EcoChange: How a 13-year-old Iowan built his own house for $1,500. (And why you might want to do the same)

Luke Till is 13 years old and built is own house. He doesn’t consider it a playhouse and neither does the persons who invited him to speak at a tiny home festival in Colfax. The Dubuque eigth -grader calls the 89 square foot structure in his parents backyard a ‘starter home’. He built if for $1500 by cutting lawns, raising money online, gathering use materials and bartering for labor. His bartering consist of : his electrician neighbour helped him wire it if he cut his lawn, a scout leader he knew helped lay carpet in the loft bedroom if he cut his lawn, he use leftover sidings from his grandma’s house and a side door from his uncle’s friend, Sounding much older than 13 years old he said “i like the minimalism” and “i wanted to have a a house without a huge mortgage.

How a 13-year-old built his own house for $1,500 (Image: reddit)
How a 13-year-old built his own house for $1,500 (Image: reddit)

Tiny homes less than 500 square feet have piqued the imagination of a nation fighting the American urge for more and bigger in the past decade, said Renee Mclaughlin, the organizer of the Tinyfest Midwest, who lives in a smaller home than Thill. Her rural Oskaloosa home is 87 square feet.

Mclaughlin who is 48 years says, “I think we have reached a threshold where this stuff is running our lives. We spend all the time working to buy it, cleaning it and refurbishing it, yet it is not making us happy”.

Her fest at Jasper County fairgrounds includes several tiny homes to tour and a presenter is 6 feet 8 inches long proving that these houses can fit anyone, attendees from 18 states and a family of four who lives in a tiny home.

This is Thill’s first conference gathering which attracted much attention, he also has 700 subscribers on his youtube series called the build.

How a 13-year-old built his own house for $1,500 (Image: reddit)
How a 13-year-old built his own house for $1,500 (Image: reddit)

You built it and you own it – As Eco as it can

Thill’s dad Greg, told him when he started the project 18 months ago that if he was going to do it there were simple rules such as: raising the money, build it and you own it. Greg Thill says he worked alongside his son to guide him but Luke learnt alot on his own such as: framing structure and wiring, dealing with adults, making tough financial decisions and staying in budget.

He said, “it was a chance for a kid to do something more than play video games or sports because it teaches them life lessons. Luke says his home which is 5 1/2 feet wide and 10 feet long which includes a loft, is made of 75 percent reclaimed materials including several windows. He built a small deck outside. The siding is half cedar shakes, half vinyl.

Inside is a small kitchen area with counter and shelves leading to a back sitting area with a large ottoman for a couch, a flip-down table and a wall mounted television.

How a 13-year-old built his own house for $1,500 (Image: reddit)
How a 13-year-old built his own house for $1,500 (Image: reddit)

A ladder leads to an upstairs loft with a mattress. It’s also wired for electricity but has no plumbing, so Greg says city code considers it ‘a glorified shed’.

Luke Thills says he learnt how to overcome disappointments. His biggest moment was his ‘counter top fail’. He placed broken colored glass below what was going to be a lacquer surface, but when he poured the lacquer, it was too watery and ran all over the place. However, he made the most of it because the lacquer created a bond that held the counter to the wall. He said it does not have a screw in it. He attached a tradtional counter over the messed – up lacquer with a hinge of for a lift-top storage space.

He sleeps in it a couple of nights a week, does his homework there and entertains his friends.

The main purpose for this is to have my starter home and i am planning on saving more money to expand it. In a couple of years, he hopes to build a larger tiny home on a trailer so he can perhaps haul it to college for much less costly living.

His message at the festival was : “I want to show kids that it is possible to build at my age”. There is also a lowan at the festival schedule who lives in a tiny home at the age of 80.

How a 13-year-old built his own house for $1,500 (Image: reddit)
How a 13-year-old built his own house for $1,500 (Image: reddit)

Less is more

According to Mclaughlin, one trend is their ever shrinking size including micro-homes fewer than 100 feet. She sold her 3300 square-feet home and move into a space smaller than one of the four bathrooms in her former dwelling 18 months ago. How did she do that? by simply getting rid of stuff, though clothes and shoes were the hardest. She shops less, buys less and throws less garbage in the landfill. A small bag that fits in a public trash is all she throws a way in a week. It fits her environmental ethic, which includes using solar heat.

“I am a simple girl, but a girl none the less”, she said.

A hanging rod that swings in the shower is what she use to solve her clothing problems.

How a 13-year-old built his own house for $1,500 (Image: reddit)
How a 13-year-old built his own house for $1,500 (Image: reddit)

While it sounds simple, Mclaughlin says people have gone from feeling sorry for her, telling her it will get better to saying that her home on wheels is super cool. “I now own everything outright, having no debts to pay back”, she said, “I can move around, it’s nice to know that i can just go without no delays or hassle. Right now, her home is on one of her relative’s property and that’s one of the issues with living in a tiny home, it’s to find a piece of land to park it.

How a 13-year-old built his own house for $1,500 (Image: reddit)
How a 13-year-old built his own house for $1,500 (Image: reddit)

Bigger is still more popular

Despite widespread publicity fueled by reality tv-shows, the growth of tiny homes is still difficult to assess. According to an analysis of homes on the Multiple Listing Service last fall by realtors.com, only 3000 of the 1.5 million homes listed in the US were tiny homes.

Jay Shafer, a keynote speaker at the festival, who is viewed as the Godfather of the movement by the tiny home enthusiasts says, “a huge part of it is a secret, they maybe living in backyard under the radar.

He started living in a 130-square-feet home in Iowa City nearly 20 years ago, and his story spreads across the country. He now designs tiny homes in California. While in roads have been made to allow tiny home builders in the US to finance and ensures the structure, city codes are still excessive. Many have foundation or size requirements.

Shafer says that there has been progress, pointing to the recent change in the International Residental Code, which now requires US homes to be a minor 88 square feet in 2018. It’s the future to a 13 years old. Luke Thill says everyone now has changed and realized that having a big house is not practical. “You can save money, travel the world and do what ever you want”.

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