August 2008
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Cabinet upgrades
Extreme makeovers, low cost

Cabinet Testing
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Replacing cabinets is the costliest part of most kitchen remodels. But you can make your cabinets look better and provide more storage for thousands less by following our three-step plan.

Readers who hired contractors paid an average of $9,100 for new cabinets, with about a quarter of them paying more than $15,000, according to a survey by the Consumer Reports National Research Center. But for about a tenth of the cost, you can refinish the cabinets, install cabinet organizers, add undercabinet lighting, and change your kitchen’s look. Sanding, painting, and drilling are the only required skills.

Figure on a couple of weekends to complete the upgrades. The time and money will be well spent because those fixes address some of the most common reasons for remodeling a kitchen. Consider these results from our cabinet testing and survey:

A new look equals new life. Seventy percent of readers told us that the main reason they remodeled their kitchen was to update its look. Changing cabinets is the surest way to transform the space. If your cabinets are plumb, square, and sturdy, you don’t have to replace them. Refinish or reface them instead.

Cost: $800 to $2,400.

Many kitchens are in the dark. Inadequate lighting, especially all-important task lighting, is a common kitchen problem. We looked at puck and strip-style undercabinet lighting with four types of bulbs—fluorescent, halogen, xenon, and LED—and found significant differences in light quality, efficiency, and temperature.

Cost: $200 (five undercabinet fixtures).

Insufficient storage is common. More than one in five readers wished their kitchens had more storage space. Cabinet organizers—including pull-out shelves and lazy Susans—offer quick, affordable ways to maximize kitchen storage and reduce clutter. We tested 27 cabinet organizers and found that the highest-rated ones weren't the most expensive.

Cost: $220 (four pull-out shelves, $120; one retractable trash can, $60; one lazy Susan, $40).