Four Areas to Spend (or Save) on Your Kitchen Remodel


by Marcus Pickett

Now more than ever homeowners have set tight budgets on their kitchen remodeling projects. This means judiciously choosing the components that make up a typical kitchen remodel. Here's a rundown of the four major kitchen remodeling expenses and the relative pros and cons of splurging or economizing on each element of the project. As you consider each choice, keep in mind that every dollar you save on one area of your kitchen is a dollar you can use somewhere else.

1. Cabinets: Stock vs. Custom Cabinets

One of the biggest differences between both cost and quality in any area of your kitchen remodel resides in your new cabinets. Stock cabinets mass-produced in fiberboard or some other wood composite can cost less than half of custom, solid wood cabinets. Nowadays, you can find these manufactured cabinets in virtually any dimension, color, or texture you can imagine, but they still lack the timeless and stunning quality of custom cabinets. Plus, the ability to resurface these cabinets time and time again, returning them to like-new condition decades after the initial installation, is a hidden advantage of custom cabinets.

As central as cabinets are to the essence of your kitchen, most people find this is the first place to cut expenses for a kitchen remodel. In some cases, you can literally save $10,000 or more and immediately bring the remodeling costs within your budget. The only problem is most people working within a tight budget never consider custom cabinets to begin with and must make additional cuts in the following areas.

2. Countertops: Laminate, Stone, and Solid-Surface

Although many people don't like to hear it, choosing laminate countertops is one of the easiest and quickest ways to save money on your kitchen remodel. Usually one-third of the cost of other countertop materials, you can easily save enough money to upgrade both your appliances and your flooring. But some people are simply set on a high-performance countertop and for valid reasons. Stone or solid-surface counters are largely impervious to kitchen abuse in a way laminate counters are not.

Just don't get caught up in irrational kitchen fads. Granite counters are more coveted and often more expensive than other high-end counters, but they're not superior in terms of performance. You should at least consider the possibility and solicit estimates for the cost of engineered stone counters, concrete counters, and glass or metal counters. You're likely to be surprised to hear what your kitchen remodeling contractors says about the value and performance of these alternative materials.

3. Appliances: Energy-Star and Brand Names

Nearly all kitchen remodeling decisions involve balancing your upfront costs and budget with the project's long-term value and durability. But these tradeoffs are especially stark when choosing your new kitchen appliances. Lower upfront costs must be weighed against higher operating costs. If you're looking for a risk-free upgrade to one area of your kitchen remodel, this is the place to start. Plus, looking for appliances with an Energy Star label is a hassle-free way to find an energy-efficient appliance. If you have to choose just one appliance to focus your energy-efficient dollars, choose your refrigerator. By far the largest energy consumer in the kitchen, you might save as much money on the operating costs for your refrigerator as the rest of your kitchen appliances combined.

As easy as it is to find an energy-efficient appliance, it's difficult to find overall value and durability from appliance manufacturers. The cost of everything from copper to moisture-resistant wiring has skyrocketed throughout the last decade. Some manufacturers have started to use inferior manufacturing materials. Others have shipped manufacturing overseas where quality-control is harder to maintain. Often, online reviews speak only to initial satisfaction, instead of long-term durability. Among the manufacturers and product lines to maintain a high reputation: KitchenAid, Asko, and Whirlpool's Gold Series.

4. Flooring: Tile, Hardwood, Laminate…

Many people who are forced to make cuts in other areas of their kitchen remodel find solace in upgrading their kitchen flooring. Compared to other areas, there simply isn't the same cost difference. Instead of several thousands of dollars, you might upgrade your kitchen flooring for only several hundred dollars. You may have heard that laminate flooring is supposed to save you a bundle. But most of these savings are realized by installing your own laminate floor, often not the best idea in the kitchen where even the smallest seams in flooring joints and edges can allow water to infiltrate and destroy your floor from underneath.

Again, talk to your kitchen remodeling contractor about how much extra it would cost to upgrade your flooring plans to a high-quality hardwood floor or, even better, a green bamboo floor. If you have your heart set on tile, which is never a bad choice, you can upgrade within this material choice. Tile dots or inserts, decorative border tiles, or dynamic tile patterns can become the star of your kitchen remodel without going over budget.

-- Marcus Pickett is a senior home improvement writer with He has written more than 1200 articles on managing your home and home improvement trends.