Do-It-Yourself Remodel Projects

Feeling handy? Try these minor kitchen updates to save time and money.
By: Kristen Hampshire

Do you really need to bring on a professional to complete every task in your kitchen plan? That depends on your skills, your confidence and your investment.

If you’re handy and want to streamline your budget, there are some kitchen projects you can do yourself with the proper equipment. But first, always ask yourself whether DIY is the best use of your time and money. Will you add value to your home and convenience for your family? Will you end up fixing mistakes and spend more to do the project yourself?

Regardless of whether you hire out the entire project or take on part of it yourself, be sure all materials are on site before you demolish the space. Otherwise, you’re asking for trouble. “Have everything laid out so that when you start to move on your project, you’re not waiting for [materials] to arrive,” says Ellen Rady, president, Ellen Rady Designs, Cleveland, Ohio. Rady recalls a client who waited for months while a kitchen was under construction for specialty Italian tile to arrive from overseas. When it finally did, many of the tiles were cracked and could not be installed.

So, thinking of completing some of your kitchen project yourself? Here are some projects you might be comfortable doing solo.

Demolition. You can gut the space and prepare a clean canvas for your tradespeople, but before you take a sledgehammer to your kitchen, consult with a construction expert. “Ask them, ‘Can I take down this soffit?’ and find out where wiring is located,” Rady says.

Tilework. If you’re a stickler for detail, patient and comfortable spending time on your hands and knees, you can lay your own tile flooring. Consider some of the larger tiles available, such as 12x12s, because they require fewer grout lines. For a backsplash, choose a manageable size, such as a standard 6x6, and stick to a simple layout/design. You can rent a hand-held or table-mounted tile cutter from a home improvement store. Consider taking a class on how to lay tile—many of the mass retailers offer workshops.

Painting. Same rules with tile apply to paint: a careful, precise person who spends the time prepping a wall (that can take more time than actually painting) will have success with a painting project. Beware of rush jobs. Sloppy paint will turn a wow kitchen into “whoa”—as in, “Whoa, what happened here?” Talk to a specialist when you purchase the paint to get pointers and always test the color on a small area before coating walls completely. You can also paint cabinets to freshen worn surfaces and cover nicks and dings, though it won’t hide structural flaws.

Upgrading hardware. Changing the knobs and pulls on cabinet drawers and doors can update your kitchen in a matter of hours for very little money. You can spend anywhere from $1.25 a pull from a home store or $100-plus for a single custom knob. Just remember when choosing hardware, you can’t cover existing holes in the wood. Replace knobs with knobs, and pulls with pulls, unless you plan on replacing the cabinet facing.

Fixture installation. You can certainly manage installing a new light fixture or attaching a faucet, and the confident DIYers will put in refrigerators and dishwashers. Confidence is the key. Are you willing to risk the investment made in appliances if you aren’t 100 percent sure you can manage the job? That is a question only you can answer (and your spouse will likely chime in his or her feedback, too). Keep in mind when you purchase professional-grade appliances, installation is usually part of the deal. For light fixtures, call an electrician for wiring issues.

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