Remodeling your kitchen - whatever size your budget

You've been thinking of remodeling your kitchen, but you've heard it costs a bundle. Just how big a bundle? It all depends on what you want to do.

If you're planning to sell your house, and the cabinets bear the scars of countless tricycle encounters, there are ways to spruce it up without the big cost of a complete remodeling. If you like the layout of your kitchen but simply want it renovated, there are ways to save. Or, if you look forward to long years in the house and want it redesigned to fit your lifestyle, then it can mean big money - but there are ways to save here, too.

Here are some of the options:

First, suppose you just want to spruce up a kitchen which is battered and worn. One answer is to have the cabinets resurfaced. You have a choice: You can either do the job yourself or have it done professionally.

If you call a contractor and have an average L-shaped kitchen, a total resurfacing job will take a day or two and cost around $2,500, depending on the number of cabinets to be resurfaced. For the money, you get new cabinet doors and drawer fronts, and new plastic laminate sheets, such as Formica, on all other surfaces. Some resurfaces use wood veneers, but in either case it will look like a new wood kitchen.

If you are quite handy and very careful, you can do the job yourself for less than $100 using 4x8-foot sheets of plastic laminate and some contact adhesive. When using contact adhesive, be aware that once the surfaces touch, they cannot be repositioned. This is very difficult, precise, and demanding work. For many homeowners, it may be better to have the work done by a professional.

To work with plastic laminates, you must know a little about them. Some sheets are 1/16 of an inch thick and are used for the countertops. For vertical use you will want sheets that are 1/32 of an inch thick. Don't be concerned about cutting the plastic laminate, because ordinary house shears will do the job.

Remove the doors and drawer fronts, cut the laminate to fit, glue it on the doors and drawer fronts as well as the rails and stiles of the faceframe, and then remount all the doors and drawer fronts. There might also be one or two end panels which you will want to cover, and possibly other vertical surfaces, such as the side of a built-in oven.

If the doors are in bad shape, you will first have to fill in any gouges and then sand the doors smooth. Irregularities will show through if you don't.

Remember, if you do the job yourself, plastic laminates have sharp edges. The pro will use a router to remove all of these edges, but if you are neat, you can do the job with a file just as well. Or you can buy a small tool called a mica knife (about $15), which you can pull along the edges to remove the sharpness easily.

Buying new doors and drawer fronts can save a lot of work, but they don't come cheap. Figure on paying about $20 a door if your cabinets are factory-made. If made by a carpenter, they probably are off-size and not easily replaceable.

Another cosmetic change that makes a big difference in appearance without big cost is a new countertop. Pulling off the old laminate and applying new is a tricky job better left to a professional unless you really know what you're doing.

It's much easier and often ridiculously cheap to buy an entirely new countertop from a home center. These come in slab form, all laminated and with backsplash, and can run as low as $3 per lineal foot on special. Regular price is about $9 a foot. Countertops come in 8-foot, 10-foot, and 12-foot lengths.

If you have an L- or U-shaped top, you can get it mitered for corner fitting at a mitering shop. If your home center doesn't provide this service, a local plastic fabricator may be willing to do the job.

If you decide you don't want to take on the challenge of tearing out, fitting , mitering, and then installing a new countertop yourself (there may be a problem if you measured even one-quarter inch too long), you can get a professional to do it in one day for about $100.

If you want to splurge on your kitchen, you can go a step further and replace all cabinets and tops for about $75 per cabinet. New cabinet features can include cleanable vinyl interiors and, for about 50 percent more, all of the interior convenience fittings, such as pull-out shelves.

The final option is total remodeling - an all-new layout fitted to your life style, including new cabinets, countertops, lighting, and appliances that save energy. Costs start in the neighborhood of $6,000 for a small kitchen of 10x12 feet, range up to $9,000 if you go for good-quality custom cabinets, on up to $ 20,000 for new top-of-the-line appliances and cabinets with all of the convenience fittings, customizing touches, and the luxury of Corian tops and walls.

Of course, you can save by doing a lot of the carpentry yourself. If you also can do some of the plumbing and electrical work (and guide yourself through the required code inspections) you can save even more.

The kitchen is the heart of the house. If you are staying in the house for some time and can afford to completely remodel, a new kitchen will last longer and give more pleasure than a two-week tour of Europe, a fancier car, a new fur coat, or any of the other alternatives for your disposable cash.

The costs of remodeling jobs vary widely by geography, rural or urban; frostbelt or sunbelt, unionization, and the quality of the materials.

The following figures are benchmarks only, or points from which to negotiate. Note also that in recovering your cost on resale, you can't remodel yourself out of the neighborhood of $60,000 houses, it will be hard to sell anything for more than $70,000, regardless of improvements.

Type of Recovery Remodeling Cost on resale Kitchen (new layout, cabinets, appliances) $9,500 50 percent Kitchen (new doors, drawer fronts) 2,500 60 percent Bathroom (addin in existing house) 6,000 60 percent Bathroom (remodeled) 5,500 40 percent Windows, doors, replacement, 2 doors with storms, 16 windows 8,000 40 percent Super-insulation 1,700 75 percent New fireplace 2,400 90 percent Greenhouse room (packaged, 15x18 feet) 12,000 70 percent

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