A kitchen remodel can be one of the most rewarding home improvement projects and also the most frustrating to endure.
Family life tends to center on the kitchen, and functioning without one disrupts all aspects of life. Tearing out the heart of your home requires a plan of how to survive the weeks to months of construction ahead.
The duration for a kitchen renovation depends on the scope of the project. Is it a simple tear out with the same basic footprint or a major redesign?
If it is a basic tear-out, plan on four to six weeks without much access to the kitchen. If it’s a significant renovation, expect at least three months of disorder.
We recently updated our kitchen, changing everything from the floor to the cabinets and countertops. We kept the layout essentially the same. Our contractor was in and out in a month. We were lucky. But we still had moments of high stress simply because of the nature of the project.
Beyond the decision-making and budget-making that go along with a kitchen redesign were things I hadn’t been prepared for: The overwhelming number of decisions required and eventual decision fatigue, hitting the wall on prepackaged or carryout meals and the emotional upheaval that comes with having the central part of your home upended for weeks.
Homeowners embarking on the road to a kitchen makeover invest so much time in picking out the contractors, the countertops, floors, cabinets, appliances, lighting, paint, backsplash, faucet, sink, layout and hardware. But you need a plan of how you will deal with the life details, as well.
Along with the lessons learned from our recent renovation, we consulted with a dozen local kitchen experts for their best tips on how to survive a kitchen remodel.
1. Set up a separate, temporary kitchen.
If at all possible, move your current refrigerator to another room in the house, where you can still access it. Otherwise, get a small college fridge to keep the essentials. A spare microwave is also a critical appliance.
Kim Feld, a kitchen designer with National Kitchen & Bath in Webster Groves, says to be creative with small plug-in appliances that can make life easier during construction, such as a coffee maker or electric skillet.
“You can make anything from pancakes to Hamburger Helper on it,” she said. Another contractor lends out a two-burner hot plate to clients during kitchen projects.
If most of your trash and recycling was collected in the kitchen, move temporary garbage cans to a place you can tolerate them. And be prepared to take out the trash more frequently.
2. Find a place in your home to eat.
Many families eat meals in the kitchen, so think about how alternate living spaces will serve at mealtimes. We ended up eating most of our meals in the family room, where our temporary kitchen (a fridge and microwave) was set up, but I wish we had better utilized the dining room.
3. Invest in paper plates and disposable utensils.
You will end up having to wash dishes in a bathroom sink, so it’s best to keep a stockpile of disposable plates and utensil handy. If at all possible, keep a sink hooked up on main level during the construction.
4. Add the cost of eating out into the renovation budget.
Figure out how much your family typically spends on a meal eaten outside the house. Multiply this by the number of meals in a day and weeks the project may last to get an idea of how quickly this expense can add up. It’s best to have a rotation in mind of reliable carryout, prepackage microwavable meals and nearby friends or family who will either invite you over occasionally or allow you to cook a few meals in their kitchen.
5. Prepare for noise and dust.
“It is messy. It is disruptive, and it can get expensive. There is no way around that,” Feld said.
Jon Kay, a manager at Signature Kitchen & Bath, says to expect day-to-day interruption.
“Plan on there being a mess every day,” he said.
For some, this is much easier to tolerate than for others. If you are easily unsettled by disorder and mess in your living space, this is a good opportunity to spend more time outside your home.
6. Consider your pets.
Ken Henry, a designer with Glen Alspaugh Kitchen & Bath in Ladue, says to think about how pets, used to having the run of the house, will be affected when sections are off-limits to them.
“We’ve had cats get into the attic when it’s opened up,” he said. It may be best to have them kenneled or in a friend or relative’s house during the construction.
7. Get a sketch or design plans beforehand.
Kathy Israel, owner of Accents on Cabinets in Chesterfield, says that if you are planning on moving walls, it’s a good idea to sit down with an architect before starting a project.
“Think about how the kitchen is going to work from a function level,” she said. It’s also wise to think about where all your current kitchen items and appliances will fit into the new kitchen.
Jonathan Carson, with Kitchen Liberty in Kirkwood, said a simple sketch can work out “flow” issues that may come up in a kitchen. The design needs to take into account the social and storage needs, he said. And, it’s best to include skilled labor in this sketching stage so they can let you know potential, expensive pitfalls in the design.
“Consult with the installers early and solve potential problems with a pencil,” he said.
8. Hire a general contractor carefully.
Mike Beck at Beck/Allen Cabinetry in Chesterfield and Maryland Heights says a good relationship with the general contractor is crucial.
“You don’t want to call the plumber at 8 p.m. and ask why he didn’t show up. You want the general contractor to do that.”
This will be the point person you are spending the most time with, so find out about how often he plans to communicate with you. Will he text or email photos if you are out of town? How quickly will he return phone calls? The worst kitchen nightmares I’ve heard tend to involve a contractor who disappears or won’t return calls.
9. Recruit a second opinion or hire a designer.
Getting a new kitchen can feel like buying a new car that you can’t test drive or see beforehand. So many choices in materials and colors can be overwhelming to visualize how they will come together. Even those most confident in their preferences will second-guess their taste at some point.
This is the time to call in the professional designers.
Beck said designers can be hired by the hour to help guide those choices. Hiring a designer for a few hours can save money and regret down the line.
I called a designer when I was stuck on flooring choices. He looked at our kitchen and the samples I had picked out and accompanied me to a tile shop. We were able to use his discount to purchase the backsplash, which ended up offsetting the cost of his time.
We also recruited a few neighbors to stop by and cast their votes when we were torn on a particular color or design.
It can take a village.
10. Be prepared for days when you don’t see any progress.
Every decision in a construction project involves a timeline. So, there will be days of waiting — waiting for the countertops to be measured or waiting for the backsplash to arrive.
11. Order as much as possible before the job starts.
Beck said they won’t start a project until all the decisions are finalized.
Henry says as projects wear on, the customer tends to be stressed and doesn’t have the time to pick out details such as hardware quickly, which can slow down the entire project.
“Everyone is different about how many decisions they can make at one time,” he said. Some people can feel paralyzed by decision overload or hit a point of decision fatigue in the middle of a big project.
There’s also a risk that making choices as the work progresses might delay the final completion. One homeowner hired a friend, who is a designer, to help her pick out a backsplash. The designer ordered the wrong amount of the custom backsplash, which took months to deliver. The remaining backsplash had to be reordered and picked up, and then she had to wait for an opening in the contractor’s schedule to come back and finish up the work. The one mistake meant the entire job could not be completed fully for six months after it began.
12. Expect some delays and cost overruns.
When you get the estimates, it’s wise to add 20 percent to that number and ask yourself if you could still live with that number. If you don’t have that cushion, think twice about proceeding. Unexpected things come up in renovation projects, so keep track of overruns so you’ll have no major surprises at the end.
“In remodeling, there are probably 50 things that can go wrong, and if you have a good contractor, you may only know about two or three of them,” Kay said.
13. Don’t sweat the small stuff.
“Trust the people you’ve hired,” said Jenny Rausch, president of Karr Bick Kitchen & Bath in Brentwood. Ask their opinions. Don’t second-guess yourself. Don’t agonize over the smallest details like hardware and countertop edges. Keep a sense of perspective. Clients can get hyperfocused and paralyzed by decisions on the smallest details, she said. Give yourself a gut check. Can you really remember what the hardware and edges in your friends’ kitchens look like? The point is for all of it to come together beautifully.
14. Get out of the house altogether.
“The happiest clients I have are the ones who are not trying to live through it,” said Chris Berry, of brooksBerry Kitchens & Baths in Frontenac. Some will find a short-term, furnished rental for the most intensive part of the construction.
Henry said his company tries to plan remodeling jobs around clients’ vacations, such as summer or winter breaks.
15. Keep a sense of humor.
If there’s a low point at which the mess and stress get to you, take a few minutes to make a list of things for which you are grateful. On the list, be sure to include the ability to create a new kitchen.