Inside a Kitchen Remodel

25 tips to get the kitchen of your dreams -- whether your budget is on a shoestring or anything goes.

I'm dreaming of a better kitchen...

Who doesn't dream of fixing up their kitchen? After all, the room is often the heart of the home where families spend most of their time. In fact, in a recent survey a majority of Motherboard Moms hoped to make kitchen improvements. When and what kind of renovation families choose typically depends on budget and the current state of the kitchen. Does it need more space? Is it due for an update before being put up for sale? Or does it simply need some sprucing up to better suit your taste or lifestyle—a bigger fridge (the appliance on top of Motherboard Moms' kitchen wish list), new paint, more light?

To help you figure out the kitchen project that's right for you, check out the next three slides. Even if kitchen improvements aren't in your immediate future, it's useful to understand the process and how to budget and plan.

The budget facelift

For kitchens that work pretty well (and budgets that are modest), the facelift may involve painting or refinishing cabinets, adding new knobs and pulls, and installing new countertops or flooring. An appliance might be replaced. To save money, the homeowners may do most of the work themselves. These small changes can make a dramatic difference!

The overhaul

Kitchens that need an overhaul typically require significant work, such as a layout change and/or new appliances, cabinets, and countertops. A kitchen designer and contractor may be hired. The homeowners may do some of the smaller jobs themselves.

The big-deal renovation

Whether it's time for you to have the kitchen of your dreams (or just time for some serious dreaming about it), a high-end makeover usually involves top-of-the-line cabinets, granite countertops, upscale appliances, and a gorgeous floor. Walls may be moved. It's a very big deal so homeowners who choose this option usually plan to stay in their house for several years and may hire an architect, kitchen designer, and other pros to make sure they get the kitchen they really want.

Making dreams happen: the budget

Once you figure out what kind of improvements you want to make in your kitchen, it's budget time. Check out product prices by visiting showrooms and home centers, and looking online. Make sure you clarify delivery and installation charges.

Keep in mind that products aren't the only things you'll pay for. Labor is expensive. If you're planning a cosmetic facelift, you may be able to do all or most of the work yourself. But if you're planning a more complex project, you need to factor in labor costs. Installation can end up being about 17 percent of your overall budget.

Making dreams happen: the helpers

If your project is a bit bigger, consider hiring an experienced remodeler or kitchen designer to help you solve floor-plan issues, figure out how to add more storage, and help you select products. A full-scale remodel typically requires the full monte of professionals (more on that later).

Making dreams happen: the look

No matter the size of your budget, it's essential to first look at kitchens you love—whether it's your neighbor's, in a picture in the magazine, or straight from a designer's book. Ideas are free so even if you're doing most of the work yourself, shop around for inspiration. Visit showrooms, go to kitchen and bath shows, look at magazines and books, browse the Web, and make notes of rooms and individual elements you like. That makes it easier to remember where you saw what you liked and to explain your ideas to someone else.

Also take into consideration the current style of your home. Have you decorated your entire house in traditional style? Warm contemporary? Country? Does the kitchen need to echo that look? Or is your kitchen a stand-alone room that can take on a look of its own?

Making dreams happen: the timing

Depending on what you want and where you shop, you may be able to buy products off the shelf. In many cases, though, you'll have to order products, so plan your timeline accordingly. (This is especially true when ordering new cabinets, which may take weeks or even months.) You don't want to let the workers move onto another job while you wait for something to arrive.

Making dreams happen: the installation process

Installation may be simple if you're planning a DIY facelift. After all, you'll be doing all of the work and will control when things are done.

But if you're planning a complete overhaul or top-of-the-line renovation, the process becomes much more complex. Someone needs to hire, coordinate, and supervise the electricians, plumbers, tile contractors, carpenters, cabinet installers, and all the other trades involved with a big project. Will it be you? The kitchen designer? The contractor? Figure it out now to keep things running smoothly later.

Making dreams happen: the punch list

Before you can sit back and simply enjoy your new kitchen, give it a test drive. Your remodel isn't really finished until you've tried out all of the new appliances and features. Are the cabinets hung properly? Is the range balanced? Make sure you understand how to use and maintain all new products. Call workmen back if something isn't up to your standards or finished (don't make a final payment until your "punch list" is finished). And don't forget to store all receipts, contracts, warranties, extra parts, and product information in one safe place.

Now that we've reviewed the process, let's talk money.

Cost: The budget facelift

A cosmetic facelift could be done for a few hundred dollars if you limit it to new paint and hardware, and you do the work yourself. Expect to pay up to a few thousand dollars if you add in laminate countertops, new vinyl floor, sink, faucet, and one or two modestly priced appliances. Install new stock cabinets in addition to the other items and add a new floor, and you're probably looking at up to the low five figures (around $15,000).

Cost: The overhaul

Few homeowners are experienced enough to do a complete overhaul themselves—one that includes gutting the kitchen as well as replacing all of the kitchen components and reworking the traffic pattern. By the time you factor in the services of a kitchen designer, plumber, electrician, and other installation professionals, you could easily end up spending in the mid five figures (perhaps $50,000 to $75,000).

Cost: The big-deal renovation

If you're planning the kitchen of your dreams, you probably know you're going to spend significant money. Custom cabinets with specialized storage features, granite or quartz surfacing countertops, an undermount sink, prep sink, high-end faucets, tile floor, rearrangement of the work triangle, upscale appliances—they all could add up to six figures when you also factor in design and installation pros. And keep in mind that when you're installing high-end custom cabinets (and paying by the linear foot), the size of your kitchen really begins to influence the final tab for your project.

Evaluating your budget

Before you finalize your budget, consider your home's value and how long you plan to stay in the house. Realtors and kitchen designers will tell you that the budget for your kitchen project should be approximately 15 percent of your home's value. If you're not planning on staying in the home much longer, you may want to spend less than that amount. If you're there for the long haul, it may make sense to spend more.

How a kitchen budget breaks down

Here we have a sample budget based on a $200,000 house. At 15 percent of the home's value, the budget comes in at $30,000. The details are based on percentages suggested by the National Kitchen and Bath Association.

Design Fees (4%): $1,200
Installation (17%): $5,100
Appliances & Ventilation (14%): $4,200
Cabinetry & Hardware (29%): $8,700
Countertops (10%): $3,000
Lighting (5%): $1,500
Flooring (7%): $2,100
Doors & Windows (4%): $1,200
Walls & Ceilings (5%): $1,500
Faucets & Plumbing (4%): $1,200
Other (1%): $300
Total: $30,000

How to: lower your budget

Kitchen experts have all sorts of tips for keeping the price of your kitchen remodel down, including:

• Be relentless about comparison shopping. Ask questions before setting your heart on any particular product; a look-alike may save you money.

• Set priorities so you know the best way to spend your money. If you love to cook, for example, splurge on the range and order less-expensive cabinets.

• Don't make big changes (moving walls or plumbing) unless doing so will really improve the space.

How to: estimate timing

So how long is it going to take to remodel your kitchen? Many variables make these mere estimates:

• Simple facelift, all products purchased off the shelf: a few weeks

• Moderate changes with new cabinets: a few months

• Complete overhaul with structural changes: six to eight months

And, of course, if you're doing it yourself on the weekends, your kitchen updates could take a lot longer!

How to: estimate delays

Your timeline can change depending upon the products you choose. Custom cabinets can take two to four months to arrive. Special plumbing fixtures might take weeks for delivery. And some items simply have to wait their turn. Solid-surface, stone, or quartz-surfacing countertops should not be fabricated until the cabinets are installed—to make sure they fit correctly.

Unexpected delays can happen, particularly if structural problems are found when walls or floors are opened up. Or the manufacturer sends the wrong item and it has to be reordered. Or the installation professionals are pulled away to another job site. Be prepared to be flexible.

The next slides give you tips for surviving the remodeling process, understanding how to budget, and developing a timeline.

Tip: Start planning well in advance

Unless you're limiting your makeover to cosmetic improvements, begin preparing for your kitchen remodel months before it's time to start demolition. The last thing you want to do is to change the design or order new products after your old kitchen has been taken down to the studs.

Tip: Evaluate your DIY skills

Figure out whether you (or your significant other) possess the right skills, temperament, and amount of free time to do the job—even if it's only a cosmetic facelift. (Do you really want to spend months with only one wall of the kitchen painted?) Hiring a professional may be the best option, but if your household budget can't handle it, consider a compromise. Hire a professional to do the difficult parts of the job, and do the easier tasks yourself.

Tip: Hire the right help

You probably guessed that the kitchen is the most difficult and costly room in the house to remodel. You might need to hire professional help. Consider the following:
Architect: This pro will be particularly helpful if you are planning a significant structural change in your kitchen.
Certified kitchen designer: This pro will help you create the best layout and choose the most appropriate products.
Interior designer: This pro will help you pull together a style and integrate it into adjacent areas.
Remodeling contractor: This pro will manage the myriad details involved with demolition and installation, including permits.

Tip: Research kitchen pros carefully

Interview professionals to determine your comfort level (after all, they'll spend a lot of time in your home). Get at least three names of references to call and ask the tough questions such as "Was the job completed on time and on budget?" Call state agencies and trade associations to learn the credentials of anyone you want to hire to work on your project. If you hire a contractor, make sure you see proof of current liability insurance and worker's compensation.

Tip: Don't forget the building permits

If you're working with a contractor, make sure that person has pulled the necessary permits before starting and knows the schedule for inspections. If you're doing the work yourself, it's up to you. Remember that until details such as electrical and plumbing work get signed off, work has to stop. That might mean you have to spend extra days with a kitchen that's torn apart, spending extra money on restaurants and take-out food.

Tip: Order everything early

When you can, purchase appliances, cabinetry, sinks, and other items well in advance. Mistakes happen. You want to make sure you're sent the right items and that they aren't damaged in transit. If you don't have a dry, secure garage or similar place to store these products when they arrive, rent a storage unit or try to arrange for storage with your designer or contractor.

Tip: Set up a temporary kitchen

You'll probably need to plan for a substitute kitchen while yours is out of commission. Try to hold on to your old fridge as long as you can, even if this means moving it into the dining room. Place a microwave oven and hot plate near a bathroom or utility sink.

Put together a simple meal plan that lends itself to disposable dishes. Most kitchen-remodel survivors agree that salads and sandwiches are easy to prepare—and that they learned to love canned soup and microwave entrees! Keep take-out and delivery meals to a minimum as the cost really adds up fast. But plan that occasional dinner out as a reward for all of the disruption you're handling!

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