15 Ways to Save on a Kitchen Remodel

The projects you focus on and the choices you make in planning your kitchen renovation can help you save big.

U.S. News & World Report

15 Ways to Save on a Kitchen Remodel

Shot of a young family spending quality time in the kitchen at home
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(Getty Images)

Keep your kitchen reno inside your budget.

Kitchen renovations can easily consume – and surpass – your budget. The median investment in a kitchen renovation reached $12,000 in 2019, according to the 2020 Houzz & Home study. Not everyone has that kind of money to spend updating their kitchen, let alone other parts of their house. But there is good news: If you’re part of the 20% of U.S. homeowners spending less than $5,000 on a home renovation, according to the report, and you dedicate a majority of your budget to your kitchen, you can still make big improvements.

Overhead view architect drafting blueprints at table
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Have a detailed plan ahead of time.

Starting a remodel without any plans is a bad idea, and not having enough detail when you first reach out to contractors for a quote can mean you’ll have a hard time finding out the true cost of the project until you’re already paying for it. Before you contact any professionals, do your research and decide everything you’d like changed, updated or added, says Jon Grishpul, co-founder of GreatBuildz, a free service for homeowners connecting them with contractors that meet their needs in Southern California. “Put those items in a list and hand that over to the contractor,” Grishpul says. Giving each contractor you consider the same list will also help guarantee bids that are comparable, to help you make a decision when picking the contractor with which to move forward.

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Keep your kitchen reno inside your budget.

Kitchen renovations can easily consume – and surpass – your budget. The median investment in a kitchen renovation reached $12,000 in 2019, according to the 2020 Houzz & Home study. Not everyone has that kind of money to spend updating their kitchen, let alone other parts of their house. But there is good news: If you’re part of the 20% of U.S. homeowners spending less than $5,000 on a home renovation, according to the report, and you dedicate a majority of your budget to your kitchen, you can still make big improvements.

Have a detailed plan ahead of time.

Starting a remodel without any plans is a bad idea, and not having enough detail when you first reach out to contractors for a quote can mean you’ll have a hard time finding out the true cost of the project until you’re already paying for it. Before you contact any professionals, do your research and decide everything you’d like changed, updated or added, says Jon Grishpul, co-founder of GreatBuildz, a free service for homeowners connecting them with contractors that meet their needs in Southern California. “Put those items in a list and hand that over to the contractor,” Grishpul says. Giving each contractor you consider the same list will also help guarantee bids that are comparable, to help you make a decision when picking the contractor with which to move forward.

Keep it simple with a fresh paint color.

One of the simplest – and cheapest – projects to transform any room is to change the paint color on the walls. If your kitchen is still rocking a 1990s look or has the all-white palette that's been popular in recent years, pick a new color to help update the space. Warm neutrals are always a safe option, but if you’re looking to break up a kitchen that’s all one color, introduce paint in a contrasting color. HomeAdvisor reports that the average cost to paint a room that’s 10 feet by 12 feet ranges from $200 to $1,000, with the total cost being $300 or less if you're painting the room yourself.

Update appliances instead of a major remodel.

A new refrigerator or dishwasher can modernize a space and help it function more efficiently. “If your appliances are white – or they used to be white but now they’re taupe – you might want to think about spending your money there,” says Leneiva Head, owner of Welcome Home Realty, a real estate management company in Nashville, Tennessee. Appliances can get pricey, but Head recommends visiting big-box stores like Lowe’s and Home Depot, which offer kitchen appliances at a bundled price. Plus, if you visit on a holiday weekend, like Labor Day or Columbus Day, you may see those bundled appliances discounted even more.

Find used or overstock appliances.

Companies specializing in lightly used or dented appliances are often local ones, so it’s best to conduct an online search of potential resources in your area. For clearance items, check with brand manufacturer websites to see if they have outlet locations or a site that specializes in selling clearance pieces. Major kitchen appliances that are sold as overstock are typically discounted by a couple hundred dollars. GE Appliances sells clearance items through its outlet store, for example, offering anywhere from roughly 20% to nearly 50% off the manufacturer suggested retail price. Your local Habitat for Humanity chapter may have a ReStore location where you can purchase donated used or overstock home improvement items, including appliances.

Keep the layout the same.

“The biggest thing that will save you money in either (the kitchen or bathroom) is not doing any moving around of any major items,” says Paul Dashevsky, Grishpul’s co-founder of GreatBuildz. Dashevsky points to moving major appliances like the sink or oven as a budget-busting part of a remodel because it requires more detailed work from licensed specialists, like a plumber or electrician. If you keep the layout of your sink, oven and refrigerator the same, removing an old appliance and installing a new one is easy to do and less expensive.

Paint or reface cabinets.

New custom cabinetry is often one of the biggest costs of a kitchen renovation. But when you’re working with a smaller budget, you can still achieve a whole new look for your cabinets. “Spruce up and refresh what you already have,” Head says. In lieu of new cabinets, many homeowners opt to either reface their existing cabinets or paint them. Head says having the cabinets professionally painted can make the space look completely different, and you won't have to shell out more money for customized carpentry work. Angie’s List reports refacing laminate cabinets can cost between $1,000 and $3,000, and refacing wood cabinets is much higher at $7,000 to $9,000. HomeAdvisor reports that on average, it costs about $1,000 to paint kitchen cabinets, though the price rises if you need to remove existing stain.

Pick a contractor you trust.

If your remodel includes bringing in a contractor, the best way to save is, rather than going for the company that provides the lowest bid, go with the company that you trust will handle the work well. “There will be problems along the way, and the good contractor with an honest heart will go to lengths to make it better for you,” Dashevsky says. How do you determine which contractor is honest? Dashevsky and Grishpul recommend checking reviews online, checking the contractor’s license, checking the company’s insurance history and calling at least three references to ask detailed questions about previous renovation projects the company has done.

Install a DIY backsplash.

Installing or replacing the backsplash in your kitchen can add new color and texture to the room at a low cost since it accounts for little square footage. You can cut the cost even more by limiting your backsplash to a smaller area, like the space over your stovetop, to create a focal point in the room. If you’re looking to dip your toes into DIY renovations, “a backsplash is a relatively easy one,” says Mark Page, a construction estimator for Pro.com based in the greater Boston area. Subway tile is a classic option that’s budget-friendly, often costing less than $1 per tile. For easier installation, peel-and-stick mosaic tiles vary in cost, but you can likely get enough for your backsplash for less than $200 from stores like Lowe’s or Home Depot.

Pick prefab over custom.

When you do replace those cabinets or the countertop, stay within budget by opting for a prefabricated design. Companies offer a wide variety of cabinetry and countertops, and it should be fairly easy to find something you like that will fit your kitchen. “Because they come standard and boxed together, they’re cheaper,” Dashevsky says. Custom options, on the other hand, take longer to get the supplies and can require more specialized onsite labor. When you make your decision on the style you want, stick with it as well. “If I change anything and we have to order new materials, it could cause delays in shipment, and when it arrives the contractor is busy with other work,” Grishpul says.

Opt for countertop remnants.

Countertop suppliers often have discounted materials that are leftovers from another homeowner's custom countertop design – whether they were broken in transport or have been scrapped for a different material. Buying from these suppliers can make new custom countertops far more affordable. However, because the size of remnants and partial slabs were likely based on a different home renovation, there’s not a guarantee you’ll be able to outfit a large kitchen with lots of counter space with remnants. Stone retailer company Stoneworks, which specializes in countertops for kitchens and bathrooms, states on its website that a custom granite countertop of less than 25 square feet with a sink cutout made from a remnant or partial slab can be purchased and installed for $1,200 or less.

Focus on lighting.

An old kitchen will look even more dated if you don’t have enough lighting to help make the kitchen feel usable at all hours. Under-cabinet lighting, for example, can help illuminate meal prep when there’s not a lot of natural light, and lighting along the tops of cabinets can make the empty space feel more intentional. A variety of under-cabinet lighting options start at $21 at Home Depot, though you should expect that you'll need more than one light strip or set of lights to brighten up all your cabinets. Most of these options can easily be linked and plugged into a nearby outlet as an easy DIY project, or they can be wired directly to a switch.

Remove doors.

A kitchen that opens up to the living room or dining space is considered standard in many homes today, but the cost to remove walls – especially if they’re load-bearing – may be beyond your budget. You can still take a step in the right direction by getting rid of any outdated doors that stand between the kitchen and the rest of the house. You can also make the kitchen feel a bit lighter by removing the doors from a few cabinets. Open shelving is popular in current kitchen designs, but it may not be feasible for homeowners with lots of mismatched dishes or overloaded glassware. By opening up just one or two cabinets, you can get a similar look without showing off your disorganized kitchen odds and ends.

Focus on organizing.

If your kitchen doesn’t require as much cosmetic updating, increase the utility of the space by focusing your small budget on organization. In-cabinet racks can keep pots and pans in order, separators can conquer the ever-messy junk drawer and attractive, matching containers can make items on the counter look more purposeful. How much you spend on organization depends on what you have in your kitchen and where you want to purchase items, but glass and plastic containers are often less than $10 each, and sliding cabinet organizers range from $28 for a single piece at Walmart to $193 for an organization kit at The Container Store.

Swap out hardware.

A new granite countertop or floor can quickly eat up your budget, but you can make your kitchen feel new without changing out those big-ticket items. If you have multicolored counters or tile flooring that you had previously tied in with the wall color or decorative accents, Head recommends picking a different color in that marbling to focus on. The new accent color will make the surface stand out in a different way. “That keeps you from having to spend money to change out your floor,” she says. Take a look at your cabinet pulls as well, and consider switching them out for something new and trendy. Brushed nickel cabinet hardware – especially on freshly painted cabinets – can make the entire kitchen look like a new design.

Do research on change orders.

Issues come up during a renovation, especially if you discover water damage under the dishwasher or an issue with electrical wiring. When these issues are discovered, your contractor will submit a change order, since these fixes weren’t part of the original contract. Dashevsky says that while it’s easiest to have your contractor do the fix amid the other work, a dishonest contractor could price-gouge you on a change order and it’s a good idea to research the costs of the work before you agree to it. If the subfloor needs to be replaced in your kitchen, for example, ask for 24 hours to research the cost to replace the subfloor, and come back to the contractor to discuss any discrepancies in the proposed cost and what you’ve found from research.

Here are 15 ways you can save on a kitchen remodel:

  • Have a detailed plan ahead of time.
  • Keep it simple with a fresh paint color.
  • Update appliances instead of a major remodel.
  • Find used or overstock appliances.
  • Keep the layout the same.
  • Paint or reface the cabinets.
  • Pick a contractor you trust.
  • Install a DIY backsplash.
  • Pick prefab over custom.
  • Opt for countertop remnants.
  • Focus on lighting.
  • Remove doors.
  • Focus on organizing.
  • Swap out hardware.
  • Do research on change orders.
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Updated on Feb. 17, 2021: This story was published at an earlier date and has been updated with new information.