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10 cost-saving steps to a great kitchen

How to mix, match, and haggle your way to the best deals

Published: August 12, 2013 12:26 PM

Photo: Karyn R. Millet

Get ready for sticker shock: Even a minor kitchen remodel now costs more than $19,000, on average, according to Remodeling Magazine’s annual Cost vs. Value report. The average for a midrange major remodel comes in at more than $57,000, while an upscale redo with all the trimmings costs a whopping $110,938. Those are rich figures by anyone’s reckoning. But you can pay far less and still get the kitchen of your dreams. You simply have to know how and where to cut. We asked the experts for their best money-saving secrets. Use them, and get more dream kitchen for less.

Stick with the existing footprint
According to the National Association of Home Builders, the average cost for new construction is about $80 per square foot. So if you add just 5 square feet to a 10x10 room, you’re spending an extra $4,000 before you even begin finishing the space or buying cabinets and countertops.

Whether you add on to the space or not, think carefully before changing the location of the plumbing, wiring, and ventilation. “That one decision could save you thousands,” says Mark White, a certified kitchen designer and owner of Kitchen Encounters in Annapolis, Md. And think twice about expanding into another room. “Removing a wall can be well worth it,” he says. “But you’ll have to deal with patching the floor, the walls, and any existing molding—all jobs that add expense.”

Feel free to negotiate
Especially in today’s economy, it isn’t bad manners to counter an estimate from a contractor or subcontractor—a plumber or electrician, for example. In fact, it’s espe­cially effective if you have a competing bid from another pro (you should get at least three anyway) to offer up in comparison. If your schedule is flexible, “find out if there’s a better time of year to hire the professional,” White says. Contractors might be more willing to give you some wiggle room on price during their slow season.

And don’t forget to haggle at appliance retailers. In a recent Consumer Reports survey, readers who did just that saved about $100 per appliance.

Do the dirty work yourself
Demolition is one do-it-yourself project even inexperienced homeowners can tackle successfully. But before you grab a sledgehammer, talk with your contractor to make sure your schedule and the project’s start date are in sync (and confirm whether the savings are worth your time and sore muscles). Are your old cabinets and appliances in reasonably good shape? Make some extra cash by selling them on Craigslist or donating them to Habitat for Humanity’s ReStores (habitat.org/restores). Or give them to Green Demolitions (greendemolitions.org), which will remove and transport your donated materials, saving you money.

Go bargain hunting
Buying last year’s model or one that’s overstocked can yield big savings. Consumer Reports found bargains on flooring at ifloors.com and lumberliquidators.com. For discontinued appliances, we found good values at Searsoutlet.com and BestBuy.com. If you don’t mind pre-owned items in good condition, you might consider Habitat for Humanity’s ReStores. For example, a KitchenAid double wall oven was recently offered for $350 in the Mt. Vernon, N.Y., location. New double ovens can easily cost more than $3,000.

Pick standard-sized appliances
Restaurant-sized equipment is tempting but it costs much, much more. And the added expense doesn’t stop at the price tag. “If you replace a traditional four-burner range with a six-burner, pro-style model, the new appliance will require a wider opening, so you’ll have to cut out some cabinets, and 8-inch ductwork instead of the original 6 inches,” White says. Larger, more powerful cooking appliances also tend to use more Btu, which means investing in a larger vent hood and living with higher energy costs.
Appliance store Ratings and recommendations.

Photo: Andrew Trahan

Look for energy rebates
Check the website of the Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency (dsireusa.org). According to a recent survey, Consumer Reports readers saved about $150 with rebates alone.

Get something for nothing
People now post listings offering such items as leftover building materials, nearly new appliances, and extra plumbing fixtures free. Check sites such as craigslist.com, freesharing.org, and freecycle.org. Finding recycled items will save you hundreds of dollars and keep otherwise discarded goods out of landfills at the same time.

Keep what you can
Remodeling around your existing appliances will save you from $1,500 to $5,000, according to the National Association of the Remodeling Industry. So if your equipment is in decent shape, focus instead on creating a fresh look with cosmetic changes. White suggests adding an island or updating the one you have, and painting cabinets and even appliances if the “guts” are fine but the finish is faded. Making over cabinet doors by replacing the center panel with glass is another cost-saver that adds function and style.

Consider counters carefully
“Laminate is still the most affordable counter material,” says Leslie Cohen, a San Diego certified kitchen designer. Laminate counters, which run about $10 to $40 per square foot, will save you hundreds over granite or quartz counters, which go for $40 to $100. If your heart is set on granite or marble, there are thrifty ways to get what you really want. When buying stone, go directly to the fabricator rather than the kitchen retailer, says White. “Depending on the shape, they may have a remnant that will work in your kitchen.” Thinner counters can save you money, too. Opt for ¾-inch-thick counters instead of 1¼-inch thickness, he says. Or, use the thinner material on the perimeters and a thicker piece for a high-impact spot like an island. “Reserve splurges for places with more wow factor,” says Lisa Stacholy, of LKS Architects in Atlanta.
Countertop Ratings and recommendations.

Fake custom looks
Everyone knows that stock windows, doors, and cabinets cost much less than custom-made alternatives. But that doesn’t mean you have to pay big bucks—or settle for an off-the-rack-look—for your kitchen. To get a custom look without the custom cost, “consider hiring a carpenter to spruce up ready-made components,” Stacholy says. “For example, you could line up three tall stock windows on the bottom and three smaller ones on the top and have a carpenter trim them out to get the look of expensive custom glazing,” she says.
Window Ratings and recommendations.

Kitchen planning guide

For more expert tips and reviews of top appliances, check our Kitchen planning guide.


Editor's Note: This article is adapted from Consumer Reports Kitchen Planning & Buying Guide.
   

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