How Was It Possible?
Carol could feel her stomach tying into a tight knot as she looked at the house of her new neighbor. How could this happen? This was supposed to be a nice neighborhood where it’s safe for kids to play on the street while mothers make small talk over coffee. This had never happened before.
She peered at her neighbor’s house again. She didn’t know what to think. She just felt the need to act. She had to do something before her neighbor got home.
The Perfect Neighborhood
Carol Smith was proud of her neighborhood. After moving in here ten years ago she’d seen many people come and go. She was a permanent resident and she loved the safe suburban feeling the neighborhood gave her. She wouldn’t want to live anywhere else.
Then out of nowhere, something appeared in this perfect neighborhood that would change the way it felt. And it would change Carol’s life forever.
A Bump In The Night
It was around midnight when Carol shot awake at the sound of a van speeding down the road. Normally there wasn’t any traffic on the road at this hour, let alone any noise. She didn’t like being woken up.
She yawned and rubbed her eyes, she looked out her bedroom window at the street beyond. What she saw made her heart jump in her chest.
Looking through the window she could see the field near her house. On the field was a small lot that was in the darkness. There had been rumors about this house for many years. Between the residents, they said it was either haunted or something terrible had happened in it many years ago.
One thing that was for certain was that the lot had been abandoned for a very long time — as long as anyone could remember. That was, until one day.
Carol still stared out the window, her heart beating as if she’d just ran a marathon. She could see movement at the lot. Something was in there, but what?
Then she heard a… generator? Then the distant thud of hammer on nails. Who would be building now, especially in the dead of night? Carol had a bad feeling and struggled to fall back to sleep.
The next morning Carol went to the lot to introduce herself to whoever was there. She had even baked her famous muffins! She was determined to find out who was living in this house and why.
As she got closer to the house she started seeing features she hadn’t noticed before. This was no regular house. It was something very different.
On The Small Side
Once she was 20 feet from the house she couldn’t help but laugh. Is this what the noise was for the previous night? Who would ever want to live here? maybe they didn’t have a choice, She thought.
Her laugh, however, was cut short when she noticed a man had been watching her from the small porch of the house. Her mirth turned to dread.
Something Was Wrong
The new neighbor introduced himself as Derek. Carol had so many questions for the man that she had thought about all night. The man seemed unphased by her questions but still didn’t tell her much of what she wanted to know.
And when Carol spoke to him, he retreated behind the front door. Was there something inside that he didn’t want her to find? He must have been hiding something.
Digging For The Truth
After their short conversation finished, Carol started walking away from the small house. There was something wrong, she could feel it in the pit of her stomach.
Even though she didn’t know what he was hiding, she was still convinced there was something to find inside that house. Carol needed to figure out a way of finding out. She was more determined than ever to solve this mystery.
A few weeks had passed and Carol had spoken to all of her neighbors. They stood outside chit-chatting and laughing about the tiny house. It was a joke, the man couldn’t be serious.
Carol was still where she started, with no information. Her new neighbor had been very secretive since they spoke. But she was still just as determined as before to find out his secrets. She would stop at nothing to figure it out.
A Mysterious Man
Derek seemed like a very private man. He didn’t mix with the locals much. Rumors began to grow among Carol’s neighbors. Everyone began to speculate. Was he staying in that tiny house permanently? Had he fallen on hard times? Where was his wife?
Nobody had ever seen anything like this before. From what Carol could tell, Derek didn’t have a job, or if he did he must work from home. He was never out on any morning commutes and he never seemed to leave his house past 5 pm.
Deep In The Night
One night, Carol got up at 11:30 pm to let her cat out. And before making her way to bed she peered out her window, her eyes fixated on Derek’s house. Then, just as she was about to get back into bed she heard a noise. She ran over to the window and to her surprise, Derek pulled up in his car to his house.
What was he doing this time of the night? Where had he been? But she was even more surprised to see that he wasn’t alone.
What Was He Up To?
What was he doing this time of the night? Where had he been? And more importantly why was he out at this time?
He got out of the car and made his way to the trunk. And what he got out the trunk left an uneasy feeling in Carol’s stomach.
She Had To Get Answers
The following morning Carol told her husband what she saw but he just thought she was crazy. But Carol knew she wasn’t.
She needed to do something and she needed to be quick. There was only one way to find out the truth. She couldn’t comprehend how one person, let alone three, could be living in that tiny shack across the street!
Wondering What To Do
As Carol stood in her kitchen, clutching a cup of tea, she pondered what she could do. She couldn’t go to the cops as she needed more evidence, and there was no way her husband was going to help her out.
But as she took a sip from her cup, she saw Derek leaving his house. With a flustered expression on his face, he hopped into his car and sped off. And right there and then, Carol knew what to do. She wasn’t proud of it, but it was the only way to get the truth.
Making Her Way Over
As Carol watched Derek speed off into the distance she grabbed her keys and left her house. She had no idea where Derek was going, or how long he was going to be, so she knew she needed to be quick.
Speeding out her front door she ran across to his house before blending within the shrubbery. She made her way over to his backdoor. But Carol was running out of time. She had to be quick.
Inside The House
Carol had no idea she was about to discover something completely unexpected there. Needless to say, she was very surprised when she saw what Derek had been hiding from everyone for so long.
The door to the tiny house was unlocked. Carol had to know what was inside. But when she opened the door, her jaw came unhinged.
Instead of finding what she expected, Carol was completely blown away. The tiny house that looked just like a makeshift shack on the outside looked completely different on the inside.
“How could anyone live like this?” Carol whispered, eyes wide. Then, suddenly, her thoughts were shattered by the sound of her name being called. She swiftly turned around and saw Derek staring at her. “Here for the tour?” he asked, grinning.
Derek introduced Carol to his wife and young son, and she sheepishly introduced herself. It turned out that Derek and his family had been living here while he waited for construction to finish on his new house, just on the other side of town.
He explained that they had been paying over $500 for rent in the city of Minsk every month and it was sapping their life savings. He’d also been traveling back and forth at odd hours to see how the construction was going. And that’s when he’d had a brilliant idea.
Instead of paying an exorbitant amount on rent while they waited for their dream home to be built, Derek had seen something online that had inspired him. It was a show called “Tiny House Nation.” And his brother owned an unused section of land that he could put to good use. Even better, it was closer to the house he was building than the accommodation in Minsk.
And when Carol saw what Derek was able to do with only 172 square feet (16 square meters), her jaw dropped to the floor.
A Tiny Home
The entire home was divided into four sections, which are situated on four different levels of the tiny home.
And what Carol found even more surprising was that a famiy of three and a small Jack Russel were able to live in this tiny space comfortably. Derek had made good use of every single inch when he planned out this outrageous DIY project.
Down one level off the kitchen is a living area — which is fitted with a three-seater sofa. And, as clever use of space, there is a small shelf in front of the lounge that has a compartment that is big enough for a computer screen.
There are two vents for fresh air — one in the kitchen and one in the bathroom — but the front door can also be opened for ventilation. But how could a space so small house a family of three?
A Growing Movement
Tiny houses are stripped-back, downscaled versions of regular houses. Ready-made — or “turnkey” — tiny homes are on the US market and since last year, DIY tiny home kits are even available to buy on Amazon.
And more and more people, reluctant to get into the vicious cycle of debt that owning a home can bring, are giving tiny houses some serious consideration.
The tiny house movement originated in the 1970s but took off after the 2008 financial crisis, when many young people decided to build affordable compact homes.
Tiny houses are particularly popular in the US, Australia, and New Zealand, with growing communities in Fresno, California, and Spur, Texas. So, how did Derek’s DIY micro home compare to a “regular” house?
The micro house is fitted with all the necessary amenities. There is a full kitchen with a single sink, a decent-sized fridge, a small gas stove, kettle, pantry cupboard, and a few other kitchen appliances.
The area under the floor of the kitchen is used as a storage space and also houses a small washing machine. But what about the bathroom?
A Full Bathroom
Inside Derek’s house is a bathroom with a sink, combined shower, and toilet. The ceiling of the bathroom serves as a platform for a home entertainment system, which is easily viewed from the bed.
The loft sleeping area, or bedroom, is accessed from stairs in the kitchen and even has a small balcony so that Derek and his family can relax outdoors.
Derek used traditional timber framing construction methods and a multilayered design to ensure that he and his family were able to live comfortably in the tiny space…
All things considered, what he achieved is not bad for around 57 square feet per person! But what about heating the home in the cold weather? Derek’s got that covered, too.
The tiny home uses natural gas and electricity for heating. The house has mineral wool insulation, vapor barrier sheets, and laminate flooring to make sure that the tiny home is warm inside all year round.
Derek also installed OSB sheathing and PVC roofing membranes to regulate the house’s inner temperature — and, best of all, it costs a small amount to heat the space. But what about plumbing and sewerage?
The micro-home has a self-made water and sewerage system for the family’s daily sanitation needs, and a drainage system is incorporated into the roof’s structure — a low-slope roof ensures that rain and snow don’t pool on top of the tiny home and cause leaks.
But that’s not all that Derek’s DIY home offers…
A Mobile Home
The home is small enough and structurally sound enough that it can be moved in its entirety — all Derek needs is the correct permit from the licensing department and he can move his tiny house to whatever location he wants!
Now, to Derek, this living arrangement made sense. After all, he is saving a ton of money. So, what was the cost of all this?
Derek built the house seemingly overnight by using “turnkey” timber housing blocks. In just 12 hours and with the help of his brother, he had a cozy home to live in.
The total cost of the materials and all the effort was just $4600 — including the furniture, household appliances, gas, etc. So the tiny house paid itself off really quickly as Derek was paying more than $500 per month for rent in Minsk! But is the “tiny house” movement here to stay?
“Social media has been huge in the tiny-house movement,” says Langston, a man who began building his own tiny home seven years ago when he became frustrated with renting in Auckland, New Zealand. His biggest audiences are in the US, New Zealand, and Australia, though that is changing.
“We are starting to see the movement take off as a global phenomenon. Our show is very popular in places like India and the Philippines. We’re seeing growth from all over the place.”
A “Safe Space”
Langston says the appeal of a “safe” space resonates with many people. “It can’t be taken from you,” he explained.
“There is no fear of eviction and owning a home outright provides a sense of security many from Generation Rent do not — and may never — have. It’s a place you get to retreat to, and it’s one less stress.” But tiny houses have their own drawbacks too.
Tiny houses reside in a legal grey area, which makes it difficult to find reliable data on how many people live this way.
Some estimate there are more than 10,000 tiny homes in the US alone, and legislation has opened up possibilities for tiny homes to be built as additional dwellings units — or ADUs — on existing lots in the hope of easing housing problems.
A Viable Solution?
Authorities are debating the safety and impact of tiny homes in cities. “The conversation is still going on,” says Phil Nameny, a city planner in Portland, Oregon.
“The question that comes up is whether this is a long-term solution.” Derek and his family love their tiny home. But it was the media attention that one boy attracted that put tiny houses on the map.
Remarkable Young Man
Do-It-Yourself projects are a cultural trend that has been around for a long time. There’s something about creating things with your hands that appeals to a lot of people. And in recent years, some have taken to building their own houses from scratch.
The Internet is a great resource in that people can find guides and how-to videos to inform them on each stage of the process. It’s not rocket science, but it’s also not something you’d think a 13-year-old boy would be interested in doing.
Luke Thill is a 13-year-old from Dubuque, Iowa. Like any other teenage boy, he has lots of energy and is easily bored. But here’s where he sets himself apart: to cope with his boredom one summer, he decided to build a house in his parents’ backyard.
The end result of this endeavor became so much more than he originally expected.
On His Own
Luke set out to find the money and materials to complete his project, and first went to his parents for help. Though they approved of his efforts, they decided to let him do most of the work by himself.
“It was a chance for a kid to do something more than play video games or sports,” said his dad Greg. “It teaches life lessons.” So how did Luke manage to get it done?
The teen cut neighbors’ lawns, raised funds online, and ran errands for people in his community as a trade-in for work or supplies. For example, a family friend who was an electrician helped him install the wiring in exchange for cleaning out his garage.
Finally, he was able to gather enough money and materials to start building. Though it took him a lot longer than he anticipated…
Another Man’s Treasures
One year later, Luke had raised $1,500 and collected enough stuff to begin building. He ended up using reclaimed or recycled materials for 75% of the house.
In the process, he helped friends and neighbors get rid of unwanted things, like his uncle’s friend’s front door and many leftover items from his grandmother’s garage. Once building was firmly underway, he realized something that caught him by surprise.
The Buzz Begins
People soon heard about Luke’s venture and were eager to know how he was doing. So, he decided to create a YouTube channel where he answered questions about the process and update his followers on his progress.
Before long, everyone in school knew his name. And then, Luke received the call over the loudspeaker that made his heart drop.
Luke had been called into the principal’s office. His hands shook as he tried to think of a reason why he would be in trouble.
Maybe he should have been focusing more on his studies in his spare time. “I don’t go there very often,” Luke said nervously in one of his videos. “I’ve never gone there for anything bad.”
As it turned out, the principal was friends with a newspaper reporter from Indianapolis, who wanted to talk to the teen for a story. Despite the attention, Luke wanted to focus on finishing the project before he unveiled his masterpiece to the world.
Although he learned a lot from online resources, he soon faced an unforeseen catastrophe during construction.
Trial And Error
When creating the kitchen area for his tiny house, the teen decided to make a homemade countertop, using pieces of stained glass and liquid glaze. He researched the technique and studied YouTube videos of the process.
But when time came to do it himself, the glaze leaked all through the mold. Luke was gutted that the technique hadn’t worked. But then, he received a momentous invitation.
The teen was contacted by a representative of TinyFest Midwest, a festival celebrating tiny houses and small living. They not only wanted Luke to attend, but they also asked him to speak about the experience of building his tiny house.
He was excited about preparing his speech since he’d recently earned a public speaking merit badge. And with the house almost finished, he’d soon be able to move in… But he had overlooked one detail.
Luke’s tiny house was finally done, as it had everything he would need to sleep, eat, and go about his day. Still, no house is complete without a few homely touches.
After all, now was the time to expose a year of hard work, not only to his family but to his entire fanbase. But the house was missing an important feature.
Can’t Have Everything
Luke had one problem: the house had no toilet. The teen realized that installing plumbing was more than he could manage, but in the end, he didn’t mind.
“I liked the minimalism,” he told the Des Moines Register. Once the house was ready, he made a video tour that wowed everyone.
The 89-square-foot house, which took a year to complete, was a teenage boy’s dream: a micro living room, complete with a TV and couch, a lofted bed, and a kitchen area with an electric griddle.
It was so comfortable that Luke started spending his afternoons there doing homework, and now sleeps there a few nights a week. Now that the project was done, he thought his fame would subside – but he was wrong.
After speaking at TinyFest, the teen’s story made the front page of major Iowan newspapers, the Des Moines Register and the Telegraph Herald. Then it got picked up by local TV stations and other outlets across the country, until it reached Good Morning America.
The show sent a crew to Luke’s house to interview him and do a tour of the house. But it was a different encounter that blew the young boy’s mind.
Meeting His Hero
Luke was contacted by Derek Diedricksen, author of a guide for designing and building tiny homes. This book was actually the inspiration for the teen in his mission to build his own tiny house, so being able to chat with him meant a lot.
Diedricksen sent him messages of support and they became online friends. Little did Luke know that soon he himself would be the inspiration for someone else’s DIY journey.
It Runs In The Family
In a recent video on his YouTube channel, the teen shared the news that his brother Cole was starting to build a teardrop camper. Like his brother, Cole was relying on reclaimed materials and a tight budget for his build, but he had something invaluable: the advice and support of his brother.
Luke has been documenting the progress on his channel, which has recently become a bigger focus for him, and for good reason.
With more than 9,000 subscribers and growing, the teen’s YouTube channel is becoming a force of its own in the tiny home community.
Aside from chronicling his own building journey, Luke is now also showcasing other people’s small living projects, such as a sheepherders wagon and his mom’s renovation of a 1972 camper. Does this mean being a tiny house celebrity is this kid’s true calling?
When Luke set out to build his tiny house, his intention was just to create a very simple, shed-like house. As soon as he recognized his skill for it, the project grew more ambitious, and the rest is history.
Though he does plan to go to college, he also likes the idea of inspiring other kids to do what he did. “I want to show kids it’s possible to build at this age,” said Luke.
There have been other teens who were enamored with the idea of building a tiny house, too. Annabel O’Neil had the idea when her sister went off to college.
She had taken note of how expensive tuition could be and decided to build her own tiny home. Subsequently, she adopted a minimalist lifestyle in order to save money.
Another teen in Sicily also built her own tiny house, and she was only 13 years old when she embarked on the project. It took an entire year and 4 months to complete the 128-square-foot home.
The project had started as a fun venture, but unfortunately, her father passed away before she completed it. After her father’s death, she used the project as a form of therapy that helped her cope with the loss, carefully documenting her journey on her blog “La Petite Maison”.
Luke’s plans don’t end with the completion of his tiny home, though. “The main purpose is to be my starter home. I’m going to save money and expand,” he explained.
He has plans to eventually build a home large enough for a trailer. For now, he is content to sleep in his fully-functional home a few nights a week, and he uses it as a quiet spot to do his homework.