by Ellen Blake
I hate my kitchen!
Like so many others, during the COVID lockdown I spent far more time in my house than usual. Some of the rooms are very dated, but I’m ok with most of them. My kitchen, however, is one that needs updating desperately both for cosmetic reasons and functionality. I researched cabinets, countertops, backsplashes and appliances at various times over the years, but was not motivated to take on the expense and inconvenience of a kitchen renovation until recently. Now that I feel like I can’t stand another minute in my dark dated kitchen, I am ready. Unfortunately costs are higher than ever, labor issues abound and supplies are scarce. Should I wait to renovate?
Renovate or move?
Now that our children are grown and live on their own, we no longer need a 3500 square foot two-story house. It’s time to either downsize or make the decision to age in place in our home. That’s the first decision we need to make. My husband and I decided it makes sense to stay for a variety of reasons including:
- While the value of our home is at an all-time high right now, so are the prices of new homes which negates the profit we would make on our house.
- With a downstairs master bedroom, we do not need to climb the steps.
- The upstairs provides space for guests and our children when they visit
- Our kids have strong attachments to their childhood home.
- We live on a greenbelt which provides a feeling of spaciousness in the backyard that is hard to find in our city.
- Our neighborhood provides a helpful and supportive community that we might not find in a new location.
Why are prices to much higher now?
Initial decision made, I set out to interview contractors for my kitchen. I started this process about five years ago, but did not go ahead with the project at that time. I wish I had. The quotes I received last month from three different contractors were all similar…and three times the number I got the last time around. Stunned and overwhelmed by the cost, I was unsure if I should proceed. I asked the contractors why prices were so high. Here’s what I learned:
- The cost of raw materials increased considerably since the start of Covid19. As per one of the contractors, a standard 2x4x8 used in common residential construction was typically about $2.10 pre-Covid, but now costs over $5.
- Labor shortages are common these days, which means construction companies pay more to attract and retain workers
- Real estate in general experienced tremendous growth over the last 18 months, so contractors are very busy. The increased demand allows contractors to raise prices.
- The current supply chain issues make appliances difficult to obtain and affect prices.
The decision to renovate
Perhaps you can relate…after months of looking at my 1990’s kitchen, I was beyond sick of it and desperately wanted a change. I didn’t want to put off the project any longer. And so, I decided to proceed but with a greatly modified plan. Though prices might decrease at some point, there is no guarantee, a fact that significantly influenced my decision.
I know I won’t get back the money I put in when we eventually sell the house, but I am also aware that some updates will need to be made in order to sell. It makes good sense, at least to me, to do the work now so I have time to live with the renovations and not just do them for the new owners to enjoy.
Ways to contain costs
Once over the sticker shock from the quotes I received, I took a step back to determine where I could cut expenses and still integrate aesthetic updates and better accessibility. Here’s what I came up with:
Modifications in the plan to contain costs
- The load bearing wall between the kitchen and family room will not be removed to create more of an open concept as originally planned. Instead, the two level island between the two rooms will be changed to one counter height surface to provide the feeling of greater openness.
- The eyebrow arches in the opening between the two rooms I planned to square off to create a more contemporary space will not be done. It seems rounded arches are back and I actually do not dislike the arches, I just thought they looked dated. This decision was an easy one.
- We won’t replace the cabinets. Instead, the contractor will make new shaker style cabinet doors to replace the current inset ones and paint them white to update their look. He will also reconfigure the bottom cabinets for drawers to make kitchen supplies more accessible, also in the shaker style.
- The banquette style benches I asked the contractor to build for the dining table is one project that is off the table. I found benches at a furniture store for less than half the cost of custom benches that work perfectly.
- The contractor will build a new cabinet to the right of the refrigerator in the extra space provided by incorporating banquette type table seating in the corner of the kitchen rather than all chairs. We plan to move the microwave to an easily accessible spot in this new cabinet. Currently our microwave is very high, over the double oven, and in a location that is not easy to use or particularly safe for us as we age.
- The double oven will move up about 14 inches within the existing cabinet where housed so both ovens are easy to use without needing to bend over excessively.
- We plan to keep the current flooring. It’s not exactly what I had in mind, but it’s in good shape and I can live with it.
- I will keep the same appliances, at least for now. They look OK, not perfect, but work well. I am researching new appliances that are the same dimensions as the old ones to ensure updated version can fit the same spaces in the reconfigured cabinets. I will replace them one at a time as needed. The contractor will do the electrical work now required for the new cooktop to be ready for the eventual replacement. The current voltage for new cooktops is 40 amps, while previous versions used 30 amps.
The bottom line
These changes to my kitchen renovation plan decreased the estimate by more than $25,000. And I believe I will still feel like I have a new kitchen! It’s important to note I was fortunate to find a quality contractor willing and able to reconfigure existing cabinets and make new doors. As reusing old cabinets is less expensive than replacing them altogether, doing it this way offers less profit. In addition, this type of work also involves skilled labor that not all contractors have available to them. I fortunately found a contractor early on that not only was willing, but it was actually he who made this suggestion to help me save money. The other two I interviewed both said the only way to go is to replace all the cabinets with new ones.
I’ll keep you posted on this project as I go through the process and I hope others will learn from my experiences. There are usually surprises that may lead to unexpected additional costs, even with the best laid plans, but I hope to complete the project within budget, or as close as possible.