Starting a Kitchen Renovation

Get tips for choosing professionals and hiring contractors for your project
Two Men Shaking Hands

Contractor and Homeowner Shake Hands On Renovation

Home owner talking with contractor.

Photo by: David Sacks

David Sacks

By: Kristen Hampshire

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A kitchen remodeling project involves coordinating a variety of trades that must cooperate to complete the job. If you are embarking on a full-scale renovation, you’ll likely work with a general contractor or remodeler, cabinet installers, appliance specialists, plumbers, electricians and an interior designer or kitchen designer that orchestrates the planning of the space and execution of the project. You might even engage an engineer and an architect. You may choose an independent designer/firm, or work directly with a dealer that sells cabinets or appliances and can provide a kitchen designer to help plan your project.

What’s most important to understand is a kitchen renovation is no weekend-warrior project. It can take several weeks or months to complete. Because of the time, talent and investment required to complete a kitchen remodel, most homeowners are best off hiring professionals.

“Most people don’t work on their own cars—they don’t repair them or change the oil, but with all of the home-DIY (media), people think they can put in a door where it didn’t exist or install a kitchen,” says Brad Burgin, Burgin Construction Inc. in North Tustin, Calif.

The real bummer of taking on a project that exceeds your skillset: You could end up spending more to get the job done. You can go through the pain of demolition, the stress of choosing materials, the labor of installing products—and end up hiring a professional to fix mistakes. Or, the final results may be less than satisfactory.

That said, there are some projects you can do yourself, depending on your comfort level. But leave the full-scale kitchen renovation to the pros.

Choosing a Project Manager

You don’t want to hire just anyone to manage your kitchen project. You want a seasoned pro with proper credentials, licensing, insurance and, of course, ideas and resources.

So who’s in charge? That depends entirely on the scope of your project and whether you opted to work with an independent designer or a dealer/designer (from a manufacturer’s showroom, for example). A general contractor, interior designer or architect may act as the lead/project manager—or you may coordinate the project yourself and work with each trade.

In the case of a general contractor, this person manages the team of subcontractors and serves as your point-person throughout the project. He/she will communicate with the architect or interior designer and the kitchen designer. “Great organization skills, budgeting, follow-up and people skills are hallmarks of a good project manager,” says Roberta Baeur-Kravette, AP, AKBD and director of Nieuw Amsterdam Kitchens in New York, N.Y.

The No. 1 person always involved in a significant kitchen renovation is an experienced kitchen designer, says Ellen Rady, president, Ellen Rady Designs, Cleveland, Ohio. Ask to see this person’s portfolio, call their references and inquire about certifications.

“The kitchen is still one of the largest investments we make, and a lot of times it will sell a home,” Rady says. “A kitchen of quality has a great layout, and that designer can come up with a layout that you might not have even thought of because that’s what they do.”

Even if you decide to take on some of the kitchen project yourself—say you hire a professional to manage the plumbing and electrical work, but you plan to lay the tile and paint—a kitchen designer can refer you to a reliable resource.

The A-Team

Your kitchen renovation project will require a band of professionals—tradespeople, designer(s) and someone to oversee the project (other than you). For one, be sure the person heading up your renovation project is well qualified and has a solid reputation. The same rules of hiring a contractor apply, and in the case of designers, you’ll want to know what certifications they hold. Ask family, friends, neighbors and co-workers for recommendations. A glowing recommendation from a trusted source goes a long way.

So, what’s the ideal kitchen renovation team? That depends entirely on the scope of your project. Bauer-Kravette recommends that a kitchen team include a Certified Kitchen Designer (CKD) or Associate Kitchen & Bath Designer (AKBD) to ensure the design, configuration, appliances, counters and backsplash are the best value for the budget and long-term goals. A licensed electrician and plumber should also be involved. “One fire or flood and your new renovation is the least of your loss,” Bauer-Kravette says.

Here are a handful of key trade professionals involved in a kitchen renovation project:

Electrician. Any task that could result in a fire or flood is a job for a professional. Sure, you can install a new lighting fixture yourself (depending on your skill level), but avoid putting in a new electrical outlet or can lights or other more complex jobs unless you are schooled in the trade. “Sometimes, refrigerators and ovens require that the electrical is in a certain, exact spot and it may need to be moved from its existing position,” says Lori Carroll, president, Lori Carroll & Associates, Tucson, Ariz.

Plumber. Not every homeowner feels comfortable installing a new dishwasher—or even attaching new faucet hardware. If you invest in professional grade appliances, why take the chance of installing them improperly? Many kitchen renovation jobs require plumbing work that extends beyond appliance installation, and these jobs should be reserved for the pros.

Tile professional. You may decide to install your own tile floor or backsplash, and you can rent equipment to cut tiles from a home improvement store. But consider the tilework in the overall scope of the project: If you’re investing in high-end appliances and custom cabinetry, is it worth the minimal dollars saved (and time spent) to install tile yourself? “There is nothing worse than walking into a kitchen where the floor is set crooked because you tried to save money,” Rady says.

Solid surface fabricator. Trust the source of your granite or other solid surface for installation expertise. The company will measure for countertops and install them according to specifications. “They measure the area, they ensure that the surface goes in and has the proper edge detail and that it’s honed or polished and sealed,” Carroll says.

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