So you decided that you want to renovate your kitchen. First off, give your head a shake. Do you really need to do this? If, for whatever reason, you still feel it is something you wish to do there are a few things I would recommend doing.
Contractors & Contracts
Choosing a contractor. There is lots of advice online on what to look for in a contractor. What I did was talk to co-workers and friends for recommendations and then look at Homestars to see if the contractors were listed. I ensured that the contractors were licensed, insured and bonded. Bonded means that a bonding agency would be willing to carry a bond to guarantee their behavior, that they are not crooks. Make them provide proof of insurance and their licence. It sounds stupid but if someone came and got hurt on site they could sue you for mega-bucks. I then chose several qualified contractors to come and give me a quote.
Since all the quotes were within the expected range I differentiated them on the rapport with the person in charge. In essence, who did I feel good about dealing with. I chose Oborne contracting. On the money side they were not the cheapest. But they had a good reputation according to Homestars and a co-worker had dealt with them before for her counter tops and felt they treated her fairly. John, the owner explained in detail how he ran his company and was very upfront about his costs and profit which made me feel like he might be more open and honest about things.
One important piece of advice is get a signed contract and keep a copy of it handy. There are lots of little things you will have taken for granted that you shouldn’t. Be as specific as possible. For example, I didn’t realize my contract had me buying the grout. Not a big deal, but considering I know nothing about grout it could have been ugly. I also hadn’t planned on the slate tiles needing to be sealed. Not a big deal, but if that is something you expect the contractor to take care of, make sure it is in the contract.
The contract should also outline payments. My contract specified specific points in the project when I would pay. For example when the framing is finished, when the drywall is up, etc. John Oborne was very good about letting me be late, mostly because I had no idea when something was finished or not. A better way to work it however, would be specific payment dates, which works if you have a finish date.
Finish dates (something I didn’t do) are handy because it sets a goal. Many contractors will be working on several projects at once. Ask how many sites your team will be working on. As you can imagine whichever client yells the loudest is going to get the attention. Believe it or not, I don’t really like yelling.
You should also have regular check ins. With a kitchen renovations there will be periods of intense activity followed by days of nothing. So it is unrealistic to expect all these people to be sitting around waiting for your project to proceed, as a result they will come and go.
Make the contractor provide you with an idea of who will be in your house and when they will be coming. Like the contract, be specific. ”The plumber will be in this week” is not specific. ”The plumber will be in Friday afternoon” is the sort of information you are looking for.
What is your budget? How much money can you realistically allocate to this project? Let’s say you have a $50,000 renovation in mind. You want to buy new appliances, take out a wall, install custom cabinets. Take your $50,000 and add 30% to it. Why 30 percent? If you are in most provinces in Canada you are looking at provincial and federal taxes so that is an additional cost many people do not count on. Here in Ontario the HST adds 13%. The additional costs are for food/rent and a contingency fund. Plus there is a very good chance you will go over budget.
The contingency fund is for those unexpected issues. In my kitchen reno previous owners had cut into the joists that hold up the second level as opposed to drilling a hole for the piping. This severely weakened the joists and needed to be repaired. Unfortunately, it was an additional $800 which I hadn’t budgeted.
The contingency fund is also for those last minute changes you make. I decided I wanted 3 pendant lights, not just 2 and the additional light set me back $300. $100 for the light and $200 to have the electrician add an extra octagonal box. If I had planned on having 3 lights I should have made sure it was in the contract (it’s always easier to take stuff out).
You will also note in my budget I mention food/rent. Depending on the layout of your house and your personal situation you may decide to rent an apartment or continue to live in your house while the renovations are underway. Either way you need to budget for that. I found that with having to eat out everyday I was eating modestly and spending an extra $1200 a month! Over the length of a renovation that added up to almost $5,000! And it was not something I had budgeted for either.
But that wasn’t the only thing that blew my budget. I found that once I was “in for a penny” I was “in for a pound”. If you are spending that kind of money why not splurge for the heated floors or the more expensive appliances. They are only an additional five hundred, eight hundred, thousand dollars. It becomes very easy to spend way too much money this way. If you have the will power to budget then keep one on hand and use it when making every decision. I made a 3 way budget, with the most expensive and the cheapest options, here is my sample file. It let me chose my different price ranges and choose items I felt were important.
I also kept a running spreadsheet of what was paid, how much had been paid, and what was left to pay. This helped me keep on top of paying all the different expenses and see what was left to pay for.
Cabinets are about 30-40% of your budget, the rest is stuff like demolition, framing, electrical, plumbing, etc… Some things to think about it whether or not you want custom cabinets. The difference for us was around 35%. Regular pre-made cabinets, like those from Ikea or Home Depot were going to cost around $12,000 and take around 3 weeks.
Instead we went for custom cabinets which cost around $17,000 which take around 10 weeks to complete. The big difference it in the use of space. If you have a 26″ space for a cabinet, and you are using pre-made cabinets you end up loosing 2 inches. This is because pre-mades only come in set sizes. With custom cabinets you can use the entire 26 inches.
While there is a difference in costs, in both cases you can choose the doors, handles, and finishes. Another thing to keep in mind is that in both cases every change or addition is extra money. For example, soft-close drawers? add $80 per drawer. Roll out shelves, an additional $75 each. Lazy Susan? Add $300 if you want it in wood. As you can imagine it gets expensive quickly.
There is a great diagram that sums up any project, the Euler diagram. You can have it cheap and good, but not fast. You can have it fast and good, but it’s going to cost you. Or you can have it fast and cheap but the quality will suffer.
Unfortunately with renovations, you can’t ever choose fast. There is no such thing as a quick renovation so if a contractor tells you he can have your custom kitchen done in two months, thank him but show him the door because it’s bullshit.
The average kitchen renovation takes between 3 months at a minimum (I googled it!). That is if there are no issues. Issues can include things like problems found behind the walls (mold, bad wiring) , shortage of materials (waiting for that special order sink?) Or issues with sub-contractors (gas-fitter is getting married).
In my reno, we wanted custom cabinets, but they couldn’t measure until the framing was put in place. They couldn’t start drawing the cabinet plans until they measured, they couldn’t start building the cabinets until I signed off on the drawings. All of these steps are dependent on the previous ones so these delays can add up quickly.
More to come…with pictures!