Last summer, Luke Thill was trying to think of something interesting to do. Instead of playing video games or riding his bike, the 12-year-old decided to build a tiny house in his backyard in Dubuque, Iowa.
"I was getting really bored during the summer and I got really fascinated with tiny houses," Luke says in the YouTube video (above) documenting his project. "I decided if I worked towards it and made enough money from cutting lawns that I would start to build a tiny house."
In addition to raising funds this way, Luke also bartered some services, like sweeping an electrician's garage in exchange for help wiring the house.
With his dad's assistance, Luke completed the 89-square-foot home in just under a year and a half. The house is 10 feet long and 5 1/2 feet wide and cost about $1,500.
On the outside, there are two cedar shake walls and two made out of vinyl siding, which was leftover from his grandma's house. The door and a couple windows are reclaimed, as are the materials for his deck.
Inside, there's a small kitchen area with a counter, storage and some shelves. That leads to a back sitting area with an ottoman (which he uses as a couch), a flip-down table and a wall-mounted TV. A ladder leads to an upstairs loft with a mattress.
When he started the process, Luke was already handy with a lot of tools, but he quickly learned skills like carpentry. Framing a house, however, was a learning curve.
"Now that I'm done building, I think it's a very simple process," he says. "But when I started, I didn't know what to do."
Dad weighs in
Greg Thill told The Des Moines Register that he set simple rules when his son started the project: You raise the money. You build it. And you own it.
He said although he helped with the project, his son researched and learned how to do much of the work, including staying on budget and dealing with adults.
"It was a chance for a kid to do something more than play video games or sports," he said. "It teaches life lessons."
Father and son also got closer as the tiny house progressed.
"Me and my dad really bonded through the process," Luke said. "Me and him spent nights and days building it. He was really busy, but he made sure to spend time with me and coached me through the process of building a house. I'm really grateful for a good dad, mom and a good family."
The younger Thill spoke at a tiny home festival about his project and has a YouTube channel with more than 750 subscribers.
He liked building his "starter home" so much that he plans to build a larger tiny home in the future. Luke says he hopes to live in a tiny house full-time in a few years.
For now, however, he retreats to his backyard home a few nights a week, either to do homework or just to get some space from his twin brother.
And he hopes he has inspired a few young people to pick up a hammer.
He spoke at a recent tiny house festival, and as he told the Des Moines Register, his goal was simple:
"I want to show kids it's possible to build at this age."