All the Tasks in Remodeling a Kitchen or Bath

Written by Sam Brusco, owner Brusco Design & Renovation

Before I dive in, I should say, to contractors, kitchens and baths are virtually identical. Think about it; both involve plumbing fixtures, cabinetry, tile, countertops, electricity, venting, and so on. The only difference is… the appliances. That’s why you see so many “kitchen & bath” places, and why almost every contractor has “kitchens & baths” on his business card.)

It may seem that remodeling a kitchen or bathroom just involves removing the old cabinets and fixtures, then putting up new ones, but there’s a lot more to it than that.

  1. Design  You could just use the same layout, as so many people do, but if you do that, you’re missing a big opportunity to make your home work better for you. Most kitchens in houses today were setup by contractors who never cooked. Doorways were placed where they don’t make sense anymore. Traffic flow didn’t get a second thought and workstations are either cramped or too far apart. Bathrooms have limitations over where fixtures can go, but the current arrangement may not meet the needs of most families during the morning rush hour.
  2. Planning Detailing the tasks needed to make sure the project goes smoothly or swiftly. Save a few hours of preparation, and you will pay for it with several weeks of delays.
  3. Selecting products  Sometimes it can take weeks or even months for fixtures and cabinets to come in, so this must be done well ahead of the first swing of the hammer. A great remodeler will go with you to make selections to offer technical and design advice. The average contractor avoids this like the plague, because they don’t want to take the time or the responsibility.
  4. Permits These are generally needed if the walls are opened. Ask your town’s building department about your project. Don’t try to get around this. Having your project inspected by a knowledgeable, neutral third party with the authority to say “Fix it!” is the best and only insurance you can get for having a project done correctly. And there’s a $500 fine if you don’t.
  5. Preparation  This includes floor protection and dust containment. If your house was built before 1978, it probably has lead in it, and you are legally required to hire a licensed lead-safe remodeler. A great remodeler treats all houses in the same way. Lead or not, no one wants to come home to a dusty house each day.
  6. Deconstruction  Most contractors call this “demolition” — the word choice indicates the attitude of the contractor. With careful handling, some items can be reused; some can be donated.
  7. Logistics  Unless you have a small, empty warehouse in your backyard, products will need to be brought to your home as needed. The remodeler will need to pick them up or arrange for their delivery, and then they will probably need to be moved and handled (carefully) several times after that.
  8. Rough framing  If you are changing the layout of kitchen or bathroom (see #1 above), you will need a carpenter to do this. What is quite frequently the case is that a previous homeowner or a plumber cut, drilled or hacked the structural framing beneath the floor or above the ceiling of that room. This needs to be repaired before putting a brand new kitchen or bath on top of it.
  9. Plumbing  obviously. Please, only use a licensed and insured plumber. The money you save by not taking this advice pales in comparison to the tens of thousands of dollars of damage a leak can cause. And your homeowner’s insurance probably will not pay for it.
  10. Electrical  Put in more outlets! Plugging and unplugging devices leads to frayed cords and shocks. This is also a great opportunity to improve the lighting, which is so important to your safety and convenience in a bathroom or kitchen. In most homes, there’s one light in the center of the room and that’s it. In other houses, the lighting is in the wrong place or inadequate. To do this later, will cost you 3x as much. from the free seminar How to Avoid a Renovation Horror All the Tasks in Remodeling a Kitchen or Bath © 2012 Sam Brusco page 2 of 2
  11. HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning)  Even if you’re not changing the radiators or ducts, you probably should change the venting. Today’s range hoods require larger ducts to carry the air away. A bath fan that is vented into the attic is all too common, illegal and will cause mold. It needs to exhaust directly to the outside.
  12. Insulation You must do this is if any outside walls are opened. It’s also a good idea, because you don’t want moisture condensing in the walls and feeding mold. And who wants cold walls in a bathroom?
  13. Sheetrock/plastering If you opened the walls or ceiling, you’ll need to put them back.
  14. Tile & flooring  Backsplashes and tub surrounds are usually tile. Flooring has more options. Consider hardwood in either room, and don’t dismiss linoleum out of hand; what’s available nowadays is beautiful and lasts for decades. Sheet goods are seamless, so if you get water on the floor (and how often does that happen in a kitchen or bath?), it’s not going to cause a panic. Wood and linoleum floors feel warmer than tile and also have some give, which is so much easier on your back.
  15. Cabinets and their installation  Putting up cabinets is easy; getting them perfectly aligned is not.
  16. Countertop and its installation  Requires more effort, strength and skill than you would think. For granite and other solid surfaces, don’t even try to do it yourself. One wrong move and you’ll own a lot of expensive and pretty walkway stones for your garden.
  17. Finish work  This includes baseboards, moldings, thresholds, door and window trims. If your cabinets go to the ceiling, keep in mind that there is no such thing as a perfect ceiling or perfect walls, so you’re going to need crown molding to hide those variations.
  18. Paint  Assuming you haven’t covered every surface in tile, there will be areas to paint. Most people think they can paint great; it’s not as easy as they remember.
  19. Cleanup  Not just at the end of the project, but every minute of every day. A clean work area is a safe work area.
  20. Project Management  Most of the above tasks require specific skills and specific tradespersons and specific suppliers. There are over 25 subcontractors and suppliers and other entities involved in a kitchen or bath remodel. See the article entitled “How many people does it take put in a kitchen”.
  21. Overhead & profit for the general contractor  This is what most people do not account for, and nobody likes to pay, and it’s never mentioned on HGTV. Overhead covers things like insurances, licensing, education, vehicle and tool expenses, etc. It also covers the risk involved in running a project and a true business. A professional organization of any kind must cover all of its costs to remain in business; most contractors don’t, which explains why 90% close their imaginary doors within the first 5 years. Read the article entitled “Why Some Remodelers Charge So Much (And Why Some Are So Cheap) The Truth about Costs and ‘Overhead'” on our web site.