(A look at our kitchen, renovated down to the studs on a budget.)
The final piece of the puzzle is in place. Our sink is installed now and we have running water again in the kitchen. Hallelujah!
This is it, folks: The financial hemorrhage that is our kitchen renovation has ceased. We still need to finish unpacking, cleaning, and organizing — so no glossy/smug reveal post (yet). But with the last check written, the last charge tallied, we can close the book on the ‘cost’ question. And with that, I’m ready to share.
Full disclosure: I do not like talking about money. It’s a little gauche, and, in general, it makes me uncomfortable.
HOWEVER… when Manny and I decided we were going to tackle a total kitchen renovation, the number-one question on our minds, naturally, was “how much is this going to cost?” We were recently married. We had just undergone a major move and bought our house. There were about a thousand things asking for our attention. And so cost was a glaring question mark.
Our kitchen needed everything — not just new cabinets but a complete rewiring and all of the plumbing lines moved and redone. You name it, we needed it. Discerning real cost was stressful and time-consuming. So, despite some reservations, I’m sharing this information because not that long ago I was in the position of needing to know.
But to the question — “How much does a total, down-to-the-studs kitchen renovation cost?” — I offer two answers. The first is the contractor estimate and the second is the real cost Manny and I encountered after we decided to do it ourselves. In presenting these two budgets — the projected and the real — this is the point I wish to make: Cost is flexible. As much as it depends on your expectations, it also depends on your approach.
Here is the cost breakdown compiled from real contractor estimates. Please remember: This is NOT how much we spent. This is, moreover, a reflection of costs we were quoted — contractor costs in the South are, in general, higher than they are in certain other parts of the country, so these may not reflect how much work would be for you where you live.
I solicited these estimates in the course of planning our renovation last fall with the intention, at the time, that we would go with a contractor. (That is, I didn’t get bids to waste everyone’s time but because I really, fully, honestly planned on hiring someone to do the work.)
*Plumbing work = 1100
*Electrical work = 2650
*Appliances = 3130
Demo and debris removal = 1500
Framing = 1365
Drywall = 1955
Beadboard ceiling and trim = 1165
Tiling = 800
Patching and refinishing flooring = 2750
New cabinets = 5,000
Open shelves = 600
Counters = 4,525
Painting = 800
The top three line items — plumbing, electrical, and appliances — are accurate of how much we eventually spent (hence the asterisks); we didn’t end up compromising on these elements. Manny and I were not brave enough to learn to do these things, and I personally would not recommend one compromise when it comes to electrical work and plumbing.
But everything else changed once we decided to opt out and do the work ourselves. As I’ve explained a number of times here on the blog, Manny and I didn’t know how to do any of this when we decided to take it on. We had limited experience with DIY and neither of us had coordinated such a large project. It is more than a little bit insane (and, perhaps, ill-advised) that we decided to renovate our kitchen ourselves. But at the end of the day, our house really needed this as our existing kitchen was neither functional nor terribly safe. And we needed to be able to afford it (meaning: we were not willing to take out a loan to remodel the kitchen).
In addition, I’ve tried to make clear here on the blog that we had help from my stepfather, Steve, who is retired and who gave us his assistance out of the goodness of his heart. Though he’s not a contractor, he has a lot of experience with remodeling. He supervised our work, did work with or for us plenty of times, lent us a number of tools we ended up not needing to buy, and advised us on all matters. He was an angel and a saint, and without him we likely would have had to resort to hiring the contractors we could ill-afford.
So the following, DIY cost-breakdown is missing the unquantifiable assistance he provided — namely, because he didn’t charge us (bless him). This second list also hides the amount Manny and I spent on Little Caesar’s Hot-N-Ready pizzas (though the latter was negligible since they’re $5 a piece, folks… yum).
ACTUAL PROJECT COSTS
*Plumbing work = 1100
*Electrical work = 2650
*Appliances = 3130
Debris removal = 770
Tools, drywall, trim, and lumber supplies = 1390
Beadboard ceiling materials = 600
Tile and tiling supplies = 240
Ikea SEKTION cabinets and KARLBY counters = 1815
Lighting and cabinet hardware = 340
Paint and painting supplies = 345
Garbage disposal = 85
That’s it. The real cost total. We spent less than 13k on a down-to-the-studs total kitchen renovation. And when I say ‘total,’ I mean total. We re-used nothing from the old kitchen — not a switch plate, nothing.
The savings? You can do the math, I’m sure, but let me: $14, 590. That means we did it for less than half the cost of the estimates we received. That’s money we can, instead, put toward our retirement, our future-children’s-college-funds, our we-want-to-go-on-vacation-fund, the Tilly-wants-more-peanut-butter-fund. You get the idea.
In the end, it’s not the ***startlingly cheap and awesome*** remodel-on-a-dime you see on some blogs (I’m looking at you Thimble & Cloth and Britt Kingery) — oh, if only we could have done this for less than 500 bucks! Sadly, that just wasn’t possible for us. But we’re happy with what we accomplished and glad we came in so under the early projections. (Btw, if we hadn’t needed all new plumbing, electrical, and appliances, it would have been under 6k!)
***A few notes***
Some things from the second, DIY-list aren’t on the first cost-projection — like the amount we invested in tools — because they came with the DIY-territory. And we did have to buy tools — a lot of them, even though we saved by using Steve’s miter saw, etc. It probably goes without saying, but you must have decent tools to do a big DIY project. A cordless DeWalt drill with a backup battery and charger is a game-changer. It is perhaps the best $200 bucks we ever spent.
Also, at least a bit of the cost difference between the two lists — the projected and the real — is due to the fact that, in the end, we went with some cost-effective solutions we hadn’t initially considered. For instance, Ikea SEKTION cabinets and KARLBY counters represent a different investment than the sort of semi-custom real-wood cabinetry the contractor had planned to use and the white quartz counters Manny and I asked him to price. We are extremely happy with our choice to go with Ikea, though, and recommend their kitchen products unconditionally at this point, a month after installation. We compromised on these things because they were the right investment for our house. As a side note: I’m particularly happy with our choice to go with wooden counters since they look so cottage-y and cute.
In terms of timeline, we were told by a contractor that he would be able to finish the project with his team in “about two months.” Who knows how true that might have proved since we didn’t end up going that route. But it took us just over four months (we started the day after Christmas and finished May 2). That’s not “quick” — anyone who’s lived in a house without a kitchen for four months will attest to that. But it’s not as bad as it could have been.
Now to a more fundamental set of questions for anyone who is staring down a potential remodeling job like this: Can you do this? Should you do this?
It’s tough to say. Manny and I are goofballs, so even without Steve there to catch us when we fell off of the DIY-cliff early on, we still probably would have done our best to press forward the DIY-route. Basically, we’re a pair of low-maintenance early-thirty-somethings with a joint stubborn-streak and a patient basset hound. AND… we actually wanted to learn how to hang drywall and the like. If we had kiddos, I’d like to think we would have been more careful about subjecting them to the longer, more stressful DIY-route. That’s not to say it can’t be done — what do I know, really? I would just encourage anyone with other commitments on their time to think longer and harder because it’s difficult to communicate in this medium just how awful it can be to slog through this. My friendships suffered from my absolute lack of time and constant state of stress/fatigue; I ate way too much take-out pizza; I set aside non-essential work; and I was alternately giddy to be at work (and away from the reno) or stressing about being there because I felt I should be back at the house.
Also, I have a different schedule than a lot people. I don’t, in general, work 9-5. I teach in concentrated blocks of time — so a few days a week I’m super busy and then other days I’m pretty flexible and don’t have to be anywhere at a set time — which made me available to work with Steve on reno stuff during the week in addition to the time we all put in on weekends.
I think it’s a personal decision whether to go the DIY route or not, but we’re really happy we did. Manny and I learned *so much* and we got to spend a lot of time together while doing so. I came to even more deeply appreciate how patient and good-hearted he is. And we got to spend extra time with Steve and my mom. Spending time with them on this was all the more special because, as I mentioned in a previous post, Steve had to have a total laryngectomy a year and a half ago and, given that he can’t speak any longer, it helped us all continue to navigate new ways to communicate in the face of such a fundamental change.
Anyway, we wouldn’t change a thing now that it’s said and done and we’re blown away by the way the kitchen turned out. Honestly, we are extremely happy with everything and so is our little house.
To everyone who has followed our progress and sent us messages and encouragement, thank you — and stay tuned for a reveal post with before and after pics and more views of the finished project. Manny and I also look forward to introducing the rest of our little bungalow and starting new projects in the weeks and months to come!