Kitchen remodel ideas: DIY or call the contractor?

Iris Price | Improvement Center Columnist | May 4, 2015

Whether you have recently bought a resale or you've been living in your present home for years, chances are good that you, like so many other homeowners, inevitably have creative kitchen remodel ideas visit you in your daydreams and demand an audience. Unless you are short on bathrooms or bedrooms, nothing begs more for home improvement than an outdated, inefficient kitchen.

Kitchen remodel ideas, especially the kind that cater to your every desire for maximum functionality, customization, and superior quality, do not often come cheaply. The ones that do probably involve a fair amount of do-it-yourself blood, sweat, and tears. Those that fulfill your every kitchen remodeling fantasy probably require professional design input and execution.

Kitchen remodel projects for DIYers

If you have a small to modest budget, you may have to downsize your dreams to match reality. However, by sticking to the same basic layout of your current kitchen and putting in the extra time and effort to do some projects yourself, you may be able to save some money. DIYers with a properly stocked home toolkit commonly tackle the following kitchen remodel upgrades, all of which except demo assume the kitchen layout remains the same or a contractor does everything else and leaves these tasks for you to finish:

Demolition. Busting out old dry wall may not take any special skill, but if you are just removing cabinets and appliances to swap them out with new, you need to be careful not to damage the walls or ceiling. If your demolition work is just to save money by prepping for the contractor to do a complete remodel, make sure you are not taking out a structural wall, contacting live wiring or damaging plumbing.

  • Skill level: Medium
  • Tools: Safety glasses or goggles; gloves; a dust mask or respirator and a selection of various pry bars. Moving out the refrigerator and other appliances requires a heavy duty hand truck. For a complete demo you'll need hammers with ripping claws. Clean up requires push broom, shop vac, and a dumpster.

Appliances. Appliances come with detailed installation instructions and troubleshooting advice. You should be able to install an appliance in several hours. If you are replacing your old appliances in the same spaces, make sure to measure for the right fit before buying and bringing them home. Of all the kitchen appliances, most DIYers agree that the dishwasher is the trickiest. Some appliances may require you remove doors to get them in the house. Have two strong people available to move a refrigerator.

  • Skill level: Easy to medium
  • Tools: Appliance dolly, tape measure, screw drivers, drill, adjustable wrench, pipe wrench, wire strippers, pliers, torpedo level, soldering torch; for microwave hood with exhaust fan -- reciprocating saw; oscillating multi-tool; circular saw; right angle grinder; caulking gun.

Cabinets. One of the biggest problems with cabinet installation according to the National Kitchen and Bath Association is that rarely are floors completely level, particularly in older homes; and even in new homes, the walls are not precisely plumb and square. Accurate measurements are key, shimming is typically necessary, and it really helps to have two people. Make sure you have the right instructions for your type of cabinets -- European, also known as frameless cabinets, require different installation than face frame.

  • Skill level: Medium
  • Tools: Hammer, straight length of 2-by-4, clamps, 4-ft. levels, block plane, belt sander, shims, and 2 1/2" screws; electric drill with Phillips screw head and special combination drill/countersink.

Countertops. Countertop installation varies in complexity depending on the material and whether the counters are open at one end or form a U-shape. Tile and post-form laminate countertops are the easiest to install. U-shape counters are generally more difficult and may require professional installation. Most countertop installation takes at least a weekend. Avoid solid wood and solid stone counters if you are inexperienced.

  • Skill level: Easy to difficult
  • Tools: Varies depending on countertop material. Laminate: Basic hand tools, scribing tool, cordless drill, belt sander and jigsaw. Granite: 4-ft. level, square-notched trowel.

Backsplash tiles. Many DIYers find installing backsplash tiles a relatively simple project with plenty of visual impact. Although it looks as if it would be easy if you haven't worked with tiles before, expect a bit of a learning curve and an investment in several new types of tools and materials.

  • Skill level: Medium
  • Tools: Drill with attachment for mixing grout; sponge; tile-cutting tools; wet saw; notched trowel; grout float; tile spacers; level.

Laminate flooring. Most DIYers feel pretty confident about installing various types of flooring. Many popular types of kitchen flooring installation are considered very easy, especially laminate floating floors; however, they do require quite a few tools.

  • Skill level: Easy
  • Tools: Basic home toolkit -- hammer, tape measure, screw driver set, miter saw, drill/driver, handsaw, jigsaw, straightedge, safety goggles, utility knife, wood chisel. Air compressor, air hose, caulking gun, nail set, brad nail gun, pull saw.

Creative kitchen remodel ideas for the professionals to do

You may have studied every remodeling magazine and website, but if you want the sun and the moon where your kitchen is concerned, consulting with a design professional and/or architect can pull it all together. Remember, just because it looks great in the magazine spread or on your iPad doesn't mean that's the right kitchen for your home or the space you have available. Let a profession make that call, or modify your wish list to accommodate your budget and your space limitations.

While you may be an accomplished DIYer, for the majority of home handypersons these projects are best done by professional contractors. They can save you lost time and wasted money with dismal results.

  • Moving or removing walls
  • New lighting and electrical wiring
  • New plumbing, including a new sink and faucet
  • Solid-surface, stone-surface and wood surface countertops
  • Vinyl sheet flooring

In particular, structural, electrical and plumbing projects can get you in over your head or cause damage. With a remodel as important and costly as your kitchen, do you really want to chance it? Having it done right the first time can save you from paying to have your efforts wasted.

Photo credit to Nam Phan

About the Author

Iris Price is a single Baby Boomer whose antidote to a lack of retirement funds was to launch a long-delayed career as a writer. While others her age concoct bucket lists and travel the world, she bought a new-construction home and obsessively creates lists of must-have home improvements and personal realization goals. She specializes in writing about home services and self-motivation.