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Jeruba's avatar

Have a kitchen-remodeling story to share?

Asked by Jeruba (51373points) May 21st, 2011

We are reluctantly beginning to think about remodeling our kitchen, which is fairly small (9’10” x 11’7”) and very old (1950s). I would like the benefit of others’ experience.

Any advice for me? pitfalls to watch out for? contractor horror stories? watchwords?

I know you have no idea what we’re starting with and where we’d be going, but even so, can you give me any kind of clue on dollars? Like, for $x you can have a dream kitchen, but you can’t even start talking for less than $y?

And are we talking days, weeks, months?

Any and all help and advice sought, welcomed, and appreciated.

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15 Answers

augustlan's avatar

I had my 1930’s kitchen remodeled, and it was… quite the adventure. Expect it to take longer that estimated, and to cost more. Prices vary greatly depending on the fixtures and finishes you choose, but at the very lowest end it’s still going to be over 10 grand. I don’t think you could get away with spending that little unless you provide all the labor. High end kitchens can easily cost $50,000.00 or more.

Be prepared to live with a temporary ‘kitchen’ in another room. You’ll move your fridge, microwave, coffee maker, toaster, etc. there, and use a table as a countertop. All of your food and supplies will be there, too. You’ll wash your dishes in the bathroom, so plan on eating take out on paper plates a lot.

Get references, get proper permits, get the work inspected along the way.

BarnacleBill's avatar

Kitchen remodelling can easily get blown out of proportion, and end up with walls being removed. Make sure you address structural things first, like are your floors level? If the walls in the room are not square, you can run into problems. If the kitchen is from the ‘50s, you are probably going to want to think about updating the wiring and the plumbing while the cabinetry is out.

If you remain committed to keeping the size the same, the good news is that a smaller kitchen is not a horrendously expensive remodel, and you can afford to do better countertops, cabinets, etc. Where it gets expensive is if you decide to open up the wall between the kitchen and the dining room, and reconfigure the space. If you decide to do that, you might want to consult an architect, and not rely the contractor.

augustlan's avatar

Also, some money saving ideas: Use pre-fab rather than custom cabinets, check out your local builders surplus or Habitat for Humanity’s Re-Store for new and used components (windows, cabinets, flooring, appliances), do whatever demo you can yourself.

marinelife's avatar

I was going to say have a design plan done in advance. That way the contractor cannot just take off on a tangent.

I agree with Auggie on the project ballooning. When we redid our bathroom, it cost more and went longer than the guy originally said.

I got very sick of seeing the contractor every day. He was a nice enough guy, but it was wearing to have a stranger around all the time.

Our house was constructed during the World War when there was a shortage of materials. He ended up having to replace the joists that held up the floor, the pipes, and a lot of other stuff we had not planned on.

Remodeling can be like opening Pandora’s box.

Good luck, be patient, be firm.

lillycoyote's avatar

One guarantee, as others have mentioned, is that it will cost more and take longer than you plan. But I would consider looking at getting your cabinets or at least looking at Ikea. Some of their stuff is crap but they do have some quality things. You can save a lot of money if you and/or someone you love or can rope into it can install the stuff and even if you pay someone to install the cabinets you will still save some money. Also, if you are looking for a contractor talk to friends, family, neighbors, anyone who has had this kind of work done and has some personal experience with a particular contractor. An honest, efficient, reliable contractor who cares about the quality of his or her work is worth his or her weight in gold. You have to be able to trust your contractor, that he is honest and knows what he’s doing because you need to know whether or not he is recommending that certain things should be done because they really need to be done or just because he is trying to pad the job. You also might consider investing, I think it might be about $45 dollars in a subscription or whatever you call it, to Angie’s List. That will allow you to get some information about some of the contractors and businesses in your area.

Jeruba's avatar

Thanks for all comments so far. Please keep ‘em coming. I’m almost entirely inexperienced in this realm.

@lillycoyote, thanks for suggesting Angie’s list. I’ve posted a separate question about it.

lillycoyote's avatar

@Jeruba I saw that. I wasn’t sure whether to weigh in on it there or here but I would say it’s an additional tool, in addition to your own judgement and talking to other people, friends and family, checking with the BBB, all that. I would say Angie’s list certainly shouldn’t be your only resource but when you’re talking about the cost of a subscription/membership to Angie’s list v.s. the total cost of something like a kitchen remodel it’s really next to nothing and worth the price even if it only lets you cross a bad apple or two off your list of possible contractors to hire, though I will say, that if you live in the middle of nowhere or an outlying suburb of nowhere, it may not be as useful if not enough people in your area have used the local contractors.

Bellatrix's avatar

Obviously get multiple quotes and in line with the Angie’s List idea, ask friends who have had renos done recently who they used and what their experience was with those tradies. Honestly, if you can find someone people are saying is great, that is a big bonus. I can’t speak for tradesmen in the US but here, they are a hit and miss bunch. I have found some true angels and heroes in the 10 years we have been renovating and some true idiots and assholes.

Good luck with the project. I am sure when it is finished it will be worth the discomfort you may experience while the work is being done.

chyna's avatar

It’s hard for me to add much because my brother is a contractor and does all my work for me. But I do want to share something I just learned as I was redoing my countertops in my kitchen. I went with Salistone instead of granet because granet is pourous and will absorb oils that may drop on it such as olive oil etc. and stain it. Corian scratches very easily and was not a good choice for me as I’m not all that careful when cutting up food. Salistone is more expensive, but after thinking it over, was the best choice for me.

YARNLADY's avatar

We had Sears remodeling do it. They sent an estimator out, and she made some great suggestions. We kept the old cabinets (1970’s) with new fronts, and had an entry door moved, which gave us more space for a new pantry and corner cabinet, plus new counters, back splash, sink and appliances.

We bought our own faucets, and cabinet pulls, they supplied the special removable hinges. I covered the switch plates myself. We had a painter come in for the ceiling and the cabinet interiors. I installed my own pull out baskets on the lower shelves, but they redid all the drawers, and the lazy susan in one corner cabinet.

We bought sheet linoleum for the floor and had a handyman put it in.The entire cost for all was in the $10,000 range. I was really proud of the savings I made on the things I bought, since I love finding bargains.

One of the counter tops didn’t fit properly, and they sent out the work person to replace it within the week.

We stayed at a residential hotel with my son and dog for three days during the worst part of it, which was prepaid by points earned on our credit card.

alamo's avatar

I came here from the Angies list question. This seemed like a better area for response. I am a handyman that has done some large jobs like remodels. I use a “reference” service called HOCOA. From a contractors point of view, I get some great customers from them. They are online. They might have a franchise in your local area.
It will cost more than you think and it will take longer than you think. There are always delays, changes, bad structure, late supply shipments etc.
Expect to pay some money up front. This assures the contractor that you are serious about the project and have at least a portion of the funds needed to do the job. Having said that, don’t pay more than you’re comfortable with.
With something this large,get a written contract. It can be something you or the contractor type up on Word or an official letterhead provided by the contractor. It dramatically reduces misunderstandings and miscommunication. List completion landmarks, not days, when any other money is due. ie “when the cabinets are installed to the customers approval, 10% of the remaining balance is due.” Be specific.
On a large job like this, pull a permit. The inspectors only inspect to minimum code requirements, but they are “experts” in their field and can give you good feedback. A failed inspection by itself is not a bad thing, but it can sometimes be an indicator of trouble on the job that bad contractors can cover up before you get home. In the interest of full disclosure, most of my “remodels” are with long term customers that don’t pull a permit for my work. They are taking a chance on me, that I can do the job safely and properly.
Get multiple estimates. This usually lets you know a good price range and lets you analyze the relationship you will have with whomever you choose. You might want an aggressive go getter or you might want a laid back person. Either will be able to do the work, but how you feel about the workers directly influences how happy you will be with the finished project.
Check references and go see their previous work and talk to their customers. Check the Better Business Bureau. The kitchen is the heart of the house. Time spent checking out contractors will seem tiny when your kitchen is finished.

Jeruba's avatar

Great knowledgeable-sounding advice, @alamo. Thank you.

What does “pull a permit” mean?—get a permit? request a permit?

augustlan's avatar

“Pull a permit” means “Get a permit”, in this case.

alamo's avatar

Pull a permit means contacting your local building authority and telling them you’re doing some extensive work. Each trade,ie electrician, plumber, hvac etc, has its own oversight “authority” empowered through the local government. The people doing the work are responsible for their area of expertise, including performing their work to the minimum standards for that area.. If you hire a general contractor(GC), he/she should pull a “remodel/construction” permit. This permit allows for structural changes to the kitchen in this case. He also has an obligation to make sure each trade pulls its own permit and passes its own inspection.
However, local building codes are only minimum requirements for safety, structural integrity and performance.(ie is there a vent for the kitchen drain so that air can enter the system and the drain “drains” well.) It does not assure a high quality job.
The other point about permits is that is usually a sign of someone who is serious about their craft. You have to have a state license to be able to pull a permit. Around here, an electrician has to apprentice with a licensed electrician for five years before he can even sit for the test to get his licence. I believe that GC’s have to have a certain amount of money in the bank to sit for the test. People that are licensed usually have invested a lot of time and money in training, insurance, license fees, etc.
Also If the job is done by a licensed person and you have problems with their work, you can complain to the state and the state can threaten the contractor with loss of license. You can also check with the state before they begin work and see if anyone else has complained about them in the past.

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