Q&A / 

Kitchen Remodeling Ideas

DEAR TIM: I'd love to move to a new home, but the economy is preventing that. So I've decided to do some new kitchen remodeling as it seems to be the center of activity of our current home. Based on the bids I'm getting, kitchen remodeling costs seems high. What can be done, in your opinion, to keep the total job cost as low as possible? Can you share any tips on how to minimize the disruption the construction work will cause? Mandy W., Richmond, VA

DEAR MANDY: Kitchen remodeling can create some financial stress as well as friction in your personal life. Most people simply don't grasp how much they use a kitchen each day, even if it's just walking to the refrigerator to get a glass of juice. Or they think nothing of walking over to the microwave and using it to heat up a cup of coffee. When those appliances are suddenly gone, life starts to imitate a deep-woods campground experience very quickly.

This kitchen is being remodeled. The contractor has kept the old sink in place till the last possible second to make life easier. PHOTO CREDIT:  Tim Carter

This kitchen is being remodeled. The contractor has kept the old sink in place till the last possible second to make life easier. PHOTO CREDIT: Tim Carter

Let's talk about the cost of kitchen remodeling first, then I'll share some tips I've discovered after remodeling kitchens for nearly 35 years. There's no doubt that in the average home, the kitchen contains the highest concentration of fixtures, cabinets and appliances. No one item may cost a lot of money, but when you add everything up it can be a frightening number.

If you want to keep the cost of your job as low as possible, I suggest you keep your current cabinets and just paint them. I say this assuming the cabinets are in good condition. You'd be shocked at how dramatic the difference can be by just investing in a gallon of paint. Painted cabinets, especially ones that have some highlighting, can look gorgeous at the end of the day. You can save thousands of dollars immediately by deciding to paint instead of installing new cabinets.

I would watch for appliance sales if you're in the market for a new stove, refrigerator, cooktop or microwave. You'll pay a penalty if you impulse buy. Plan ahead and watch for sales at appliance stores. Scour the Internet for promo codes or rebate offers.

The odds are you may need to invest in new countertops and flooring. The plastic laminate tops you may have shunned in the past should be considered. You'll discover many new patterns that mimic the look of expensive countertops that cost thousands of dollars more that what you might spend for durable plastic laminate.

Don't reject affordable vinyl tile flooring. Advancements in technology will amaze you when you see vinyl tile that looks like real slate, marble or granite. These are products you can absolutely install yourself in a day or less. That will save you sweet moola.

The disruption caused by the remodeling needs to be minimized. I would not start the job until you have everything you need stored in your garage and double checked to make sure it's correct. Once you start tearing apart your kitchen, you should not be wasting valuable time driving around getting materials or making selections only to discover the thing you want will take three weeks to arrive.

Think about doing the remodeling job in warmer weather. If you decide to rip out your kitchen entirely and start over, set up a temporary kitchen out in your garage where you can do basic tasks in relative warmth instead of frigid temperatures or blazing heat in the middle of summer. Use an outdoor grill as much as possible to cook, but don't use one of these in the garage. Fumes and the risk of fire are real threats.

If you're going to do some of the work yourself, practice the skills before you need to do the actual work. Discover if the paint you want will actually look good. Train yourself how to use additives in paint that will give you professional results. If you're going to paint your existing cabinets, go ahead and remove a cabinet front and paint it. When you get the perfect result, then advance to the rest of the kitchen.

Painting kitchen cabinets is much easier if you remove the hardware. This takes time up front, but you'll get fantastic results at the end of the day. Be sure to put the hardware for each cabinet in a separate marked plastic sandwich bag so that you can reassemble the cabinets and everything work perfectly.

Be sure to read all written installation instructions before you start any task. Read these days before you start so you have all the tools and materials handy. Don't hesitate to practice something if you've never done it before. For example, if you've not put down vinyl tile flooring before, try to install eight pieces on a scrap piece of approved underlayment. Learn how to cut the material before you're in a bind.

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