DIY : The Top 9 Keys to Saving Money on Your DIY Kitchen Remodel (and 7 Areas to Pay-Up)

The thought of remodeling your kitchen is definitely an intimidating prospect. Fears include high costs, poor outcomes, delays, unexpected challenges, and getting taken by one of the many people you’ll depend on to get it done. In this article, I’ll share some advice a few key areas in which to save money. We’ll also discuss a few key areas to spend a bit more to pull it all together.

SAVING MONEY ON LABOR

DESIGN: A custom cabinet shop, a fancy cabinetry showroom, or a full-service designer will add a great deal of time and cost to your project in the name of style and convenience. A DIY homeowner can skip these three and reach out to an online resource like www.lakestreethome.com . Lake Street Home offers complimentary 3D kitchen design service with expert guidance from one of four veteran kitchen designers. A good designer, even one that will never set foot in the project, will guide you through the process and make sure you are on the right track. Terri from Lake Street Home, for example, can take a quick look at your photos and measurements and help you to avoid very costly design and installation nightmares that less skilled designers would miss. So, when it comes to expert design; free is good!

ASSEMBLY: If you’ve got basic skills like using glue, a nailer, a screwdriver and clamps, chances are you have the ability to assemble your own cabinets. The common term for flat-packed cabinets is “RTA” or “ready to assemble” cabinets. Assembling your own cabinets offers a number of benefits. You get to inspect them for quality and get to know them before the installation process begins. You get a feeling of accomplishment. You save a great deal of money by not paying someone to assemble them in a factory. You also save money because they are less costly to deliver due to their reduced size. Another benefit is that they are less likely to be damaged in transit because the pieces are all packed tight.

INSTALLATION: Cabinet installation requires a keen eye and some real troubleshooting skills. Even master carpenters get stumped once in a while with a tough cabinet job. You’ll want someone to be your go-to if you get stuck. Find a friend or relative who has carpentry skills to either help with installation or be your back up. Most people with basic carpentry skills can use YouTube videos and tutorials to do a good cabinet installation. This saves a tremendous amount of money.

BACKSPLASH: Since kitchen backsplash tile does not get soaked like bathroom tile, you don’t need to be an expert tile-setter to install it. Again, help from a friend or YouTube tutorials will typically help you to install a great backsplash. Given the relatively small square footage of backsplash tile that you’ll need, you may be able to find odd lots of nice decorative tile or basic subway tile to get the job done. Head to a local flooring store or home-center to check their closeouts. Tile is often cheaper than the labor to install it. Even if you don’t find a good closeout, the little money you’ll spend in this area will help make the huge WOW-factor. You will only need to set aside a few hours to change the look of your kitchen by installing your own tile backsplash.

FLOORING: The appearance of a floating floor and installation methods have come so far in the past few years, that you can install a beautiful floor yourself, without much experience. Lake Street Home offers both water-resistant laminate flooring as well as waterproof-click flooring exclusively with patented UniClic locking technology. Either category is very well suited for kitchen use with great durability. Our installation YouTube videos have been viewed over 300,000 times and will walk you through the installation. If you get stuck with a tricky situation, a quick call to our team of experts will get you going again.

WHERE NOT TO SAVE MONEY ON LABOR

PLUMBING, ELECTRICAL AND HVAC. Shop around for a licensed professional to take care of these tasks. Getting this right is worth the cost of professional help.

COUNTERTOPS: If top of the line Cambria Quartz counters are not in the budget right now, you can get very good-looking laminate top options today and budget for your dream tops in the future. With high-definition imagery and realistic surface textures, you might just find yourself loving your laminate tops for a few more years than you thought you would. This photo shows a brand new “distressed” butcher block laminate countertop. The image is realistic! If solid tops are a must, I have two pieces of advice to save you money. 1) Don’t believe the garbage about quartz being the only way to go because granite requires “maintenance”. Most good fabricators are now using 15-year (or longer) sealer.

Maintenance is a non-factor. I actually prefer granite because it is a natural product and has real character. Quartz is man made and any imperfection or damage stands out a bit more. Often, you can find granite for quite a bit less than quartz and most fabricators keep a supply in stock, which can lead to quicker turn-around times. 2) Go directly to the fabricator. Don’t buy your countertops from a designer, big-box store or cabinetry shop. These retailers have the fabricator do the work and add profit for themselves. Find a fabricator who will sell direct and negotiate the best deal you can. Ask to walk through the fabrication facility. There should be big, clean laser CNC machines rather than a bunch of guys grinding away on slabs sitting on sawhorses. Ask if they laser measure your kitchen and what happens if it doesn’t fit quite right. Also, ask about installation warranties and granite sealer warranties. Bottom line: have a laminate or stone top made and installed by a professional. You just can’t do it as well as they can and the competitive market is so tight that it really doesn’t cost much more to have it done professionally.

STRUCTURAL ADVICE: Typically if a wall is load-bearing, it will run perpendicular to the ceiling joists or trusses. If it runs parallel to them, it is not as likely to be load-bearing. Check with a trusted expert before demolishing walls.

PAINTING CABINETRY: A great way to make a DIY kitchen renovation feel more custom is with a pop of color on the island. With Lake Street Home’s Dream Colors program, I recommend painting the island, or a buffet area in a fun color. It doesn’t cost a whole lot to have done (in a small area like the three or so cabinets of the island). Have fun with your choices, but have an expert do the painting!

SAVING MONEY ON MATERIALS

FLOORING: Identifying a quality flooring solution without the help of a full-service flooring store can seem daunting. Mega home centers and online resources have thousands of options and it is difficult to tell which ones are garbage and which are not. Click here for a comprehensive guide to waterproof and water resistant flooring. Generally, you should be able to get a top-quality laminate floor with a high definition imagery, realistic woodgrain surface texture, AC4-rating, UniClic technology, CARB2 certified and v-bevelled edge detail for between $1.75 and $2.99 per square foot (including delivery). Quality waterproof flooring can be found for between $2.50 and $3.75. I prefer WPC over SPC because it sounds and feels much more natural underfoot. In this photo Cottage by Turtle Bay Floors is a rustic look floor that goes great with the Pure White Shaker Poet’s Cove Cabinetry. Lake Street Home takes the guesswork out of this by only offering top-quality flooring and using straightforward pricing. A few things to keep in mind are:

  • Choose quality underlayment foam with a full moisture barrier. The wrong underlayment or no underlayment can lead to squeaky floors and/or water damage. The very best underlayment foam shouldn’t cost more than $0.35 per foot including delivery. Hatteras, by Turtle Bay Floors is a versatile high-density underlayment that should work for just about any project.
  • Do not be fooled a closeout deal. Often these have odd lots and may have slightly different coloration or texture. Get a new floor and grab an extra case to sock away in case you need it in the future.
  • Before you purchase, be sure the supplier has exact-match transition strips for a reasonable price. Transitions will finish the edge of the flooring where it meets carpet, another flooring type, a staircase or exterior door. They should cost about $35 for a 7-foot piece. More on transitions here.

CABINETRY: Remember that RTA cabinets will offer your best value. If you’re intimidated by the thought of assembling your cabinets yourself, many RTA cabinetry web stores offer assembly for around $39 per cabinet. Be sure checking this option does not increase your shipping costs. I also try to have the designer use as few big, unique pieces as possible and minimize the use of specialty inserts and roll-out trays. Check the difference in cost between a huge pantry cabinet with 4 roll-out shelves and just using a few more wide drawer base cabinets throughout the kitchen. You can never have too many drawer base cabinets!

APPLIANCES: I always stick with the small, local retailer for appliances. Here’s how I save money. I ask an associate if they have a scratch and dent or closeout area. I find at least one nice closeout appliance that will work and center the other appliances around that one. I then work out a deal for the whole kitchen. For example: If I find a stainless steel Whirlpool fridge with a big gouge in the side (where I know it won’t show, based on my design), I’ll then go to the showroom and choose a matching dishwasher and oven. I’ll negotiate the price ONLY on the closeout appliance by first asking “if I buy the oven and dishwasher at showroom price, can I get that fridge back there for free?” Knowing that this is not likely, we work something out from there.

COUNTERTOPS: Buying directly from a quality fabricator will save time and headaches. It may also save you some money if you keep a few things in mind. Choose a surface and style that fits your budget and design. I would start by asking the fabricator if they have any “promo” colors or if they buy and particular colors in bulk. Get a quote on your entire job (the material, fabrication and installation). Square foot pricing is useless in comparing fabricators and they’ll all do free estimates, so get the full estimate. Compare a couple of quality fabricators and go with the one that offers the best “gut feeling” and price.

WHEN NOT TO SAVE MONEY ON MATERIALS

DECORATIVE HARDWARE: Often a fairly basic looking cabinet can be given a fantastic “wow-factor” through the use of quality hardware. Avoid the temptation to clean out the plastic bin at the mega home center and shop for quality knobs and pulls. You can certainly find a finish and style you like in the Elements, Jeffrey Alexander or Top Knobs catalogs! You want to be bold and trendsetting in areas that are easily changed. Go with Top Kobs Honey Bronze for a “now” look that can be swapped if the trend fades. The extra money you spend by going with an $8 pull instead of a $1.99 pull will often be the difference between a decent kitchen and a fabulous one!

ARTWORK AND ACCESSORIES: Decorative hardware, artwork and accessories are the jewelry of the kitchen. With artwork and accessories, avoid the temptation of going to Hobby Lobby or Home Goods and grabbing a giant fork or something with a cute phrase on it. This is where you can place things of sentimental value that get people talking. Have an old photo put on canvas, put a few of your grandmother’s old plates on the wall, use a vase or bowl from your childhood home. You get the point.

A (relatively) inexpensive DIY kitchen can be so much more beautiful, fun and engaging than a $40,000 kitchen renovation if you do it right. Be smart, save money where you can, and find trusted experts and helpers. You can do this. Visit www.lakestreethome.com for more great tips, ideas and products.

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