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Getting the Most Out of a Kitchen Remodel


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Hey, have you heard the one about the 36-inch pro-style range that ripped the molding off the back door on its way into the house? Or the poured-on-site concrete countertop that cracked three months after installation? Or maybe it was the contractor who was paid in advance, promptly skipped town, and was never heard from again.

Well, misery may love company, but what we all crave is a happy ending – a smart – looking, functional workspace that is a source of comfort and efficiency. To help you get there, we’ve complied this handy guide to some common kitchen-remodeling disasters and offer expert strategies for steering clear of them. 

For each major phase of the job: – hiring, planning, budgeting, and living through it – we’ve got an easy plan to follow. Take our advice, and your biggest regret when your dream kitchen is complete will be that you didn’t do it sooner. 

Finding the Best Pros

Kitchen remodeling is at the top of homeowner’s wish lists. It is also, according to attorneys general across the country, a leading source of consumer complaints. Recommendations from friends are the best place to start your search for a qualified contractor. But before you make a decision, keep these caveats in mind:

  • They’re only as good as their last job. “General contractors often win jobs based on their good reputations,” explains architect Dennis Wedlick, author of “Good House Hunting: 20 Steps to Your Dream Home.” “But circumstances can change. When the contractor switches subcontractors or laborers, quality can be affected.” Ask your top three candidates to supply references, and follow up with the most recent ones.

  • What you see is what you get. In addition to completed renovations, try to visit a job in progress. You can learn a lot about a contractor’s commitment to quality and safety by seeing for yourself how clean the site is and how carefully the drywall is hung and taped.

  • The best ones are worth waiting for. The best contractors tend to be the busiest ones. Build your schedule around the GC of your dreams, not vice versa. Keep the crew happy by following the three R’s:

    • Refreshments – you don’t have to cater three squares a day, but at least offer a thermos of coffee or a cooler with soft drinks and some snacks. They’ll appreciate it.

    • Responsibility – the crew can’t work efficiently if you’re in the way. Ask questions, but don’t overwhelm them with your TOH-taught (This Old House) smarts. And teach kids and pets the meaning of KEEP OUT.

    • Respect – say good morning, good night, and good job when appropriate. And please: don’t ask if they’ve met any desperate housewives lately. The appliances can be top-of-the-line, the finishes the most expensive around, but if the space doesn’t work, it’s money down the brand-new In-Sink-Erator.

Plan, Plan, Plan the Smartest Layout

An experienced designer can save you time and money by heading off potential problems. Kitchen planners know all the tricks: how to maximize storage, smart substitutions for high-end materials, even the best local contractors for the job. But first, they need a few things from you. Here are a few things that’ll help on your first meeting. 

20/20 Design Proposal Drawing by Designer Ed Sheats

  • An architectural rendering or to-scale drawing of your existing kitchen, showing the location of windows, doors, heating, plumbing lines, and electrical outlets. If you’re not working with an architect, you can do it yourself with 3-D kitchen design software.

  • A detailed wish list indicating your goals for remodeling. Do you want more space? More storage? More style? A built-in dog bed? Organize by priority, from the “must haves” to the “in our dreams.”

  • An idea folder: pictures of rooms, products, materials, and architectural details that appeal to you; notes on what you like about friend’s kitchens (and hate about your own); and general concepts translated from other areas of your life. Are you a neat freak? Glass-front cabinets are sleek, but you may be happier with painted doors that conceal clutter.

Cut Costs Without Cutting Corners

One of the surest ways to shave costs is to do more with what you’ve got. So before taking the sledgehammer to your existing kitchen, try this: empty every drawer and cupboard. Revisit where you’ve been putting things. Is there an organizational scheme that makes more sense? Think in zones, storing items closest to where they are used. 

“In the end,” says architect Dennis Wedlick, “you may like the reconfiguration so well that you’ll decide to just paint and stick with the kitchen you’ve got.” And if you do go forward, you’ll have a clearer sense of how you really use the kitchen, which will help save time and money on the redesign. But if you kind of need to cut corners, here are a few budget-balancing scenarios:

Problem #1: You really need more storage space, but you plan to move in a few years and would rather not invest in custom cabinets. Custom-crafting every nook and cranny for the way you cook may not be the most economical use of your dollars when someone else – with different cooking and lifestyle habits – will be living in your kitchen before the home-equity loan is paid off. 

Affordable alternative: Consider working a walk-in pantry into your plan. It’s a remarkably economical way to upgrade your kitchen – a pantry can supply as much storage as a wall or more of custom built-ins.

Problem #2: You want granite countertops, but they’ll bust the budget. Granite’s resistance to moisture, scratching, and high heat makes it a perennially popular (if pricey) choice.  

Affordable alternative: If you love the look of granite – or soapstone or marble or handcrafted tile for that matter – work it into your plan. But instead of using it for every countertop, try limiting it to a high-visibility island or to the areas flanking the range. Elsewhere, use less expensive options like plastic laminate or ceramic tile. Mixing also adds visual interest. 

Problem #3: You want a lighter, brighter kitchen, but knocking down walls just isn’t an option. The space may be drab and dingy, but it gets the job done, and a major overhaul isn’t in the budget right now. 

Affordable alternative: Sometimes a well-planned lighting scheme is all it takes to brighten a kitchen. Spend the bucks for the services of a professional planner or lighting designer. That plus simple cosmetic upgrades, such as a fresh paint job, new cabinet hardware, upgraded countertops or flooring, and a couple of new appliances can totally transform the space. Save untold thousands by sticking to the original layout. 


BreHomes Kitchen

An Angie’s List Guide: Hiring a Handyman


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Hiring a Handyman

Not all home repair jobs require the help of a general contractor or specialized service provider. A handyman can be hired for a variety of small home improvement projects. The following guide explains how a handyman can fix your to-do list while saving time and money along the way.

What is a handyman?

A handyman or handywoman is a skilled “jack of all trades” who can be hired by the hour to complete a wide range of small home improvement work and repair.

A handyman, or handyman company, typically charges the client by the hour plus material costs, regardless of the task at hand. Many homeowners will compile a list of repairs and hire a handyman to complete the list in a single visit.

The term “handyman” is loosely defined. Some are self-trained, while others have more formal training in various aspects of construction and home repair. Some specialize in a few types of home maintenance, such as painting and carpentry, while others specialize in several areas of home repair. 

There is no national standard or regulation for handymen. Licensing and regulation vary by state. New Jersey, for example, requires handymen who work for a profit to register with the state and carry insurance. California requires handymen to carry a license from the Sate Contractors License Board to work on any project that exceeds $500 in labor and material costs.

How do I know if I need a handyman or contractor?

The scope of the job and level of skill required to complete it should determine whether you hire a handyman or contractor. 

“When trying to determine who you should hire for a particular job, consider the task,” says Angie Hicks, founder of Angie’s List. If it’s a specialized trade, be sure you hire that tradesperson like a plumber or electrician, for example. If it’s little things that you can do yourself, a handyman is probably the right way to go.”

A handyman is not the best option for a large or complicated project that could take a long time to complete and require the help of multiple workers. A contractor or specialist should be utilized for remodeling work, room additions, projects that require heavy-duty equipment or licensed professionals like electricians.

Benefits of hiring a handyman

You’ve got an ever increasing to-do list of home improvements like changing out a bathroom faucet, replacing missing shingles on the roof and painting a kitchen wall. You could hire a plumber, roofer and painter who all would have conflicting schedules of availability and their own service charges, or you could hire a handyman to complete all three projects in one day for a single hourly rate.

A homeowner can save money on home improvement projects by hiring a handyman because it eliminates the need for multiple service providers and contractors. Many handymen charge by the hour so a homeowner only pays for one worker who can complete a wide range of projects. A service charge from a plumber or roofer to come to your home could equal or even surpass the price to hire a handyman for a few hours. 

Hiring a handyman also prevents waste and overcharging, as the handyman will only charge you for hours worked. A contractor or specialist is more likely to price a job based on an estimated amount of time it will take to complete it. Handymen are able to keep their rates low because they don’t have to pay additional workers and have lower overhead costs than contractors or large companies.

Many homeowners turn to handymen when they have a job but don’t know who to call. Handymen have been known to do all types of work from setting up playground equipment and gas grills to hanging holiday lights and decorations. 

Handyman-ready jobs

Handymen are best utilized for small, “honey-do” types of home repair work. The following projects are ideal for most handymen.

Minor plumbing work: Many handymen are capable of completing minor plumbing work like installing new fixtures or repairing a leaky faucet. However, complex projects or jobs that require plumbing to be moved within the home should be left to a licensed plumber. 

Caulking: Adding a fresh application of caulk to gaps between windows, doors and siding is a great way to improve energy efficiency and lower utility costs.

Decks and Porches: Over time, weather can take its toll on wooden decks and porches. A handyman can replace broken boards, apply a finish or sealant and make general improvements or repairs to upgrade your deck or porch’s safety and appearance.

Gutter cleaning and maintenance: Although it’s a simple enough task, cleaning gutters is messy and involves climbing on the roof. Avoid the risk of injury by hiring a professional handyman with the right equipment and experience for the task. A handyman can also install gutter guards to prevent seasonal clogging. 

Home exterior repairs: If you have minor damage to your home’s exterior, such as a loose piece of siding or a missing shingle, hiring a handyman to repair those items may prove to be more cost-effective than hiring a specialist.

Painting and touch-ups: A handyman can be hired to repaint a wall or garage door, touchup trim and scoff marks and repair small holes with spackle. Remember, a handyman typically charges by the hour, so larger jobs are better suited for a professional painting crew. 

Hanging window treatments, pictures and mirrors and installing light fixtures: These small tasks can be easily accomplished by a homeowner, but hiring a handyman with the right tools and experience can help ensure these wall-mounted items are hung correctly without damage.

Handyman hiring tips

Homeowners should take the time to interview several candidates before making a hiring decision. A handyman will be working closely with you in your home so you want to pick one that you feel comfortable around. The following handyman hiring tips can help ensure you pick the right candidate.

  1. Define the project – start by compiling a list of the home repairs you would like completed. Remember, a handyman is best utilized for small jobs such as installing light fixtures, patching drywall and interior painting. If the job requires pulling a permit, or moving plumbing or electrical wiring, you should consider hiring a contractor.

  2. Shop around – check Angie’s List reviews and interview a minimum of three handymen. Ask about years of experience and areas of specialization, and request references from homeowners who worked with the handyman in the past. Make sure the potential handyman has the skills and experience to complete your project.

  3. Watch out for scams – you want to avoid handymen who contact you with unsolicited phone calls or visits to your home. You should also avoid any handyman who refuses to guarantee the price of the job or asks for payment upfront. Reputable handymen don’t expect to get paid before the project is completed.

  4. Get it in writing – insist on a written agreement laying out the job details, costs and a payment schedule. Be clear about the times you expect the work to be started and completed. It’s extremely important to get all guarantees in writing.

  5. Ask for a guarantee – many handymen will guarantee their work for up to one year. Ask about guarantees before you make a hiring decision, and of course, make sure the guarantee is in writing.

  6. Inspect the work – inspect the completed work before making payment. Make sure that everything has been done to your satisfaction and at the agreed upon price. Most handymen will be happy to explaining the finished work because they want you to be satisfied.