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Best Way to Renovate a Kitchen: Step by Step Guide

Kitchens have become the heart of the modern home. A hub for social and family gatherings, and a place where all of the fun happens. For homeowners with an outdated kitchen layout, renovations will likely involve knocking down walls, redoing electrical work, installing new plumbing, and more. With so much work to do, it is easy to feel unsure about where to start!

To begin kitchen renovations, first develop a detailed plan. From there, start with the infrastructure and work outward, doing demolitions, adding drywall, and painting. Lastly, install new flooring, cabinetry, and appliances. For electrical work or plumbing, it may be worth hiring a contractor.

This may sound pretty straightforward, but there is a wealth of information that will be useful to you before beginning your renovations. The following list will provide more detail about each step and why it is important to renovate in that general order.

Kitchen Renovation Tasks: The Best Order

Kitchen renovation is a large project that needs to be executed with some organization in order for it to be successful. Here’s the best order in which to carry out a project like this…

Step #1: Develop a Plan

Before beginning renovations, set yourself up for success by developing a detailed plan of what you want the new kitchen to look like and how you want the space to function.

Start by making a list of the features you want, including:

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  • wall colors
  • cabinet styles
  • storage space
  • upgraded appliances
  • new flooring, and so forth.

Next, make a list of:

  • the features you will need based on the number of people you typically cook for
  • how the space will serve to entertain family or guests
  • what budget you hope to work with.

Compare these lists to decide which elements are the most important to you, and then create a simple list or map of what the finished kitchen will look like. Though the plan may change, it will serve as a useful point of reference throughout the renovation project.

Step #2: Obtain Permits

If your local area has building codes, you will probably need to obtain a building permit before beginning your renovations. It may be a hassle to secure the necessary documentation, but this step in the process will certainly save you headaches before you’ve knocked down walls or purchased materials and it’s too late.

Typically, if your renovations include major changes in plumbing or electrical work, chances are you’ll need a building permit.

Step #3: Browse for Materials

Once you’ve created a plan for your renovations and secured the necessary permits, you’re ready to get started! Begin by browsing local hardware stores to compare pricing on cabinets, tiles, faucets, countertops, flooring, paint, appliances, etc.

Having a comparative sense of how much each item costs can help you decide how to distribute your budget and can prepare you for any last-minute changes in your renovation plans. You may find that, after browsing for materials, your vision for the new kitchen has changed.

Step #4: Purchase Materials

To make sure that you don’t run out of materials or get behind schedule because you are waiting on materials to arrive, purchase all of your main materials at the very beginning.

BONUS TIP: Always purchase a little bit more than you plan on using, as some materials may break or some portions of the project may demand more than you anticipated. The last thing you want to deal with is being a few tiles too short to finish a backsplash, or one inch short of fitting your new countertop.

Also, if you have a specific appliance in mind, be sure to design the cabinets and countertops to fit around the measurements of that appliance.

Step #5: Begin Demolitions

Finally, the moment you’ve been waiting for. Get out that sledgehammer and be ready with your crowbar! If you’re removing a wall to expand the overall kitchen space, be sure to confirm with a landowner or architect that it is not a load-bearing wall and that you have a plan for properly disposing of materials.

If you’re removing cabinets:

  1. unscrew the doors
  2. pry the cabinets off of the walls
  3. then reassemble them.

You might be able to make some decent money re-selling them, or you might consider installing them in your garage for increased storage space.

NOTE: Check out my article “Best Resale Value Kitchen Cabinets” if you’re considering buying cabinets that you wish to sell later.

Step #6: Install or Replace Plumbing

Before installing any of the new materials, make your plumbing adjustments. With the cabinets off of the walls and the flooring stripped away, this is the perfect time to move or install pipes.

Plumbers will often recommend that you pick the type of sink you want first, and then install the plumbing to accommodate it, rather than installing counters first and discovering (to your horror) that the sink doesn’t fit!

If you feel confident installing plumbing yourself, go for it! If not, it is worth hiring an experienced plumber to save yourself the headache of leaky pipes or faulty installations.

Step #7: Install or Replace Electrical

Once the plumbing is finished, you’re ready to make any electrical adjustments that may be necessary. The walls are open and accessible, so this will be the easiest time for an electrician to navigate wires throughout the area to supply the desired lighting.

Again, if you feel experienced enough to complete the electrical work on your own, more power to you! If not, make room in your budget for a licensed electrician who will do the job properly.

Step #8: Add Drywall

Making adjustments to the plumbing and electrical work can leave holes or dents in the walls, so now it’s time to patch it all up and prep for painting. Install drywall to give yourself a safe, flat surface for the rest of your painting and installation processes.

Step #9: Paint the Walls/Ceiling

Now it’s getting fun! Whether you’re adding splashes of new color or simply covering up patched areas, take your time with painting.

For an evenly distributed, professional look, paint the walls and ceiling with several coats of your desired color, allowing each layer to dry completely before applying the next one. Be sure to coordinate your wall colors with your cabinets, flooring, and lighting fixtures.

Step #10: Install New Flooring

Some renovators will say, that to save money on flooring materials, you have to install island bars and cabinets before new flooring, but this actually makes the process more difficult.

You’ll have to cut around the cabinetry or lift it up in order to make the flooring fit snugly against it. And incorrect measurements can lead to a tragic, frustrating waste of flooring material. So if possible, install your flooring first.

Step #11: Install the Cabinets

With the flooring in place and the walls freshly painted, you’re ready to install your counters and cabinets! Use a stud finder to properly screw new cupboards into the wall, and be sure to account for your new electrical and plumbing systems when installing the counters.

QUICK TIP: Install the cabinet first, then attach the door. Always install the upper cabinets before the lower ones to avoid the risk of damaging any of the tops or doors.

Step #12: Install the Backsplash

If you’re adding a backsplash to your new kitchen, it is important to have the countertops installed first. (See my article “3 Reasons Why a Backsplash Should be Installed Before” for more info on this). This will give you a clear baseline of reference to ensure that the backsplash pieces are not crooked.

Based on your design and the overall look you’re striving to achieve, there are a variety of backsplash materials that can complement your color scheme and that are easy to install.

Step #13: Install Appliances and Accessories

Last but certainly not least, install your new appliances. At this point in the project, your oven, microwave, or fridge should fit snugly between your counter space as planned. With materials flying everywhere during renovations, installing appliances last is the best way to protect them from being damaged.

The above steps outline the steps you need to take to carry out a successful kitchen renovation. But there will be some aspects that you may want to hire out to a professional. But how do you make that decision whether to pay or do it yourself? Here’s some guidance…

Hiring Professionals: When to Outsource

Though plenty of renovation tasks are fun and straightforward, there are a few areas that require expertise. If your project is large or complicated, you may definitely want to consider hiring a designer, architect, electrician, plumber, or general contractor.

You’ve got the skills for most DIY projects, but without the right knowledge, a fun kitchen project can quickly turn into an extended renovation nightmare. Save yourself the time and the headaches, and consider areas where it may be worth having professional help from a contractor.

A designer will bring your vision to life, helping you determine a complementary color scheme, a visually appealing layout, and an assortment of accents that create a beautiful, cohesive environment. Most importantly, a designer will help transform the aesthetic elements into a functional kitchen space.

If your kitchen is particularly large and you are interested in detailed décor, hiring a designer could save you money in the long run because they will help you determine exactly what to buy, what to exclude, and what you could adapt to your budget.

An architect can develop drawings that serve as a reference for the overall project. Having a map of each item to scale, complete with details for measuring and installing materials, will help you or your contractor execute the plan with precision. An architect can also help you determine what is possible in your kitchen space versus what simply isn’t realistic.

Electricians and plumbers each specialize in a single area of contracted labor, so they are worth the investment in expertise. If you are installing a complicated new lighting system, such as cupboard lights or a new fixture above an island bar, consider hiring an electrician. They will be able to wire everything properly and ensure that it is all up to code.

Similarly, if you are relocating your sink or adding a new plumbing fixture, consider hiring a plumber that can help you complete the process properly. Both electrical work and plumbing are fundamental aspects of renovations; if you mess something up at the beginning, it will only continue to cause problems later. It’s better to get things done the correct way from the beginning.

Lastly, if you want to renovate your kitchen but you don’t have time to do all of it yourself, a general contractor can take care of hiring people in each area of expertise and delegating tasks to different employees based on your renovation plan.

Since general contractors can charge up to 30% of your overall renovation cost, do your research first. High rates do not always indicate high quality. Find someone with a history of successful projects that compare to what you have in mind, and you’re far more likely to be happy with the results.

Project Costs: Budgeting and Saving

Understandably, the question at the forefront of most renovators’ minds is: How much is this going to cost? Whether you have $5,000 or $50,000 to spend, there are all kinds of hacks and tricks for making your money go further and giving your kitchen an overall upgrade.

Always, when browsing for materials, determine a budget that accounts for each part of the renovation and allows for some wiggle room if something goes wrong. From there, determine which things are worth spending more money on, and which things you could save money on.

For instance, if you want high-quality granite countertops, you could offset the cost with a cheaper, backsplash alternative, like glass panels or wallpaper.

If new flooring is more important to you than new cabinets, you could save money by simply giving old cabinets a fresh coat of paint, or buying and refurbishing used cabinets instead of ordering custom-measured ones.

Generally, one of the best ways to be happy with how you’ve spent your budget is to first focus on the items that are the most important to you, then allocate the remaining funds in areas where you’re willing to compromise.

Common Mistakes During Kitchen Renovation

Ambitious, DIY home renovators are prone to make several mistakes while working on their new kitchen design. Here are a few common mistakes to be aware of so that you can save yourself the time and stress:

  • Wasting Space – With open living areas as the current trend in home design, it can be easy to waste space or have awkward amounts of the distance between things. Make sure you plan the layout based on how people will move through the room and what floor plan will provide the most intuitive access to the dining table, the sink, etc.
  • Forgetting Functionality – Yes, your kitchen renovations will be beautiful and exciting, but it is far more important that all of the new elements function cohesively. Plan space for the direction that doors will open, the size of desired appliances, and the clearance needed for objects that are close in proximity.
  • Overdoing It – With so much new space to work with, it’s tempting to buy dozens of new decorations or install a massive island bar. If your kitchen is not big enough, the decorations can quickly look cluttered. If your new island counter is too large, it will be hard to wipe down, reach across, or walk around; in that case, it would be better to have two island bars.
  • Changing Plans – There’s nothing wrong with adapting your plans to unforeseen circumstances; in fact, it’s always better to be a little bit flexible because you never know what issues may arise during the renovation process. However, mid-project changes that are due to poor planning or indecisiveness can unnecessarily delay and complicate the project. Do your research, stick to your plan, and avoid last-minute, impulsive decisions.
  • Skimping on Storage – A good kitchen has ample storage space. One of the most common renovation mistakes is underestimating the number of dishes and food you will need to store. Before renovating, take note of where everything in the kitchen is currently being stored, then add or remove cabinetry based on how the space is being used and how you envision it being used.