Six steps to upgrading a kitchen without boosting the cost

By Tim Carter
Friday, March 11, 2011; 3:55 PM

Q. I'd love to move to a new home, but the economy is preventing that. So I've decided to do some kitchen remodeling, as it seems to be the center of activity of our current home. Based on the bids I'm getting, remodeling costs seem high. What can be done to keep the total cost as low as possible, as well as to minimize disruption? -Mandy W., Richmond, Va.

A. Kitchen remodeling can create 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 quickly.

Let's talk about the cost of kitchen remodeling first, and 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. When you add everything up, the dollar figure can be a frightening number.

If you want to keep the cost of your job as low as possible, I recommend that you keep your current cabinets and just paint them. That assumes 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 will pay a penalty if you buy on impulse. Plan ahead and watch for sales. 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 countertops you may have shunned in the past should be considered. You'll discover many new patterns in durable plastic laminate that mimic the look of expensive materials that cost thousands of dollars more.

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 install yourself in a day or less. That will save you sweet moola.

The disruption caused by 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 the correct item. 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, set up a temporary one in your garage where you can do basic tasks in relative warmth. Use an outdoor grill as much as possible, but do not use one 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 one cabinet front and paint it. When you get the perfect result, then advance to the rest of the kitchen.

-Tribune Media

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