pretty much locked into having a set amount of stuff for the entire time you live in a tiny house.

It can also be tough to find a place to build one. Not everyone has a parents’ backyard waiting to be developed. Tiny houses are often built in a way that doesn’t comply with building codes. It’s easy to fall into a legal gray area, where your house is built in a technically unideal spot in a technically unideal way. Problems you don’t have when you’re thirteen and everybody bends over backwards to make your dream come true. But for many people, the pluses outweigh the negatives. More and more people are jumping on the (very small) tiny house bandwagon.

The Best Year Of His Life

YouTube

Luke published a video titled The Best Year of My Life, in which he recounted the process of building the tiny house. Granted, he doesn’t have that many years to compare it to. But it was a good year, by anybody’s standards.

In the video, he talks about all the skills he acquired, all the lessons he learned about persevering through hardship, and how much confidence he got from watching the project develop from idea to finished product. His is a valuable lesson in where desire can take you. Idly watching YouTube videos brought this kid directly into his own limelight, which he enjoys from the comfort of a house he built with his own hands. What interest have you been pursuing, late at night, watching people live a life you envy? Maybe this is your cue to start following those feelings.

For the foreseeable future, Luke Thill is going to be one of the most notable figures in the tiny house world. He has certainly earned his place in the pantheon of successful YouTubers and tiny house gurus. We hope that his future endeavors are as fruitful as his first one. We raise our camp burrito in his honor.

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