Most Common Kitchen Updates: DIY or Call a Pro?

Ready to breathe new life into your tired kitchen? We take a look at three of the most common kitchen updates and help you decide whether you can tackle them on your own.

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Tired kitchen? If the heart of your home needs a fresh new look, you can find plenty of ways to add style without breaking the bank. Three of the most common updates are painting cabinets, replacing faucets, and installing a tile backsplash. You can save money by doing these jobs yourself, but should you? We asked experts to weigh the pros and cons.

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1. Painting Cabinets

"Painting a cabinet is hardly a scientific procedure," says Colorado-based contractor Richard Sands, "but it does take elbow grease and patience. A good painter spends as much time prepping cabinets as painting them." That means taking doors off their hinges, removing hardware rather than just masking around it, and sanding visible wood grain. Sands says most homeowners don't have the necessary skills to handle the tricky task of painting doors with raised or inset panels, however, painting a flat-front door is a much easier DIY job. 

It's important to paint outdoors or in a well-ventilated area, such as an open garage. Sands says a sprayer can yield a fairly smooth finish once you've practiced enough to avoid drips. Brushes -- while easier to use than a sprayer -- will always leave marks. "If that's the look you're going for, then fine," Sands says. "But if you want a smooth finish, you need to use a sprayer or call in a professional."

Bottom line: If you have the time and patience to prep thoroughly, have flat-front cabinet doors, and are skilled at operating a sprayer, painting your own cabinets can offer considerable cost savings and nearly professional-looking results.

2. Replacing Faucets

"You might bang your knuckles a bit, but replacing a faucet is easy to do," says Lance Winter, a certified remodeler in suburban Chicago. "All you need is a basin wrench and an hour or two."

Though special skills are not required, you'll have to crawl beneath your sink and lie on your back to accomplish the job. If you're installing a European-made faucet, be sure you know how to convert metric measurements to their U.S. counterparts. Accidentally mix the threading and don't get the conversions precise, and your water supply can come loose. That can flood your kitchen, washing away the $100 you saved in labor costs.

Bottom line: Replacing a faucet is a fairly simple and straightforward job you can almost certainly do yourself.

3. Installing a Tile Backsplash

The answer to whether you'll want to hire a pro for this project depends primarily on your dedication to planning. "Your layout's got to be exactly right from the beginning," Sands says. To make sure your cuts for electrical outlets and switches will work with your pattern, Sands suggests laying the tiles on the counter in front of the backsplash before installation to eliminate surprises.

Most tile stores are staffed with knowledgeable specialists who can provide helpful advice and sell you everything needed to do the job right, such as levelers, tile cutters, and mastic. They can also counsel you on what type of tile to choose. Ceramics are the easiest to install because they can be cut with a tile cutter. Glass or porcelain tiles require a wet saw. Mosaics are the most difficult because there are so many small pieces involved. 

Bottom line: Installing a backsplash is an ideal do-it-yourself job. "It's not that difficult to manage, and the payoff in terms of updating the look of a kitchen or bathroom can be considerable," Sands says.

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