Homeowners who remodel their kitchens are not only investing in the value of their homes, they are also increasing enjoyment they get out of a room that they spend a lot of time in – one that often functions as the central point or “hub of operations” for many families. Remodeling costs vary widely depending on materials, labor, upgrades and how extensive they are, but there are a number of ways to save your money and your sanity during such a large project. This guide provides an overview of the average costs involved for remodeling different aspects of a kitchen, the factors that them and how you can save money without sacrificing style or value.
Your decision to do a kitchen remodeling project may be based on improving lighting, storage, appliances, work space, size, the resale value of your home, out-of-date décor, ease of use, the overall look and feel or even all of the above. These improvements can make a huge impact on the style, function and value of your home. Regardless of the reasons for a renovation and no matter how big or small the project is, it should begin with a plan and more specifically, a budget.
Planning and Preparation
If you’re considering a renovation project or have just started planning for one, you’re probably feeling a little overwhelmed with it all (don’t worry, you’re not alone). Here are some tips to help you during the planning stage of your project, the part that is most vital to its execution, final price tag and success.
First of all, you need to figure out what your goals are for the renovation. More specifically what you want to have done, why it’s important, what are your priorities and what areas you can compromise on. The more detail you answer these questions in, the more accurate the estimates from contractors will be and the easier it will be to get the job done within your budget.
Second, you need to know what aspects of a kitchen are typical targets for upgrading and remodeling. Here are the areas that are typically modified, upgraded or added:
- Plumbing fixtures
Next, gather ideas from photos found in magazines or online for the areas you plan to make changes to. This is an excellent way to see what others have done, what the latest trends are and learn what options are available to you. They can also be a great point of reference when you are talking to designers and contractors. There are many great magazines out there for this and you can even find ones that have a specific topic or theme that interests or is relevant to you. Assuming you are already aware of these and are looking for sources online, houzz, HGTV and Better Homes and Gardens are all very useful and high quality. There are also a few ideas at the bottom of this guide (more will be added shortly).
You might also want to look into getting a 3-D design rendering of the layout and square feet of your existing and planned kitchens done by a professional designer or design firm. This will not only help you visualize your dream and ensure that your ideas and plans will actually work out, but it will also help you pinpoint what the cost of the project will be. Design firms’ services can be quite expensive so it’s probably a good idea to forgo this option unless you’re planning a major, upscale renovation for a large kitchen.
When developing the budget for the project, do your best to lay it out in detail and follow it closely. Setting a budget and sticking to it may sound easy, but it is much harder than you think and almost every renovation project goes over budget for one reason or another (usually because of hasty, spur-of-the-moment decisions). According to the National Kitchen and Bath Association (and as a general rule), you should not spend more than 15% of your home’s value on a renovation (the national average spends around 8%). Spending too much can risk reducing the rate at which you recoup your investment when you sell your home. Proof of this can be seen in statistics published by Remodeling Magazine’s annual cost vs value report. A minor, midrange project recoups an average of 72.1%, a major, midrange project can get back 65.7% and a major, upscale 57.4%. It is clear that spending more isn’t always better since there are diminishing returns. Full statistics can be found in the section below. That said, this point is most important if you expect to sell your home in the next 5 years. The resale value of the renovation drops over time, so if you plan to stay in your home for more than 5 years, focus on making your kitchen the most functional and enjoyable it can be for your family.
Another great rule to follow is to add a 20% buffer to your budget to cover unexpected fees such as additional repairs, wiring and plumbing that occur throughout the project. Once you have determined what you’re willing to spend on the project, set aside 20% of that and use the remaining amount as your budget for the estimated cost of materials and labor.
Points to consider when setting a budget include the prominence of your kitchen in your home (the greater the prominence, the more it can affect the value of your home), how much it is used by you and your family and how much you can afford.
The budget allocation for a typical project looks similar to the following:
Cabinetry & Hardware – 30%
Labor – 20%
Appliances – 20%
Countertops – 10%
Flooring – 7%
Fixtures – 5%
Lighting – 5%
Windows – 3%
Once you’ve got the above aspects in order, the next step is to find a professional contractor (or several, depending on your needs) who you can trust, is within your price range and has a history of quality work. Be sure to do your homework before selecting a remodeling company. Who you choose to work with is probably the single most important decision you will make. Remodeling a kitchen is a long, expensive and complex project that you should not trust to any old handyman. Be sure to conduct kitchen inspections/interviews with several different contractors/designers for each position your project will require in order to find professionals who will fit the job perfectly. The last section of this guide covers this step in more detail.
Factors that Affect the Cost
The condition and size of your existing space, extent of the remodeling project, type and quality of materials used, type, skill and experience of labor required as well as how much work you do yourself are the primary factors that bring about the large variance in cost, from as low as $5,000 to over $100,000. Areas where they tend to add up more quickly include:
- Hourly wages of contractor labor ($25 to $85 dollars an hour)
- Specialization and/or labor intensive installations
- Unexpected wiring, plumbing, flooring, and ceiling issues
- Significant changes to the existing layout
- Demolition of walls, floors and cabinetry
- Unplanned extras and upgrades
Building permits are an often overlooked factor that range anywhere from a couple hundred dollars to several thousand, depending on where you live and the scope of the project. Check with your local permit office to determine how much you will have to pay for inspections, construction and demolition.
Average Cost for Minor, Mid-Range and Upscale Remodels
The overall average cost of kitchen remodels as of the start of 2012 as reported in the National Kitchen and Bath Association’s Kitchen & Bath Market Report was $30,325.
Based on the results of the annual Cost vs. Value Report by Remodeling Magazine, this is the data for a remodel of a 200 sq. ft. space:
Mid-range – A remodel that is classified as mid-range involves replacing appliances, fixtures, flooring, countertops with medium quality, average-priced options.
Upscale – Upscale remodels involve using high end materials & appliances and selecting mostly top-of-the-line options.
Minor – Minor describes renovations that do not modify the existing layout of the room, including the locations of the major appliances, walls, cabinets and counters.
Major – Major is the classification for jobs that involve considerable changes to the existing layout including changes in size and/or shape and the location of the features mentioned above.
Mid-range, minor remodels were $19,588 on average and had a resale value of $14,120. This price was based on making the following changes to a functional space with 30 feet of countertops and cabinets: replacing fronts of cabinetry with raised-panel drawers and doors, new hardware, replacing the oven with an energy efficient model, repainting trim, replacing resilient flooring, putting in an average sink and faucet and installing laminate countertops.
Mid-range, major remodels were $57,494 on average and had a resale value of $37,785. They involved the same kitchen mentioned above, but with the following changes: semi-custom wood cabinets, energy-efficient wall oven, built-in microwave, custom lighting, dishwasher, 3×5 foot island, garbage disposal, new resilient flooring, double-tub stainless-steel sink and painted trim, ceiling and walls.
Upscale, major renovations were estimated be $110,938 on average with a resale value of $63,731. This price included the following upgrades and modifications: high end custom cherry cabinets with built in shelves, trash compactor, built-in warming drawer, built-in refrigerator, stone countertops with ceramic/glass tile backsplash, built-in water filtration system, under-cabinet lights, cork flooring, built-in microwave and convection oven, commercial grade range and ventilation and a top-of-the-line under-mount sink with designer faucets.
Here are some typical rates charged by contractors that can be required on a renovation project:
- Electricians – $65 to $85 per hour
- Carpetner – $70 per hour
- Painter – $20 to $35 per hour
- Plumber – $45 to $65 per hour
- Architect – $150+ per hour (or a flat fee)
- Kitchen Designer – $50+ per hour
- Interior Designer – $100 to $150 per hour (or flat fee)
Please note that the amounts mentioned in this section (unless stated otherwise) are based completely on the retail value of the work of professionals and do not include any do-it-yourself work or any of the effective ways to save money discussed in the following section.
The data published by Remodeling Magazine was compiled from a survey of a nationwide network of remodeling contractors. Figures include materials and labor expenses in addition to typical overhead/profit charged.
Ways to Save Money
The easiest and most effective way to save money on any renovation project is to create a detailed plan and stick to it. If you already knew that and are looking for areas where you can cut costs,
Using materials purchased from a refurbishing, recycling or salvaging company can cut the grand total in half. Ask a local salvage company if they deliver and install and get a quote on their prices. Salvaged material companies typically carry a wide variety of items including: flooring, windows and doors, cabinets, molding, countertops, appliances and lighting fixtures. Unfortunately, many professional contractors refuse to work with these materials (or anything purchased and supplied by their clients) to avoid running into and being blamed for problems with them.
As seen above, cabinets can make up a huge portion of the total cost, so this is an area where you can save a lot of money. If the existing cabinets are in decent shape and are “acceptable”, strongly consider having them refinished, repainted or refaced instead of completely replaced. Another easy way to upgrade their look is to add new hardware. For the inside, glass shelves can make them look bigger, steel shelves can give them clean, modern look and wood shelving can be customized with stains and colors to match your kitchen’s style.
Downgrade when necessary. Remember that list of areas you were willing to compromise on? If you need to cut back to stay within budget or get your plan to fit within it, consider sacrificing some of the style, function or quality of a couple of the less essential pieces of your design. Maybe this involves forgoing getting the brand name refrigerator, cutting out the island, installing laminate instead of granite countertops or getting stock cabinets instead of custom built ones.
Replace only what you need to. This might seem obvious to some, but other people seem to think that they need to gut the entire room when doing a renovation. During the planning process, go through all the elements of your kitchen and figure out what be reused, made more efficient and/or integrated into the new design. For example, you may want to consider making your storage spaces more efficient by implementing a different shelving layout or system in your pantry instead of knocking down walls. Try to make use of the existing layout and keep it “as is”. Moving major appliances or fixtures such as stoves, sinks and refrigerators can be very expensive as it usually requires modifying the existing plumbing, electrical or gas line layout.
When it comes to appliances and fixtures, try to get ones that are as energy efficient as possible, but still fit inside your budget. This will save you a considerable amount of money in the long run in energy-related fees. Shop around for discounts and see if you can get a product with similar style and function (“look-alikes” or “knock-offs”) to save money. Consider buying a floor model, returned item or discontinued model as they will often only be slightly scratched or dented and can be around 40%-60% off.
A huge part of the overall cost (typically 20%-35%) is for labor. You can save a portion of the it by doing some of the work yourself. How much you save depends on the amount and type of work you do. Even if you’re an unskilled, inexperienced do-it-yourselfer, there is something you can do to reduce the price. A few of the tasks that almost anyone can figure out how to do themselves are:
- Doing your own demolition (removing cabinets, countertops, appliances, etc.)
- Painting and/or adding wall coverings
- Installing new flooring
- Resurfacing or refinishing cabinets
- Replacing the sink
- Installing a countertop
Jobs that should be left to the professionals include (but are not limited to): electrical, plumbing and gas system work. If you’re uncomfortable or unsure about any remodeling task, don’t risk making serious mistakes, find a contractor and get the job done right the first time.
There is also money to be saved when hiring a contractor (without sacrificing quality of work). Be sure to negotiate prices with each professional instead of simply accepting the first estimate they give you. Consult several competing professionals and inform them that you are shopping around (and maybe even the prices quoted by the others) when and if it is beneficial to do so. In some areas, it might be more cost effective and efficient to sub-contract the work out to several specialists (plumber, electrician, flooring, etc.) instead of hiring a general contractor or remodeling company. Finally, consider starting your project in the off season or slower times to get cheaper quotes since they will be more desperate for work.
Finding the Right Contractor
It can take a lot of time and effort to find the perfect contractor for the job. It is important to consider all the details to ensure that you end up working with someone who is experienced, knowledgeable and trustworthy. Finding the right person (or team) for the job involves:
Asking family and friends to refer you to a quality contractor they have dealt with in the past
Getting referrals from trusted online sources such as nari.org
Getting at least 3 bids/estimates for the project
Researching online for their reputation and reviews
Asking about their current licenses and insurance
Requesting a couple references (previous customers)
Asking for pictures/examples of previous (preferably similar) work
Determining if they will subcontract any of the work out
Finding out how long the project will take them
Due to the size and investment of any kitchen remodeling project, it’s okay to be picky. Be sure to ask a lot of questions, get them to explain everything in detail and ask for pictures and contact numbers for previous projects they have done (preferably of projects that are similar to yours). Most importantly, make sure they take your concerns, questions, taste, style, and budget seriously. Also, don’t feel any pressure to hire someone just because they give you a quote or a “deal”.
Finally, be sure to have a well-written contract drawn up and signed to ensure that both parties are held accountable, costly mistakes and “unexpected” costs can be avoided and the project is done on schedule and within the set budget.