The Naked Truth About Kitchen Remodeling

Ahh, the joys of celebrating in your shiny, new kitchen.  The spectacular granite-topped island beckoning your friends and family to gather sharing the love with a good cabernet in hand.     You kitchen is now a warm, well-lit oasis of comfort and pleasure, the new beating heart of your home…

Too bad you have to go through such pain and agony to get there.  I have been remodeling kitchens for clients for 35 years, and have lived through the experience in my own home a couple of times.  I’ll give you the straight dope on kitchen remodeling.

What You’ll Miss Most:

If you wear a watch every day and you remove it to get it fixed, you suddenly realize how many times a day you unconsciously look at your wrist.  Way more than you ever would have guessed, right?  Same thing happens when you gut your kitchen to the studs.  First, you miss your kitchen sink.  Who knew you were such a frequent visitor?  It takes at least a 2 weeks to get used to finding the refrigerator in its odd new location in the den.  The only cooking you can do is in that microwave on the tv tray.  You don’t remember it being so small.  Where did we set up the coffeemaker gain?   Time to start your “restaurant list”.

Plenty of Horror Stories.

Worried it will cost more than you expected?  Yes, it will.  Concerned it will take longer to finish than you thought?  Count on it.  It’s the nature of the beast, even with an honest, experienced contractor.   With a bad (cheap guy) contractor, it will be much, much worse, of course.  You will have weeks of stalled progress, followed by having to fire that guy and hire a more expensive pro to tear out the substandard work and start all over.   A high-stress nightmare.  Responsible contractors “house train” their workers (even if they are subcontractors), for proper behavior.   My company has a written code of conduct that every crew must sign and follow.   For example, our guys are not allowed to smoke on the job, or talk politics or religion with our clients.  And no peeing behind the garage either.

Sadly, many contractors are not so house-trained.   Here are some of the nightmare stories my clients have recounted to from their prior experiences:  “I came home and found a brick man stirring up mortar in a 5 gallon bucket using my grandmother’s heirloom silver serving spoon;”  “The drywall crew scheduled to be on site for 2 weeks, polished off every prescription drug and bottle of alcohol we had in the house the first 3 days;”  “While I was out shopping, they raided my fridge and bar, then one fell asleep under my pool table and another on the master bed;”  “They pulled all the furniture, my mattresses and even my towels out into the back yard  – and left them there for weeks.  They were all ruined in the rain.”  These sins go way beyond just playing loud radios and using foul language on the job.

Fortunately there are some time-proven steps you can take to avoid these horrific experiences.  Remodeling your kitchen may not be a “pleasant” experience, but believe it or not, it can get done in a reasonable amount of time and reasonably on budget.  You can even be friends with your contractor at the end, and re—hire him or her again to do your bathroom next!

Yes, Kitchen Re-dos Are Expensive

Whether you are doing a “partial” remodel, a midrange “gut to the walls” job, or and kitchen expansion into other rooms, it is going to cost more than you want.  According to the Remodleing Magazine’s Annual Cost vs Value Survey (2017 figures) a “Mid-range kitchen will cost a national average of $62,158.  According to the most recent study, an “Upscale” kitchen remodel will set you back an average of $122,991.   See for the specifics.   I generally concur with those numbers based on my own company’s experience.  You can spend less with good planning of course but the naked truth is, most people don’t realize what kitchen renovation work really costs, especially when using a good contractor using a high quality construction team.

From a construction standpoint, kitchens are one of the most complex projects to plan and execute.  They involve the most expensive elements in a home: new custom cabinetry, stone counters, tile on floors and backsplashes, plumbing, expensive appliances and fixtures, to name a few.   Add in removing walls to create that coveted “open look”, relocating the kitchen sink, raising ceilings and expanding the footprint, and the price soars.

Don’t blame your contractor for running the cost of the job up or finishing late, when you kept upgrading to prettier things along the way.   Remember that changes to the project add cost, interrupt the rhythmic schedule of a job, and extend the completion time.



  1. If this is your first time to take on this kind of remodel, hire a good contractor and pay him $500 to consult with you for a couple of hours. Take notes.  This could be the best money you spend on the project.   Have him/her walk you through proper order of events, tell you what tools you will need, pitfalls to watch out for, where to find & when to use licensed trades (plumbers and A/C mechanics, etc.), and which walls may be load bearing.  Be sure you learn what things not to do yourself.   Even better, pay the contractor $2000 to $2500 for a “Professional Services Agreement” to help you develop your ideas into real, written Specifications you can build from.  Once you have the whole thing is professionally organized on paper I guarantee you construction will go faster and smoother.
  2. Make a list of the destruction/constructions steps you plan to take.  What are you tearing out?  Appliances?  Countertops only?  Cabinets too?   Write it all down first.  Pros call this description “Specifications”.  Specifications become your road map as work progresses.
  3. For steps of work you will not be doing yourself, go to the stores where those guys buy their materials.  For example, you could go to a good plumbing showroom and get the names of a couple of plumbers they know well, and know to be reputable.  A good lumberyard may point you to a good trim carpenter or framer they’ve seen across the counter for years.  Understand that your project is a one-time deal so it may be lower priority scheduling-wise.  These guys have regular builders who keep them busy and write them checks every week for years.   You can’t compete with the depth of that lucrative relationship, so be patient.
  4. Don’t buy anything until you make a complete “selections list” – a list of the all the plumbing fixtures and appliances.  Remodeling is no different than grocery shopping.  If you go with no list and a feeling hungry you will buy goofy stuff and regret it later.   Pick out your countertop, backsplash, and floor tile together.  They are large, important surfaces and need to “match”.
  5. If you are doing all new cabinets, get someone to design details for you, even if you plan to build them yourself.  Stay away from cabinets with any particle board in the boxes.  This means avoiding most “off the rack” cabinets at the box stores and also those plastic covered Danish ones.  I won’t mention any names.



  1. Do your internet homework. Good contractors have lots of good reviews on Google,, Angie’s List, etc.   If you are having trouble finding any reviews for a candidate, pass him by.  That is a huge red flag.
  2. Put the company name in the Better Business Bureau website search box.   If they are reputable they will show up with a score like A+, B+ and so on., and will be “accredited”   If they are not listed or at least accredited, run.  That is a huge red flag!   No website is a deal killer.  So is a terrible one or two page website.
  3. Call your local Builders Association.  They will have a list of reputable remodelers and builders and can usually tell you whether they work in your part of town.  In states like Texas which has no contractor licensing, you have to be particularly careful.  In any state, limit your candidates to those that have one or more construction certifications from the National Association of Homebuilders, such as “Certified Graduate Remodeler,” “Certified Aging in Place Specialist” “Graduate Master Builder”, and the like.  Any contractor who belongs to a trade association and has certifications subscribes to a Code of Ethics, and is going to be a very good bet for success.
  4. Do a good phone interview before inviting the remodeler out.  Find out if he mainly works in your part of town.  How long he has been in business?  Is kitchen remodeling a mainstay project for him or an occasional sideline?  Will he let you come see a kitchen remodel in progress?
  5. Get, and call references.   Ask them what the experience was like having that crew in the house?  What were the workmen like?  Was there always an English-speaker on site?  How neat was the house kept during the work?  Did you get a weekly schedule?  How well was the day-to-day communication and job management done?   Could you get someone on the phone quickly if there was a problem? Did you feel you got a good value for the money you paid?  These are excellent questions check out a contractor – before anyone comes out to look at the job.

I have an eleven question “Contractor Test” that you can read over the phone, at this link:  You are welcome to print off and use this test to find and screen contractors.

So there you have it.  The Naked Truth about Kitchen Remodeling.  It can be a nightmare or it can just be difficult and disruptive, but well worth it.   Like most things in life, you get what you pay for.   If you hire “Joe Pickup” the price will be cheap but the cost on your brain and body will be high.   Use the tools and advice above to find the right contractors and create that spectacular kitchen.  Remember, remodeling is like child-birth, the pain will soon fade and you’ll enjoy your beautiful new baby for years to come.


© By Dan Bawden, December 2016

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