How To Remodel A Kitchen That's Not Supposed To Fund Your Retirement

Remember the days when your kitchen was an investment? Yeah, those days are over. Now you need a reasonably priced kitchen where you can actually cook!

Consumer Reports has 4 tips for remodeling a non-ridiculous kitchen:

No matter how much money you plan to spend, a few simple rules apply:

Don’t rush

If it’s been a while since you thought about remodeling, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the wealth of innovative products that combine value, performance, and good looks. Take the time–anywhere from a few weeks to several months, depending on the scope of your project–to meet with pros, browse the Internet, and visit showrooms and home centers. Haste can also be expensive. Changing their minds after the work got started typically added about $1,500 to the cost of a kitchen project, according to almost 3,000 readers we surveyed about the hidden costs of remodeling.

Don’t get stuck on size

Bloated showpieces are out. In addition to being expensive, huge kitchens can be exhausting to work in. There should be only about 4 to 9 feet of space between the sink and the refrigerator or between the sink and the stove, according to the National Kitchen & Bath Association. Islands should be only 3 to 4 feet deep and 3 to 10 feet wide and have a 42-inch-wide aisle between the island and surrounding cabinets. Anything bigger can be hard to use and clean.

Beware of budget busters

“While we’re at it …” are words that can break any budget. It’s one thing to make unexpected structural repairs (in fact, you should leave a 10 to 15 percent cushion in your budget for such surprises), but it’s another to add decorative flourishes just because a skilled carpenter happens to be in your kitchen. But don’t settle for a cheap option, promising yourself that someday you’ll replace it with what you really want. “In 30 years, I’ve never had a client actually come back and make the change,” says Mark Karas, a Boston designer and president of the NKBA.

Get everything in writing

Whenever you hire a pro, the written contract should list each phase of the project; every product, including the model number; and copies of each contractor’s license and workers compensation and liability insurance to confirm that they’re still in effect. Call references and, if possible, visit them for a visual inspection.

Classic Kitchens For Less [Consumer Reports]

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  1. Awesome McAwesomeness says:

    I really think the tip about not having too large of a kitchen cannot be emphasized enough. I worked much better in my small galley kitchen than in my big kitchen with an island. It’s so much easier to put a pot in the sink when it’s right behind you, or to retrieve the butter when the fridge is two steps away. I cook a lot, as a hobby and blogger, and I prefer a small, compact kitchen.

    • tbax929 says:

      I like having a large-ish kitchen. My kitchen isn’t huge, but it’s a nice sized with an island. When I have guests, that’s seems to be where everybody congregates. My floor plan is open, so you can interact with people who are in the living and dining areas right from the kitchen.

      I had a galley kitchen at my last apartment and really hated it. It wasn’t conducive to cooking or entertaining.

      • huadpe says:

        The key to making a kitchen work is having everything you need to cook conveniently close to each other. A small kitchen forces this, but a larger one can do it too. The trick I find is to move all small appliances and counter-hogging accouterments away from the sink/fridge/stove core, so you can have counterspace that provides easy access.

        • tbax929 says:

          Counterspace is a huge plus. I tend to use my island more for prep than the other surfaces, but I do agree about having small appliances out of the way.

          • Awesome McAwesomeness says:

            I find myself using the same small area of counter space for prep. We have loads of counter space, but if it’s not near the stove or coffee pot, I find it useless for the most part.

          • catastrophegirl chooses not to fly says:

            i used to do that but i find myself using certain small appliances all the time. i have to eat a lot of foods as liquids so my small blender stays out all the time, as does my rice cooker. but once i realized the broiler on my current oven is much better than the broiler at my last place, i quit using the toaster oven all the time and put it out of the way.
            prioritizing what i actually use every day or multiple times a week is the most efficient way for me.

      • Awesome McAwesomeness says:

        I’ve had in two small kitchens and now a large and still prefer small. You can like whatever you want, but small is more efficient for my day-to day cooking. Large kitchens are nice for the congregation factor, but that only happens a few times a year. I won’t base an entire room of my home on what happens a few times a year.

        I have a very big, open kitchen (it’s a great room actually) now and it is arranged very efficiently. I still don’t like it as much as my smaller kitchen.

        • tbax929 says:

          Obviously, we all have different needs and likes. My friends come over every Friday night; my house is the entertainment spot. So what works for someone like me who entertains a lot would not make sense for someone who only has guests a few times a year.

      • 99 1/2 Days says:

        I once had a galley so small you couldn’t get out of the kitchen if the dishwasher door was open unless you stepped over it. Never again. I don’t need a lot of space, though. As long as it’s big enough for me and the hubby to cook in together without stepping on each other then it will work. Oh, and a pantry.

        • Tim says:

          That’s nothing. In my current kitchen, you’re always less than one step away from everything. When you put a pan on the counter, you’ve taken up half of the total counter space. If I were to put in a dish drying rack, I’d lose half my counter space.

          • catastrophegirl chooses not to fly says:

            i’ve seen a lot of pictures of european kitchens with either an open bottomed cabinet with a drying rack on the bottom of the cabinet or a rack suspended above working height – both of course placed to drip over the sink. i like the idea so much i suspended an ikea grundtal rack for my dish brushes and kitchen sponges right over my sink. having a dishwasher i don’t need a whole drying rack

    • chiieddy says:

      I find lack of usable counterspace to be a huge issue. My kitchen was last updated in the 60s and I’d love to rearrange the counterspace, re-configure the fridge, oven, sink triangle so they’re closer together and add more garage storage for small appliances.

    • baquwards says:

      I was really concerned when we bought this house that I would hate the small kitchen. I actually absolutely love it. It is a small square room with 2 entry points with small pantry and counters on two of the four sides. I am only a step or two from where I need to be. I cook a lot, so there was a small coat closet right outside of the kitchen that I turned into a larger pantry to house pots, pans and other equipment.

    • Pax says:

      I think part of that probably has to do with how many people expect to be able to take part in food preparation at once. What’s perfect for one person alone, is going to be a bit cramped or even impossible for 2-3 people working together. And, vice-versa, what’s great for two people who like to cook together, stands a good chance of being a bit large for a single person to use efficiently.

  2. tbax929 says:

    My house is brand new, so I won’t be remodeling anything anytime soon (I hope), but one thing I wish had been remodeled in my last apartment kitchen was the appliances. I am amazed at how much lower electric and gas bills are with energy-efficient appliances.

    My last apartment was half the square footage of the new house, but the utility bills were about 40% higher because the appliances and HVAC system were so inefficient.

    So if I were giving advice to anyone considering remodeling a kitchen, I’d strongly suggest they consider getting energy efficient appliances. I think there’s a tax credit for doing so, as well.

    • TWSS says:

      Agreed on the EnergyStar appliances. They can be a nice resale feature, too.

      • DGC says:

        Energy Star is good, but you still need to be careful. Our fridge is a mid range efficiency top freezer. It isn’t Energy Star, but it uses much less electricity than an Energy Star side-by-side or bottom freezer. It cost less than half as much too.

        • catastrophegirl chooses not to fly says:

          yep, i recently purchased a fridge. the first one that caught my eye had an estimated cost to run per year of $53 and the second one is estimated at $35. they are the same style, cubic footage, features. different manufacturers, both energy star. the prices were similar [aside from the same price i got on the second one]

        • GearheadGeek says:

          It’s more correct to say your top-freezer unit is more efficient than SOME bottom-freezer units. The biggest efficiency problem with American bottom-freezer refrigerators is that they tend to be pull-out drawers, which causes way more air exchange than a Euro-style bottom freezer that has a door and then small drawers, so you only pull open the drawer you need. Similarly easy access, but more efficient design.

    • Hoss says:

      And be cute. Don’t forget cute

    • Lis de fleur says:

      A lot of it may be not only the efficiency of the appliances but being a new home itself is more efficient. Tight windows & a well insulated home can do wonders for your electricity bills.

      I just heard a report that said the rate of efficiency for energy star rated appliances varies greatly. The opinion of the report was that a new tiered rating system was needed.

  3. LastError says:

    This and many other home-related things went wrong when people began looking at their homes as some kind of investment instead of a place to live.

    Cars are the same. People fret about their value too but ultimately the point of a car is to provide transportation. It’s not supposed to be an investment.

    • Palin Walmart LLC USA says:

      Knowing which cars depreciate less than others helps (kbb.com) But as a politician and corporatist, I feel we should spend as much as possible and not worry about how and where it’s being spent. Switching to spending only on things that return internal and local interest such as installing insulation who’s labor cannot be outsourced while cutting down on money exported to fuel providing nations and utilities hurts businesses that pay wages low enough to employ more people than middle class wages would allow.

  4. Bob Lu says:

    I still think if you actually cook, size does matter. True, “there should be only about 4 to 9 feet of space between the sink and the refrigerator or between the sink and the stove”. But WHICH of my sinks, fridges and stoves you are talking about?

    • Skankingmike says:

      fancy gadgets and industrial appliances don’t make a person a cook or even cook better.

      I’ve cooked in a variety kitchens, you use what you have and make it work, that’s a cook.

      another example is my wife’s Abuela, who came from nothing to this country to nothing, she cooks with pots most of you wouldn’t even buy at a yard sale, and has 1 knife, yet I’ll put her paella up against anything you’ve seen on TV or in a restaurant. hell I’ll put most of her traditional Spanish dishes up against a famous cook any day.

      • baquwards says:

        the best cooks that I have ever known had the most modest of kitchens and equipment. Nice fancy overpriced kitchens are nice and convenient and all, but they won’t improve anyones cooking skills.

        • colorisnteverything says:

          I agree. I have cooked some of my best meals with very little – think dorm kitchen and a full Persian meal. If I was given more, great, but I grew up in a family of foodies where Dad was practically a chef and our kitchen was pathetically small. Still, it worked. What one SHOULD spend $$ on is a good set of pots and pans. I have spent more money than on Wal-Mart brand stuff, but I get things like All-Clad for great deals at Marshall’s or on sale at Macy’s. I don’t ever pay full price and yes, still expensive, but a good pot will last you forever. My parent’s first set of copper-bottomed pans lasted about 30 years before they upgraded to something newer and better. If you take care of your things, they will last. Also, you need a Kitchen Aid stand mixer. I got one for graduation and it is my baby. Don’t know what I would do without it. Growing up with one and then not having one when I lived on my own or when I was abroad was a night mare.

          • Skankingmike says:

            Good pots and pans are great. And getting the right pots and pans for what you cook too. I love my cast iron for when I make some of my dishes, but others I enjoy the evenness of the all clad steel. Neither will go bad in a few years like most aluminum will.

            A good knife is always needed when prepping food too. I happened to have gotten married and there’s this wonderful thing called a wedding registry. Thus I own a nice collection of SHUN knives which some knives are 100+ dollars each. To which my in laws were just shocked at lol. I would never have bought all of them (probably just the chief knife) but damn if they’re not amazing!

            • Ichabod says:

              Yes Knives the about the most important kitchen item. $100 for a knife? Twenty years ago maybe before Henkel knives went to crap. Sabatier, Little John,(hand forged), and Old Model Henkel pros!

        • Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

          The most famous cooks have their own line of fancy cookware and then don’t use it.

          I hate those people. Rachael Ray, I’m looking at you.

      • Bohemian says:

        Most of the people I know with these huge showplace kitchens don’t cook.

    • Conformist138 says:

      You know the best kitchen set-up I have ever had? I use a 3-foot long counter, a cupboard above it, and two drawers with cupboards below. One divided sink, a microwave, and a stove. I own about 2 pans, 2 pots, and two casserole dishes. A few different stirring/ladling utensils, basic gadgets (peeler, measuring cups, etc), and a small selection of quality knives. Almost everything was hand-me-down. It has been SO nice to have a limited number of items that get a lot of work done. And, it means I can walk into anyone’s home and whip something up. I don’t get all snobby about having every little gadget or whine about not being able to use anything but the nicest appliances. In fact, the best cooks can do just fine with nothing but heat- my mother taught me how to make everything from whole chicken to meatloaf with little more than tinfoil and an open fire at a campsite.

      If you need more than one of everything in your kitchen, you’re doing it wrong.

  5. babyruthless says:

    When I am in a house that I think I’ll be in for a really long time, and won’t have to worry about resale value, I’m putting in an area with a low, marble counter. I like to bake and having a low enough surface to knead dough on comfortably would be amazing. I’m only 5’4″, so to properly knead bread, I have to grab a stepstool. A counter that is 4-6″ lower than my current counters would negate this need. Also, I want it to be marble so I can roll out pastry dough.

    But I also realize that these are pretty specific wants so I don’t think it would be wise to do until I’m in the house that I think I’ll be in until I’m a blue-hair.

    • catastrophegirl chooses not to fly says:

      do you have room for a freestanding unit? a marble slab on a cut down kitchen island might work. actually my kitchen island is a dresser that i picked up at a thrift store when a local college remodeled their dorms. it already had a kitchen counter surface on it, and a towel bar, because it had been used as a kitchenette in the dorm [they had several and i’m wishing i’d bought two because i could use one for craft storage right about now.
      got lucky in that it happened to match my kitchen cabinets.
      but any suitably stable piece of furniture, the right height, with a flat top that can be topped in marble might work for you

    • Eyebrows McGee (now with double the baby!) says:

      I feel your pain … I just want a counter low enough so I have leverage when I chop!

    • dangermike says:

      Ha, I feel your pain but it’s the opposite situation for me. At 6’5, most countertops are far too low. Even on the tall end of standard heights, I find myself stooping way down or having to lean on the counter to bring myself down to it. Anything less than about 40″ is a bachache waiting to happen.

      But that brings forward the most important consideration in designing a kitchen, to assess one’s own needs and preferences and to build to them rather than what might be standard, universal, or stylish. Then again, I’m pretty sure there are building codes prohibiting my ideal work surface heights.

    • Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

      To combine your height issue and your possible desire to maintain resale value, I have the following suggestion:

      Install an island with a recessed section. Imagine a 6″ x 4″ island counter with an appropximately 2″ x 1″ section that is a foot lower than the rest of the counter. I have seen this once or twice in kitchens either on TV or in a magazine. The lower section is your “kneading” area. The resale remains because that recessed area has other uses even for those not interested in kneading.

      Another option is an island with half at your desires height, and half at a bar height with bar stools on the opposite end. This will give it a (suprise) bar counter feel while giving you the height you need for kneading.

  6. balthisar says:

    I remodeled my kitchen about 4 years ago. I did most of the work myself, and it cost about $20,000 all told (that’s not really unreasonable). It turns out all I really needed was my $120 Wüsthoff knife.

    More seriously, try to think of your kitchen as an engineering exercise. How do you work? What’s efficient, and not? Do go ahead and buy nice stuff, but not because you’re thinking of resale value, but because you like it and want it. Oh, for major appliances, try Sears appliance outlets.

  7. b612markt says:

    Everytime I go to Ikea, I always think that when that day comes, I’ll get everything from there. When that day does finally come, I wonder what I’ll actually do.

    • TWSS says:

      A friend of mine used to flip houses for a living (I know, I know) and put Ikea cabinets in all of his kitchens. They held up so well in his investment properties, he ended up installing them in his own house when he moved. Bang for the buck, they’re a pretty good deal.

    • chiieddy says:

      IKEA fixtures for their kitchens are supposed to be top-notch. When we’ve built enough equity into the house that we can afford the kitchen and bathroom remodels we need, I would seriously consider using them and an installer to assist with the work.

    • Dustbunny says:

      In Stieg Larsson’s book The Girl Who Played W/Fire, one of the main characters has to furnish her new condo. He describes in detail her trip to IKEA & what she buys — including the model names of the furniture and dishes. It’s like a shopping list for what to buy at IKEA if money is no object. Although…if money is no object, seems like you’d have enough $$$ to shop at a higher-end store.

  8. Macgyver says:

    Do as much of it as you can, you’ll be surprised by how much you can actually save, especially in demo, you can save hundreds of dollars to a couple grand.

    When it comes to appliances, look for last year models, or buy a floor model, you can save more then 50% by doing that.

    I just found out http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l_1OdYYxkpk habitat for humanity restore, you can get normally expensive stuff, for up to 90% off retail.

    Also watch the DIY network, and learn how to do some stuff yourself, you can save tons of money.

    • DJ Charlie says:

      Habitat ReStore is one of my favorite places to shop! Found a nice old teacher’s desk there a couple of months ago (painted industrial green). Stripped off all the paint, and it’s solid redwood underneath. Got a cabinetmaker friend of mine to take a look, and he says it dates from around 1902 (no screws or nails holding it together, all wooden pegs!) My cost? $10.

      • ChuckECheese says:

        My local habitat restore (in Phoenix) is an annoying space full of 30-year old faded $150 couches, ugly oak and colonial modern entertainment centers, smoked-glass and brass end tables, and recycled appliances, all at prices just barely below retail, were you stupid and tasteless enough to actually buy such things. I just spent several months shopping for furniture in Phoenix, at all sorts of places, and found thrift stores and resale shops here to be a pointless and depressing slog – and this was before I learned to fear bedbugs.

    • catastrophegirl chooses not to fly says:

      and, from watching the DIY network, i also learned about special orders that get canceled for whatever reason. like someone orders a special stove and it ends up not fitting or they change their mind. a friend just got a $500 custom door for $150 because someone changed their mind and lowes was stuck with it. you just have to ask around at the place you are appliance shopping

  9. Julia789 says:

    If you have a miniature kitchen (as many small apartment owners do) try someone who specializes in cabinetry for houseboats or small yachts. They can build some AMAZING storage spaces and hidden pull-out workspaces for you.

  10. trey says:

    the 42″ min between cabinets and an island or between other cabinets is a must. do not go any more narrow. i recommend 48″ when possible but that would require a large kitchen.

    i work in the interior design industry as an associate designer.

  11. lockdog says:

    If there is Habitat ReStore in your area you should check them out. Not only can they be a great source for inexpensive fixtures, but hey may also have a free or low cost service to remove old appliances, cabinets, counter tops and other fixtures for you. Not only will this save you in (you own or a contractor’s) labor and dump fees, but the donations are tax deductible.

    A word on shopping at ReStores: I find they break into two types. Those that have few donors and virtually no shoppers, so there stuff is all junk and those that have thousands of donors and shoppers, at which point they sell the stuff so fast unless you luck out when you get there the only thing left will be the junk. Persistence will reward you at the second type. Make sure you have your measurements with you and stop by frequently. Chances are everything you need will show up if you are patient and persistent. Don;t be afraid to ask at the front desk about how often new stuff comes in. The ReStore around the corner from me move in almost a semitrailer’s worth of stuff every day! The amount (and quality) of stuff people give away amazes me, but the good stuff sells in hours, not days.

  12. tooluser says:

    The easiest stove to clean is an all-electric ceramic cooktop with a self-cleaning oven. And it’s cheaper than a gas cooktop. Do not underestimate how much you will clean your stove.

    Yes, I know that many of you prefer a gas cooktop. You are fooling yourself about its being more responsive. Enclosed electric works better, and a ceramic cooktop is much easier to clean.

    • Nighthawke says:

      Gas vs electric, it all boils down to how much it costs to operate with them. If one utility is cheaper in your area, go with it. You’d be burning cash if you went with the other.

    • SalesGeek says:

      Ceramic cooktops are easier — far easier — to break, too. We remodeled the kitchen in our previous house and because I am responsible for cleaning the stove we put in a ceramic cooktop. Flash forward a year later when a small bottle of soy sauce fell out of a cabinet above the stove and bounced off the edge of the cooktop. It took a very small chip out of the cooktop. The small chip soon became a large set of cracks and the cooktop had to be replaced. Cooktops are expensive to buy and really expensive to fix. The new cooktop (JUST the replacement part) was over $400.

      We now have a gas stove in our current house. Far harder to clean but also takes abuse a cooktop wouldn’t stand. I hate cleaning it but I like having not to walk on eggshells lest I have another $400 bottle of soy sauce above my stove.

    • RickN says:

      What you call “fooling yourself”, I call “experience”. I cooked 8 years on gas cooktops, 17 years on electric — I’ll take a gas stovetop any day.

      I just replaced my electric cooktop and oven when the oven broke for the last time. (No more parts for a 17-years old Jennair). Put in a dual-fuel range and I’m back in a long-missed gas cooking heaven.

    • lockdog says:

      My problem with smooth top ranges is all in the fine print. No warranty if you use grandma’s cast iron skillet to make your corn bread, or if you use a large (say 12 qt) stock pot for making soups in large batches or canning (or home brewing). If you do prefer electric over gas, I’d recommend a cartridge style range (like most JennAirs) where you can easily swap in two glass-top elements, two regular coil-style elements, or even grill and griddle elements. I totally agree wit the poster below who said dual fuel is the best. Electric oven for even baking and gas cooktop for lightning fast sauté. Just make sure your gas burner has a good simmer setting,

  13. H3ion says:

    Maybe not always part of a remodeling job, but if you can put an eating space in the kitchen, say enough room for a four seat table, it’s a lot easier than carrying food back and forth to a dining room. At the least, consider a counter top with an overhang that will allow you to use bar stools.

  14. rocklob says:

    After a plumbing disaster, we were forced to remodel our whole kitchen last year. We did it with Ikea and it saved us SO much. A contractor quoted us $15k to redo our kitchen with fairly low-end materials and keeping our old appliances. We ended up doing it ourselves and created our dream kitchen for about $8k (including all new stainless steel appliances and better-than-granite Zodiaq countertops). It was a lot more work, of course, but it was not that hard.

    Here are some of my money-saving tips for building a kitchen from Ikea:

    + Ikea has an annual kitchen sale. It usually works like this: You start off with 10% off your entire kitchen order. If you buy 2 appliances, it becomes 15%. If you buy 3 appliances it becomes 20%! If you are going to redo your kitchen with Ikea, WAIT FOR THIS SALE!

    + Even if you don’t actually want the Ikea appliances, it can still save you money if you buy 3 appliances that you don’t want! We did not use a single Ikea appliance, but we bought three $200 microwaves to get us 20% off which ended up costing much less than if we DIDN’T buy them. Do the math and see if it makes sense for you. (We just gave the microwaves to family members and a charity.)

    + Ikea also works with local contractors for countertops. And the kitchen sale discount applies to them, too! So you can get very nice granite, Zodiaq, etc. for 20% off (including installation) even though they are not Ikea products.

    + Pay as much as you can with debit. If you pay with debit at Ikea, you get a coupon valued at 1% of your total purchase price off a future purchase. 1% may not sound like much, but if you are spending thousands, it adds up. My lame bank has a daily debit limit that prevented us from buying the entire kitchen on debit, but Ikea let us split the payment.