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A 17-year-old has already built 2 tiny spaces, including an 89-square-foot house complete with a kitchen and living room

Monica Humphries   

A 17-year-old has already built 2 tiny spaces, including an 89-square-foot house complete with a kitchen and living room
  • When Luke Thill was 11, he started building a tiny house in his parent's backyard.
  • By 13, he finished the 89-square-foot house, which has a kitchen, living room area, and loft.
  • Now 17, he has built two tiny spaces — including a 36-square-foot camper — and plans to make more.

At 13, Luke Thill became a homeowner.

The middle schooler had completed building an 89-square-foot tiny home in the backyard of his parent's home in Dubuque, Iowa. He spent a year and a half on the project, starting at the age of 11 with a budget of $1,500, which he had earned doing neighborhood tasks.

That was just the beginning of Luke's tiny journey.

Now 17, Luke has another tiny space under his belt - a teardrop camper he built with his brother, Cole Thill - and told Insider he plans to make tiny living part of his lifestyle.

"It was a big experience," Luke told Insider on building the tiny house. "It definitely changed my life."

A post shared by Luke Thill (@lukethill)

At 11, Luke Thill saved $1,500 to build a tiny home

The summer of 2016 was setting out to be a boring one for Luke. The then 11-year-old had no plans on the horizon, so he started brainstorming projects and came across the tiny home movement on YouTube.

He was sold and determined to build his own tiny house.

Before he got started, Luke and his father mapped out how much he would need to build a simple tiny house, and they landed on $1,500.

Luke started saving just like many other kids: by doing odd jobs around the neighborhood.

"It started with the simple idea that I spend one summer mowing lawns and doing little projects for neighbors and grandparents to make money," Luke said.

Shortly after, he began building his future tiny home.

Luke said he had experience with small renovation projects around the house, but this was by far his biggest project yet.

To keep costs low, Luke said a majority of the materials he used for the house were reclaimed, with items like the windows and doors donated by friends, neighbors, and family members.

The entire build took Luke about a year and a half to complete, with some help from his parents - his father assisted with the construction and his mother with the interior design - and by the time he turned 13 in the fall of 2017, he had his own tiny house.

The micro home's simple design made it an ideal hangout space

Luke said he never planned to live in the tiny house full-time, which meant he could skip things like plumbing, which would have been expensive, time-consuming, and challenging to install.

The purpose of the home was to have a little retreat and a place to hang out with friends.

The house's simple style reflects this. It has a small kitchen with a mini fridge, electric stove, and countertop, as well as a living room area, which has a drop-down dining table. There's also a ladder that leads to a lofted area, where Luke sleeps some nights and has friends over for movies.

One year, Luke even hosted a Thanksgiving dinner for his family.

Luke's next project was building a camper with his brother

After completing the tiny home, Luke was eager to start a new project.

At the time, his twin brother, Cole, was working on his own project and had started building a teardrop camper from the ground up.

About halfway through the project, Luke pitched in to help. The brothers spent about $2,500 completing the 36-square-foot teardrop camper by the time they were both 14, Luke said.

Luke said this project was surprisingly harder and more intricate than building a tiny house.

"You really have to get things right," Luke said. "If you're going 75 miles an hour down the highway, you don't want anything to fall apart."

The camper has given Luke the chance to bond with his brother. Since completing the build in 2018, Luke said the duo has taken it on more than 50 camping trips across Iowa and surrounding states.

Then in 2020, Luke did a major renovation on the teardrop camper. He replaced cabinets, stained the interior, and redid the camper's trimming.

Luke's biggest lesson was learning the value of a community

Luke said building a tiny house at a young age taught him a handful of crucial life lessons including the value of money and determination.

But Luke said one of the biggest lessons he learned was the importance of having a community. Throughout the building process, Luke said he leaned on his neighbors for support. For example, he'd trade electrical help for a garage cleaning or barter for materials with a neighbor.

"A simple project in my backyard brought the community and neighborhood together," he said.

Luke hopes for tiny living to be a part of his future

Now that the camper is complete, Luke said he's ready for the next project. He's currently a junior in high school, so he's also focused on spending time with friends, working, and finishing his studies, he said.

While he's focused on high school for now, Luke said tiny living will continue to be an important part of his future. He's even considered building a larger tiny house to live in when he goes to college.


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