Speed is of the essence when you’re upgrading your kitchen, considering that you’re likely to be spending more money on takeout and dinners out during the renovation. Almost two-thirds of homeowners in our survey reported that their project took longer than a month. Minimize downtime with an efficient, streamlined remodel.
To limit costs, leave the layout alone. If that won’t do, consider moving only the refrigerator, because it requires just a standard 120-volt outlet (and access to a cold-water supply line if it has an icemaker). Moving a range requires altering gas and/or electric lines, which adds a day or two of labor by an electrician, a plumber, or both—at $45 to $145 per hour apiece. Moving a sink requires a day’s worth of plumbing work.
Don’t skimp on cabinet quality. Remodelers in our survey said cabinetry was a top spot where they wished they’d spent more. To make room in the budget for high-quality cabinets, skip the uppers altogether and use open shelving to showcase pretty items.
If you’re adding an island, work in any storage space you’ve lost to stash anything you don’t want on display. “Go as big as you’d like on an island,” says Courtney Ludeman, a designer. “But leave 36 inches all around for clearance, or 42 to 48 inches if two people frequently cook together.”
Before knocking down a wall to create an open-concept kitchen, consider how you’ll marry the flooring in the two spaces. To extend hardwood throughout, install unfinished planks parallel to the old, and either get a pro to match the existing finish or have him or her sand the old boards and stain everything at once—about $3.50 to $4 per square foot.
If your kitchen will stay sealed off, “porcelain tile is probably your best bet,” says Joan Muratore, CR’s test engineer for flooring. “It’s excellent at resisting stains, dents, or scratches. And it holds up well under heavy foot traffic.” You’ll find options from about $3.60 per square foot, plus $1,200 or so for installation.
When it comes to counters, granite and quartz top our tests thanks to their ability to resist staining and stand up to abrasion and heat. Installing these workhorses in the average kitchen could save between $500 and $1,000 over higher-end marble or soapstone.
Pass on trendy design touches such as a waterfall edge, which wraps the exposed side of a cabinet; in materials alone, that touch adds upward of $1,000 to countertop costs. Got marble taste on a laminate budget? Splurge on a single slab and install it on an island, then use adjacent complementary laminate to cover the remaining countertops.
Our testing reveals that you can skip pro-style appliances. “You’ll pay $15,000 to $20,000 on a full kitchen suite, when $5,000 would get you better-performing models from mass-market brands,” says Tara Casaregola, CR’s kitchen test engineer.
Adam DeSanctis of the National Association of Realtors adds that “pro-style appliances won’t necessarily boost the resale value of your home, beyond the bump you’d get from having any new appliances in place.” If you long for that built-in look, turn to slide-in ranges and cabinet-depth refrigerators. Both blend nicely into the surrounding cabinetry.
You can earn a discount by buying matching appliances in a package. Select a suite with a stellar range—there’s no fix for an oven with hot spots, but you can learn to live with an imperfect microwave. For the very best performance, our experts advise mixing and matching brands. And opting for a range rather than a separate oven and cooktop is by far the most cost-effective route. Take our highly rated Frigidaire Gallery FGEF3035RF electric range, which comes in at $650, a full $1,000 below the combined cost of a comparable Frigidaire cooktop and wall oven.