16 April 2010

Here's what you Need to Know Before you Start that Kitchen Remodel

Wausau Daily Herald

Kitchens are where we live. Where we gather in the morning as we prepare for our day and where we return at the end of it to share a meal, talk about our experiences, do our homework or simply enjoy a quiet cup of tea. We ask this room to do so much for us that when it doesn't quite suit our needs we naturally turn our thoughts to making changes and we might even utter that dreaded word -- remodel.

A walk through the kitchen section at any building-supply store can send the most stalwart homeowner's head swimming with the possibilities. Where do you even begin? Add to that all the horror stories of scamming contractors, snowballing budgets, failing inspections and do-it-yourself projects that never end, and you begin to think maybe a coat of paint is all you really need.

Put fear and confusion to rest with these top tips from area experts.

1. Start by examining what you have.
Sara Jehn, an interior designer at Inner Piece Interiors in Wausau, said a great kitchen all comes down to function.

"Aesthetic changes won't matter if the kitchen isn't working for you," she said.

Think about how you use your kitchen now. What do you like about it? What do you dislike? What more can it do for you? No problem is too small. Sometimes it's the smallest changes that make the biggest difference.

2. Build a wish list. Rob Perez, owner of Hatley Lumber and Supply in Hatley, advises customers to plan for what they really want.

"This isn't something you do every day. So make it the kitchen you want it to be because you spend so much time there," he said.

Perez said you can always back your plan down later for budget or space considerations. So start with those functional changes you'd like to make, then think about styles, materials and colors. But look for styles that suit your home as well as your tastes.

"A modern kitchen doesn't work in a traditional house," Jehn said. "Be prepared for a discussion of the pros and cons of everything you're looking for."

3. Develop a budget. Shelly Knopse, kitchen sales associate at Stone's Building Center in Wausau, needs her clients to know how much they can spend.

"Costs vary significantly in materials and add-on components. Have a budget in mind, then let the designers guide you toward getting all the items you want," she said.

Remodeling a kitchen is an investment, so look at your budget from the angle of your pocketbook and the value of the house.

"Think down the road," Perez said. "Will the market bear the cost? Should you put a showcase kitchen in a $50,000 home?"

4. Design the layout.
Begin with the work triangle and place your refrigerator, stove and sink in a comfortable working arrangement. The National Kitchen and Bath Association defines the work triangle as the straight line drawn from the center of the sink, to the center of the refrigerator to the center of the cooking appliance. Experts vary some on recommendations for the total of those three distances added together, but general good design suggests less than 26 feet total. That means that if your stove is ten feet from your sink, it should take you sixteen feet or less to go from the stove to your refrigerator and then to your sink. Having other major kitchen appliances within the radius is a good idea.

5. Time your remodel.
Consider the length of time the remodel may take and schedule it for the best time of the year to be without a kitchen. Don't schedule a kitchen remodel three weeks before a big family event. Look for a time when it will cause the least hardship and allow extra time for unexpected delays in completion. Perez cautions do-it-yourselfers to be realistic with time requirements.

"Doing it yourself will take three to four times longer than a professional. If you think it's going to take three months, plan twelve months," he said.

6. Hire a professional.
"People don't understand that you don't actually have to tear apart your whole kitchen," Jehn said. "As an interior designer, I can show you ways of making a remodel cost-effective without tearing everything down. There are easier ways to make a difference without spending thousands of dollars."

Dave and Wanda Zuege of Shantytown had family who had been scammed in the past by a bathroom remodeling company, and admitted they would never have started their kitchen remodel if it hadn't been for finding a contractor they could trust.

"We found our home remodeling contractor through a very particular friend. Dave and I hired him for a small project (before we started our kitchen), and we really liked the way he worked with us. He gave us a bid and then stuck to it. He worked with us to cut costs. Whenever we wanted changes, he would tell us the charges up front," said Wanda Zuege, 56.

Dave, 57, said to get referrals, ask for references and check them. Ask to see work that they've done.

7. Expect surprises.
"Once you get the old cabinets out, don't ever assume everything will be hunky dory underneath," Knopse said. "Everything works on paper, but not always in practice."

Crooked walls, unlevel floors, poor wiring, patching and repairing all mean extra work, extra time and extra money to your kitchen remodeling company.

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