When you begin planning a kitchen renovation project, you may have no idea how much your ideal vision might cost. The answer will likely depend on several factors, including the size of your space, what you will do to it, and your budget. In the end, the price of a renovation should largely be driven by your own choices.
That said, there are some common reasons kitchen renovations go over the original budget. We asked three kitchen designers to tell us what they most commonly see.
Kitchen Reno 1: Original chart on Houzz
The No. 1 reason that renovation projects (all projects, not just kitchens) go over budget is owners choosing more upscale products and finishes, according to a recent survey of 120,000 registered Houzz users, including 70,000 who renovated in 2015. Nearly half of those who went over their budget cited this as a reason.
About 40 percent of those who busted their budgets said finding out that products or services were more expensive than anticipated was the culprit, according to the survey. Given that this was a such common experience, we’d like to flag some areas where costs can rack up quickly.
Kitchen Reno 2: Santarossa Mosaic & Tile Co Inc, original photo on Houzz
1. Custom cabinetry. Cabinet costs range widely, largely depending on whether they come from a big-box store or are semi-custom or custom-made. Stock cabinets typically cost $50 per linear foot, while custom cabinetry can run up to $2,000 per linear foot.
The key is to know how much the designs you want might cost before you actually start to renovate. Keep in mind that specialty and custom items usually cost more. For example, it may look beautiful to stretch your upper cabinets to 12 feet to balance out high ceilings. But with this design, “you’ve almost quadrupled the cost because your standard cabinet doesn’t go to 12 feet. Now you’re doing super-custom cabinets,” says Tanner Luster, owner of Luster Custom Homes & Remodeling in Scottsdale, Arizona. Ask your architect, designer or general contractor to advise you on the costs of various options early. If you’re acting as your own general contractor and hiring individual tradespeople directly, you can discuss cost upfront with them before you finalize your plan.
2. Special features. In addition to the external features of cabinets, the innards can increase the cost. Examples of nice-to-have but pricey cabinetry add-ons include a magic corner, where pull-out shelves provide access to a hidden portion of a cabinet that you otherwise couldn’t reach, a knife drawer, or spice or wine racks. “There are so many things you can add to cabinetry. You can add $10,000 or $15,000,” says Matthew Ferrarini of Ferrarini Kitchens, Baths & Interiors in Philadelphia. “Before you know it, your cabinetry costs significantly higher than you want.”
Before committing to a special feature, you may want to consider how much you’ll really use it. That way, you can determine if the added functionality is worth the cost to you.
Kitchen Reno 3: Echelon Custom Homes, original photo on Houzz
3. Countertops. The cost for countertops ranges widely. Plastic laminate countertops are relatively affordable at $8 to $20 per square foot. Quartz and granite typically run much higher, anywhere from $50 to $120 per square foot. “If you haven’t purchased a countertop in 20 years and you go from a laminate to a Cambria or a quartz or a granite,” be sure you look into the cost of the various options, advises Judy Kimble, marketing manager at Gerhard’s Kitchen & Bath Store in Madison, Wisconsin.
4. Appliances. Appliances also range widely in cost, from under $1,000 to several thousand, depending on the make, model and features. Luxury appliances like Wolf and Sub-Zero are priced on the higher end of the range, and brands like GE are more budget. A Sub-Zero refrigerator could cost upward of $7,500, while a basic GE model from Sears could cost under $500. A Miele gas range could run $7,000, and a premium 60-inch model from La Cornue more than twice that. An Asko dishwasher could cost more than $1,000, whereas some LG models sell at just $450.
These prices are examples and not meant to be all-encompassing; the point is that appliances have a huge range. “A Viking range versus a GE Profile could be a $10,000 to $15,000 difference,” Ferrarini says. Kimble, the Wisconsin kitchen store manager who appreciates luxury appliances, says she was once quoted $38,000 for an entire kitchen suite. Do your research and find out what you get for the various cost ranges so that you can determine if the price of the features is worth the expense for your family.
Kitchen Reno 4: Before Photo, original photo on Houzz
Hidden Costs That Can’t Be Avoided
Beyond the costs that the owner controls by selecting finishes and materials are the costs resulting from structural problems that simply must be resolved.
5. Unforeseen structural issues. You might open a wall and find that termites have eaten half the studs. Perhaps once the kitchen flooring is removed, you find that an undetected water leak has rotted the sub floor and floor joists. Or, as shown in this picture from a real Houzzer’s kitchen renovation project, you might discover a faulty ceiling. “Our only unexpected expense was when the kitchen ceiling partially collapsed while our contractor was cutting holes for the can lights,” writes Houzzer Susan Hofer. “Bought the house new 37 years ago and the collapse exposed some very poor construction.”
Such unforeseen issues are good incentives to do pre-project due diligence. Even so, not every problem can be caught ahead of time. Many designers recommend reserving a 20 percent contingency in your kitchen renovation budget for unexpected surprises.
6. Code compliance. Pete Gersdorf, owner of Aim Kitchen and Bath in Des Moines, Iowa, has faced code issues on some kitchen remodels. For example, when a new gas range is a high-BTU unit, a larger gas pipe may need to be installed — which entails opening up the wall and replacing the pipe. He has seen plumbing vent issues when the original sink plumbing was not correctly installed. “We [have] also found ceiling joists or floor joists not built correctly and had to replace them to meet current standards and or codes,” Gersdorf says.
Kitchen Reno 5: Studio William Hefner, original photo on Houzz
Let’s Just Call It ‘Bloat’
The final category of reasons that kitchen renovations go over budget is basically entirely within your control.
7. Changing your mind. For your contractor to accurately predict the project cost, it’s a good idea to select all your finishes before the construction work starts. “If you haven’t picked them out, invariably it will be more money. Two, it will take more time. And three, it will mess up the schedule — which will also cost more money,” says Anne Higuera, co-owner of Ventana Construction in Seattle, which has worked with more than 250 clients since 2003.
Changing finishes or materials mid-project typically results in a change order, which can slow the timeline and increase the cost. “It might be a configuration of an island countertop we have decided on; they may not like it and want to change it,” says Gersdorf, the kitchen builder in Iowa. “Those things will definitely add to the cost.”
Even when they know making a change will add to the cost, some homeowners will still want to change the plans midway. In fact, this was the third most common reason kitchen budgets got blown, according to the survey of registered Houzzers.
8. Mission creep. This is the term for what happens when your kitchen renovation is looking amazing … and suddenly you decide you want to also redo the trim on the living room and dining room, and put in all new doors. “Suddenly your mission has expanded a little bit,” Gersdorf says. “That’s probably the No. 1 place where we see their budget get blown out more.”
Kitchen Reno 6: Original chart on Houzz
What Does a Typical Kitchen Renovation Cost, Anyway?
While it’s helpful to know some common reasons why kitchen renovation budgets expand, it could also be useful to know how much kitchen renovations typically cost. According to a Houzz survey of nearly 2,500 homeowners who were renovating or had recently renovated their kitchens, about one-third of owners spent between $25,000 and $50,000. Another one-third spent more than $50,000. These are national averages. The cost for you will depend on costs in your area. Typically costs on the coasts are more expensive than in the middle part of the country.
Costs also depend on the type of project, as well as the size of the room. A major kitchen overhaul, which includes at least replacing all the cabinets and appliances, costs about three times as much as a minor, or more superficial, kitchen renovation.
Kitchen Reno 7: Original chart on Houzz
How Often Do Renovation Budgets Get Blown?
Finally, a note about renovation budgeting. If you stay on budget, you will fall among the approximately one-third of Houzzers surveyed who renovated last year (all projects, not just kitchens) who also did. A little less than one-third exceeded their budget. Just 3 percent came in under budget.