Remodeling kitchen/bathroom--tips, tricks, ideas? And--how to find a good contractor

Hubby and I are finally free of the mini-hormonal-monsters for 2 1/2 months, so during our summer break we plan on redoing the kitchen. This will include essentially everything: new cabinets, countertops, sink, appliances, etc. Hubby, who has experience in this, will do the flooring (tile is the plan); the rest…well, we’re not sure.

I do NOT look forward to finding some stranger to come install anything. I’ve heard nightmare story after nightmare story, and I’m half tempted to wish DeathLlama well while I go away for a summer and come back to a new kitchen so he can deal with whatever issues pop up. I also lean toward overpaying and buying Home Depot (or similar) cabinets just so Some Company Name guy would come do the installation–someone who has to answer not just to him/herself, but their company.

We also have an upstairs shower that leaks, and despite 3 at-home efforts at repair, still leaks. Home Depot doesn’t service such things–so, where do we go?

Your experience/ideas/tips/directions/warnings/recommendations?

[sub]What a fun summer this will be…[/sub]

Send your husband away for a trip for 48 hours. Then contact the While You Were Out crew.
Andrew Danjumbo will hook you up!

Word of mouth is how I get almost all of my jobs. So, if someone is canvassing the neighborhood or something like that, forget it.

Ask a friend or neighbor who has had recent work done. Find out who they liked and why.

Many top notch pros in the trades are self employed. I personally don’t like to deal with the corporate mentality and low work ethic of many store “installers.” YMMV

Once you find a well liked contractor, let him deal with all the subs needed.

Get several bids.

MAKE A CONTRACT. Very important.

If you’re worried about finding a decent tradesperson, recommendations from friends or neighbours is probably the safest way to go. I’ve had some major work done in my kitchen and bathrooms by a plumber who was recommended to me and I was very pleased with his work and his prices. Unfortunately I can’t help you with advice on how to find a contractor and what it involves. A lot of the other renovations in my house has been/is being done by ourselves…which explains why the house will probably never be completely finished. My best advice is to make sure whoever you get is licensed/qualified to do the work you want. Try to get a written guarantee for the work and get the completion price written down so you don’t get hit with any hidden charges.

I’ll ask around the neighborhood for recommendations as far as a contractor goes.

Has anyone been there/done that with the whole remodeling thing and have some advice from their experiences? (i.e., granite over corian, or that new composite countertop…as well as types of cabinets, flooring, etc. you’re glad you went with/wish you went with/etc.)

We’re starting with the simple: fixing the upstairs shower. No design involved there. Then it’s on to the big dogs–the kitchen. Ugh!

I have some advice to give you from my cousin, the contractor. Get someone good to put in your kitchen cabinets. They often require a good deal of fitting and custom work to get everything just right. If they’re put in crooked, or not matched perfectly, the errors will be easy to see.

Also, from my parent’s disasterous house remodeling job, get good documentation from the contractor about what is included in the job, and be sure they stick to it. It’s also a good idea to keep an eye on the work they’re doing, question them if it doesn’t look right. As a matter of fact, if you don’t already know how these things are done, it might be a good idea to get educated, so you will know if the contractor is really screwing the pooch.

I have heard some negative things about granite. Two people in my office redid their kitchens in the last year. One got granite and thinks they might have made the wrong choice; they aren’t completely happy with it. Sure it’s a status item, but it isn’t as easy to care for as they hoped. The other researched it carefully and decided to go with Corian.

Don’t understimate the impression that bathroom fixtures can make. Spending an extra $100 or so on the faucet can make the remodeling job look like it was truly done lavishly.

We have granite and love it. However, it will stain if you’re not somewhat careful. You must clean up spills and not allow them to soak in over several hours. Most granite sealers prevent problems, but it depends a lot on the granite and what pool of stuff you leave on the counter.

FWIW, before we got our granite, I got 6-7 different colored granite tiles and tested the stainability by leaving wine, butter, milk spots overnight on them. A couple stained horribly, most stained a little or not at all.

Here’s a website that may prove helpful: Go to the forum that says kitchens. There are a lot of threads that ask and answer almost any question you have about remodelling. The one question I wish most people would answer is how much it cost. I realize it’s a nosy question, but it’s necessary if you’ve got a tight budget.

Not my ex-boyfriend.

Really not.

The bathroom remodeling nightmare contributed mightily to the addition of “ex”. He actually is a contractor for this kind of thing. He started the bathroom last June. I left at the end of April, at last notice (end of May) it was still not completed.

Good luck, choose carefully, get a contract.

We just went through an addition to our house and this is what we learned. Get the contract itemized as best that you can. I think you will find it difficult to get someone to estimate repair on a sub floor water leak until the area is exposed and the damage accessed. I would second the recommendation of installing high quality fixtures as they will serve you well into the future. We have had our bathroom fixtures for 15 years without a leakor problem and we have extremely hard water. You might be floored by the cost but well worth it in the long term. We had very few problems with our contractor because it was clear what he would do and how much it would cost but there is always something that seems to come up during the process.

Whew, where to start. I’m a former cabinet maker, kitchen installer, kitchen designer, and I now work as a technical editor for a nationally known cabinet manufacturer.

This is long and rambling. check out The National Kitchen and Bath Association for tons of very very good info.

Make a budget. Make A Budget. MAKE A BUDGET!

Did I mention to make a budget? I can’t stress it enough. Know how much MAX you want to spend and work from there. A few basic guidelines: The installation will cost anywhere from 40% of your budget (straight ripout/install, minimal mechanical work) to 55% or even a bit more if you are moving waste plumbing, gas lines, and lots of electrical work.

Definitely get a few estimates for the work. When you check references, ask to talk to clients they have currently so you can call them and see how the work is progressing.If they will not do that, ask them why (red flag) If they dont have any current jobs, ask them how many jobs they do a month. You dont want to be some guys hobby. Also ask for the names of a couple clients at least two years old. They don’t have clients that old? Don’t do business with them. I know, I know, its unfair to the guy who is just starting but you know what? You don’t want to be some newbies’ work study program.

Make sure they are licensed and bonded. Again, if they don’t pay for that, they don’t do this for a living. Would you get plastic surgery from a guy who did a few jobs here and there so he can justify the purchase of his cool toys? Thats what I have seen a lot of times from “handymen” who worked just so they could buy lots of fun compressors and tablesaws.

Get everything in writing. Get all model numbers, stock numbers, and detailed descriptions of all items that will be installed. Get in writing their procedures for change orders, how they will handle unforseen onsite problems and situations. Check the payment schedule. There should be about 10% or $1500 (whichever is less) left as a final payment to be paid upon completion of a Punch List/Final signoff.

Call their business references and ask for a reference. You may or may not get this but try as it will tell a lot.

Whatever anyone tells you regarding the timeline, add a month at least. You won’t do this but come back to this thread after the job is done and marvel at my psychic wisdom.

Think about hiring a kitchen design firm, they can make the project go so smoothly if you choose well. Same caveats as for hiring a contractor.

As for design, make a good field measured drawing of your kitchen. mark your walls with double lines, make breaks for windows and doors and note all the dimensions in inches. Note the location of plumbing and gas pipes from a corner wall.

Draw it so that 1/2" =1’0". This will make it so much easier for suppliers to estimate your job and to get started designing your kitchen. Measure the ceiling height and the heights of the windows. I recommend you do this yourself even if the people you go to offer it as a service. It will give you a better feel for your job and will empower you.

Speaking of electrical, check your service panel, if you have 120 amps or less, you may need to upgrade the service to handle new demands from more modern appliances and increased lighting.

Lighting: don’t ignore this as an afterthought. a good lighting plan can transform a design. Work for a mixture of general and task lighting. This should be part of the design process as you think about where you work in the room and why you work there, is it the only counter space? Is there no light to see by?

Re: fixtures, I also recommend getting the best you can, especially plumbing fixtures. These are the most used and abused things in the kitchen, go with quality.

As for countertops, currently granite is King. Are you doing this for yourselves or for resale value? If for resale, check out your neaighbors and open houses. I like granite but its cold and can bea pain to keep clean. If you drop a glass on it, be prepared to clean up shards of glass. The same goes for tile floors. Corian is very high quality, is extremely stain resistant, and has good name recognition. I like it a lot. The new quartz products are kinda cool but are as expensive as real stone. For that matter, so is Corian in a lot of cases. Let me know if you are interested in other types of tops. Plasitc laminate tops are dirt cheap, durable as hell and can look really nice. You can literally replace your laminate top every couple years for the cost of a single granite top:)- I’ve had clients do just that.

Cabinets:There is so much competition out there that almost all the standards are getting raised. a couple tips: MDF and particleboard is your friend! Engineered lumber is light years beyond the flake crap from the 70’s, it’s more stable, easier to machine, and stronger than ever. It take veneer better than plywood, doesn’t soak up water like a sponge like plywood, doens’t warp like plywood…you get the picture. Don’t discount a cabinet based on inclusinon of engineered lumber.

Drawer boxes should have four sides attached to a drawer head. Undermount glides are pretty much standard now, Blum Tandem are the best out there.

Finishes are pretty, be careful the hot new glazed finishes and distressed looks are cool, but they can add 20-30% to the cabinet cost right off the bat. Again, back to the budget. Think about what is important to you. Do you need that black glaze on the cherry cabinets or would that money be better spent on the better dishwasher?

I’ll think about more to talk about (shouldn’t be hard but I’m tired and have a half million in cabinet orders sitting on my desk waiting for me in the morning) :eek:

Any specific questions? I’ll answer as best I can.

The only tip I got when kitchen remodelling was a beauty - where ever possible favour big deep pan drawers over cupboards. I ended up with 2 sets of 3 and they hold all the cookware, the electrical goods, tupperware etc. You can get at everything without pulling stuff out - joy.

Yeah, drawers are way better than doors with roll out shelves inside. better storage, easier access as well.

Umm, sorry I killed your thread :slight_smile:

Let me know if you have any other questions, especially if you are considering DIY.