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Where to save
Avoid the hype
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Where to save

Easy ways to keep your kitchen-remodeling costs in check, including budget-friendly project ideas and appliance-buying advice

Last reviewed: August 2009
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A five-figure makeover might not be in your plans, but the kitchen of your dreams can be. Here are seven ways to resuscitate a tired, old kitchen for $5,000 or much less along with product-specific advice on ways to save. Then read our expert advice for saving money when buying appliances (below).

Revamp the Cabinets

Provided the cabinets are structurally sound you can spruce them up with a fresh coat of paint or reface them with peel-and-stick veneers. Improve capacity with inexpensive cabinet organizers. (For the complete how-to, see Kitchen cabinets.) And applying crown molding to the top of cabinets gives them a finished look.

Add or Update an Island

Whether it's a permanent unit with furniture-style looks or a small portable one on casters, an island adds work and storage space. The style should complement your cabinets, but it needn't match exactly. A wood island can add warmth to a white kitchen, and a painted finish can inject color into an all-wood one. Be sure that there is at least a 42-inch clearance around the island to ensure easy access and smooth traffic flow. Prices start around $150 and go up to $1,000 or more.

Already have an island? Try applying a decorative beadboard panel and a baseboard to make the island look like a piece of furniture, says certified kitchen designer Pam Newton.

Refinish the Backsplash

Kitchen with a new backsplash

Visually prominent but small enough not to need much material, the wall space above the counter or between the top cabinets and the counter is a great place to add color or contrast. Paint is the simplest and cheapest option for making over a backsplash. Tile—ceramic, colored glass, or stone—costs $10 to $40 per square foot installed. Or use stainless steel, at $100 to $150 per square foot installed, to complement stainless appliances.

Bring in the Old

Choosing energy-efficient appliances isn't the only way to go green. Salvage shops are stocked with new or gently used stone countertops, hardwood flooring, decorative lumber, kitchen cabinets, and stained glass. Habitat for Humanity sells used and surplus building materials at outlets called ReStores.

Free-cycling, used by networks of people who offer household items free of charge, is another option. Membership is free, and you'll get e-mail postings of items. Groups include www.freecycle.org, www.sharingisgiving.org, and www.freesharing.org. Craigslist also has an area for free items.

Upgrade the Appliances

New features, improved efficiency and styling, and relatively stable prices make replacing your appliances tempting. French-door refrigerators, which combine split doors on top with one or two freezer drawers; faux-pro ranges; and quieter dishwashers are all available in stainless steel for about $150 to $250 more than basic black or white. Check the Ratings in each appliance report for models that combine performance, value, and reliability.

Faucet

Change the Surfaces

Replacing or adding countertops, sinks, faucets, and flooring were some of the most popular projects with our readers. Hard-wearing laminate countertops cost as little as $550 for an average-size kitchen, and trendy but tough quartz starts at $2,800. Add an engineered wood floor for $8 per square foot. When it comes to sinks and faucets, our tests have found that thinner stainless-steel sinks resisted dents, stains, scratches, and heat as well as thicker, more expensive ones. We stained, scratched, banged, and yanked faucets costing between $80 and $600 and found few differences. So find a style you like and get a faucet with a lifetime warranty that covers leaks and stains.

Make Your Lighting Shine

Proper lighting makes a kitchen more inviting and safer. Undercabinet fixtures are the best source of task lighting, and they can be purchased for $200 in an average-size kitchen. Update ceiling-mounted fixtures, especially dated fluorescent boxes, with a pendant lamp or a sinuously shaped track. If you have recessed lights, there's a $50 kit that converts one into a pendant. It's available at www.worthhomeproducts.com and at Lowe's.

Follow this advice to get the best deals on appliances. Learn where you should shop and find out which retailers have the best customer service in our report on Buying appliances.

Cooking Appliances: Look for the Hidden Deals

  • Time your shopping. When you buy can save you hundreds of dollars. That's because retailers typically discount cooking and other appliances for holiday weekends such as July Fourth and Labor Day. Stores also tend to clear out older models in September and October because that's when the new models typically arrive from manufacturers.
  • Get an inside deal. Sears periodically offers a 10 percent discount to family and friends. Those events typically apply to kitchen appliances and other items, even if they're already on sale. Don't know anyone at Sears or its sister chain, Kmart? Sears says they don't check IDs at the door, and if you show up, you're a friend. Ask a sales associate or check Web sites such as www.fatwallet.com/forums/deal-discussion or forums.slickdeals.net to get a heads-up on those periodic sales.
  • Check stores for price-match offers. Many retailers advertise that they'll match a lower price from another retailer. Some stores will also match another store's lower price even if they don't tout such deals in their ads. What's more, you can often get a refund even if you already bought a range or other kitchen appliance if the same model you bought goes on sale at that retailer or another retailer within 30 days of your purchase.
  • Inspect package deals closely. You'll probably get a volume discount if you buy two or more major kitchen appliances of the same brand. But because performance often varies by appliance, even within the same brand, such package deals could give you a stellar cooktop and a subpar fridge or dishwasher if you aren't careful. Check our Ratings to be sure you're getting top performers for all of the brand's products you're considering. Also ask the retailer whether you can create your own package of appliances from the same or different brands—and then push for that volume discount as a condition to your buying at that retailer.

Countertops: Tricks of the Trade

  • Mix and match. Use expensive materials on small, eye-catching areas, such as an island, and a lower-priced material elsewhere. But check whether the store requires a minimum order. Although the color and pattern will vary by piece, a visit to the stone yard can turn up pieces that work together. You can also save by using ¾-inch-thick stone rather than the typical 1 ¼-inch.
  • Take the edge off. Decorative edges, such as bevels and ogees, add style but cost an extra $10 to $50 per linear foot. But rounded edges don't always cost more.

Dishwashers: Consider the Deal

  • Before you hand over cash or your credit card when buying a new dishwasher, be sure you've considered all aspects of the offer you're getting. Does the price include delivery and installation of the new model and removal of the old one?
  • If you're taking advantage of a retailer's zero-percent-financing offer, remember that some of those deals require you to pay off the total cost of your new dishwasher before the promotion ends. If you don't, you could get nailed with interest that's backdated to the purchase date.

Flooring: Don't Buy Into the Hype

  • Save on overstocks. Discounters such as iFloor and Lumber Liquidators buy directly from manufacturers and might also buy overstocked flooring and sell it below list price. Before buying from any retailer, check the Better Business Bureau. Also be sure to search such sites as GardenWeb.com and Consumer Reports forums (go to ConsumerReports.org and click on Forums) to find out about any complaints about that particular retailer.
  • See real samples. Spending a few dollars on samples costs far less than buying flooring that looks great in a catalog or on a Web site and awful in your kitchen.
  • Turn mistakes into deals. You can often save on opened or damaged boxes and flooring with minor flaws no one will see.
  • Tackle the prep yourself. Even if you hire a pro, you can save hundreds by first tearing off old flooring, leveling or filling the subfloor, and removing any baseboard that's in the way. Handling the entire installation yourself? Avoid pricey failures later by using the adhesive recommended for the type or brand of flooring you choose. Using the wrong adhesive can also void the flooring warranty.

Refrigerators: Get Style for Less

  • Choose a cabinet-depth model over a built-in. Cabinet-depth models are a compromise: Shallower than standard fridges and deeper than built-ins, they can provide a built-in look but for thousands less, and they provide more storage space than true built-ins.
  • Consider skipping the ice and water. Ice and water dispensers may be popular conveniences. But both add to the cost and are among a refrigerator's most repair-prone components.
  • Look for rebates and sales. Typing the manufacturer and the word "rebate" into a search engine typically takes you to sites listing current specials and promotions. Also check retailer sites for free delivery and other discounts.
  • Forgo extended warranties. Our surveys show that fewer than one in five refrigerators were repaired in the first three years. Even if your fridge needs fixing during that period, the repair is likely to cost no more than the warranty.
  • Consider buying in May or June. These are the months when retailers typically clear old refrigerator models with sales as they make room for the new ones.
Posted: August 2008