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.

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.

The Permit

The Permit

What do you need to submit for a building permit in the City of Ottawa?

I found that the City of Ottawa’s building application website to be confusing. Hopefully this helps clarify what is required to submit to the City of Ottawa. In a follow up post I will discuss the costs associated with all the below and the City of Ottawa fees. I’ve included links of the forms required as well as the people we used on the project.

What is required?

  • Completed Application for Permit
  • 2 sets of architectural drawings
  • Schedule 1 signed by the designer 
  • Energy Efficiency Design Summary 
  • Survey of the lot
  • MVDS
  • Truss Layout 
  • Floor Joist Layout
  • Site Plan
  • Grading Plan
  • Septic Design
  • Structural Report
  • Septic Approval

Completed Application for Permit

Who do you get this from: You or your General Contractor 

Fill out and sign Pages 1 and 2, here.

Two Sets of Architectural Drawings

Who do you get this from: Architectural Technologist or Architect or Designer

More Info: Rather than hiring an architect to design our house, we used a local Architectural Technologist. This saved us a lot of money. We worked with him to design the house. Before submitting, I went to the City of Ottawa building services department and asked a lot of questions. They requested me printing the drawings on legal size rather than bringing in the full blueprints. 

Schedule 1

Who do you get this from: Architectural Technologist or Architect or Designer

More Info: Once you are happy with your design. Your Designer/Architect/Technologist must have a BCIN number in order to have authority to design your house.

Have the designer fill out and sign Page 3, here. 

Energy Efficiency Design Summary

Who do you get this from: Architectural Technologist or Architect or Designer or Independent  

More Info: Our Designer filled this form out for us at no charge so request it when you are designing the house. He/She has to fill out his BCIN number and sign.

Have the designer fill out and sign this form.

Survey of the Lot

From: Real Estate Agent or Sellers of the property you are purchasing

More Info: This one was straightforward, we received this from the people we purchased the lot from. It shows the lot dimensions, set backs, roads, etc.. The City says:

“The owner shall submit a copy of a plan of survey certified by a Registered Ontario Land Surveyor to the Chief Building Official when required to demonstrate compliance with the Act, the Building Code or any applicable law”

Mechanical Ventilation Design Summary

From: HVAC company or Independent

We locked in prices with our HVAC company beforehand as we knew what type of system we wanted. They completed this for us but used the company I was going to use had we not secured our HVAC company. 

Have your HVAC company or Independent fill out this form.

Truss Layout

From: Truss manufacturer 

More Info: You have to work with a local truss company and have them design/engineer your truss layout. They will send you the design. Local truss manufacturers include KOTT Lumber, Terranova Truss, Valley Roof Truss Ltd.

Floor Joist Layout

From: Floor joist manufacturer 

More Info: You have to work with a local floor joist company and have them design/engineer your truss layout. They will send you the design. We used the same company as our Truss manufacturer, KOTT lumber. 

Site Plan

From: Engineer

More Info: I used the same local engineer to create the septic design, grading plan and complete/sign off the structural report. The site plan and the grading plan are the same. I asked the City of Ottawa to clarify. The site plan must show:

(a) lot size, lot dimensions and setbacks to any existing or proposed buildings; 

(b) the similarly dimensioned location of every other adjacent existing building on the property; (c) existing and finished ground levels or grades to an established datum at or adjacent to the site; and 

(d) existing rights-of-way, easements, utilities, municipal services and private services

Since my grading plan demonstrates all of the above I labelled the requirement “Site Plan/Grading Plan”

Grading Plan

From: Engineer

More Info: Same thing as above. The local engineer surveyed the lot and created a document showing the existing and proposed grade elevations at all portions of the lot. It shows the proposed finished floor, foundation, footing elevations, slop as well as the proposed location and elevation of the septic bed.

Structural Report

From: Engineer

More Info: This report was done by the same group of engineers however a different engineer from the septic/grading. He basically reviewed the drawings and commented on the integrity of the design. We also sent this report to our Truss/Floor joist manufacturer.

Septic Design 

From: Engineer

More Info: Same group of engineers designed our septic. I would talk to a local installer that has installed septic’s in the area before you reach out to the engineer. Our engineer designed us a very expensive Eco flow septic. The installer informed us that we would save $10,000 had we just had a simple conventional bed. We asked the engineer to redesign the septic to a conventional system. This of course, came at a cost.

Septic Approval

From: Local Conservation Authority. Ours was Rideau Valley Conservation Authority

More Info:Once you approve your design of your septic bed, our engineer submitted it to the local conservation authority for approval. You have to submit the approval from the conservation authority to the city. 

The Design

The Design


  • 2035 sq ft.
  • 5 acres
  • 3 bedrooms
  • 2 bathrooms
  • Walk-out basement
  • Large kitchen and living areas
  • Covered front & back porch
  • Oversized garage