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Where Does Your Money Go for a Kitchen Remodel?

by Marcus Pickett

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More than any other project, most of the cost of kitchen remodeling is bundled in the price of finished products and materials. While the cost of major appliances, especially refrigerators and oven ranges, makes this imbalance somewhat common sense, many homeowners go into a kitchen remodel without a true appreciation of how their choices of finished products will affect the final cost of the project. To get an insider's perspective on where your dollars go for a kitchen remodel, HomeAdvisor, leading online resource connecting homeowner to home improvement contractors, talked to one of its highest-rated contractors, Robert Kalmin of RJK Construction.

Finished Products vs. Labor and Expenses
In Kalmin's experience, the cost of finished products—flooring, cabinets, countertops, and other manufactured materials—outweighs labor and installation costs for a kitchen remodel, in some cases by more than 2-to-1. "I'd say, on average," Kalmin says, "finished products and appliances account for about 65-70 percent of the cost. Labor and expenses are about 30-35 percent of the cost." Of course, depending on your remodeling choices, your project can skew slightly one way or another.

It's especially important for you to understand where your money is going when you are working within a tightly controlled budget. Though labor and installation costs can fluctuate depending on the design complexity and detailing, the total cost of the finished products might range anywhere from $15,000-$60,000 or more for a full kitchen remodel. Meanwhile, the cost of labor and expenses is more likely to change by only a third of this amount. In other words, the fastest and most efficient way to reduce the cost of a kitchen remodel is to look for cheaper manufactured products and appliances.

Home Remodeling Projects - Hidden Surprises

Difference Makers: Cabinets & Countertops
While the cost difference between an economical and luxury refrigerator can easily exceed $2,000, the big difference makers for kitchen remodels are cabinets. Indeed, cabinets are the single biggest reason why kitchen remodels tend to scale so heavily toward the cost of finished products. Mid-range stock cabinetry might cost between $10,000-$20,000 for a full kitchen remodel. High-end cabinetry will cost $20,000 or more. Installation doesn't cost anywhere near this amount. "For most projects, I charge $75 per cabinet as a base rate for installation," Kalmin says, noting that it also "depends on the cabinet line, the trim, and the molding." Cabinet risers and crowns will also contribute to the final installation cost. Still, according to Kalmin, the average cost of cabinet installation amounts to only about $1,500-$5,000.

While countertops will also play a huge role in determining the final cost, their product and installation costs tend to be more closely linked. Solid-surface and stone countertops tend to cost 3-5 times as much as laminate countertops with higher costs across the board for materials, fabrication, and installation. On the other hand, while basic, stock cabinetry can save you $10,000-$20,000 on the total cost of your remodel, laminate countertops are more likely to save you only about $2,000-$5,000.

Difference Makers: Tile & Flooring
Tile is also key in determining on how much of your money will be spent on finished products vs. labor and installation costs. First, there is a huge difference between a low-end vinyl tile that costs as little as $1 per square ft., a mid-range ceramic tile that costs $10 per square ft., and a high-end stone tile that costs $40 per square ft. Plus, with tile you can see comparable fluctuations for installation costs. The size of your tile and the flooring pattern, corners and inserts can cause installation to cost anywhere from $5 per sq. ft. to more than $20 per sq. ft.

By comparison, laminate flooring has a comparable cost range of $1-$10 per square ft., but generally won't cost as much to install, especially if you select a floating floor system. (Glue-down and nail-down systems tend to cost more to install.) Thus, a $7 per square ft. laminate floor and a $5 per square ft. ceramic tile floor might end up costing about the same price. As such, while flooring costs probably won't vary as much as your cabinetry, or in most cases even your countertop, certain flooring materials will help determine how much of your money is going toward finished products vs. labor and installation.

Average Kitchen Remodeling Costs
The average cost of kitchen remodeling projects is $19,214, according to HomeAdvisor, although this average includes minor and partial kitchen remodels. Full kitchen remodeling projects are likely to run at least $50,000. To put the scale of your own kitchen into perspective, Kalmin says an average-sized kitchen for his clients in the Washington D.C.-area is about 200 sq. ft.

When soliciting estimates from contractors, it can be useful to see exactly where your money is going. This will allow you to judge not only the overall value of the bid, but where you might be able to cut costs to stay within a smaller budget. This is particularly true of kitchen remodels, where the high percentage of finished product costs allows for greater latitude and cost control. Yet, no estimate or cost breakdown is worthwhile without an experienced and reliable contractor to complete the kitchen remodel.

Kitchen Remodeling Project Guide
If you enjoyed this article, check out our free Kitchen Remodeling Guide, which features expert advice, design & material comparisons, and custom price estimates for your remodeling project.
Marcus Pickett is a professional freelance writer for the home remodeling industry. He has published more than 600 articles on both regional and national topics within the home improvement industry.