“To save money, do as much as you can, like installing the toilet and doing the painting,” says Dominic Piccininni, senior director in merchandising for Home Depot, which offers free DIY workshops on bathroom repairs.
Matus recommends using leftover remnants of granite for vanity tops instead of ordering an entire slab.
“But don’t scrimp on faucets,” he says. “The big box stores typically sell faucets with plastic cartridges, not metal, that don’t last very long. You don’t want a leaky faucet after two years.”
Applying large tiles on floors and walls is another way to save money. “With 12-inch-by-12-inch tiles, you have less grout lines and labor costs, and they can make a room appear larger,” says Mina Fies, chief executive of Synergy Design & Construction in Reston, Va. “You can also save money by not taking the tile to the ceiling around the tub or shower.”
Instead of replacing a tub or a shower stall, Piccininni recommends installing glass doors to create a fresh look and reduce costs. “If your plumbing is all good, you could do your whole bathroom yourself with a new shower head, toilet, vanity, sink and light fixture for under $1,000,” he says.
Kitchen remodeling costs less when major fixtures are swapped out rather than moved to new locations. For a typical kitchen, about 12-by-12 feet, a budget of about $13,000 will allow a builder to install new countertops, backsplash, sink and faucet, decorative hardware and lighting, according to Matus.
But it won’t pay for cabinets or appliances, he says. “Plan to spend another $16,000 on cabinets and $7,500 appliances for an average kitchen.”
Few kitchen designers will consider a makeover for less than $20,000. But Savena Doychinov, of Design Studio International in Falls Church, Va., is trying to make that budget work in a condo kitchen by leaving the refrigerator and flooring in place and using stock rather than custom cabinets. Even in small kitchens, costs can escalate when specialized appliances are needed to fit a confined space. “A narrow range or a shallow refrigerator can cost more than standard sizes,” Doychinov says.
The cheapest and easiest part of a kitchen overhaul, the designer says, is changing the countertops. She recommends plastic laminates over granite to save costs. “They have come a long way in design,” she says. “They now look like stone and are very durable. Down the road, when you have the money, you can replace them with granite.”
Experts agree that the biggest expense in remodeling a kitchen — about 35 percent of the overall renovation costs — is replacing storage with new cabinets and drawers. “If you use ready-made open shelves such as the ones offered by Restoration Hardware and Pottery Barn,” Doychinov says, “you can save money but probably no more than about 30 to 40 percent of the cost of new cheap wall cabinets.”
To reduce costs, Maryland homeowners Sherry and Joe Warsaw hired carpenter Mike Van Meer of Van-Walker Woodworking to replace the doors of their 1990s-era kitchen cabinets with more contemporary designs in a white oak veneer.
“The cabinets were in good shape except for their hinges and faded color. Buying all new cabinets would have cost us three times as much as the new doors,” Sherry Warsaw says. “We also needed the changes to make room for a new wall oven and two dishwashers.”
The retired couple spent about $11,000 for the woodworking.
Van Meer points out that replacing or refacing doors is easiest and most cost-effective for frameless cabinets, commonly called European-style, as those in the Warsaws’ kitchen. The doors are sized so they fit over and conceal the edges of the cabinet box. “You can just replace the door and the hardware,” says Van Meer.
More standard American cabinets feature a frame around the opening of the box that is used to secure the door to the cabinet. Because this frame is visible, it has to be refaced along with the door.
Don’t have the money to replace or reface old cabinets? Van Meer recommends buying new door handles. “Little things like changing the hardware can give you a new look.”