Well, looks like it has happened again.
Since the last time we spoke, I got sucked into building my 17th(?) kitchen, and I have finally emerged from its messy yet addictive grasp as I stand here at the new breakfast bar, typing this report to you. Double Bowl Stainless Steel Kitchen Sink Organizer
Why am I so hooked on this strange pastime? And more importantly, why am I so excited to tell you about it, when most MMM readers probably don’t have house building at the top of their list of life priorities?
It’s probably because the concept of home is such a core part of life for me: a place that allows us to take care of our families and ourselves, host friends and build our lives outwards from there. And to me the most important part of a home is the place where you prepare and stash your food supply, which also happens to become the spot where our kids spread out their homework, we have our deep talks, and the natural gathering point for just about every party.
There is of course a money side to all of this too: housing is the most expensive thing in most of our lives (including my own), and this cost has exploded upwards in recent years due to a crazy imbalance of supply and demand.
People want homes with beautiful, highly functional amenities like kitchens and bathrooms, which means those houses get bid up to higher prices by those willing to wildly overpay, which leaves the more investment-minded among us swearing at the irrational market conditions, or buying ugly fixer-uppers as a compromise.
This leads to a second shortage: a shortage of tradespeople like myself, because there are a lot of flimsy little sinks, leaky plastic-handled faucets and fake woodgrain oak cabinets out there, but not a lot of people with the experience to rescue that 1982-style kitchen and bring it into our glorious modern present.
Which means that if you can even find someone willing to build you a new kitchen, you’ll often see quotes from $25,000 to north of $75,000 for the prestigious but not-all-that-difficult job.
As you’ll see below, this translates to an incredibly expensive labor rate of between $100 and $300 per hour, which is money you get to claim for yourself if you are willing to do some of the work. And the rewards can be even higher than that, because when you upgrade a kitchen in an expensive housing market, you typically create even more than $25-75k of additional value. This will flow back to you in the form of more cash when you eventually re-sell, or higher rental income every single month if you are fixing up a rental property.
And one more real estate secret: a kitchen is effectively just a really big fancy version of a bathroom, so if you learn the skills you can do either one. Imagine the God-like power of being able to point your finger and call into existence kitchens and bathrooms where none existed before!
So in this article, I’m going to whisk you through a high-speed tour of the main steps of rebuilding a kitchen, focusing on the things that make the biggest difference in function, cost, and difficulty – in other words, the things I wish I knew 23 years ago when I started working on my first kitchen.
We don’t have space here to cover every detail of every step, but as with any important endeavor, it’s best to start with the big picture anyway. And from there, I hope to leave you with a much more empowered starting point to do one of three things:
So let’s get into it! The 11-ish main steps to designing and building the most joyful room in your house.
Step Zero: Do You Need a Permit?
In most areas, this is a “Yes” if you are messing with plumbing and electricity inside the walls, otherwise it’s “maybe”. But rules vary widely around the world – I’ve worked in some places where the inspectors will come knocking if they see so much as a scrap of drywall poking out of your trash can, and others where people build a whole barn without raising the eyebrow of the authorities. But whether you get a permit or not, the most important part is to do the job right – this means tidy, professional work that meets the local building code and would pass an inspection even if nobody will see it. It will allow you to sleep well and avoid troubles down the road.
This one is obviously all over the map depending on your tastes, but we can start with the following overly simplified table:
The dollar figures are just for the materials including appliances, and the labor hours are what I’d budget for myself or another professional – you can adjust as needed based on your own skill level. I’ll also link a slightly more detailed version of this spreadsheet here .
Super Duper Shopping Pro Tips:
When it comes to cost-efficient renovations, material sourcing is everything. Here are a few of my own favorite tricks:
2: Layout (and knocking down walls!)
The basic principle I like to follow in kitchen design, at least for the smaller and older houses that those of us in the fixer-upper crowd tends to purchase, is MORE:
Most houses from past eras have the kitchen walled off into a tiny booth. And the good news is that you can usually just chop down the unnecessary walls between that booth and the living room, replace one of them with a nice spacious island, and transform your house for the better.
Bonus! How to figure out if a wall is load bearing:
My safe answer here is, “Ask a structural engineer or at least a house builder”, but since I’ve done a lot of both activities, here is a shortcut:
As a quick example, let’s use a case study of one of my own rebuilds to point out both things I think did work, and other places I made some mistakes and would do things differently next time. (This was in my own house, so you’ll have to forgive my taste for somewhat wild colors!)
Whoo! Okay there’s a lot of info in there, but it’s worth reading through because it captures many of the things I like to cover in a new kitchen. The biggest principle to follow is just to give everything enough space – especially the chefs themselves. This sometimes requires clever space-saving tricks, but it’s also why I end up moving or removing walls so often. Small spaces in your own house suck!
Design Shortcut: The IKEA Kitchen Planner
To figure out how everything will fit (and look), you need at least some scale diagrams, but even better is a 3-D model that you can look around. There are lots of options here ranging from old-fashioned graph paper to sophisticated but sometimes clunky design programs like Sketchup. But one interesting trick is just using the free tool on the IKEA website, which can be useful whether you plan on buying their cabinets or not. https://kitchen.planner.ikea.com/us/en/
For example, take a look at the “before” picture of my old kitchen above. Before building the new kitchen, I spent about 15 minutes on the IKEA kitchen planner website and I already had a pretty close visualization of how my finished kitchen would look and feel.
In most cases, you’ll be removing more walls than you build, but sometimes you’ll need to add some as well. The most common situations for me are:
In many kitchen remodels, you end up leaving the plumbing fixtures (sink, dishwasher and fridge water line) in roughly the same place, and if so this part of the job is minimal.
But I also want to open your mind to the possibility that these things can be moved without too much trouble, and you can even create brand new ones whenever you need ‘em. While the finer points of code-compliant plumbing are best learned from the book or video of your choice, here are my favorite basic principles and useful shortcuts:
We’ll cover the sink, dishwasher and fridge plumbing separately below.
Related MMM Article from way back in 2012 (but recently updated):
How to Become a Kickass Plumber – with PEX
Like plumbing, electricity is a whole trade in itself which is not comfortable for everyone. And you can indeed kill yourself if you touch live wires in the wrong way. So if in doubt, hire an electrician.
But since I happen to enjoy this trade myself, I made a point of learning the national electric code (currently called the 2020 NEC) enough to wire a few full houses from scratch and pass several final inspections: everything from digging the trench and running new buried service lines in conduit to the meter box, to subpanels and solar inverters down to the last light switch.
But I’m still not a professional electrician, and codes vary by region – so be sure to double check any ideas you get from me and do not assume anything you read is totally correct.
With all those disclaimers aside, here are the most common situations that come up when renovating a kitchen:
Unwanted electrical lines in a wall you are removing: I label these carefully, turn off the power, then pull everything out until I reach the nearest junction that’s in a wall I am keeping (or sometimes this will be in the ceiling or attic). Once the new walls are in place, you can run fresh wires to the new boxes and fixtures.
Adding new outlets to serve new countertop areas:
The basic requirement is a minimum of two 20 amp circuits, protected by GFCI outlets, with outlets at least every 4 feet along your work space. Plus, ideally the fridge, dishwasher, disposal and microwave are on their own separate circuits which is required in brand new builds. So, your project may be able to tie into the existing circuits or you may need to pull some new ones.
Adding entirely new circuits to your home:
Although this may sound like a black art to non-electricians, it’s actually quite straightforward once you learn how to do it. The hardest part is usually running the wire all the way back to your circuit panel, unless your kitchen is directly over an unfinished basement or crawlspace. So if you find an agreeable electrician willing to give you a discount in exchange for you doing the dirty work of properly routing the wire while they only do the final hookup in the panel, this can be a nice hybrid approach.
If you want to see the details of what’s involved in adding a whole new circuit and breaker to your panel, there are lots of walkthroughs on YouTube including this one I made myself on how to install your own electric car charger.
Other stuff to remember at this stage:
You’re finally ready to cover everything up! This part is relatively easy, but if you’ve never done drywall before, a few things I find helpful to get started:
This is the point – after drywall and at least a coat of primer or base white paint – where you would install your flooring if you are changing that out as part of the remodel. These days I’m a big fan of engineered wood or LVP flooring which is easy, tough and attractive. But for ultimate durability in a busy dogs-n-kids-n-giant parties household, floor tiles are still the gold standard.
Although this step is the most exciting part, it’s also one of the easiest. You’re just trying to put in a line of giant boxes as strong, straight and square as possible. For conventional cabinets, this means that a level and studfinder and shims are your best friends.
With IKEA cabinets, it’s even easier to get it right, because all of the cabinets (both upper and lower) just hang on their proprietary metal rail system. So if you get the rails right, the cabinets follow naturally. Another huge bonus: it’s easy to slide the cabinets back and forth and make adjustments before locking them into their final positions.
If your budget will allow the higher cost, a stone countertop (quartz or granite or similar) is usually worth the cost. That cost is currently about $60-120 per square foot which can add up to a few grand for a large kitchen, but in exchange you get something that looks great, lasts forever and cleans up more easily than the other options.
Of course, that high cost (and my dislike of dealing with appointments and outside contractors) has meant that I have experimented with the other alternatives of solid wood and various types of tiles on some projects. They still look nice and function pretty well, but I have always regretted the choice in the long run and wished I had done the quartz. Possibly because of the human psychology factor: a small daily annoyance of worrying about scratching your wood countertop is with you forever. Whereas a one-time expense for the stone countertops quickly recedes into history and you forget about it. And like the rest of a kitchen upgrade, it tends to come back to you in the form of increased resale or rental value anyway.
Thankfully, this part is the opposite of the countertops: surprisingly cheap and full of beautiful options depending on your taste.
Way back in 2001, I remember paying $600 for a sink and $300 for a faucet, just to get something substantial and modern that didn’t look like it was from a 1980s Atlanta Georgia suburb (an aesthetic that runs strong in Home Depot products because of the company’s origins in that time and place).
But now, thanks to Amazon we live in a whole different world. You can have your choice of massive, modern sinks in the 200s, and even beautiful faucets are under $100. The prices are sometimes so low that I am nervous about the quality, but so far everything has been a pleasant surprise on the upside. TBD sink drain pic above.
Bonus: How to build a nice new sink drain:
Your old kitchen probably has an ugly nest of pipes under the kitchen sink, and you’ll at least need to rework this part because the new sink will be bigger and in a slightly different place. So we might as well cover this right here:
Starting with the fancy new sink (which comes right after countertops), you
This is yet another area where we’ve seen deflation over the years rather than inflation: the quality and features of appliances seems to keep going up, while prices come down. And the used market is even better: appliances have a very low resale value, which means if you shop carefully you can get new-ish units for about 75% less than brand-new ones.
However, a note of caution: Don’t buy used stuff unless you trust the seller and/or get a chance to test it. I’ve been fooled twice buying used seemingly high-end dishwashers that seemed great … but in retrospect the person was selling them because they didn’t work properly.
Me: “Wow, this is a really nice $1500 dishwasher – why are you selling it?”
Seller: “Oh… I was upgrading my kitchen and this one just doesn’t match the new appliances.”
Me: (naively overlooking some other red flags about the seller’s living situation): “Okay here’s my $200 in cash.”
On a third occasion, a friend and I almost made the same mistake when buying an exotic under-counter European fridge, but thankfully noticed that the seller had it sitting in his garage unplugged when we came to pick it up. When I asked to see it running, he pretended to have a shortage of extension cords so I pulled one out of my van. Sure enough, when we plugged it in, the damned thing wasn’t even working. Shady!
Other tips: fridges, microwaves and especially ovens/ranges are a safer bet to buy used because they tend to just work for decades.
Also, if you live in a climate with sub-freezing winters, don’t buy a fridge, dishwasher or washing machine that someone has moved into their shed or garage during the cold season. Because the water in the tubes and valves will probably have frozen and burst without their knowledge, giving you a messy and complex repair job the first time you fire it up.
Because of all this, I have had many success stories with used appliances in the past, but I still tend to buy all new appliances these days now that time has become more scarce than money for me. If you’re younger and still trying to optimize for dollars, you should still check Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace regularly.
At last, we’re in the home stretch. You can add as many custom flourishes to your kitchen as you like, but just to share a few of my favorites:
Wow, that was a Lot!
This may be the longest MMM article in history, and yet we still only skimmed through it. But I hope this summary gives you at least a peek at the countless fun, useful and profitable skills that you can learn to make your life as a homeowner (or as an occasional contractor) more joyful and satisfying.
If you have more questions about specifics, drop them into the comments section below and everyone can help share some answers. And of course, this article will surely be full of errors and omissions when I first publish it – please feel free to point those out and I’ll make updates as well.
I think the link to the sink and the faucet are the same link…the faucet is missing.
Mr. Money Mustache February 26, 2023, 11:02 am
Also, did you mean to have two Step 3’s, for building new walls and plumbing?
Mr. Money Mustache February 28, 2023, 12:41 pm
GASP! No I didn’t intend that either :-) … now fixed.
(too bad I already sent it out to the email list before that one was corrected, I wonder how many of those subscribers will catch it)
Do you normally install a reverse osmosis under the sink water filter? If so any advice in how to do that, or is it best left to the pros?
Mr. Money Mustache February 26, 2023, 2:23 pm
Filters are super easy to install so I think it’s a pretty good DIY task. I have installed them in other locations where the drinking water was sub-par, but I’m lucky enough to live in a city which has insanely clean delicious mountain stream water right out of the taps (Longmont CO).
Thank you for this great article, I am now inspired to update my kitchen’s fluorescent light!
Regarding that noisy, unvented, vent hood that tormented and fooled homeowners for 25 years: How’d you address that? Did you put a vent through the exterior wall?
My Mom’s kitchen has the same problem, I’m not sure if she trusts me to put holes in her exterior walls though :) Maybe there’s some other vent line in the attic I can tap into??
Also curious about how you got a quieter hood, mine is v irritating
Mr. Money Mustache February 26, 2023, 2:21 pm
Yes! In this case since it was an interior wall, I ran an oval duct up through the wall and its top plate, then up through the attic. The final venting was through a louvred outlet in a roof gable (so I didn’t have to cut any more holes in the roof)
Regarding noise: usually any new hood you buy with reasonable quality (and variable speed) will be WAY quieter than the cheap ones that come with older houses. The reason is that the newer ones use a proper rotary drum-shaped blower rather than an just a random propeller-shaped piece of bent metal as the “fan”.
If you’re just looking for a low profile under-cabinet hood, here’s one for just over $100 that has a very quiet sound rating (50db on low): https://amzn.to/3EGKuTX
If you shop around and just look for lower sound ratings (whether it is in sones or db), you should do well. 5 sones is about 51 dB, 9 sones is 60-ish. Anything above 5 (for me) starts to get annoying to run for very long while cooking.
Thanks! I bet I can do something similar in my Mom’s house since it’s a one story house (nothing significant between the kitchen’s ceiling and the attic).
I’ve been reading through all the posts from the beginning while checking in for new articles, and this was great for me because I’ve realized that home-related costs, particularly repairs and maintenance, are such a large part of the budget as well as being a part where the price can vary in proportion to your skills, BS detector, and willingness to rummage around for a deal. I had my home renovated a few years ago, long story, and I can see the power of being able to do it right yourself (or know when someone is doing it wrong). Every day there were things I caught and corrected, but I didn’t catch all of it. This morning I disconnected power to the alarm system I haven’t armed in two years (thank you YouTube) and had the kids help me rake up some of the leaves. A neighbor started running a gas-powered leaf blower across the street as we worked so I used that noxious example to illustrate to my kids how the stench and the noise contrasted with our own approach: more exercise, more camaraderie, and zero fossil fuels consumed. I’m not about to punch anyone in the face, but I felt like more people would drive by the scene and think, gosh — wouldn’t it be nice to be out on this gorgeous day raking leaves with my adorable family. We weren’t working; the other guy was. ANYWAY glad you are still out there kicking ass, MMM, and please keep the advanced level stuff coming because it’s useful to have a target well over the height I can currently jump.
The first photo with the gray countertop – what material is that countertop? Love the kitchen!
Mr. Money Mustache February 26, 2023, 2:18 pm
That’s my usual standby material – quartz, often sold under the brand name Silestone (among others). The best part is that I prefer the grey color because it looks simple and modern like polished concrete, but it also happens to be one of the least expensive options. Because their premium offerings have a lot more sparkly jewel-like stuff embedded, which I personally don’t like in a countertop anyway.
I’m with you MMM: I’ve had formica, tile, granite and silestone counters. Silestone is by FAR my favorite. It combines the seamlessness of stone, and the impermiability of tile, with the the easy-ish installation of formica. I’d give up several other options before I’d choose a different counter material than silestone.
Tip: when you buy stone or quartz, you’re paying for the whole sheet, including the cutouts (like for the sink and stovetop). So don’t let the contractor drive off with them. The cutouts are great for small outdoor tables and such. (Ask me how I know this!)
I do agree, too, Mo’ tile, mo’ better. Those 3” “backsplashes” made from the same stone as the countertop scream cheap, tasteless and lazy to me. Run that tile all the way to the ceiling, I say!
Have you investigated stainless steel benchtops? We really love ours for the durability (e.g., apparently with manufactured stone benchtops you shouldn’t put hot pans on them), but I can see how they might not match everyone’s style. We had ours done by a contractor, and the price was fairly similar to stone benchtops, so I think we’d now always choose steel. Other benefits are that it should be recycleable and is less hazardous when cutting it (there’s articles in Australia about young people dying quickly from silicosis when working in the stone industry, which is quite sad).
Quartz is cheap with a nice, clean look to it. We went with quartz. You talk about kitchens and bathrooms being similar so one good tip for bathrooms is to ask to look at their remnants. We got a beautiful piece of green marble for our (relatively small) bathroom vanity super cheap from the remnants at the stone/tile place.
I must admit that this is likely the first MMM article I’ve read in about 5 years. But no talk of face punches, $$$ spent receding to the fog of history, this is not the MMM I remember!
This is simply an observation (not a criticism) and the tone strikes me as more mature (or at least different) than earlier points. Im happy about it, though. Keep ‘em coming!
Great article, I learned a few things!
Tip from a family who did a whole-house remodel a couple years ago on the cheap: Use reverse image search on Google when investigating fixtures purchases and even buying things like the J trap you identified in the article. You’ll often find the exact same item under a different name on a different yet reliable site for a better price!
Another great article – thanks for the overview! Tucking this bad boy away for future use.
Some nitpicks: 1) The hyperlink for the “stainless steel outlet plates” near the end is accidentally doubled 2) In your listing of step numbers, Step 3 is used twice.
Where did you get the track lighting? Was this an Amazon find? I have the ugly fluorescent tube fixture :(
Mr. Money Mustache February 27, 2023, 8:03 am
Yep, Amazon is usually the winner these days. Just search for “track lighting” and see what you like.
My current go-to lighting for modern kitchens are these Mirrea heads: https://amzn.to/3SwRF6G
Add a 6 foot track: https://amzn.to/3Z528ca
And a canopy to hook it all up: https://amzn.to/3ZrOcsi
I did my Ikea kitchen like this myself, and most of these points are right on. You can’t have too many drawers, and more space between counters (I have 4.5′) matters. Also, you can’t touch the price performance of Ikea cabs, drawers and fronts. And improving of cabs and drawers can only be done with a massive price upgrade. But there are several places (including the manufacturer that apparently makes a huge fraction of the door fronts in the country) that do or can make drilled and ikea-sized fronts (the part you see) that yes, are more expensive, but are as nice as anything you’ve ever seen in a house less than 8 figures in price. I used three different sources because as noted here, bathrooms and kitchens are essentially the same ( you can mount the cabs a couple of inches lower in the bathroom if you’d like). I have Ikea fronts in the laundry room and man were they cheap and still look pretty good, but the fancier kitchen ones look much better. Once you go to non-ikea fronts, you can easily cut cabs to width to make custom sizes to either fill the space or have special purpose (like a 6″ spice drawer next to the stove). Final hint: Ikea tooekicks don’t age gracefully; I cut floorboards to fit and they’ve looked great for 7 years.
Mr. Money Mustache February 27, 2023, 7:56 am
Yeah, I got into a little debate with a guy on the MMM Facebook page about the issue of custom cabinets too. I was turned off by the aura of expensive mystery these companies paint around themselves because really, a cabinet is just a WOODEN BOX.
It’s easy to make them from scratch if you have a good table saw, and it’s easy to modify them as needed. Fancy doors and moldings are easily accomplished with a table-mounted router if you so desire. Piano-smooth finishes can be created with a $100 electric paint sprayer.
And even IKEA cabinets can be customized – in the past I have narrowed or expanded them when I needed to get just the right fit, right down to slicing the metal drawer back in half and taking out an inch then welding/polishing the remaining bits together and touching up the joint with semi gloss white spraypaint.
Once you learn the basics of “measure, cut, install” on the various materials that houses are made from, you don’t have to be a victim to these peddlers of overpriced services.
“Once you learn the basics of “measure, cut, install” on the various materials that houses are made from, you don’t have to be a victim to these peddlers of overpriced services.”
Yes please, could you do another post on this topic? Sure there are millions of guides out there, but I want the MMM one!
I’d love to live in a place where you can do this work yourself.
In nanny state Australia it is illegal to do any wiring or plumbing work yourself.
Want to connect a new sink to drainage? min $200 please. Want to just replace a GPO? min $200 please.
Mr. Money Mustache February 27, 2023, 7:49 am
I sometimes wonder about places like this: like, if something is “illegal”, does that mean there are no home improvement stores selling the appropriate parts, much like prescription drugs?
If not, many people just politely disagree with the law and do it themselves anyway. And morally, I think that is totally fine as long as you do it safely. Throughout most of history and to this day, a certain percentage of laws are just plain WRONG. Sometimes because they are based on past religious traditions that no longer apply, other times because of prejudice or racism or the act of immoral lobby groups.
(like the funny rules where certain US states don’t allow car manufacturers to sell directly to customers because – you guessed it – the car dealers paid to have laws created to suit their own wallets!)
As you can tell, I’m a big fan of doing what’s GOOD, but not a big fan of other people telling me what to do: https://www.mrmoneymustache.com/2013/10/22/theres-something-you-need-to-know-about-the-rules/
Really interesting how you explained the electrical. I’m a journeyman in VA and how you explained it was on point!
When my old boyfriend remodeled my townhouse condo, he found so much wiring that was done wrong by the supposed licensed contractors. He had picked up a lot of skills working for an electrician summers during college. So handy! In the state where we lived the plumbers and contractors got the state to mandate permits and work done by licensed plumbers just to replace a toilet. I pulled an electric permit to satisfy the condo board and nosy neighbors – we took out a wall so had to remove some wiring, and also added circuits and outlets to bring it up to code, but he did all the work. Fortunately no permit required to replace cabinets if not moving plumbing.
I know a few people who have DIY’d their own concrete countertops and have been very happy with them. Highly customizeable and the materials are so cheap that you can screw up a few times and not break the bank.
Mr. Money Mustache February 27, 2023, 7:43 am
Yeah, concrete countertops are fairly advanced but a great project for a relatively skilled/meticulous person willing to go through the learning. The many books and videos definitely help too.
Looks good! Where’s the induction cooktop?
I bought a place with a ‘good enough’ kitchen because I’m better off aggressively paying off the mortgage and selling it in a couple of years. Although since painting the walls the beige splashback does look dated. At least as it’s a 1996 build it won’t have asbestos, which is something I’m not keen on dealing with.
Was there supposed to be a link to a spreadsheet breaking down the cost? Did I miss it?
Mr. Money Mustache February 27, 2023, 3:04 pm
Another great catch, thanks Dan. I added a link to the article, and here it is in case you happen to see my response: https://www.mrmoneymustache.com/wp-content/uploads/2023/02/kitchen-budget-larger.png
Not sure if it is the longest article you have ever written but it is definitely the longest article you have posted this year ;).
I clicked to check out the adhesive spray for the drywall and it went to the Ryobi Multi-tool, just FYI!
One thing that would be a fun article, and not sure if you have played with much, is appliance repair. Just like being able to watch all of the construction tips on YouTube, I have been blown away by how easy it can be to fix free fridges and dryers off of Craigslist from watching YouTube videos for something as simple as a $5 part that only takes a few minutes to replace. I was able to replace a thermostat on a wine fridge that was free and now over 5 years later, it is still running great (the original owner figured the compressor had failed). Another dryer was simply a $10 pulley… I would be surprised if I ever call a repairman again.. the internet contains so much free information worth $100’s per hour.
Mr. Money Mustache February 27, 2023, 7:40 am
Thanks for catching that James, I just fixed the link for the spray adhesive.
And YES! The appliance repair stuff is also a gold mine. Sometimes you win and it’s an easy fix. Sometimes you lose and try everything and the fancy Samsung dishwasher never comes back to life (to use a personal example). But in all cases, you learn something and you advance another level in life.
The key to making this practice sustainable in a busy life (especially if you’re living with a family) is being willing to think of it as an educational hobby rather than a necessity. Sometimes you WILL need to just buy the new $1000 dishwasher in order to get the busy kitchen functioning again, and that’s fine too – there is still plenty of time for learning on the less critical broken stuff around the house.
One of the reason I like the old coil stoves is that they are dead simple to fix. Pull the coil out, hand it to the guy at the parts store, he hands you a replacement part, pop it back in and you’re back to cooking. I don’t think the induction stoves are going to be that simple to fix.
A masterpiece post MMM! Definitely will be a great addition to your classics sub-set.
Mr. Money Mustache February 27, 2023, 7:34 am
Aww, thanks Genep! But I try to reserve the “Classics” subset to the articles that are more universally useful to personal finance seekers. These more hardcore DIY articles are sort of more of my quirky personal preference and only a tiny percentage of readers are into carpentry.
They don’t REALLY fit into a personal finance blog, but that’s totally okay because I just like learning/doing/sharing this stuff.
I have success and failures with appliance repairs over the years. Replacing the circuit board on a dryer that burned out was very easy and worked well and still going strong. I tried fixing a fridge that kept freezing over 3 or four times with drain clearing tools, heating elements, timers and thermostats. Eventually i gave up and bought a new fridge but I still learned a ton and now i fully understand how fridges work. Money well spent even if the fixes didnt work. I received a TV from a friend for free as the hdmi ports didn’t work but the other inputs did. I found a replacement board on eBay for $70 and that TV is still working 10 years later and is still the best one in the house. Just as easy as working on a computer.
I’m actually just getting started on of my first full kitchen remodel, so in my opinion the timeliness of this post couldn’t be better. Lot’s of good advice (I can confirm that Ikea’s kitchen planner is easy to use and the 3D visualizations are incredibly helpful during design) including some interesting bits I hadn’t considered yet (I wouldn’t have thought to buy plumbing parts online, or at least not P-traps through Amazon). I find the idea of adding an outlet to the inside of a drawer particularly intriguing, but am having a little trouble visualizing exactly what you propose. Do you typically mount a power strip to the side of the drawer itself in order to easily access plugs? Or do you just reach all the way to the back of the drawer anytime you want to plug something in? Anyways, great article – you might consider submitting a version of this to Fine Homebuilding.
Mr. Money Mustache February 27, 2023, 7:31 am
My favorite way to implement the magic charging drawer: build the actual outlet in a code-compliant way in the actual wall behind the cabinet. Do a cutout of the cabinet back as you mount it so the outlet is accessible from inside the cabinet. You’ll find that the drawers don’t extend quite to the very back so there is room for things to be plugged in.
Then, when the kitchen is finished you plug in the power transformer (aka “wall wart”) that comes with your USB charger to that outlet, and run the cord up into the drawer. Secure the cord to the back of the drawer with enough slack that it doesn’t pull out when opening/closing the drawer.
And then just set the main head with the 8 USB plugs right into your drawer organizer or whatever, with appropriate short stylish cords already installed waiting for your phones and other gadgets.
Yes! Easy and super useful. Also magic in bathrooms: open drawer, pull out blow dryer, turn it on.
I’ve lived in apartments with shoddy kitchens my whole working life and can’t wait to build something like the examples above. I’ll admit that I’m nervous about doing things myself since I’ve never done major construction work on my own so I could easily see things either spiraling out of control (with more time / money spent than intended), or I might just miss an important detail and mess up a wire etc in a way that creates a safety hazard. Reading books and watching youtube videos are a great way to learn most things obviously, but do you think it’s worth hiring someone experienced to “check your work” at various steps throughout the process on your first build?
Mr. Money Mustache February 27, 2023, 7:26 am
YES! Definitely bring in an experienced friend or paid contractor to check your work whenever you do something like this, especially running new electrical circuits. Sometimes it can be as simple as doing a video chat with someone and taking them on a virtual tour with your phone, so they can ask about things they see and have you zoom them in to see if the connections are made correctly, etc.
This is awesome and exciting stuff!
I believe MMM has at some point discussed installing radiant heat in floors.
If anyone has that article or another one on that subject please let me know.
I feel like installing radiant floors in the bathroom would feel amazing and hopefully also be efficient.
I’m excited to implement these skills. I wish I could’ve previously learned that PEX is superior to copper piping.
Mr. Money Mustache February 27, 2023, 7:24 am
Hi Matt! Here’s that old article you were mentioning, although at this point it might be a bit less relevant since the world is moving to heat pumps instead of gas-fueled boilers: https://www.mrmoneymustache.com/2014/02/16/the-radiant-heat-experiment/
For bathrooms, the best thing is to just build an electric heat mat into your floor base before laying the tiles. These come with a wall-mounted controller, often even with wifi integration these days.
If you have enough cheap, clean energy you can even heat your entire house with underfloor electric heating. However, it’s not nearly as efficient as a heat pump. More on this later as I help a friend build a mountain house in the coming years (he wants to do a ground-to-water heat pump which heats the floors using PEX pipes, a modern variation on my article above).
I made my husband add radiant floors in our second bath (for the other two rooms; the master suite has its own). The bathroom had an exterior wall and it always felt cold to me. We love it.
Neat. I’m currently working on installing an in-floor heat mat in my updated bathroom. Any tips on pouring self-leveling concrete?
About ten years ago when we were living in a condo, we decided to farm out the kitchen reno to a highly regarded local contracting company because we simply didn’t have the time.
What a mistake that was.
It was a tiny 100 sq ft kitchen, and the renos involved opening up a wall and adding a breakfast bar, new countertop, tiling and painting, and new cupboard doors/hardware. Easy-peasy, right?
Well, it took FIVE WEEKS. And in that time, a total of EIGHT different contractors rotated through the job, one of whom was competent. The first countertop was measured wrong and built wrong, the backsplash was butchered on first attempt, and one guy even painted the ceiling in the same dark grey paint that went on one of the walls. Oh, and then they just left all the garbage on the balcony when they were “done”.
It took a lot of bitching and threats, but they finally made everything right and lowered the final price.
Mr. Money Mustache February 27, 2023, 7:19 am
Yeah, good points Jeremy – and glad it all came out well in the end!
Whenever I post articles or videos on DIY stuff, there is an inevitable flood of opinions from other contractors. Sometimes they are useful, like “Hey MMM, you got this detail wrong and here’s a correction for you” and other times they are just useless angry rants like “LOL idiot U cant do that if ur not professional”
I think they are missing a few key things: 1) Even when you do hire a “pro”, there’s only about a 25% chance it will be done perfectly (I learned this the hard way when running the house building company and herding crowds of expensive pros)
2) when you do something yourself and make the inevitable mistakes, this is not a bad thing. It’s an incredibly useful lesson that helps you learn. Usually, that lifetime knowledge is far more valuable than the cost of correcting your mistake. Even if it’s a (rare) $5000 mistake!
3) Houses are just simple, imperfect things to begin with. All of the older ones are completely riddled with things that aren’t “up to code”, and yet generations of people have managed to live happily in them for decades or even centuries. So instead of fussing over perfection, I suggest we’re better off learning as much as possible and doing our best to make improvements. Sure, read the books and watch the videos and consult with skilled pros whenever you get the chance. But also realize that perfect is the enemy of the GREAT, and just chill out and enjoy the process of learning, and most importantly, just enjoy your home as much as possible.
So true. DIY can sometimes be faster, or at least on your terms and level of perfection (and you can address it along the way). It may be a bit cynical, but imperfections, say in tub tile or trim, are unlikely to impact resale as so many things buyers are simply not going to notice until they actually, say, take a shower in their new house.
I appreciate this post quite a bit. I also appreciate your attitude about DIY, doing a good job, following code, and not getting too anxious if things aren’t perfect. In my area, there is often a don’t ask, don’t tell approach to permits. Many homeowners have done some really, really subpar work on their homes as a result. And I should point out that some of this subpar work is also done by contractors, probably typically unlicensed, but not always. I’ve also done a lot of home remodeling on my own home. I rarely deal with contractors. I try to read a lot, to get to know the relevant building codes as well as possible. I’m perhaps not as knowledgeable as some of the best contractors, but I am also convinced that I do a better job than most would do if I paid them, as I will always take the time (and spend the money) to do things right. For this reason, I’m also not anxious about permits (for moderate things like basement finishing and bathroom remodels – of course I would pull permits for new home/garage constructions, septic tanks, and the like). Sometimes people are aghast that a homeowner would dare do some work without ‘official’ oversight. I, however, really hate the nannification of society. Let’s learn how to be independent responsible adults, and let’s also trust one another to both take on projects on our own, and own up to mistakes when they happen.
I work for a contractor building houses, and while we usually build turn key custom houses to owners specs, there are quite often cases where the owners want to save some labour costs. Usually this means helping out with whatever simple tasks they feel comfortable doing, like waterproofing the foundation or installing wire shelving in closets. Even dealing with waste cleanup and disposal in the evenings or weekends can save a few thousand dollars by the end of a job. Still, it surprises me how rare this is considering labour is such a huge portion of building a house.
Love this post, MMM! We recently purchased a home in the SE Denver suburbs. Built in the 90s, it’s not *too* old and yet approaching 30 years old now, so could definitely use some refreshes!
Do you ever consider adding square footage as part of these renovations? (e.g., to add more space for your kitchen and/or living space, etc.)
If so, curious if there’s any sort of “decision framework” you use to guide those decisions!
(On one hand, I suspect you can add square footage at a much lower rate (cost) than current market sales rates per square foot. On another hand, it likely significantly increases the cost and complexity of the renovation, so perhaps the juice isn’t worth the squeeze. But having said *that*, if there were a time to consider doing so, I’d think the best time would be part of that larger renovation project! You can see how my roundabout thinking pattern can slow me down sometimes, your thoughts are much appreciated!)
So, the question is why go through all that? Save your money until you can afford to have it done by professionals. The idea that it is easy for anyone to do is silly.
Mr. Money Mustache February 27, 2023, 5:10 pm
Welcome Richard! Sounds like you might be a pretty new reader around here ;-)
MMM, have been a long time reader & thanks to you – in the verge of early retirement. It’s been that “one more year” for last couple of years.
At this point, a complete kitchen looks a lot to me as well. May be once i officially retire, will read this post again :)
Great article, MMM! Do you happen to recall the manufacturer and model of the cabinets in the top photo? They’re just beautiful!
Mr. Money Mustache February 27, 2023, 5:37 pm
The finished version of that kitchen is even better – I took the pic in a rush back in 2014 or so, and then later I went back and finished all the fine trim details around the cabinet sides and range hood, etc. It’s still the favorite kitchen I’ve even lived with, mainly because of the 9-foot tall bank of South facing windows that go from the countertop behind the sink, all the way to the ceiling. Overlooking a park and lots of tall trees!
We did our own Ikea kitchen renovation two years ago and it is great! Spot on about the drawers vs cabinets. I love the soft close function too. We also installed a charging station in a tall pantry cabinet and love having a spot for all the gadgets. I also like that the Ikea drawers are so easy to change out – we have switched a few in and out to accommodate how we use the space. Coolest thing we put in the space is pop up countertop outlets – we have ~5 feet of cabinets directly under windows, so no space on the wall for an outlet. We didn’t want the outlets in the front or sides of the cabinets, so the countertop pop ups are perfect. Also just a great “WOW” factor. We put quartz where the sink and stove are, but saved with butcher block on a long stretch on the other side with no appliances. Total cost for new cabinets, sink, faucet, range hood, lighting, quartz and butcher block countertops: about $12,000.
Great article with a lot of good tips. Having helped with 2 kitchen and 4.5 bath renos, great article for a person who is handy! We usually outsourced the floors and countertops, and spent about $7000 on each kitchen. One point though – I kept the recently replaced dishwasher and fridge on the second reno, and both had to be replaced within 3 years. We tried to repair the dishwasher, replacing the electronics, to no avail. These less expensive appliances seem to have planned obsolescence. I think it’s probably worthwhile to get newer more energy efficient ones, and pay the extra for stainless steel for resale value and to make a small kitchen look larger. It’s so worth getting the better quality cabinets, floors and counters.
Your timing is uncanny: I’m planning a kitchen remodel right now. Your advice is very helpful!
One thing I would recommend though is steering away from gas and going to an induction cook top. Electric is more precise, safer, healthier, more environmentally friendly, and cheaper to operate if you have solar. Also plumbing gas is adding another whole system and associated complexity, where as electrical is being done anyway.
Keep up the good work!
I just bought a house and the kitchen is cherry red from the 90s. Suffice it to say, I badly want to change things up. I have so many ideas for a kitchen reno but also zero experience. What are your thoughts on hiring a designer? Is there value in getting someone to plan a layout based on your needs, wants, and desires? My thoughts are that a designer could provide invaluable guidance on flow form and function. I’m working with not a huge space so any efficiencies would have lasting value as we probably spend 25%+ of our waking time in the kitchen.
Thanks in advance, Da Soulja Mon
Mr. Money Mustache February 27, 2023, 6:28 pm
Yeah! I’ve never hired one myself (except for using an architecture firm way back when I was building entire new houses), but I’m sure such people exist.
There are also “free” design services available at Ikea/Home Depot/Lowe’s if you are ordering cabinets through them, although the skill level will vary widely depending on which employee happens to be working that day.
Does anyone else reading this have suggestions on where to find a kitchen designer? My first thought is just asking around in your own circle of friends, and on Facebook and such.
My experience with interior designers is mostly from watching This Old House, but my impression is that they are setting you up to buy pricey and trendy fixtures. Optimizing a small and expensive space could be worth the cost for a designer aligned with your priorities. You may have friends who have done a remodel that can share lessons learned over a meal. I expect you can find many examples of what you may like or dislike on Youtube and reno blogs (if your kitchen is really small, maybe try Europe or Asia). Finally, if you have the space, it can be valuable to do a full size mock up with cardboard boxes to test layouts.
My suggestion is that you hold off on the renovation until you’ve cooked in the kitchen for about a year (all the seasons/holidays). Keep a running tab of what is irritating you about working in the space. Think about how your cooking tasks would be easier if thing A was over there and thing B really doesn’t need to sit on the counter full time etc etc. The suggestion to mock things up with cardboard boxes is also good.
I cooked in my substandard kitchen for 12 YEARS before I could afford the renovation (I’m old, so no HGTV nor expectation that everything had to look perfect NOW!). When I finally did renovate the kitchen It. Was. Perfect. The most functional space I have ever cooked in. Unfortunately I no longer live there. But that experience has taught me to live in and use a space before doing any type of renovation. Patience pays off.
I had decent luck hiring through Upwork. These days you can find someone abroad for much less than a local. And sometimes these abroad professionals are Americans living overseas
Hey MMM, are you comfortable that PEX pipe is safe for drinking? I’ve seen concerns about the potential for leaching of toxic chemicals. I suppose you could install a water filter to address that.
Hi MMM, FYI, the NEC (National Electrical Code) is revised every three years. The 2023 edition was just released in November. The NEC Handbook includes the complete Code, plus very helpful commentary and examples to clarify the Code itself. The Handbook is available directly from the publisher, the National Fire Protection Association (nfpa.org), for about $240. I ordered a previous Handbook from a seller on Amazon for a lower price. It turned out to be a misprinted book, with random letters throughout the text not printed, leaving a blank space in the middle of words! So, it’s worth paying a bit more and getting the Handbook directly from the publisher.
Why abs and not PVC? I’ve never seen abs in anything other than an RV. Maybe it is an east vs west coast thing?
It’s definitely a regional thing.
Did you really mean “over the range microwave” or did you mean to say “range hood”
In New Zealand there are limits on what you are allowed to do in the way of touching building, electrical, or plumbing.
Here’s a good summary: https://www.consumer.org.nz/articles/diy-legal-restrictions
Even if you know how to do it well, best to get a licenced tradesperson on board to sign off the work. Otherwise if your house catches fire or floods later on your insurance claim may be refused. And when selling the house the purchaser may want to see the Certificates of Compliance for your new kitchen
I’ve learned so much from you over the years but I worry about two things in this article. You talk about using air admittance valves (Studor vents) as your go-to but my understanding is that they’re illegal in a good chunk of the country and often left up to local code officials to override (allow). The Fine Homebuilding Podcast (you’d probably love it if you’re not already listening) also raised points that they’re difficult/ impossible to snake and their seals have a limited lifespan and need to be checked/ replaced every ~5 years to make sure they’re not emitting sewer gases. They’re the perfect/ only solution for island sinks but the podcast implied they should probably be avoided unless there isn’t another way to vent.
As for wiring, I don’t know that code prevents it but wiring within cabinets is always sketchy to me. Yes, it’s needed for dishwashers, disposals, etc but I’d only install an electrical outlet inside a cabinet, particularly en enclosed cabinet, as an absolute necessity. Wiring something in a drawer where a wire is continually flexed on open and close, particularly if you’re not able to visually see damage to the cord, seems like an unnecessarily elevated fire risk. If I had to install something within a cabinet – and I have – I’d be sure to use armored cable, have the outlet cover easily accessible and, ideally, within line of sight after opening a single cabinet door.
Thanks for all the knowledge you spread.
You left out that stone countertops are very easy to do on your own. They can be cut using a diamond saw blade in any old saw, and you just join them together with some epoxy. Floor and Decor and other similar shops sell precut countertops for dirt cheap ($300-600 for a 112″x26″). They come with bullnose backsplash and rounded fancy edges ready to cover cabinets. Lean into the hard work, as it’s more rewarding! They are very heavy though, so enlist the help of a friend!
Mr. Money Mustache February 28, 2023, 7:24 am
THANK YOU JC!! I had no idea there was a convenient place to buy big sheets of stone countertop for us regular people, so I’ll start looking around locally (including at Floor and Decor).
I’ve cut and installed smaller sheets of stone and quartz for things like bathroom vanities, shower benches, work areas etc. but this could be revolutionary.
If I can figure out how to do nice, polished and rounded cutouts for undermount sinks the power will be complete. Any tips?
I think this is the weirdest thing. I mean I have followed your blog for a few years…. I started as en engineer stashing away money for 15 years. I quit my job a couple of years ago to go into my hobby which is woodworking and accidentally started a building company. Now I’m thinking this might be another rat race so I think I will go back to carpentry more for fun. Either you have a big impact over my life MMM or maybe carpentry is just a natural way for us mustachians to enjoy life and feel fulfilled. Thanks for leading the way. I wish I could influence more people back home but I find it difficult to reach through.
PS, I sit here with Ikea kitchen planner to plan for a kitchen remodel I will do in a ski resort in an exchange for access to the cottage with my family. I feel like I have hacked the system.
All the love and support. /Magnus
Never could understand the aversion to the old walled in kitchen. The wall is there to prevent food smells and grease from traveling out to your living area. With these open plan kitchens I find a thin coating of cooking grease on everything, plus the house smells like cooking constantly. When I lived in the UK every house has a galley kitchen or one with a door(!), which I loved!
Where do you get your floors? Any tips on getting the best deals?
I’m surprised you install a garbage disposal. I would assume a smart man like yourself would compost or feed leftovers to the chickens. Or even just add it to the trash, I can’t imagine you can save money with a garbage disposal.
Mr. Money Mustache February 28, 2023, 7:33 am
I agree, composting is great and I’ve never thrown food waste in the trash or put any significant amount down the disposal.
But in the US, it’s standard to have a disposal like this in every kitchen sink and I still like the tradition. Because they are cheap, they double as the sink drain, and they handle the little bits of food from any hand washing (or pre-rinsing) of plates and pots. Much nicer than having to keep a sieve over your sink drain to protect the trap from food build-ups. And as a bonus, any organic material that goes down your drains (and toilets) gets composted anyway, at the treatment plant. Many cities then combine this output material with mulch and leaves in a large-scale composting pile to make mountains of soil which we residents can pick up for free to make gardens.
Enjoyed your experience. Having been in REI for 40+ years we have designed & rebuilt so many kitchens of various levels & styles. But the most exhilarating was the one we designed & built at our Lakehouse. After gutting the old 1bed 1bath Lakehouse to the studs, we added 3 bedrooms & 2 bathrooms. At the wife’s request I also added a 1/2 bath in the master bedroom. We then decided to use the old lake facing 23×15 dirty, bird/bug infested porch as the footprint for the new kitchen. At Lowes we found 2 huge 96×54 $1500 picture windows that were special order returns. They had been dropping in price for a month, so we grabbed them for $150 a piece. We also added 16 large Pella windows to replace the original four 13×13 so a view of the lake can be seen from every room. We picked up the Pella’s at a contractor auction for $35-$50 a piece. We went with Lowes Diamond kitchen cabinets for the color, but the sales associate could not understand why we did not buy any upper cabinets, the reason being it allowed an unobstructed view of the Lake & daily sunrise/sunsets. We also had 18 ft of base cabinets & we designed the 4×8 island with cabinets both sides & added a small walk-in pantry. We finished the kitchen island & all countertops with ‘leathered’ Carrara marble. Staying away from the dangers & costs of propane I upgraded the electric service from 50amp to 200amp (no permit required but had a State Inspection done for our Insurance Carrier). Going all electric, complete with a 36inch induction cooktop & then I vented the double oven to the outside rather than the heat coming into the kitchen from the top vent of the oven. In 9 years our highest monthly electric bill was $68. Apart from the counter top install, my wife, son, DIL & I literally did All of the work ourselves.
Hi Pete. Nice chance-of-pace in this article. Just a quick note to say that on my iPhone, the captions under your pictures go a bit wrong. It ends up in a very tall and thin column of text. For example, the caption under the IKEA kitchen designer photo is about two words wide and twenty-six lines long.
In other random news, my company has an office in Broomfield so hopefully I can finally pilgrimage to MMM headquarters at some point (from the UK). And become one of those weird people staring through the windows :-)
Great post. I’ll just add that the National Kitchen and Bath Association (NKBA) is a great resource: https://kb.nkba.org/
While primarily focused on k&b professionals, their website offers a fair amount of useful information for homeowners
I often turn to the NKBA site to check on industry standards (dimensions, materials, placement, etc) when I’m beginning the renovation process on my home.
It also is a good source for design ideas and emerging trends in materials, designs, appliances, et al as NKBA hosts the huge annual design expo called KBIS, as well as many design competition for their members.
Hi MMM, Thanks for another great article. Do you have any recommendations for books or video series for those of us who are wanting to learn the art of building and DIY with no background in building or using power tools? It all seems a little overwhelming but at the same time very fascinating and I would absolutely love to get to the level of doing my own kitchen one day.
Nice post, and something I did not expect :)
Another thing, on the front page I cannot click any of the comments and get to that specific comment. Tried different browsers but no go, seems like they are not linked at all?
To keep things non-promotional, please use a real name or nickname (not Blogger @ My Blog Name)
The most useful comments are those written with the goal of learning from or helping out other readers – after reading the whole article and all the earlier comments. Complaints and insults generally won’t make the cut here, but by all means write them on your own blog!
Take a look around. If you think you are hardcore enough to handle Maximum Mustache, feel free to start at the first article and read your way up to the present using the links at the bottom of each article.
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