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4 Tips for a Faster, Less Expensive Remodel

No one likes living in dust. So why torture yourself longer than necessary?

1. Start with a list.

My mom loves lists. When I was little, she thought a fun Christmas gift would be to give my sister and I note pads with “Janel’s To Do List” and “Karen’s To Do List” at the top. At the time, we definitely didn’t share her love of lists. But times have changed.

Knowing where to plan first, will save you time and money in the long run. For this project, let’s start with a simple list of Materials and Labor for a kitchen remodel. Let’s get rid of this boring, dated kitchen!

Materials: cabinets, cabinet pulls, countertop, backsplash + grout, floor tile + grout + hardiebacker, double sink with shutoff valves, faucet, dishwasher, fridge, gas range, ductless hood, light fixture, 3 white GFI outlets + face plates, outlet and plumbing for dishwasher, paint.

Labor: demo + haul debris, install cabinets (including trim pieces, toe kicks, cabinet handles, shelves, and crown molding), install undermount sink with shutoff valves, countertop, install pull down faucet, install appliances (dishwasher, range, hood, fridge), install new overhead light, new tile flooring, tile backsplash, replace electrical outlets, mud and sand walls not covered by new cabinets, paint, clean

2. Plan Ahead.

I ordered all the materials ahead of time, either for in-store pickup or delivery, and planned ahead to get the best deals. With the appliances, I was able to find great deals at least a month before demo, so I ordered them online, and delayed delivery until after the project was completed. This also gave me the flexibility to cancel my order, in case I no longer needed it, or I found a better deal.

With pictures, layouts, and a full list of materials and labor, I was able to get multiple quotes before the job started. I picked the best quality at the best rates, for contractors that I trusted would finish the job in the promised timeline. Then I kept in touch with them to ensure we were all on schedule. Make sure to get the budget, schedule, and list of what’s included in the labor in writing.

4 weeks before we planned demo, I got access to the unit to do all the measurements. When you’re measuring for kitchen cabinets, its important to make notes of: ceiling height, all wall lengths, where the windows and doors start and stop (and their midpoints), where all your plumbing is (start/stop/midpoint), and your outlets. This includes measuring the center of where the sink needs to be (or looking under the sink to note the distance between your wall and where the pipes begin). Then, keep in mind how many drawers you might need for storage vs cabinets. Also take a look at the height between the top of your fridge and the ceiling, so you can get the right height of cabinets above your fridge.

With these measurements and layout sketches in hand, I worked with my supplier to order the cabinets, trim, crown molding, and handles. If you are getting custom cabinets, it can take several weeks to get your order. When I’m working with my supplier, I always specify that I want in-stock, non-custom pieces. These keeps my timeline on schedule, and doesn’t kill my budget. Then I scheduled delivery for the day after demo, and made a note in my calendar to be onsite that day.

3. Don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty. But know when to call the professionals.

Fast forward to demo day. My demo guy arrives on schedule, and completely demoes the kitchen within a few hours, and even breaks down the drawers and cabinets so its flat for hauling. Since he isn’t able to haul the debris for a few days, we roll up our sleeves and spend the next few hours getting everything out of there, instead of risking a schedule slip on day 1.

On day 2, I knew that all my cabinets and countertop would be arriving, but that my contractor wasn’t able to meet the delivery truck. Rather than delay my delivery (and the schedule!), I called in some extra muscle for a few hours. I knew that I couldn’t lift a 300 lb countertop, and a dozen or so heavy cabinets and accessories up a flight of stairs. Yikes! With the extra muscle, and a hand truck, we got the job done.

Keeping on top of your schedule, and your budget, will help make sure everything goes smoothly. Throughout this job, I was onsite most days, and kept in touch with my contractor. This is critical, so you know what the key milestones are for completion, and when you can expect to check those off the list.

4.Have a Plan B, or C, because your original plan will absolutely go astray.

The best laid plans? Or something like that…

Plan for something to go wrong, and if it doesn’t, great! Having contingency plans in place will help keep your project moving, but it will also help you from losing your mind when it seems like everything is going wrong.

Materials:

  • Cabinets: White Shaker with Satin Nickel Pulls
  • Counter: Quartz in Raven
  • Backsplash: 6 x 24″ Carrera Marble Tile with Platinum Non-Sanded Grout (for 1/8″ grout lines)
  • Floor Tile: 12 x 24″ MARAZZI Vettuno Greige Glazed Porcelain with Oyster Gray Non-Sanded Grout
  • Range: 30″ Whirlpool Freestanding 5.1-cu ft Gas Range
  • Range Hood: Broan Non-Ducted Under-Cabinet Range Hood, 30-Inch, Stainless Steel
  • Fridge: Apartment Size Frigidaire 15 cu. ft. Top Freezer Refrigerator
  • Sink: Ruvati Undermount 16 Gauge 29″ Kitchen Sink Double Bowl
  • Faucet: Comllen Stainless Steel Commercial Single Handle Pull Down Faucet, Brushed Nickel

Finally, an Open Floor Plan

You may remember a few months ago, that I shared some pics of a small reno that turned into a much larger reno. What I loved about this project, was that the homeowners were so willing to go the extra mile to make the renovation truly great.

First we demoed the kitchen, the floor, and the wall between the kitchen and the dining room. Then we put in new hardwood floors, white shaker cabinets, quartz countertops, a grey backsplash with white grout, new lighting, and all new appliances and fixtures. What a difference!

Before:

After:

Rather than go with a full island, we decided to create a peninsula where the dining room wall used to be, and added a bartop counter, with 1-foot depth cabinet beneath it for extra storage (since they would be losing all of the upper cabinets that used to be along that wall). Then we removed the bartop counter that was isolated next to the window, and turned that into a 1-foot depth row of cabinets with a small countertop for storage.

The reno also continued into the living room, which has a large stone fireplace. We continued with the hardwood floors, and removed the fireplace.

As you can see, the living room has wood ceilings. We spoke about turning these into exposed beam ceilings, but decided to hold off on that one for now. It turns out that new floors, a new kitchen, fewer walls, and all new appliances were the ‘perfect’ amount of projects, for now.

Here are the materials we used:
White Shaker Cabinets
Satin Nickle Pull Handles for the Cabinets
Quartz Countertops
Crackled Pebble 3 x 6 Subway Tiles for Backsplash (with white grout)
Walnut Hardwood Floor Stain
36″ Undermount Double Sink
Delta touch-On Pull Down Faucet
30″ Stainless Steel Island Range Hood

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Let the Walls Come Down

Sometimes renovating can feel like a game of Dominoes, except you’re trying really hard to keep your main Domino from crashing into all the other Dominoes, and sending your budget tumbling out of control.

For this project, it started small. The owners wanted to remove the carpet in the living room, and put in new hardwoods to match the rest of the house. Except, what separated the living room from the rest of the house was a kitchen with tile flooring.

We talked through 2 options: (1) replace the carpet with hardwoods or (2) also demo the tile in the kitchen and have the hardwood floors connect through, so there is seamless flooring throughout the home.

They chose option 2. A bit more money, but it will look great when its done.

As we stood in the kitchen, imagining how the home would look with hardwood floors throughout, we started looking at the kitchen cabinets. Even though the cabinets were quite dated, they were still in good condition.

The owners brought up the idea of refinishing and painting the cabinets to update them. This can be very labor intensive, and even more expensive than just putting in brand new cabinets. So they decided to get new cabinets and countertops.

Now we’re doing new floors, and demoing the kitchen and putting in new cabinets. But, why stop here? After walking into the dining room (on the other side of the kitchen), we talked about how great it would be to take the wall down between the kitchen and the dining room to completely open up the floor plan, remove the upper cabinets, and turn it into a peninsula. With the peninsula, the island would be connected to the wall in a U-shape, but the kitchen will have an unobstructed view into the dining room and family room.

Let’s take those cabinets and wall down, and bring that tile up!

Can you tell that this kitchen had a previous opening into the dining room? Someone must have closed up this wall at some point. This was also a load-bearing wall, which means we needed to add a support beam to maintain the structural integrity of the home.

We discovered the tile was on top of linoleum, which was on top of more tile, on top of subfloors. That’s a lot of layers.

We also began to demo the 2 *unique* steps into the living room, to be replaced by new steps, built to code. Everyone was excited to replace these steps, which had turned out to be a big tripping hazard.

It’s the end of week 1, and we’ve finished demo of all the flooring, cabinets, wall, and steps. Next, the hardwood floors are going in, followed by new cabinets the following week, and countertops and appliances after that. By the end of June, there will be a completely new kitchen with beautiful hardwood floors throughout the home.

Check out the finished remodel!

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The 2-Week Remodel is Done

17 days ago, I set out to complete a remodel in only 2 weeks. It was an aggressive timeline, but I’m thrilled to say that we’re done, and the new tenants are set to move in tomorrow. And only 3 days past my (arbitrary) deadline!

We hit plenty of speed bumps along the way — from water damage in the bathroom, to uneven cabinets and closets that were too small.

In the end, we hit every milestone, and even installed a brand new fence in only 2 days. Check out the before pics, and here is after:

Choosing Your Floors

Laminate, Hardwood, Carpet, Vinyl…there are so many flooring options out there, that it can be hard to decide what type of flooring will work best for you.

When I first decided to remodel this unit, I peeled back a corner of the carpet in each room to discover that the carpet was laid directly on top of industrial tile.

This brought its own questions and challenges. Would I need to demo both the carpet and the tile? What was beneath the tile? Would I be creating a potentially bigger issue by leaving the tile in place, and removing the carpet? And what type of flooring would work best?

This unit happens to be the lower unit of a duplex, and is also built against a hill. There was previous water damage in the unit, caused by plumbing from the upper unit. The plumbing has since been repaired — but you never know when a plumbing issue will happen. Keeping potential future water issues in mind, I decided to look into water resistant and waterproof flooring options.

Working with licensed contractors, we decided to demo the carpet, but leave the tile in place. We needed to ensure the floors were level before the flooring was installed, so we used a leveler to bring all the flooring in the unit up to the same level. Demo was the usual huge mess, so its important to ensure you’ve included debris removal in your price.

I visited a few flooring companies, and was looking for product that was (1) in stock, (2) could be installed next week — since this was a 2-week remodel, (3) water resistant or water proof, (4) was in my budget, and (5) looked good.

This is when I decided to go with vinyl wood plank floors in a “nantucket beach” color, which is a dark brown. This product is water proof, was in stock, on the low end of price, very durable (for tenant wear-and-tear), and I was surprised at how good it looked. And it still looked great after it was installed. I’ll definitely use this product again.

Measure Twice – Its No Joke

A funny thing happened today. I stopped by a job site to check on progress, and decided to take out my tape measure to double check a few things.

In case you were wondering, this is my favorite go-to tape measure. I love using laser (non-tape) measures for quick measures. They have a good degree of accuracy, speed, and ease of recording measurements without a 2nd person to hold a tape measure in place.

Back to the measurements! In the kitchen, we had a new closet installed. The entire purpose of that closet was to conceal a new stackable washer and dryer, since the only place we could fit the unit was in the kitchen, and the plumbing already existed.

If you were building a closet for a stackable washer dryer, what is the first thing you would do? Would it be to measure stackable units to figure out how big the closet needs to be? Well, that would be a good place to start. But, of course, not everyone starts the same way.

On this site visit, I measured the interior and door width, depth, and height of the closet. I was shocked to discover that the closet was built too shallow. Not even the most compact stackable units would fit in this closet and have clearance for the dryer vent at the rear of the unit.

I had a quick chat with the contractor and explained the situation. He admitted that the closet needed to be “adjusted” (after he was already done framing and had begun mudding the walls, and was about to install the door). His mistake set the schedule back a few days, but it would have been much worse if the floors had already been installed before the closet framing was fixed. A few days later, we had a fully functional closet, with a door and all!

And even better with the brand new stackable washer dryer:

What Can Go Wrong, Will.

And what can’t go wrong? Nothing. Literally everything can go sideways during a remodel. This is one of the biggest reasons that it’s important to be on-site during a remodel — whether it’s you personally, or someone you’ve hired to manage the project. And if you’ve hired someone to manage it for you, then they need to be proactively communicating project updates to you.

The more hands-off you are — the higher the chance of things going wrong….whether it’s workers making the wrong decisions without someone there to guide them, or schedule delays because workers couldn’t get an answer, so they left your job site to go work on another job.

This nearly happened several times during this job, but crises were averted because I was there. Every. Day. Since I put myself in charge of the entire project, I had no one to blame but myself if the schedule slipped, or something disastrous happened.

We ran into a few hiccups in the kitchen. The cabinet installer was installing the upper kitchen cabinets, with room for moulding to be inserted between the cabinets and the ceiling. Seems fairly straightforward, right? Wrong.

When I arrived to review the work, the installer told me that the cabinets had to be installed in an unlevel position, because the room wasn’t level. The 2” gap between the cabinets and the ceiling was supposed to have moulding. But because he continued to install the cabinets, with the gap increasing with every new cabinet, he told me this was no longer possible. Because the room wasn’t level. Excuse me?

We had a few words about the problem. He told me there was nothing he could do….after he installed all the upper cabinets incorrectly, and that he wouldn’t reinstall them. I told him that I wasn’t happy, and that he needed to fix it (and he also wouldn’t get paid if he didn’t install it correctly, with the moulding).

It’s because of situations like this, that it’s actually illegal in California for contractors to ask for (or accept) a down payment on a project for greater than 10%, or $1K (whichever is less). These laws are there to protect you. If a contractor asks you for more than this as a down payment, you can remind them about the law (they might not be aware), and offer them the 10% instead.

After going head-to-head with the contractor, I returned a few hours later to find out that he magically fixed the problem! That the ceiling “unlevelness” was no longer an issue, and that he wanted to make sure I was “happy.” He was able to adjust the cabinets so they are now level to the ceiling, and installed the moulding at the top without a problem. After completing the moulding installation, would you believe that contractor actually asked me for an unscheduled payment towards the project cost?

Of course, I said no. Our upfront agreement, in writing, was that he would be paid the sum of the project upon completion. He said ok, and he left.

One problem down, how many more to go?

Demo Day!

Who doesn’t love to destroy some things for fun?

There’s something that’s so satisfying about taking something really crappy and bringing it down to bare walls and studs.

Today we started demo on the kitchen and the full bath. Let the fun begin! And, the potential for added costs. Whenever you start removing tile and walls, you never know what you’re going to find on the other side. There’s a lot of potential for finding water damage, mold, bad plumbing, electrical situations, and other problems that you may never have anticipated.

We got lucky with the kitchen demo — nothing crazy behind all the appliances or cabinets. So after taking a few measurements, I ordered the kitchen cabinets and countertop — which will be ready for pickup tomorrow. On a quick flip like this, I have go-to products that I like to use that are in stock, look good, but won’t eat up my entire budget.

The bathroom on the other hand, turned out to be the project that kept on giving…After demoing the tile and some of the walls, we discovered that whoever put in the prior tile, had just filled in cement over missing tiles, and a portion of the subfloor was damaged.

Add a bit more $$$ into the bathroom budget — we’ll have to get the subfloor repaired before putting in the new floor tile. But the good news is that I have a buffer in my budget to help offset these unknown expenses. The bad news is that there is still plenty of time left to run into a ton more problems (and spend more $$$) before we’re done. So I need to make sure I have plenty of room in the budget for those unknowns.

We even had to demo the walls in the neighboring bedroom due to water damage. But the good news is that we got all the bad drywall out, and we’re replacing the plumbing that caused the problem to begin with.

The 2-Week Remodel.

Today I met my tenants for a final walk-through before they moved out. After living there for 6 years, this unit needs A LOT of work. It’s a 1300 sq ft, 3 bedroom, 1.5 bath unit in a duplex featuring an ugly washer/dryer in the kitchen, plywood cabinets, industrial tile floors, stained carpets, black accent doors (who thought that was a good idea???), and a pretty amazing pink bathtub with shower tiles that look ready to fall out.

I’ve set a goal of completing this remodel in only 2 weeks….with new flooring, a new kitchen with a closet to conceal a stackable washer/dryer, a new bathroom, and a new backyard fence. Its definitely an aggressive plan, but I love a good challenge. Here’s a look at what we’ll be starting with:

2 Master Suites? Definitely.

Would you prefer to have a family room with a wet bar, or a second master suite? That probably depends on how you are using the home.

For this vacation home, converting the family room into a second master suite was an easy decision. And everyone couldn’t be more excited with how it all turned out.

As you can see, there was a good functional set up, with the wet bar located where the new bathroom would be. The first step was to have architectural drawings of the existing floor plan, and drawings of the proposed changes. Then we submitted these drawings with permit applications.

The entire process can be a bit complicated, and building inspectors tend to have different areas they focus on. So you could have approved plans that change down the road because a different inspector noticed a completely new item that needs to be made. This happened during our project — but fortunately we were able to accommodate for the change. We had originally planned for an extra-long bathtub, and the layout was approved. However, it was noticed by another inspector that the clearance between the bathtub, vanity, toilet, and door wouldn’t work with that layout. As a result, we adjusted back to a standard size tub, and extended the bathroom wall 18″ further than originally planned.

We were concerned about how these changes would look in the room — so we did a site visit, mapped everything out in the room (again), and got everyone’s approval for the new plans. After that, the process went relatively quickly. A new doorway was framed and installed (since the family room didn’t have a door), followed by demo of the wet bar, and framing the new bathroom.

Its not the best framing picture, but given that it was taken on a flip phone that has seen better days, it could be worse! You can also see that the bedroom door has now been stained to match the interior of the room.

We selected dark gray tile for the floors with a matching grout, carrerra marble tiles in the shower, and a carrerra slab with white shaker vanity. Everything came together beautifully.

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