25 Tips for Planning a Kitchen or Bath Remodel

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A Consumer Reports survey revealed that a high percentage of respondents said they wished they had done more research or selected a pro more carefully when taking on remodeling.  Here are 25 tips to avoid disappointments and problems in remodeling your kitchen or bath.

1.    Plan First.  List what you like and don’t like about your existing kitchen or bath.  Also what you like or don’t like about kitchens and baths you’ve been in – maybe a luxury hotel or former home.  Write it down.  Turn it into a wish-list for your remodel.  Review the wish-list at several points during the planning process and one last time before you begin construction.  Make sure you’re not forgetting anything.  It’s really easy to forget a small but important detail.
2.    Create a workbook. Clip Pictures and analyze.  It’s rare that you like everything in the image in a shelter magazine.  What’s making you feel good about the room?  Is it the color, the light fixtures, the color of the wood, the style of the cabinets.  Then review it with others – not to get them to approve but to have them tell you what they see.  We all take in details differently.  Maybe they notice a detail that’s important to the look that your eye missed.
3.    Guidelines from NKBA – The National Kitchen and Bath Association.
These guidelines are a must read for anyone remodeling a kitchen or bath.  If you stick with these guidelines, you will avoid myriad problems such as not being able to fully open appliance doors or bumping into stools every time you move around the new island.
Kitchen Guidelines
Bath Guidelines
4.    Create a Budget – Even if you’re hiring a contractor to do most of the work, a detailed budget is a must.  List the price of everything (and I mean everything) you want/need to purchase.  Here are some resources to follow:
Budgeting for Remodeling a Project
What Does It Cost to Remodel A Kitchen?
Comparing Bids
Then remember to also:
– Round up all numbers
– Remember to add in a line for the cost of shipping, delivery and tax
– Add at least 3%-5% for items that you’ve left off the list (this is separate from the contingency (below)
5.    Add a contingency of 10% to 25%. The contingency can be 10% if you’ve done this before and it’s a relatively straightforward remodel.  If it’s your first time or it’s an old house, I strongly recommend a contingency of 25%.  There are dozens of items that you don’t know you need until you’re missing it.
6.    Update your budget every time your purchase an item or something changes.   If you budgeted $100 for hardware and end up spending $300, update the budget.  Going over your budgeted allowance by $200 on 10 items is $2,000 added to the budget.  Don’t get surprised at the end or end up not being able to finish because you ran out of money.  If the contractor included allowances in the budget for items like fixtures, keep you own budget of the actual versus the allowance.
7.    Include Decorating Items in the budget. Your remodel isn’t really complete until you’re installed items like window treatments, rugs and specialty items like stools.  If you haven’t purchased them lately, these items can be quite expensive.  Don’t get caught without money to complete the work.
8.    Make a Schedule & add 30%. Work with your contractor or installer (maybe your husband, brother, or sister) to establish a schedule.  And than add 30% to the planned time.  If your installer has never done it before – add 50% or more to the schedule.  If your contractor says it will take 2 months, plan on a 10-11 week project.  Rarely does everything go as planned and we usually underestimate the time it will take to accomplish any task.   Mentally it’s far easier to have the remodeled kitchen ready before you plan than to have weeks of work left when you thought you would be enjoying the new room.
9.    Make sure this is a good time to remodel – Think about activities that you have planned – a dinner party or graduation ceremony.  Don’t cut the time too close.  Also add in time for you to get the new space set-up and decorated.
10.    Don’t confuse price with quality. You can buy the same size stainless steel sink for $200 or $2000.  Don’t presume that the $2,000 sink is better.  Its higher price is likely due to name brand, finishes or features that may or may not be useful to you.  Think through what you need and don’t be persuaded that more is better.
11.    Read Reviews. One of the best things about the internet is the ability to read what folks think about the product or service you’re thinking of buying.  And remember, we don’t all value things the same way.  So even if someone rated a product poorly (or highly), they might want the product to perform differently than how you intend to use it.  Pay attention especially to issues of maintenance or reliability.  Reviews can be really helpful to help you figure out whether the features of the higher priced sink or other fixture is worth the additional money for the way you cook or live.  I personally like Amazon reviews and often start there for most products.
12.    Don’t Necessarily Go with the low Price Merchant. Along with product reviews, also read merchant reviews.  You don’t want to delay your project because items don’t arrive or arrive damaged.
13.    Have the Installer Review Product Specs Before You Buy. Kitchen and bath fixtures and appliances have become quite complex.  It used to be that you could be pretty certain that a faucet or drain would work with any sink.  No longer.  Some sinks require 1-1/4 inch drain assemblies and some require 1-3/8 or 1/1/2 assemblies.  Some sinks require overflow drain assemblies and some will leak if you use an overflow drain assembly.  One cooktop described as 36” can fit in a 36” cabinet and some require a 39” or 42” cabinet.  The list is endless.
14.    Select the contractor carefully. Don’t assume that because your neighbor or friend had a good experience with a contractor that you will also.  The difference in experience might be because you expect a different level of quality, because the scope of the work is different, or because the finish level is different.  Here’s a handy guide about what to ask references (including your friend or neighbor).
Remember, that you’ll be with your contractor every day for weeks or months.  Make sure you like them.  If you have any hesitation about the individual listen to your gut!
15.    Plan for a Temporary Kitchen. If you’re doing a kitchen remodel, there will likely be some period when the kitchen is unavailable.  Work with your contractor to figure out where and how you can make coffee, make breakfast and dinner, wash dishes.  This should be someplace with water but could be near a bath or in the basement.  Also work with the contractor to limit the time that the kitchen is unavailable to you.  This can be done by appropriate staging of the work.
16.    Remodeling is Dirty and Dusty. Plan accordingly.  First, make sure that the contractor or installer is experienced using strategies to reduce dust and dirt in the living area.  Second, make sure you protect your furnishing and equipment.   Third, think about whether you can tolerate the dust and disruption for the period of the project.  Your frustrations will probably be even worse if you have children.  If this is going to strain your family, plan to live someplace else during construction – but still make sure that your contractor used strategies to limit dust and dirt.
17.    Plan for a move-in cleaning service before you move back in or start using the new room.

The next few items have to do with the design itself:

18.    Make sure there’s enough light
– daylight and artificial.  Too many homeowners leave lighting to the end – having sufficient daylight and artificial light is critical to your enjoyment of the remodeled home.  If your budget is tight, think about sacrificing some of the more expensive details for larger or more windows and better lighting.  Further, if you wait until the end to think about lighting, it can significantly increase your building costs since running wires is done early in the remodeling process.
19.    Make sure there’s enough storage. You already own a lot of what will go into the remodeled space and know of future needs.  Plan where everything goes before you complete your planning process so you know you have spaces for everything.
20.    Do Furniture Arrangements Before Your Start Construction. Far too often I hear complaints that homeowners feel that furniture arrangements are awkward after all the work of remodeling.  It’s easy to see a big space on the floor plan and just assume that your furniture will work.  Use a low-cost software program or a cut and paste planner to arrange your furniture and make sure it will work in the new space.  If my clients have artwork or other special items, I make sure spaces are pre-planned for these special items.
21.    Make sure the views are inviting. When I design plans for my clients, I think about focal points and views through rooms and to the outside.  This prevents finding out only after you’ve finished that you look at dirty dishes each time you walk into the house or that when you sit down you lose the gorgeous views.  I use rendering software to accomplish this.  You can also frame views with cardboard cutouts or other such physical means.
22.    Involve all the members of your household. Your children have valuable insight into what’s comfortable and how they use the house.  Make sure you involve everyone who will be living in the home.  It will also help create buy-in to the end result.  If you’re using a designer, he or she can help you with this process and help reconcile divergent opinions so that tension doesn’t result.
23.    Keep style consistent with rest of home. I personally hate when I walk into a house and know exactly where the addition starts and the original house ends because the homeowner changed style or trim details.  This doesn’t mean that you need to replicate what exists, but don’t plan for conflicting styles.  It be as simple as replicating crown or base molding.
24.    Think through future remodeling plans. If you’re planning on several phases of work, make sure you design the subsequent phases before moving forward with early phases.  You’ll feel awful if your only choice next year or in five years is to either forego something that you really want to do or rip out portions of what you’ve already because you didn’t think it through in advance.
25.    Enjoy yourself! Remodeling can create strain and conflict – worries about money, frustration at the mess and the strain of having strangers in your house each day.  If you can’t enjoy the process keep your mind focused on the terrific outcome.

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