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|Unless you are a seasoned general contractor with extensive experience in the full range of home improvement projects, chances are you will not want to tackle a full-scale kitchen design or remodeling project entirely on your own. The kitchen is unlike any other room in the home and its construction in a majority of cases requires collaboration among several different subcontractor specialties, including carpenters, plumbers, masons, painters and heating/ventilation/air conditioning (HVAC).|
|Even a minor kitchen
remodeling project is likely to require
expert installation or adjustment at some point in the process. And
when it comes to kitchens, very few remodeling projects qualify as
"minor". Of course, anytime
the topic of home improvement comes up, it usually brings with it the
dilemma of whether to hire a contractor to do the work or to go the
do-it-yourself (DIY) route. Hiring a contractor does not take up the
household members' time and comes with the relative confidence of
having the project handled by an expert in the given subject matter. On
the other hand, the DIY approach can save a great deal of money -
thousands or even tens of thousands of dollars in some cases. In
addition, there is a unique sense of satisfaction associated with
knowing that you built or installed something entirely on your own.
Extensive resources exist for the DIY adherents, including detailed
reference books, supportive hardware retailers, and online forums where
homeowners swap stories and plumb the depths of each other's
Generally, it is advisable to retain the services of a contractor who is proficient in the type of work that needs to be done. The DIY approach only makes sense if you have done similar installations before and fully understand every aspect of what you are doing. Even in that case, there is no substitute for the experience and expertise that a contractor brings. Of course, not all contractors are made the same. Skill, track record, ethics, and pricing vary widely among providers. To make sure that you hire the best at your price point, utilize the hiring resources and selection criteria provided in the final section on this page.
If you are building a new house, the first professional who will be dealing with your kitchen needs is the architect. Like every other room in the house, the kitchen must first be envisioned in blueprint form. At this juncture, the architect's role will be to ensure that plans for the home are consistent with your vision on the one hand and compliant with local building codes on the other. The architect must also include in the blueprint all of the necessary kitchen infrastructure in terms of cabinet location, water piping, electrical wiring, gas lines, and ventilation systems. Finally, the architect must incorporate into the specifications the expectations and materials to be used for the floors, walls, cabinets, and countertops.
In most cases, collaboration with the architect proceeds along several well established stages. The first stage is concept design, which is when the blueprint is created and refined. With respect to the kitchen, the general layout and theme are discussed at this point. The second stage is design development, which is when specific house systems and building materials are evaluated. With regard to the kitchen, this means considering the materials to be used for the floors and the system to be put in place for ventilation. The third stage is design finalization and documentation. At this time, the architect will create working drawings that illustrate how the house will be constructed and specifications that set out the expectations for construction tasks and materials. The architect will also liaise with the local authorities to ensure that all necessary permissions are granted in an expedited manner. With regard to the kitchen, make sure that the working drawings are in accordance with your expectations for how the kitchen will look. The final stage is contractor selection and administration, which refers to hiring the general contractor or builder, and the various sub-contractors who will actually do the work of constructing the house. The architect may take more or less of an active role at this point in the process.
Selecting an architect is a critically important decision which will have a profound influence on how your new construction will turn out. It is highly recommended that you interview at least four architects whose previous work features constructions which are similar to what you have in mind. Ask questions about the architect's education, experience, examples of prior work, and cost structuring. Find out if the architect has experience in effectively dealing with the local building authorities. Make sure that you feel comfortable with the architect and that the architect is a clear communicator on the one hand and a good listener on the other. The architect has to be completely open to your ideas since it is you who is ultimately building the house. Ask for references and make sure that the architect is properly licensed in the state, with no prior issues which may cast doubt as to the architect's professional ethics. Many architects work with a team, which may include other architects, apprentices, and other support personnel. In that case, make sure that you are comfortable with the entire team. The design stage typically lasts several months, during which time you will be working very closely with the architect and his team. It is important that the working relationship feels right.
It bears repeating that you have to find an architectural team who will respect your wishes and seek to fulfill your vision. However, that only works if you are pro-active in expressing your preferences. If you see a design element that give you pause, be sure to voice your feelings. Similarly, if you feel that there is an element that is missing from the design, be sure to express how important you find that element. As the client, your wishes should be of paramount importance to the architect and his team.
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Another type of professional you should strongly consider involving in any kitchen design or remodeling process is the interior designer. The question of whether an interior designer is worth the money is one that is open to debate and many people have very strong opinions one way or the other. In most cases, those opinions are based on either their own personal experiences working with an interior designer or on their second-hand knowledge of their friends' and relatives' experiences. Here, we present a somewhat more objective view of the interior design profession, including both its strengths and its limitations.
Where an architect designs the structure of the house and its interior spaces, the interior designer creates the atmosphere in those interior spaces. The interior designer makes decisions regarding materials, colors, finishes, furnishings, decorations, placements, and other elements in an effort to create a look and feel which fulfills the homeowner's vision and addresses the household's preferences.
Most consumers' understanding of how to furnish and appoint the interior of a room is based on limited experience and largely derived from homes they have lived in and seen. An interior designer brings far greater experience relating to not only decorative and thematic consistency, but also such diverse and important topics as buying cost-effective furniture, selecting picture frames, finding quality cabinets, choosing appropriate light fixtures, picking flooring materials, and so forth. A good interior designer knows not only what works, but also what does not work. Such a professional can also save significant expenses in terms of both time and money by identifying issues early on and suggesting lower cost alternatives which can still effectively fulfill the homeowner's vision.
Individuals who have negative experiences with interior designers often unfairly blame the interior design profession a whole. The truth, however, lies either with the specific interior designer chosen or with the individuals themselves. As in any other profession, not all interior designers are going to provide the same level of quality, offer the same extent of expertise, bring the same standard of excellence, extend the same amount of cost-saving advice, or demand the same level of compensation. Not all interior designers are going to be equally proficient in listening to, understanding, and ultimately fulfilling the clients' unique preferences. Consequently, just as with architects, it is important to interview a number of different interior designers before making a final selection. It is absolutely vital to look at examples of each interior designer's previous work and make sure that at least some of that work is consistent with the overall look and feel you are hoping to achieve in your own home.
When creating a new construction, it is advisable to bring in an interior designer early on during the process, as the interior designer's input may inform choices regarding the flooring, ceiling finishes, and other construction elements. It is much less expensive to build consistently from the beginning than to engage in extensive remodeling at a later date. In case of remodeling an existing kitchen, an interior designer can provide a lot of both general advice and specific ideas. Where a major remodel is being contemplated, bringing in an interior designer is nearly always the right decision.
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For a new construction and, in some instances, for a large-scale kitchen remodeling project, there will have to be a general contractor retained, also known as a builder or a main contractor. This professional takes on the overall responsibility for the project, oversees the physical building, furnishes the necessary labor, material, and equipment, and typically hires all of the necessary subcontractors, such as carpenters, masons, roofers, painters, plumbers, and electricians.
In case of a new construction, the architect can often recommend a general contractor with whom the architect has worked in the past. While such a recommendation is certainly useful and it can be helpful to know that the general contractor has an existing working relationship with the architect, this should not be the only option considered. The selection of the general contractor can be the single most important decision made on a new construction, as the lion's share of the overall expense of building a house will go to construction. A bad general contractor can lead to a slew of problems, ranging from cost overruns, to time delays, to unsafe working conditions, to improper building materials, to shoddy construction, to legal issues. Often, the difference between a beautiful home brought in on time and within budgetary constraints and a sprawling money pit is the choice of general contractor.
In case of a kitchen remodeling project, there are general contractors who specialize in kitchen and bathroom remodeling specifically. These service professionals have a great deal of specific experience and expertise. In addition, kitchen and bathroom contractors will often be able to provide recommendations as far as cabinet, countertop, and flooring providers generally, and individual carpenters, tile installers, glaziers, stone masons, plumbers, and electricians specifically.
Given the importance of selecting a quality general contractor, the hiring process should be undertaken with absolute seriousness. Potential candidates should be identified via recommendations from trusted sources and through independent research. Candidates should then be screened by phone to determine if they have the expertise, interest, and bandwidth to take on your specific project, to get a sense for their willingness to provide references and samples of prior work, and to gain an understanding for how they go about putting together a cost estimate and subsequently contracting out the work to subcontractors. Based on the results of the telephone screens, four or five general contractors should be selected for face-to-face meetings in order to discuss in greater detail the specifics of the project and to ask for estimates. If the potential for a positive working relationship is there, then investigate each general contractor's references and visit either past or current work sites.
Once you have narrowed down the group to several contractors with whom you feel comfortable, then ask for formal bids. The general rule of thumb is to throw out the lowest bid, especially if it is substantially lower than the others, as this general contractor may be willing to cut corners. However, every situation is different, so just because a bid is low does not necessarily mean that it is inaccurate or that the contractor is willing to take shortcuts. Finally, be sure that everything is finalized and put in writing. The contract should detail every aspect of the project, including the schedule of payments, the detailed timeline, the specific materials to be utilized, and all of the contractor's legal obligations, including liability insurance, worker's compensation, and the promise to obtain lien releases from all subcontractors and vendors.
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In case of a limited scope kitchen remodeling, you may skip the general contractor and decide to hire the necessary subcontractors on your own. In many situations, the kitchen is not being fully renovated, but rather several specific elements are being updated or replaced. Examples include refacing the cabinets, resurfacing the counters, redoing the flooring, installing a new backsplash, updating the lighting fixtures, replacing the windows, and converting from gas to all electrical appliances.
When a project that is limited in scope, not using a general contractor can save significant costs. First, the general contractor does not need to be paid. This, in and of itself, eliminates a major expense. Second, you rather than the general contractor get to decide which subcontractors to hire. Often, general contractors will hire subcontractors that are not necessarily the least expensive, the most hardworking, the most honest, or the most skilled, but rather those with whom they have pre-existing relationships. Third, a general contractor may pay a subcontractor less, charge you more, and pocket the difference. Hiring the subcontractors directly eliminates this problem and ensures that any money that is saved on your project will stay right where it belongs.
However, hiring all the subcontractors on your own also has its downsides. You have to know the different skills and trades which are required for the project. In case of something specific, like putting in replacement windows or new floors, this is not too difficult. However, in case of a larger remodel, such as changing the floor plan and putting in a new set of cabinets, counters, and floors, this can be more complex. Additionally, you have to put in the time to go through the process of winnowing down the available subcontractors for each require trade, screening them, meeting with them, requesting and evaluating bids, hiring them, and then managing them.
Depending on the extent and complexity of the kitchen remodeling or renovation project, there can be anywhere from one to more than a dozen different subcontractors involved. Imagine a kitchen redo where you are putting in new wood cabinets, adding granite counters and a tile backsplash, replacing a single-hung window with a bay window, and adding an island with a cooktop, range, and a second sink. In this case, you may need a carpenter (cabinets, island), stone mason (counters), tile installer (backsplash), window installer (bay window), HVAC specialist (range), and plumber (second sink). You may also need a painter, an electrician, and a floor finisher. In each case, you will need to gain some understanding of the specialty, the materials, and the general pricing, or run the risk of being over-charged and under-serviced. You will also need to find the time to manage each subcontractor and the patience to work through any unexpected kinks. Obviously, having a general contractor saves your having to do all of this work.
The decision regarding whether to bring in a general contractor or to subcontract out on your own should ultimately depend on the size of the project and your experience, willingness, and availability to be involved in the hiring and day-to-day supervision of the subcontractors. For smaller projects, subcontracting on your own may be the most intelligent and cost-effective decision. For larger projects, bringing in a general contractor may make more sense. For medium-sized projects, the determination should be made on a case-by-case basis.
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When it comes to finding quality contractors, there are a number of hiring resources which are available and of which you should be aware. When coupled with appropriate selection criteria, these resources will enable you to identify the most skilled, experienced, honest, and cost-effective contracting personnel in your geographical area. In turn, finding such personnel will significantly increase the chances of your project being completed on time and within budgetary guidelines.
The traditional way to find local contractors has been through the Yellow Pages, and that can still work, but the most comprehensive resources today are available online. Search engines, such as Google, Yahoo, and Bing, are becoming increasingly proficient at locating contractors in a particular area. By incorporating the name of your city or state with the contractor specialty in the search string, such as "plumbers new york" or "floor installers milwaukee" or "carpenters vermont", it is possible to receive numerous relevant search results. Online yellow pages, such as YP, Super Pages, and Local Pages, allow you to search for contractor types in particular geographic areas, much like the traditional printed yellow pages.
In addition, a number of resources exist which do part of the legwork as far as the screening process for you. Referral services such as Service Magic, Quality Smith, Remodel Net, and Mi Needs provide contractors by specialty or by project for given geographical areas. Often, they also include reviews and ratings, as well as other helpful information regarding each contractor. A great resource is Angie's List, which is a site where consumers rate a broad range of service providers in different geographical areas, including home improvement contractors. Last but not least, forums on home improvement focused sites such as Garden Web, Do It Yourself, House Repair Talk, and others, provide a place where consumers can exchange recommendations and experiences with different contractors.
As has already been mentioned in some of the other sections, before deciding on a contractor and awarding the job, you have to go through several steps to ensure that you are getting a high quality service professional for your money. Ask for and check references. Request to see and take a close look at samples of prior work. Ask for a detailed breakdown of projected costs. Make sure that there is a base level of comfort and that communication proceeds along a two-way street. Finally, after the selection has been made, all of the details regarding costs, timelines, legal obligations, work to be performed, and materials to be used should be explicitly written in contract form and signed by all necessary parties.
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