Remodel Your Kitchen




About: I'm a PhD candidate in Pharmaceutical Sciences living the dream with my wife, two dogs, and a basement that overfloweth with homebrew.

Remodeling a kitchen is no easy task, but every time I see a home show where someone says something along the lines of "and our remodel only cost about $40,000" I have to laugh to myself. I bought my house right out of college as a foreclose for just a little over 60k. The house was built in 1901. It needed a lot of work and given the modest salary of a full time graduate student, everything had to be done under a very tight budget. I had no prior construction experience before I purchased the house. I was fortunate enough to have an Uncle in the area who had been through some similar things to get me rolling, but it was largely thanks to internet resources such as this site that I was able to acquire the knowledge I needed to get the job done.

The kitchen renovations took place in two main phases. Phase 1 was when I first moved in and the goal was to get things "livable." Phase 2 came a year and a half later when it was time to do things right. Phase 1 cost probably in the neighborhood of $500 (including appliances) while Phase 2 ran about $900, bringing the total cost to a paltry $1,400.

If you want to checkout any of my other projects visit the blog I've kept on the renovation at

Also please vote for me in the Burning Questions 7 contest if you like this Instructable.

Step 1: The Beginning

This is the only picture I had of the original kitchen and it really doesn't do the awful state of things justice. There were three levels of ceilings (ancient plaster, then collapsing cardboard type tile, and finally office type ceiling tile). Not only was the ceiling in bad shape, but the layers lowered it about a foot and a half. I've 6'8" so I needed to reclaim any height I could. The tiles on the wall were plastic tiles with about a half inch of glue. The 220V kitchen receptacle didn't work. There was a single, loosely attached ceiling fan with no switch. You needed to open and close a door to enter the kitchen from either of the two entrances. Etc, etc... Long story short, it needed work.

Step 2: Demo

Looking back I would say without a doubt, the most important part of any renovation is to get ALL of you demo done up front and cleaned up. I attempted to do this sort of as I went and made for a pretty bad living situation. Luckily I was able to stay at my girlfriends apartment most nights. If you're going to do this while you're living in the house I would recommend setting up a makeshift kitchen with a few small appliances (microwave and mini-fridge at the least) somewhere else in the house.

I got an electrical permit to add receptacles so before drywall went up on the ceiling, I ran the electric wire needed to add a switch to the light in the center of the room as well as adding a second light above the sink. If you attempt to do the electric yourself there are a few things to keep in mind. The counter area needs two separate 20amp GFCI (ground fault) circuits that can't have anything else tied into them. This means that it's a good idea to have separate circuits for any other appliances. I have a fridge line (15amp), microwave line (20amp), dishwasher line (15amp), lighting circuit (15amp), and garbage disposal (15amp). The electric work itself isn't as hard as you may think so don't be intimidated. If you read enough on the topic and talk to people who know what they're doing with any questions, it is entirely manageable. I had no prior electric experience and passed my inspection with flying colors.

Step 3: Opening the Entryway

I mentioned the only entrances to the kitchen were open and close doors. More modern floor plans try to incorporate an open layout. I mentioned earlier I'm a little height challenged so I raised the height as well as widened the doorway. This was a load bearing wall so the studs I cut out had to be properly reinforced. As a general rule, if the wall runs perpendicular to the trusses in your attic, it's probably load bearing. It's a good idea to consult a structural engineer before attempting anything too radical. I used two 8x10s with 1/2" plywood in between to span the gap, supported by dual 2x4s on either side.

My house has plaster walls which are a nightmare to work with. If you have drywall this and other work you'll do during your renovation are much, MUCH easier. Not only is the plaster a pain to cut through, but if your saw snags on a piece of lath it can rip out plaster horizontally across. Try cutting as close to studs where possible and use a scrap of 2x4 pinned pressed against the wall to prevent the plaster from pulling away. Also, in older houses you'll probably be disturbing a lot of lead paint so take proper precautions. At the very least pin a sheet to doorways to prevent construction dust from getting elsewhere in the house.

Step 4: Insulate!

Older houses will probably have blown in insulation if they have any insulation at all. This means the insulation probably wasn't able to get to blocked off areas, such as under windows. Adding a little insulation now will save you a lot down the road.

Step 5: Drywalling

The massive amount of glue behind the plastic tiles meant drywall wouldn't sit flush if I mounted it over the tiles. Looking back, maybe I could have used spacers along the studs to even things out but I opted to tear the plaster down. It's messy and pretty laborious. A hammer a prybar work well or even just the hammer clawside. Due to the blown in insulation I had to tear the plaster down to the lath, but couldn't remove the lath itself or all the insulation would come tumbling out. It was a pain.

I hung my drywall vertically but I it's traditionally done horizontally and offset, such as below:


I used longer sheets (12 ft) for the ceiling to make the taping easier down the road. Drywall lifts can be rented from most hardware rental stores and are pretty much a necessity if using longer sheets. I also had my uncle and friend help me hang the drywall, but they'll work for beer.

Step 6: Painting and Cabinet Refinishing

For the walls, I used a tinted primer followed by a coat or two of actual paint. Using a tinted primer gives you more even color and means less paint coats will be required, especially if using darker colors. Paint the ceiling first and then move to the walls.

I'm a big fan of wood and wanted to refinish the cabinets rather than painting them. Be forewarned, painting them would be MUCH easier. I had to chemically strip them (the brand of stripper called "circa 1850" works wonders), sand them using coarse, medium, and fine grit paper, and stain/polyurethane them. I used a combination polyurethane and stain in one which saved a few steps. Whatever route you go, I would recommend using an oil based stain and poly for more durability as the cabinets will be handled on a daily basis.

Even if you're not painting OR staining your cabinets, replacing the hardware is a simple as could be able will give you a new look. My parents had some hardware they never installed in house they built 20 years ago so that saved some money there. I spray painted the hinges black which gave enough of a new look without adding to the cost.

Step 7: Modernizing

It goes without saying that remodeling is a good time to modernize. I originally didn't have a dishwasher, something I couldn't live without. Not having a dishwasher means there probably isn't an existing space for one either. I decided to cut out the base cabinet that had been to the left of the sink to make space. Installation is pretty basic as long as you're installing it adjacent to your sink. You need to tap into the hot water line for the sink as an inlet and replace the drain pipe of the sink with one that allows you to tap the dishwasher waste in. An electric supply or open outlet is also required.

Under the sink I replaced the rotted out bottom of the cabinet with a solid piece of plywood. Removing the sink temporarily makes it much easier to get into place. If you don't want to pull out the sink, I'd advise using two separate pieces. While I was their I decided to add an in-line reverse osmosis water filter. Basic models such as this one start at $30 and tap right into the existing water supply. You can get types that have a dedicated spout if you have a 4 hole sink or exit right out of the cold water faucet, which is the type I opted for.

Step 8: Trimming the Windows and Doors

For doing the trim you're going to want a miter saw, table saw, benchtop router, air compressor, and brad/finish nailer. If you don't have a compressor and nailer, basic combos can be found in the neighborhood of $65. Trust me, you'll want one. When doing the trim you can go with basic styles or go a little more complex. On the doorway to the dining room I chose to replicate the style of trim found throughout the house.

This was the end of Phase I; not the greatest but do-able for the time being.

Step 9: Plan Your Layout

One of the main problems with my existing kitchen layout was a lack of counter space. Without drastically changing the kitchen layout, I basically had two options. A great tool for picking a layout is to draw a scale diagram of your kitchen on a sheet of paper. Then cut out you existing appliance and such from an additional sheet. Then you can rearrange them to try and get a sense of what will work best without having to lug things around.

I was lucky enough to find an identical base cabinet to my existing cabinets on craigslist for only $35. While you probably won't be so lucky, scout out area hardware and kitchen stores to find similar styles. You can never have too much counter space. There was a heat vent on the wall that was covered by the new cabinet, so I just extended the vent out of the toekick of the cabinet. Remember, pretty much everything can be changed with a little work.

Step 10: Prepping the Counter

Counter tops are a big decision. You can spend upwards of $60 a square foot for solid surfaces like granite. Concrete counter tops are a great option for the adventurous DIY'er that yield that solid surface look for a much cheaper price. Laminate is "generally" considered the cheapest route, but I wasn't very excited about the prospect. Much of this work was to get rid of the old laminate counter top. Instead I chose to do granite tile. At only $2.50 for a 12" x 12" tile, it was probably about the same cost as laminate with a vastly superior look.

Obviously you need something for the granite tiles to sit on. The actual counter is composed of several layers. The bottom layer is 3/4" plywood. You can get the cheapest type that is unfinished on both sides since it won't actually be seen. Make sure you thoroughly inspect the plywood for warping, as even a little warping will be a big pain. The plywood gets screwed into the cabinet frame. To get more support I also mounted a few 2x4s to the perimeter and screwed the plywood into this. As far as counter depth, I went for 24." This is largely dependent on your cabinets but going 24" instead of a traditional 26" saved me lots of tile cuts.

On top of the plywood is cement board. You have two choices here, Hardibacker or traditional cement board. Hardibacker is much easier to work with and is my overall preferred choice. It can be cut to size using a diamond tipped scoring tool (~$10) and snapped much in the way drywall is. It gets screwed to the plywood using special screws designed just for the purpose. Use fiber tape to span any joints or edges. For the backsplash, the Hardibacker can be attached directly to the studs.

For cutting the sink hole, a cardboard template is a good way to line up the proper spacing. In my case I wanted to go with an old cast-iron sink. These are easily found used and although a bit more difficult to keep clean, add a sense of classic charm. Whatever route you go with, make sure you check the sink fit before you start to tile.

Step 11: Laying the Tile

The backsplash is your chance to express yourself. There are so many different styles and accents to combine, you can really go wild. Unfortunately I had about 20 sq ft of backsplash to cover and stepping up from the most basic tiles ($2.50 sq/ft) to the fancy stuff ($10+ sq/ft) would mean a pretty substantial price difference.

My solution was to take get a lot of the basic white til grids and a few tan tile grids. hey come in 12" x 12" sheets with each of the smaller tiles connected by rubber. By selectively cutting out pseudo random white tiles and replacing them with tan tiles, I was able to create a unique and stylish backsplash on the cheap. I'm an avid gamer so I was even able to incorporate a personal element by hiding one of each type of Tetris pieces in the patterns. Make sure to use an organic mastic when tiling walls as opposed to a thinset that you would use for horizontal surfaces. If you try to use a thinset on the walls the tiles will begin to slide as soon as you let go (I found this out the hard way on my bathroom shower).

Once the backsplash is up you can lay down the counter itself. For a counter top, you want as small grout lines as possible, thus you'll be butting the tiles directly up to one another. Thinset and a 1/2" towel should do the trick. Another tip is when mixing thinsets and grout, use deionized (preferably) or distilled water purchased from the supermarket. This water is depleted of the minerals that may cause staining in the long run and is a whole lot cheaper than the specialty additives sold in hardware stores. Obviously this is more important for grout than tile, but it doesn't hurt to always use it.

As far as cutting of tiles is concerned most stores will make straight cuts on tiles you purchase for a nominal fee. However, this is a pain to measure and doesn't cover the necessity of complicated cuts, such as near the sink. I looked into renting a tile cutter and at $75/day, I decided to just buy my own cheaper cutter for about the same price. The basic wet saws with a 4" blade will work fine for 12" tiles. I was worried about their ability to cut granite but as long as you feed the tile slowly enough, it shouldn't be a major issue.

Step 12: What to Do With the Floor

With the floor you again have three main options. There's tile, laminate, and vinyl/linoleum. I was trying to get away from vinyl so that was out and despite the 30 year warranty advertised on laminate, I'm just not sold on the durability of something that is going to get both high foot traffic and frequent spills.

I was lucky enough to find about 150 sq ft of ceramic tile on clearance at an absurd 10 cents / sq ft. There are many different patterns you can choose when laying tile. I opted to set smaller squares (left overs from the backsplash) in the corners. It required a small cut in each of the 150 tiles, but added a unique and interesting look. Consult the PEI rating of tiles you plan on putting on the floor. The numbers range from 1-5 with 1 being the most brittle and 5 being the least likely the crack under weight. 4 and 5 are generally acceptable for floors though in high traffic areas such as kitchens you may opt for 5 if at all possible.

Depending on the condition of your existing floor, you're probably going to want to lay down a subfloor of some sort. Plywood or cement board is a usual choice. However, the subfloor had been replaced in my house when this linoleum was installed. I didn't want to build the floor up any higher as it was already an inch step up from the dining room. I though about tearing up the linoleum, but it was glued down pretty good (quick side note: In many older houses floor tiles may contain asbestos and that's certainly not something you want to be tearing up. I approximated the linoleum at about 10 years old based on some other info so it wasn't a concern for me but please be careful).

Being that the linoleum was in pretty good condition and not peeling, I simply decided to score it up with a box cutter and tile right over the top. Even if you go this route, you probably want to secure the existing subfloor to the joists below with a generous amount of screws. This will help eliminate flex and the potential of cracking tiles. Just as on the counter, thinset and a 1/2" trowel should do the job fine. The size of tile spacers used will depend on your preference for grout thickness.

Step 13: Grouting and Sealing

Grout comes in two types, sanded and sandless. Sanded grout is for larger gaps of 1/8" and up. Sandless grout is more suitable for smaller groutlines, such as the ones on the counter. In addition to the grout you will need to caulk area such as near windows, around the sink, and where the counter meets the backsplash. Caulk allows for expansion and contraction due to heating and cooling without cracking. Most hardware stores sell color matched caulk so you can get the same color as your grout.

Without belaboring the description of the grout process, you smear it on, wipe it off, and let it dry. Once dry a sealer is applied to prevent it from absorbing stains over the course of its lifetime. Special extra stain resistant grouts are an option you may want to consider for the counter surface. Though I'm not sure exactly how much more effective these truly are, I opted for that route since the last thing I want is my nice new counter absorbing stains. You also need to seal the granite tile itself as the stone can absorb stains as well. Multipurpose sealers can be used on both tile and grout.

Step 14: Trimming the Counter

Trim for the counter leaves two options: bull nose tiles or wooden trim. Bull nose tiles are rounded over on one or more edges much in the same way wood can be rounded over with a router. There's a strong chance that if you got the cheaper granite tiles, no matching bull nose will be readily available. You may be able to find a place that will add a bull nose to your tiles for you, but this is likely expensive. I briefly considered attempting to do it myself, but decided it wasn't worth the effort.

The much easier route is to use create wooden trim. I opted for oak and although this may be more porous than some other woods, it was readily available for a reasonable price. Do not use pine as it dents far too easily. Create the trim much in the same way you would around a window or door frame. Attach it with a healthy amount of wood glue and a few finish nails to anchor it into the plywood. The nail holes can be filled with wood putty mixed with a bit of matching stain rather than water for a more uniform look. I decided to stain it after mounting so I could adjust the fit properly and worry about the stain later. Just take care to properly tape off the tile as you certainly don't want to stain the counter tiles. Fill the gap between tile and wood with caulk once everything has had time to dry.

Step 15: The Final Product

A few minor details later, like trimming again, and you're all set. It's not easy but as they, anything worth having never is. When planning, leave a little bit of room to go over budget and over time. I originally thought I could finish phase 2 in a week and for $500. It took closer to two weeks and around $900 which is still very reasonable, but if I didn't leave any cushion room I'd be in trouble with a half functional kitchen. I didn't keep explicit budget records for phase 1, but phase 2 is as follows:

-Sink and faucet, $100
-Garbage disposal, $100
-Tile (counter, backsplash, and floor), $150
-Grout, thinset, etc, $75
-Electric wire, outlets, accessories, $55
-3/4" Plywood and cement board, $90
-Wood trim (counter, windows, floor), $50
-Paint and caulk, $30
-Tile cutter, $70
-Table and stools, $90
-Misc decorations, $80

I have no doubt I added at least $5,000 to the value of my home. However, that's nothing compared to the sense of satisfaction I get every time I use the kitchen.

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    26 Discussions


    2 years ago

    Thank you for a great article! I agree with you, this service will be very useful as many buyers and contractors. Actually, now through the Internet is much easier to find any kind of services, so I also found through the Internet for my contractors Kitchen Remodeling It saved me a lot of time and effort!


    4 years ago on Introduction

    I did almost the same identical counter top. Instead of granite I used porcelain tiles in a granite pattern (looks exactly the same, but very non porous and much harder). At the suggestion of the owner of the tile store, I used epoxy grout, which is a bit of a pain to apply due to its fast setup time, but it virtually indestructible!! My counter edging was identical to yours, but made of cherry to match my cupboards. After 7 years the counter and edging still look brand new. I also refaced my cabinets and replaced the doors, going from elm plywood to beautiful cherry solid wood doors.


    7 years ago on Step 12

    Love how you're renovating this house! Enjoying the entries!


    7 years ago on Step 15

    Mr.Bippers, I recently replaced the hinges on my cabinets (early '70's) in order to cut costs of kitchen updates. Mine were similar to yours and I cruised the 'net' and found a great solution that only cost about $100 total for all 13 of my cabinets. You can get any of this hardware at Ace, Lowes or Home Depot. It looks great and TOTALLY UPDATED the look of my small dark cabinet kitchen. I took the liberty of photoshopping your end photo with a mockup of what it would look like with the same hardware that I used in my kitchen. Just a suggestion man, it might get you going in the direction your were looking for, for a minimal amount of money. It took me every bit of 3 hours to completely update all handles and hinges to get a more modern look! Good luck on yours, my friend. :D

    The-final-product(with new handles).jpg
    Allen White

    7 years ago on Introduction

    If you are remodeling and attempting to save money you can always resurface as apposed to replace for a fraction of the cost. Why replace your bathroom accessories when you can have them refurbished? To ensure best results refinishing should always be done by a professional contractor. When considering refinishing, a person wants to be sure they have the right crew for the job. An experienced professional who has mastered restoring, refinishing, and resurfacing existing counters, sinks, bathtubs, and showers. I have an interesting article that elaborates for you on Article Source: please feel free to visit.
    Improving your home is always a rewarding endeavor, & having it done right the first time is priceless.


    Reply 8 years ago on Step 15

    I would give thought to changing out the double window to match the over sink window and extend the counter to the wall. The cound under half a window is disconcerting. BUT this is a major improvement and it is amazing do it your self. I am sure you increased the value of your home far more than 5K.


    Reply 8 years ago on Step 15

    modern fridges are very well insulated, and ovens are too. Also heat from the stove and oven will go up more than sideways since heat rises. touch the side of your oven next time you have it on, it really won't be very hot at all.


    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    You just end up having to clean the stupid fridge every time you cook something like bacon. It gets morose after awhile.


    9 years ago on Step 14

    Hah! Genius!

    Thanks so much; I'm redoing my counters this weekend and had already informed myself on most of the details and had came to the same conclusion on 24" vs 26". However your idea of using wood trim for the edges is genius and something I had not considered!

    Thank you so much since I agree this works fine and looks great. And is MUCH MUCH easier than dealing with cutting all those extra tiles!


    9 years ago on Introduction

    I'll add my cheers to all the other comments here, because this is one terrific instructable. A few years ago, we did a complete gut to the studs and start over kitchen renovation, and discovered many of the things you write about here. There are a few that you didn't mention that might be of a little help. First, before deciding whether to paint, refinish or replace your old wooden kitchen cabinets, give them a good cleaning with paint thinner and 0000 steel wool. In our new home, years of previous homeowners' crud came off, leaving cabinets we could live with through phase 1. We did the kitchen renovations in two phases as well; first was "good enough to live with" and second "should last many years." Second, whatever kitchen cabinets you decide upon, it's really nice to be able to see into every nook and corner. You could paint the inside of the cabinets white before installing them, which is easy but could be sticky and smelly for quite a while. I used white laminate, which should last almost forever inside those cabinets, and provided me with a clean, washable surface that was bright and visible, even though we did not install any special cabinet lighting. I was given the roll of laminate and did the installation for the cost of the adhesive, but if cost is a factor, self-stick vinyl is an option as well. Thanks again for such a terrific instructable!

    1 reply

    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

    A sheet of laminate would certainly be the way to go if you have an option like that. I actually also used some scraps of vinyl flooring for the bottom of the base cabinets for a little more durability and in retrospect some on the upper cabinet shelves would probably have worked out a little better than the shelf liners I'm using now.


    9 years ago on Step 15

    Wow! You really worked hard! well done! Just a suggestion; You modernized beautifully-how about re-thinking the dated cupboard knobs.

    1 reply

    Those knobs actually are replacements, albeit they were unused leftovers from the house my parents built twenty-five years ago. But you're right, I should probably keep my eyes open for something that's a little bit of a better fit.


    10 years ago on Step 15

    one thing I just learned when you install a dishwasher, make sure the hose to the outlet (to the sink) goes UP and over the dishwasher, so that dirty water in the sink is NOT ABLE to run down into your dishwasher and make it stinky. If you DO have a smelly dishwasher, look into the sink cabinet and nail a large nail up high and hook the hose from the dishwasher up over the nail, so the dirty sink water cannot run back down into the dishwasher. Then run a bleach cycle with no dishes through your dishwasher by putting a cup of bleach in the bottom of dishwasher, NO DISHES, and run a long cycle.

    Also, we're going to use a flat-pack cupboard set, with white (laminate, I think) outside, do you have a suggestion for what we could use to trip the benchtops? As obviously we don't have a timber to match to. How would you go about placing bullnose tiles? Would you do tiles along the vertical edge or just use the ones on the counter-top? Thanks!!

    2 replies

    The easiest route would be to do the wood trim and just paint it instead of staining it. If you go this route look for a paint in the finish "kitchen and bath enamel" for the increased durability it will need.

    Depending on the accents you could even try wrapping the wood in thin sheets of copper or stainless steel. There was an instructable where printing offset sheets obtained free from local printing presses were used to make an aluminum desk, so that may be an option.

    If you do go with bullnose you would add the bullnosed edge to the vertical tiles. Unless you can find a bullnose of identical granite, you would either have to cut the 12" tiles into thinner strips and try to edge them yourself or have some place do it for you. It may also be an option to find a bullnose in another style tile that picks up some of the colors from the granite and acts as an accent. Keep in mind the height of the tile and just make sure you have enough clearance to still open any drawers. Good luck!

    Thanks, good ideas!! :) The reason I was asking about the ply was that I didn't see the 3/4" in my local hardware store's very comprehensive catalogue so wasn't sure if they have it. I'll look out for it at the actual store :) Thanks again!

    This is a wonderful instructable, great ideas! I love your idea to do a granite tile benchtop... I was so wanting a granite benchtop, but no way were we going to fork out the cost for it!! When I showed your idea to my husband he was very impressed and we're going to use it :) With the ply board for under the granite tiles (under the concrete board too, obviously), can you use a thinner ply? Or is the 3/4" needed for structural strength?