DIY Modern Country Stone Fireplace

DIY Modern Country Stone Fireplace

Originally, to save money, we were going to shiplap the fireplace and then a few years from now we would upgrade to stone. I put a poll on Instagram asking people to vote between stone and shiplap and most people voted stone. From there, Brent and I had a chat and decided to do what we actually wanted rather than a temporary solution. Side note, those Instagram polls really help me, I usually have my mind made up but I like hearing everyone’s opinions.

We had the fireplace installed by The Fireplace Center in Ottawa. I won’t really get into it but perhaps the worst experience I’ve ever had as a consumer. The installers were absolute hacks and did a horrible job. They eventually came back to fix it but only after the owner insulted me and asked to speak with a man. Needless to say, don’t order from them.

For reference, our the stone wall is 16′ high, 2.5′ deep and a little over 6′ wide. We had a quote from a mason to install the stone and he would have been $3000 cash. Unfortunately that was out of our budget so poor Brent now has no fingerprints left because the laying the stone wore them off. 😦

Cost Breakdown

Fireplace + Chimney + Installation $8002

Framing $297

Hearth $368

Stone + Mortar $2794

Mantle $92

Total $11,554


Valcourt FP10 with Crown Style Faceplace, here.

Natural Indiana limestone hearth with rubble edges cut to size, here.

Canadian Stone Industries, Cultured stone, Sculpted Ashlar in Silver Shore, here.

Douglas fir mantle, left natural, here.

The inspiration post
Fireplace before. We. framed with steel studs. The hearth is about a foot high.
Concrete board and plywood next.
I don’t have a picture but once it was sheeted, we added a steel mesh.
This is the brochure images of the stone we went with
For the tv we left a patch bare. The tv actually does not plug into the wall there. We had to run a pipe down the basement to plug in the Samsung box.
Stone progress. Brent did a nice job at randomly laying the stone.
Progress and living in dust 🙂 I am head of clean-up
Finished! The grout is still wet in these pictures
Front view.
I love it 🙂
Grout is still wet

Modern Country Exterior

Modern Country Exterior

Happy this job is done! We decided to do full stone on the front except for the gable peak. The back house portion is an Engineered wood board & batten siding and the house sides / garage are a mix of horizontal and board & batten vinyl siding. The engineered wood is very expensive and a lot of extra work. We did horizontal on the side of the house because there would have been two seams since board and batten only came in 10′ lengths and our house is very tall. It’s a little patchy but I love how it turned out. *We did all siding and hired a mason to do the stone.

Cost Breakdown

Stone $7173

Stone Installation $11,250 (cash)

Vinyl Siding $4753

Engineered Wood Siding $4277

Total $27,453


Brampton Brick Vivace in Cortona (combo and large combo), here.

KWP Engineered Wood Siding – Provincial – Double 5″ Vertical in Granite, here.

Kaycan DaVinciTM – Double 4 Dutch Lap Vinyl Siding in Manor (Horizontal), here.

Kaycan DaVinci Board & Batten (vertical) in Manor, here.

Northeast corner of house front and side. Brampton Brick Vivace in Cortona (combo and large combo) and KWP Engineered Wood Siding – Provincial – Double 5″ Vertical in Granite on the front gable
Northside of house – DaVinciTM – Double 4 Dutch Lap Vinyl Siding in Manor (Horizontal)
West side of the house – KWP Engineered Wood Siding – Provincial – Double 5″ Vertical in Granite and Brampton Brick Vivace in Cortona (combo and large combo)
Southwest Kaycan DaVinci Board & Batten (vertical) in Manor
South Garage – Kaycan DaVinci Board & Batten (vertical) in Manor and DaVinciTM – Double 4 Dutch Lap Vinyl Siding in Manor (Horizontal)

How to Build Your Dream Home Mortgage Free (or with as little of a mortgage as possible)

How to Build Your Dream Home Mortgage Free  (or with as little of a mortgage as possible)

Being debt/mortgage free is one of the best feelings in the entire world. We are mortgage free on our rental property and words cannot describe the freedom we feel from not having that weight on our shoulders. Having that taste of mortgage freedom has pushed us to set a goal to eliminate our mortgage as quickly as possible on our forever home. At the end of construction we will have a small mortgage which we intend to pay off in less than 10 years. We took or are taking these steps in order to achieve our goal. Hopefully these tips can help you achieve mortgage debt freedom.

Build simple

We didn’t follow this advice but building a simple rectangle house with a basic roofline costs a lot less than a house with complex roofline and weird shape with lots of corners. The finishes you choose also will obviously impact your price. We are considering building another house to sell and it will be basic home with basic finishes.

Use equity from assets

Since we own a rental home outright, we pulled equity from our paid off home to fund about 60% of our build. Construction loans have high interest rates (about 5%) and numerous restrictions. Since the house was paid off we had to add a mortgage to it in order to access the money. We were able to get a variable rate mortgage at prime – 0.8%. This technically is still debt but I wanted to mention it because it allowed us to save a lot of money and alleviated the restrictions that construction loans have.

Increase your salary

Your most powerful wealth building tool is your income. Book a meeting with your employer and ask for a raise. Pick up extra shifts. Get a second job. If you are self employed, work harder or charge more. I know it is easier said than done but know your worth and ask for it. The worst they can say is no!

Reduce your lifestyle

I recommend reducing your expenses to their absolute bare minimum before you start building. Look at your biggest monthly expenses and go from there. For most people it is home, vehicle, daycare, vacation and food. Remember that delayed gratification is the sweetest joy. I love Dave Ramsey’s quote, “If you live like no one else, later you can live like no one else”

  • Vehicle. Sell your car & buy the most reliable car you can afford with cash. (Yes – even if it is 0% financing , don’t be tempted).
  • Home.
    • A. If you own a house, rent out a room or the basement.
    • B. If you are transient, rent the cheapest condo/house you can or live with family members.
  • Utilities.
    • Call your utilities every month. A simple phone call and one hour hold time often leads to a reduction in your monthly phone & utility bills.
    • Only have one monthly entertainment subscription. I chose Netflix. Use Spotify for free even if your friends make fun of you at parties
  • Food.
    • Bring your weekly grocery budget in cash and add up items in your cart with my phone’s calculator as you shop.
    • Meal plan
    • Push as much time between grocery store visits. It will make you get creative , eat leftovers and do pantry clean-outs.
    • Reduce alcohol consumption or limit premium options. I don’t follow this. I love expensive wine too much.
  • Daycare. I’m no help here. Send them to a budget friendly provider?
  • Vacation . Sorry no vacations.
  • Clothing. When you need to replace an item in your wardrobe, only buy high quality, timeless pieces and take care of them with regular dry-cleaning/pressing/steaming.
  • Beauty. Thanks to COVID monthly hair/manicure/pedicure appointments and weekly spray tans are a thing of the past. Learn how to do these things at home.

Save as much money as possible before you start building

It is so obvious but I cannot stress this enough. Bulk up your savings account as much as possible can before you even consider building. It is a mindset easy to spend the Bank’s money but when it is your hard earned cash, it makes you second guess every purchase. You need immediate access to cash at all times so put it in a regular savings account with the highest interest rate you can find

If you do have to take a mortgage, make sure you can pay it off in 15 years and it fits your budget

Financial experts all say your housing should not take up more than 35% of your take-home household income. 35% should include all housing costs – mortgage payment, taxes, maintenance and insurance. I recommend 15 years or less because the 30-year mortgage bounds almost your entire adult life to a mortgage payment. The normalization of the 30-year mortgage has caused people to lose hope of ever being debt-free. It also has created a constant state of bondage for the working class.


Brent and I have completed almost 80% of the house ourselves and have outsourced the rest. Know what your skill level limits are but also challenge yourself. Painting/ Flooring/ Trim carpentry/ Landscaping are all things you can learn to do yourself. If you take unpaid time off from your day job to do a task at your house remember to calculate your loss in salary vs. the cost to pay someone else to do the work.

Buy secondhand and live without

Another way to lower your build cost is to purchase items that are easily replaced/upgraded secondhand. Example: light fixtures, bathroom vanities, appliances/etc. I will do a separate post on all the things I have purchased secondhand. It takes time and patience but worth it. If you put these things on your mortgage , your $100 light fixture dramatically increases in price due to interest.

In 2020, items like dryers, dishwashers, bar fridges, microwaves and garage door openers considered essentials in homes. Remind yourself that these things are modern conveniences and you can live without them until you have enough money saved up. Prioritize important / essential things over modern conveniences.


This takes a lot of time but it will save you a lot of money. I went from window manufacturer to window & door manufacturer and said this was so and so’s price, can you beat it? It took me hours but my quote started at $55,000 and I got it down to $22,000 taxes included.

Challenge your budget

I like to set little challenges for myself to reduce category budgets. This is more of a mindset reset. Say you crossed your t’s and dotted your i’s and set a low budget of $10,000 for flooring at the beginning of the build. Challenge yourself to get it to $9000. Even if you did your due diligence, there are always ways to push yourself.

Build slow

When you are building yourself only on evenings and weekends, building is inevitably slow. It is advantageous in that you are able to save money in between major tasks and replenish your chequeing account before the next major purchase. IE. It is taking us about 1 month to complete the exterior siding. In the meantime, I am saving up for bathroom fixtures and flooring.

Buy slow

Almost every week I make a little, essential purchase for the house. I know it all comes out in the wash but small, incremental purchases are easier to wrap my head around than large, one-time purchases. For example, we need 3 toilets for the house. Each toilet costs $214. Instead of buying all three at once ($642) I made it a point that every few weeks when I go to Costco, I buy a toilet. It’s also easier for me to lift haha

Use your points

When you start to build, get a credit card with great points. I am a big fan of Aeroplan program (Both Visa andMastercard support Aeroplan) as well as the American Express reward program. I was able to use our Aeroplan credit card and my travel points to purchase a $2500 bathroom vanity at Costco. I also used my Airmiles to buy a Nest thermostat and a SamsungFrame TV. Would I have preferred to have an all inclusive 2 week holiday to Hawaii for 2 people at a 5-star Marriott resort. Yes, yes I would have. I even went as far as “pretend” plan our vacation. These are sacrifices but I know there will be plenty of time to holiday when we are mortgage free.

Plan meals

When you come home at 9pm and are exhausted from building all day, the last thing you will want to do is make a dinner. You will be so tempted to order a pizza or go to a restaurant. Not only is this unhealthy but it is so expensive. Make a point to have healthy, convenient foods and give up your inner foodie for the time being. You cannot spend time making elaborate dinners even if you crave them. We eat a lot of Costco rotisserie chickens with bagged salad, crockpot meals, homemade soups, breakfast for dinner and sheet pan dinners. Anything healthy and fast.

DIY Modern Country Staircase

DIY Modern Country Staircase

I was naive about the cost of stairs, I thought they were like $1000 and even forgot to include it in our original budget. I originally wanted the open style steps that have an iron frame with thick timber steps. Something like that starts at around $15,000. Needless to say I didn’t get what I wanted but we are happy with the result. Also, Brent didn’t want to do this job but I sort of made him. Sorry Brent.

Another oversight I had was that you need to pick out your flooring before you order your stairs. I thought we were going to have oak floors but we ultimately went with Maple. It’s not a huge deal but you can tell the grain difference.

We kept the staircase a natural colour but used finishing wax to seal the raw wood.

Cost Breakdown

Red Oak stairs $4504

Black Iron Balusters $442

Maple Posts and Handrail $1187

Total: $6133


*We bought through Home Hardware but they don’t have an online store. We also got a better price than what is listed on Rona.

Colonial Elegance Maple Square Newel Zen – 4” x 44” – Natural, here.

Colonial Elegance Maple “Zen” Half Newel, here.

Colonial Elegance “Zen” Straight baluster for horizontal section, here.

Colonial Elegance “Zen” Stair section straight baluster, here.

Finishing Wax, here.

Brent working away.
Budget diy staircase!
Staircase from the landing. We still need to take off the protective covers but we are not ready to finish it just yet.



A big job but it is done! We tiled the house and paid for someone to install the hardwood. Brent’s back is bad and we are getting a little over building. The guy did it for $1.85 per square foot and installed all of the flat hardwood grates which are apparently very time consuming. He did a very nice job! Hardwood was ordered through Home Hardware and the tile is all from Home Depot.

Our home is 2030 sq ft on the main level. I ordered 1215 sq ft of hardwood and 678 sq feet of the dark tile and 155 sq ft of the white tile. We had one box leftover from the hardwood and 2 leftover boxes of the dark tile.

Price Breakdown

Engineered Hardwood – $9650

Hardwood Installation – $2220 (cash)

Ditra-mat – $ 1375

Grout & Glue – $671

Tile & Tile Edger – $3311

Total $17,227


Floor Tile in Kitchen, Entry, Laundry, Backdoor & Guest Bath is 12×24 Enigma Vermont Graphite Tile. It was purchased at Home Depot for $2.69 per square foot. Can be found here.

Master Bathroom is 24×24 Enigma Vera Carrara Tile. Also purchased at Home Depot but for $1.99 a square foot. Can be found here.

Hardwood floor is Husky Flooring in Natural Maple Oil F/X in the advantage grade (although we sort of wish we purchased the character grade). It is 5″ wide, 3/4 thick. It was $6.70 per square foot. It was purchased at Home Hardware. Can be found here.

Kitchen + dining before – Removing dust off the floors in the kitchen
Kitchen + dining after
Living room after
Mudroom – Brent is grouting and I’m probably drinking wine and telling jokes
Master bathroom shower
Tile ninja
Master bathroom shower
Master bathroom floor

Drywall and Paint

Drywall and Paint

Another step complete! In order to save money we hung all the drywall ourselves. It took about 3 weeks to hang all the drywall during evenings/weekends. We hired 2 local guys to do the mudding and taping within the house. They were at the house 8am-4pm and took 3 weeks to complete. I can only imagine how long it would have taken Brent & I. To save money, Brent and I mudded/taped the garage & basement ourselves.

For the paint, we went with Benjamin Moore – Silver Satin in a matte finish. I debated between 2 other popular colours, BM – Grey Owl and BM – Classic Grey. I found the Grey Owl was too dark and the Classic Grey was too beige. I rolled the walls with primer and Brent sprayed the ceilings to save time. It took me about 2 full weeks to paint the house. I am so happy with the colour.

Cost Breakdown

Mud & Tape Labour – $8928

Drywall Materials (House and Garage) – $7275

Primer & Paint – $2341

= $18,544

Front Door: Drywall
Great room: Drywall
Staircase: Drywall mudded & taped.
Guest Bedroom: Primed walls
Paint Colour: We went with Benjamin Moore – Silver Satin in a matte finish. I used the Regal line throughout the house and the Aura Kitchen & Bath in the 2 bathrooms.

Vapour Barrier and Insulation

Vapour Barrier and Insulation

Not going to lie, putting in insulation in January was pretty miserable with no heat. We outsourced the spray foam since we don’t own the equipment as well as the vapour barrier. The 2 guys that came and did the vapour were in and out within a day. They were very efficient.

Cost Breakdown

Vapour Barrier & Installation – $1500

Blown Insulation for Attic – $4418

Attic Hatches – $170

Garage wall Insulation – $771

Spray Foam -& Installation $2486

= $9345

Great room: Brent, his dad and brother demonstrating safety. Applying drywall so they can spray the girder trusses.
I was able to price match the insulation for the vaulted ceiling/garage at Home Depot. This brought the cost from $80 a bag to $48.
Master bedroom : After the vapour barrier. was installed.
Master bathroom
Kitchen and pantry from living room.
Living room: Our beautiful Valcourt fireplace. Next step is to frame the fireplace.
Front Entry: Brent framing the front hall closet with steel studs. I guess it is easier to use steel studs because of the pitch of the vaulted ceiling. We debated about leaving this area open (not framing above) but I did not want to dust on top of the closet.

House Building: Save vs. Spend

House Building: Save vs. Spend

I believe things that are difficult to change you should spend more money on and things that are easy to change you should save on. I also believe in return on investment, if an item takes 30 years to pay itself off then I am not interested. On the other side, I believe that if an item truly makes you happy, then you should spend money on it. Here is my opinion on where you should spend vs. save while building a house. 



This is the reason why our home is more expensive than a wood framed home. After living in our rental for two winters, we wanted to invest in the shell of our home. Heating and cooling is a large expense for Ottawa residents since we experience such extremes in temperature. Reducing our monthly expenses is a high priority. 


Changing the exterior of your home is a costly and time-consuming. I would never buy a home with stone or brick that I disliked since I would see it every day and is not something easily changed or updated. When searching for stone, I knew I wanted it be grey, within budget and in a simple pattern.


I have painted walls with low quality paint too many times to know that you get what you pay for. I will only paint this house with Benjamin Moore paint. You save time and have a nicer finish. Washing walls that have been painted in a high-quality paint is much easier as well.

Source: This Old House


We are spending almost $8000 on our fireplace. This is one of those items that makes me happy, so I am willing to spend the money on it. Having a safe, high efficiency wood fireplace was top on my wish list. Not only will it be the focal point of our great room, it will also supplement our heating costs.

Source : Pinterest


I believe in natural materials. They are timeless and sustainable (if collected in a responsible way). Within reason, I think you should splurge on natural materials like slate/marble tile, wool carpet and hardwood over synthetic materials like laminate, ceramic, vinyl, or nylon carpets. 

Source: Home Depot


Green Energy  

As much as we wanted our home to have a geothermal furnace or solar panels or even triple pane windows, the return on investment did not make sense. The upfront cost of these items is so large that their ROI does not happen for decades. This is our forever home… as long as we can afford it. Since our goal is to pay off this mortgage in 10 years (by the time I am 40) I could not justify tripling the cost of something and paying interest on it. We bought the best quality we could afford (York high efficiency furnace, used double pane windows and ICF construction) and when these items need replacing, we will upgrade to the latest green technology.

Source: Forbes


Light fixtures go out of style so quickly that it does not make sense to purchase expensive fixtures from boutiques. Light fixtures can dramatically improve a space however the wide selection at big box stores makes it easy to find something that reflects your personal style while fitting into your budget. Adding to that, since they reflect personal taste so much, the person purchasing your home will likely change them to reflect their style. They are relatively easy to change which allows you to follow trends easier.


This is debatable as home improvement articles suggest spending money on your kitchen doubles or even triples your investment. I agree with this to an extent. Having certain traits to your kitchen increases the value however I do not think you should break the bank. I think you should get the best that you can afford in neutral colours. Here are the traits in your kitchen that I think you should invest in:

  • Solid wood doors (no Ikea door is made fully of real wood; natural materials reflect quality to me)
  • White Kitchen Cabinets
  • Natural stone countertops (no one will know if you spent $3000 on quartz countertops or $30,000)
  • Stainless steel appliances
  • Clutter-free
Source: Studio McGee


I put floors in save and spend because I think you should get the best you can afford but within reason. I am searching for a matte hardwood that is at least 4” or 5” wide and is made and harvested in Canada or USA. We will probably purchase the flooring from a big box store and am hoping to get it within the $5 per square foot range. 

Source: Decorated Choice

10 benefits of ICF construction

10 benefits of ICF construction

Insulated Concrete Forms (ICF) is an alternative to traditional wood framed construction. The forms consist of two pieces of foam connected together with plastic rebar. The forms fit together like lego blocks and as you stack, you fill with steel rebar and concrete. There are many benefits to building with ICF which I will discuss in this post.

  1. Quick construction

This was the primary reason why we decided to build ICF. ICF is a 5 in 1 step: the structure, continuous insulation, furring attachments, air barrier and vapour barrier are all completed at once with ICF. While you pay a little more upfront (compared to wood framing), building more efficiently ultimately saves time and money.

We decided to outsource the ICF to a local contractor however Brent will be completing all remaining construction. Since time is money, the quicker the contractor can get the structure up, the longer summer building time Brent has.

2. Energy efficiency

A close tie to quick construction is the improved energy efficiency. Concrete has high energy storage capacity with low thermal conductivity, it provides the most useful level of Thermal Mass. This helps to stabilize the internal temperature from day to night temperature fluctuations and provides a largely self-regulating environment. Reducing the amount of mechanical equipment needed for heating and cooling means less energy consumption, resulting in greater cost savings throughout the year. I designed the home using PassivHaus principals. I positioned the large backyard windows oriented towards the equator – which is South in the Northern hemisphere. This allows for passive solar gain. The overhang over the deck blocks out the high sun in the summer but allow for solar gain in the winter when the sun sits lower in the sky. This is all how I am hoping it will play out. Fingers crossed everything goes as planned! You

3. Large window sills

Due to the thickness of the wall, the window sills are so wide that I can sit in them. It looks so beautiful, like a castle. Since the jams are so wide we ordered our windows with no jams. This saved us money on the windows, however, now we must build custom jams.

4. No off-gassing

NUDURA, the ICF manufacturer we chose, emits no harmful CFCs, HCFCs or VOCs.

5. Low Waste

The waste resulting from the construction was so minimal that it only resulted in one trip to the dump. If the City of Ottawa recycled styrofoam, we would have been able to recycle all waste. Check with your local municipality to see if / where you can recycle styrofoam.

6. Natural Disaster Resistant

Last year our community was hit with a few tornadoes. I am curious how well our concrete ‘bunker’ would fair out if a devastating tornado hit. I think the roof might blow off but I think the overall structure would stand. Nudura’s website claims that it can withstand 250 mph winds

7. Quiet Interior

Once again, due to the thickness of the wall, the inside of your home will be very quiet. This would be very important to me if we lived on a busy road or in the city. Since we are in the country it is not too much of an issue.

8. Recycled Material

The plastic folding webs between the styrofoam in NUDURA Forms are manufactured from 100% recycled polypropylene and steel.

9. Fire Resistance

With a 6″ ICF thickness, NUDURA holds a 6 hour fire resistance rating.

10. DIY

Originally we were going to do the ICF by ourselves, however, due to my husband not going on strike, we decided to outsource. Nudura offers a day long crash course in the installation of Nudura ICF. Brent attended a course locally and felt confident in his ability to install. Guess we will never know if it was manageable enough to do on our own… Maybe we will try building a shed or a pool?!

How to save money on windows

Here are five ways to save money on windows.

  1. Shop Around
  2. Colour
  3. Casement
  4. Grills
  5. Window Type

Shop Around

This is probably the best tip I can give you and the most obvious. During our quoting process we went to about 6 or 7 different window stores including big box stores like Home Depot and Lowes. I created a spreadsheet and entered each window from each quote. This allowed me to see window for window, what was a reasonable price to pay for each individual window.

Within this, I found there are differences between dealers and manufacturers. The manufacturers often have more playroom because they are producing the windows.

The game changer with shopping around was when I thought I had found a really good quote, I then took it to a competitor and asked them to beat it and they did! My quotes for windows and doors started at $35,000 and I was able to negotiate to $22,900.



As soon as you stray away from the traditional white, the cost rises. Black exterior windows are usually 15%-20% more. The window companies (like Northstar) do run promotions for free upgrade to black at certain times of the year. We took advantage of this promotion. Even though we did not use Northstar, the manufacturer still honoured this upgrade.



Casements are the opening/closing operation of a window. Our designer put casements on 2 panels in a 3 panel window. Each casement adds to the cost of the window so we opted for a single casement on these style of windows.



Each window that has a decorative grill adds about $30-$50 per window. If you were trying to save some money you could opt for grills on only the front of the house. This allows you to have the design aesthetic on the front elevation.


Window Type

I am not going into detail about the positives/negatives of double vs. triple panel. There are +/- about both. Based on my evaluation I had decided on double pane windows until my window manufacturer said it would only be $2500 extra if we got triple. When you go from $22,900 to $25,400 it really does not seem like that much of an increase, however, you need to put things into perspective. Would you rather triple panel windows or your dream stove/hardwood/fireplace/etc…