How to keep rising kitchen remodeling costs in check

Consumer Reports News: June 13, 2012 04:38 PM

The remodeling industry seems to have turned the corner, with kitchens leading the way, according to the National Kitchen & Bath Association's latest market report. In the first three months of 2012, the number of homeowners who started a kitchen renovation was up more than 50 percent from the previous quarter. The average budget for those projects, meanwhile, jumped 6 percent to $30,325, and nearly all dealers expect that figure to increase or stay the same. If you're planning a remodel of your own, these findings underscore the need to stick to your budget. Here are five tips pulled from Consumer Reports' 2012 Kitchen Report.

Plan it properly. Nothing blows a budget faster than making changes after the work is underway. When we surveyed readers about what went wrong on their last kitchen remodel, late changes was the most expensive answer, costing an average of $1,500. For a major kitchen remodel, you should spend several weeks to a few months perusing magazines, meeting with pros, and visiting showrooms.

Consider mid-range appliances. A suite of professional appliances could set you back $20,000, but our tests have found that these high-priced products don't always deliver top performance, and you might also be missing out on the latest innovations. For example, several induction ranges costing $2,500 or less delivered better temperature control than beefy 36-inch pro ranges costing twice as much. If you're really smart, you can outfit the entire kitchen, including the fridge, range, dishwasher, and microwave, for less than $4,000.

Skip the custom cabinetry. Cabinets can account for half the cost of a kitchen, especially if you spring for custom units. You can save 30 percent or more by choosing semi-custom units. Stock units offer even greater savings, without necessarily sacrificing style. If the layout of the existing cabinets works and the units are plumb, square, and sturdy, you could refinish them with a fresh coat of paint or reface them by replacing the cabinet doors and drawers and applying veneers to the face frames and ends.

Save on surfaces. You don't interact with countertops and floors the way you do with appliances and cabinets. So if you're on a tight budget, these surfaces are the place to save. Instead of high-priced natural stone for the countertop, consider laminate, which performed very well in our tests, especially against stains and heat. On the floor, vinyl is a cost-effective alternative to wood and stone, and it comes in some very alluring patterns.

Do some of the work yourself. That might knock a few thousand bucks from your budget. Focus on the front and back ends of the project, such as ripping out the cabinets during demolition and handling the finish painting. Leave the complicated electrical and plumbing work to the pros. Invest in quality labor for finish work, like tile setting, since small mistakes can cause major disappointment.

For more advice from our experts, read The luxury look for less.

Daniel DiClerico

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