At the age of 13, Luke Thill accomplished an extraordinary feat—he built an 89-square-foot tiny house in the backyard of his parent’s home in Dubuque, Iowa. Luke embarked on this remarkable project at the age of 11 and completed it a year and a half later with a budget of $1,500, earned through household tasks.
Now 17, Luke, along with his brother Cole, has expanded their collection of tiny houses by adding a teardrop camper. Luke expressed his desire to adopt a tiny-living lifestyle. His journey into tiny house construction began unexpectedly in the summer of 2016 when he discovered the small home movement on YouTube during a search for projects to undertake. Inspired, he decided to build his own tiny cottage.
Luke and his father estimated the cost of building a simple modest house to be $1,500, and Luke started saving money by taking on odd jobs in his community. Salvaging building supplies and receiving donated windows and doors from friends and family helped reduce costs. With the help of his parents, Luke spent around a year and a half completing the tiny house, turning 13 by the time it was finished.
Designed as a retreat and meeting place for friends, the tiny house features a small kitchen, living area, and a lofted space where Luke occasionally sleeps and hosts visitors for movie nights. Not intended for permanent residency, the house served its purpose as a space for relaxation and socializing. Luke even hosted his family’s Thanksgiving meal in the tiny house.
Following the completion of the tiny house, Luke’s twin brother Cole was working on a teardrop camper project. Luke joined him to help, and they purchased a 36-square-foot teardrop camper when they were both 14 for approximately $2,500. The camper presented new challenges, with Luke noting its complexity and the need for precision, especially when traveling at high speeds.
In 2020, Luke made significant adjustments to the teardrop camper, refinishing the internal woodwork, installing new cabinets, and replacing the woodwork. The camper has since become a means for the brothers to travel, taking over 50 camping trips throughout Iowa and neighboring states.
Reflecting on his experiences, Luke emphasized the valuable lessons learned, including perseverance, fiscal responsibility, and the importance of community affiliation. He highlighted the community support he received during the building process, emphasizing that a small project in his backyard brought the neighborhood together.
As a junior in high school, Luke acknowledges the importance of balancing his focus on school with other activities. While he currently values small-space living, he envisions continuing this lifestyle in the future, possibly considering the construction of a larger version of his current residence when he goes to college.