Dos and don'ts: Avoid remodeling mistakes in your kitchen or bath

Consumer Reports News: March 24, 2009 11:29 AM

Follow our advice to get the most for your money when remodeling your kitchen or bathroom.

Kitchen Remodeling
You can easily spend $100,000 for a kitchen remodel like the kind you see in home-décor and shelter magazines. Or you can spend a small fraction of that price for a kitchen that only looks as if you splurged.

Get a plan. People who do less homework before they began their home-improvement projects tend to face more problems. In a past survey, we reported that of the 2,000 readers who remodeled a kitchen in the three years prior to the survey, nearly 25 percent said they wished they had done more research or chosen a pro more carefully. The same percentage said the job wasn't finished on time.

Create a planning workbook. Keep a file of clippings of styles and products you like. You can also order a free copy of the "NKBA Kitchen & Bath Workbook," which includes tips and ideas from the National Kitchen & Bath Association.

Set a spending limit. According to our survey, readers spent an average of $10,000 to remodel an existing layout and $20,000 when changing the floor plan. Be sure to factor in work. Installation for kitchen essentials such as cabinets can easily cost more than 50 percent of the cabinet cost. Set your budget accordingly.

Consider faux-pro appliances. Popular pro-style appliances can easily add thousands of dollars to your kitchen remodeling project. Thanks to a growing array of sleek, top-performing appliances, you can achieve a pro-style look at the fraction of the price. Ranges are a prime example. Gas models with stainless trim and smoothtop electric ranges cost much less than pro-style ranges.

Remember the refrigerator. Fine-performing, low-priced refrigerators are available with bottom-freezer designs and stainless styling, so you needn't sacrifice performance for aesthetics. See our continually updated refrigerator ratings (available to subscribers) to find models that scored very good or excellent for temperature performance in the size and type that fit your kitchen.

Don't confuse cabinet price with performance. Put your money where it counts when it comes to cabinets. Well-built drawers and guides are critical since they get the most use. Many brands allow you to upgrade the drawer guides.

Don't settle for unattractive countertops. Kitchen countertops are one product where beauty and practicality can coexist. Engineered stone and granite have been top performers in our tests. If you want to spend less, you'll find laminate both economical and versatile. While all countertops are priced by the square foot, what you pay can vary widely among and within materials. You'll also find many different brands and models for engineered stone, laminate, and solid surfacing.

Bathroom Remodeling
Considering a bathroom's complexity, it's little wonder that even the best-planned remodels can go awry.

Ventilate adequately. Bath fans should supply at least 1 cubic foot per minute (cfm) of air for every square foot of space. While one 50-cfm fan should be adequate for a bathroom 50 square feet or less, two fans--one for the shower area, one near the toilet--are better for spaces larger than 100 square feet.

Be sure there's enough light. Baths need overall lighting and task lighting around grooming areas. Lights flanking the medicine cabinet or mirror reduce shadows, while frosted shades cut glare. Lights in showers should be watertight; consider a combined fan/light there.

Make it safe. Water and slick surfaces make bathrooms a risky place. Floors, shower areas, and tubs should have slip-resistant finishes; add rubber mats or stick-on strips, if needed. Choose rounded countertop edges and corners over sharp ones. Also be sure to mount grab bars in tub and shower areas. For more safety tips, read about universal design.

Don't change your mind. Homeowners who change plans after their job was started tend to be much more likely to suffer significant cost overruns and delays. As with kitchens, get a plan and use the
"NKBA Kitchen & Bath Workbook."

Don't overcrowd. You know the scenario: The door bangs into the toilet, your knees rub the tub, and the shower door grazes the vanity. The NKBA recommends at least 30 inches of space between the front of any fixture and an opposite fixture or wall. That equates to at least 35 square feet for a bathroom with a tub/shower, toilet, and single-sink vanity.

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