The Ultimate Guide to New Jersey Kitchen and Bathroom Renovations

By August 10, 2015Home Guides
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PROLOGUE – The Introduction

A lot is to be expected from a home. After all, it’s where you spend the majority of your time, and you’re going to want to make sure it meets your own personal criteria.

Your home is where you raise your family, build memories, host parties and come to kick back and relax. When it comes down to your overall happiness: is your home up to par? Are you proud of your kitchen or bathroom? These wants and expectations can play a huge role in your satisfaction both inside and outside the confines of your house.

Reasons to renovate your kitchen, bathroom or other rooms in your house might include safety, age or need. Is your kitchen safe? Safety goes hand-in-hand with the age of the members of your household. Also, how old is your kitchen?  Age goes hand-in-hand with need. The older your kitchen is, the more likely it is that your kitchen no longer fits your needs.

America has changed. It wasn’t all too long ago that the kitchen wasn’t considered the heart of the home. In fact, the kitchen wasn’t supposed to be seen at all. It was a room designated for the homemaker, kept behind closed doors. People preferred to see the results of the kitchen rather than the kitchen itself. From a Christmas turkey to a perfectly made summer’s pie, people have been making things in the kitchen for…well, forever.

So, you’ve decided on a new kitchen or bathroom. For that reason, we’ve put together this guide to help you get the most from your renovation. Most homeowners, especially new ones, don’t know how to get from where they are now to where they want to be. Some aren’t aware of the work that is involved, the cost or the amount of planning that goes into a kitchen or bathroom overhaul. The last thing you want to do is to spend thousands of dollars on a new room only to find that the quality went down the drain somewhere along the way.

Fortunately for you, there is now a handbook on the entire process, and you’re reading it. Everything you need to know about New Jersey Kitchen and Bathroom Renovations can be found here. If you follow this guide, we can almost guarantee that you will love your new home.

SECTION ONE – What to Expect: Planning Your Renovation

Know What You Want

Contrary to popular belief, it pays to avoid getting all sledgehammer and demolition crazy (however strong the temptation). In fact, leave the messy, dusty, dangerous sledgehammer out of it. The first several steps are planning steps – no use for the sledgehammer here!

You may have done a good deal of planning already. Even if you have, let’s start over and do things the in a more careful and intentional way. Your home is too precious to gamble with. Don’t take chances with your renovation. It is important to make sure that you have thought through almost every decision before you even begin hiring a contractor.

A great place to start is with your inspiration. What do you want to see in your kitchen? If you are unsure of where you want to go with this renovation, go online to websites like HGTV, Remodelaholic, Dot & Bo, and even Wayfair. Do your research, discover what you want, and get ideas. Let yourself be inspired and excited about all the possibilities.

Thinking of the result can be enormously rewarding. Here’s how to decide on a desired result and work backwards. Let’s start by saying that you found a picture of a kitchen you want to see in your home.  Although your kitchen is probably laid out differently, all kitchens come with the same basic elements like a sink, stove and refrigerator, just to name a few.  So, realistically, the picture you found is for design purposes only.

Isolate just one of those elements—the cabinets.  Let’s say you like the image because you want those cabinets in your kitchen. What do you need to do to get those cabinets?  Are they custom or factory made? Once you find out, you can order them, but they are just going to sit on the floor somewhere in your home until your kitchen is at the point where you can install them.  How do you get your kitchen ready for cabinet installation?  Your old cabinets need to come out.  Cabinets don’t just pull off the wall (although, that would be nice), so you have to plan how you will remove them. Another step further backward would be emptying the cabinets so that you can pull them down. It is important to think if every detail before you begin your remodel. Even the simplest of mistakes can cause substantial delays.

If you haven’t had any luck with online sources for inspiration, you can also explore print media.  Southern Living is a classic magazine that is overflowing with ideas. Pottery Barn is another one. Until you find what you are looking for, don’t stop looking. Once you decide what you want, write it down. Collect photos from online interior design sources or cut out pictures from a magazine.  Make a collage out it, if you’d like. The bottom line is that it is important to know what you want before you do anything else. Make sure you make up your mind long before you go on to the next step. A concrete decision is crucial. Your contractor will take this information and use it to plan the next part of your renovation.  Once you get the general contractor involved, and the project started, it will be too late to change your mind.  Well, technically, it won’t be too late, but it will be very costly and expensive—both in time and materials. This post is a guide, a road map, to the kitchen or bathroom of your dreams.  If you want to have a smooth reno, you can’t be changing your mind in the middle of a project.

Planning Your Renovation: Consider House Size

Don’t get your contractor involved yet. Just because you’ve made the design decisions doesn’t mean you’re ready. This next section is laid out to prepare you to meet your contractor.

This guide is for you, not your contractor.  If your contractor is worth his salt, then he’ll be thorough gathering information from you and your house long before he begins any job.  If he doesn’t gather the following information, it’s a red flag and a sure sign to choose another contractor.

Your contractor will help you plan the layout of your design, which may or may not match your current layout.  In fact, several things might change depending on your design decision.  Let’s talk about your choices for each room.


In the bathroom, you have several decisions to make, and many of them may have already been dictated by the dimensions of your space.  For example, if your bathroom isn’t large enough, you may not have the luxury of being able to move pipes. Therefore, your fixtures may need to stay in their current location.  However, the one thing that he space cannot dictate is the style.

The following are things you may need to ask yourself as you prepare to create your plan. Do you want a stand-up shower or an over-sized garden tub? Do you have the physical room for such a tub? If you only have one sink, do you want another?  Will your house accommodate another sink?  How about counter space?  You will need room for the basics at a bare minimum—soap, toothbrush, razor, perhaps a cotton ball container, Q-tip container, hair brushes, combs, lotions, etc. You need counter space.  Do you like the idea of under-the-sink cabinets? What about medicine cabinets?  It might be a prudent and wise decision to add a medicine cabinet for every sink—perhaps even one more than the number of sinks you have. Do you have room for a linen closet?  Towel storage inside the bathroom provides an invaluable convenience when you need a fresh towel, and it’s in the bathroom rather than somewhere down the hall in the linen closet.

You need to hire the right one.  How can you tell?  Shop around and follow your gut.  There are websites like Annie’s List or that can point you in the direction of reputable contractors.

Essentially, you will need to put the job in front of several contractors and gather estimates, often by way of appointment.  Before you do, however, you need to have a job for them.  The job needs to have precise specifications—something you can obtain with the help of your interior designer.

While you do need to place a level of trust with your general contractor, remember that this is your property.  Don’t be afraid to meet and greet every single subcontractor that works on your property.  If a general contractor attempts to forbid you from doing this, then you might want to consider another alternative in the way of general contractors.  That is an immediate red flag.  It is your responsibility to know who is in your house and what they are doing.  This includes:

  • Plumbers
  • Electricians
  • Carpenters
  • Tile Work
  • Flooring
  • Drywall

Know who is on your property and why they are there.  Let them know that you come by often and that someone is watching them.

Expect to make a payment in advance.  Some contractors require 30% of the job estimation up front to cover materials while others expect closer to 50% to make sure subcontractors get paid promptly and correctly.  Subcontractors—or the skilled laborers working on your house—won’t work unless there is a clear expectation of compensation.  This is usually a fixed cost, but you will still find those who are hourly workers.  Subcontractors will not wait until the end of a project to get paid while general contractors will.  The only person you pay is the general contractor.  The fee he or she charges goes to cover all the charges subcontractors might charge for their work.

Plan your materials.  Once again, this can be completed with the help of your interior designer.  If you want to ensure that your project goes smoothly and quickly, you will need to order your materials well ahead of time. It is recommended to order your materials in the required quantity plus 10% for errors or possible damage.  Make sure all materials are delivered before work begins.  The best contractors in the world can do nothing without materials. So, make sure that you have your materials long before subcontractors set
foot on your property.  Finally, painstakingly inspect each and every brick, tile, piece of wood, fixture—you get the idea.  Make sure everything is in good working condition before work begins.  Furthermore, inspect it with the general contractor and have him sign an affidavit acknowledging that all materials placed under his stewardship are not damaged.  This prevents future claims that you supplied broken materials.  If you provide damaged materials, you will pay the penalty of supplying more.  However, if it can be proven that the fault lies with the subcontractor, then he is in charge of securing and ordering more materials.

If your goal is to save money, then the best way you can do this is to not order any new appliances.  The appliances you had before are most likely in good condition and, therefore, are reusable.  Remember, you can always upgrade later.  However, if you do plan on upgrading later, let your contractor know that you have plans for upgrading to that new 36” gas stove over your current 30” electrical one.  The last thing you want to do is find out you can’t get your new stove later because you didn’t plan on it—or that you need to replace your kitchen cabinets and counters to accommodate.  At that point, you may as well be planning on a whole new renovation and the end cost of two renovations will be much more expensive than if you had purchased that new stove to begin with.

When you have your designs in place, stick with them.  Set clear goals and take responsibility for them.  You will have one frustrated general contractor on your hands if you are in the habit of always changing your mind in the middle.  Make your decisions and stick with them.

Don’t ignore what you see.  If the contractor finds rotted wood underneath the floor, he may come to you and tell that your new stove can’t be installed unless a new subflooring is installed to support the weight.  Listen to your contractor but, more importantly, listen to your gut.  If you feel you need a second opinion, get one.  You may have issues behind your walls that need fixing before you can continue with your renovation.  While your house does need to be in good condition, you don’t need to break the bank with a remodel.

Finally, don’t skimp on cheap materials.  In the construction world, you get what you pay for.  You need to find that perfect balance of aesthetics, price, and quality.  When these three merge, you have value.

SECTION THREE – Planning & Communication

People who have completed renovations on their own have a much better idea of the time that it takes to complete a full room renovation.  Unlike what you see on television shows, it does not take a single weekend.  It takes months.  Patience is key.  Rest easy and relax knowing that you have all the help you need between the interior designer and your general contractor.  Trust them because they know what they’re doing.

The average time it takes for a renovation is six months.  That’s four months of planning and two months for the execution.  I can’t emphasize this point enough; know what you want before the demolition starts.  Once it begins, your plans need to be completely solidified.  Materials need to be ordered, delivered and inspected for quality and quantity months before demolition begins.  Talk to your local utility company about what it might take to get a water line to the freezer for your new refrigerator’s ice cube maker.  If you’re getting a new gas stove, but don’t have a gas line, you’re stuck until you talk to your utility company and can get one installed.

The contractor can do anything if you throw enough money at the project.  Know your budget and stick to it.  If, for whatever reason, the contractor is going over budget, you need to know why and it is smart to ask immediately.

Consider keeping the sink in the same place, the stove in the same place, and so on and so forth.  Adding services adds to your cost, and you may find that some upgrades are completely unnecessary.

Communication at all stages is absolutely necessary. Consider collaborating online using services like Trello or BaseCamp to give the contractor a way to communicate with you wherever you may be.  If the renovation requires you to move temporarily out of the house, make sure you visit the home often to stay informed about its progress.  We’ve said this before, but it bears saying again:  Have all materials on handbefore demolition.  The lack of materials, especially custom materials like special tile for your backsplash or floor, can cost you months of waiting time.  If the contractors are working on your kitchen, you may find that you don’t have a kitchen in the meantime.  Many people decide to move temporarily to give the contractors the room they may need to work efficiently.  If you don’t plan your materials right, you may run out well past your welcome date.

When you order materials, plan on ordering an extra 10% minimum to prepare for damages.  Materials can get damaged while in transit or by laborers during the project’s execution.  Once again, if you can’t finish a project you started because you don’t have the materials, you may have just extended the planned end date by months.  Furthermore, and possibly the most important, know your limits.  Your renovation can be a pleasant and exciting experience if you do it right.  Don’t break your budget or otherwise place your finances in jeopardy because you didn’t plan correctly. Overspending can put your renovation at risk, and leave you with facing the possibility of being left with a half-finished renovation.

Local permits may be required, so ask your general contractor.  It is a red flag if your general contractor isn’t completely knowledgeable about local law, permits and safety codes.  The beautiful thing about excellent, legitimate contractors who earn their money by doing a good job is this: They don’t do anythingwithout a reason for doing it.  If you ask them why they did something, they will always stand by their work and provide a good, reliable answer.

SECTION FOUR – Mistakes to Avoid

Mistake Number One: Don’t Buy Cheap Materials.

This is your house, the protection you offer yourself and your family. Everything about it should define who you are. Keep in mind throughout the renovation process that your home is an investment. Don’t buy the cheapest materials you find, try to buy the nicest materials that you can afford.  Remember that cost doesn’t always equate to quality.  If you want tile countertops, then get the most beautiful tile you can find with the design you want on it.  Just because it might be cheaper than marble countertops doesn’t mean that it is of a lower quality.  Find out what you want.  Then, get the highest quality materials you can afford.

Some people renovate because they want to raise the value of their homes due to the fact that they plan on selling their house.  If you use cheap materials, you won’t get a decent return on your investment.  In fact, you may find out that the renovation lowered the value of the home.  Don’t let that be the case after you spend thousands of dollars on a remodel.

Mistake Number Two: Don’t Hire the Wrong Contractor

There are ways to discover if you have a reputable contractor or not.  If they say they are licensed and bonded, request to see the paperwork.  It should be easy to produce if they are honest.

Sign written contracts.  This is where it can get sticky.  Don’t hire any contractor who downplays the importance of the written record.  Free, legally-binding contracts can be found online.  They protect the homeowner from dishonest contractors.  They safeguard the contractors from deceiving homeowners.  It is a communication tool.  Both sides—the contractor and the homeowner—will write down the scope of the job.  Both sides will know what is expected and what is not expected. This way, the homeowner and the contractor will know when the contractor will get paid and how much.

It is very important to understand that if it’s not in the contract, it’s not fair game. I know of someone who installed a new front door for a homeowner.  Since neither party signed a contract, the contractor got swindled. The homeowner wanted him to paint and caulk the trim, fill in gaps in the flooring around the door, and any other work he could get from the contractor.  Had they signed contracts, the contractor would have received payment for the work that was outside his scope.  His job was to replace the trim after installation, but not paint or caulk the baseboards next to the door.  Contracts protect everyone.  It is legally enforceable in court if one party doesn’t hold up their end of the bargain.

Mistake Number Three: Don’t Set an Unrealistic Budget

Your home renovation will cost you money.  It is an investment, and everything that is done to your home will belong to you.  As the owner, you must take complete responsibility for the project.  Do not attempt to do any home renovation unless you’re completely confident that you can afford it.

With the debt that America is in, there is a new, refreshing ‘Get Out Of Debt’ plan I’d like to present to you.  It’s very straightforward.  It’s called, “If you cannot afford it, do not buy it.”  Your finances are important.  No kitchen or bath remodel is worth putting your finances in jeopardy. It is more common than not that those who set a budget change it at least once or twice before the project is over. Decide how much you want to spend and how much you are willing to spend. Write these numbers down and stick to them.

 SECTION FIVE – How It Helps Your Home Value

Your homeowner’s insurance company needs to know about this renovation if you expect them to protect it.  As such, this is one more professional whose advice you will want accept freely.  Insurance adjusters and real estate agents can estimate your ROI or return on your investment.

If you don’t plan on selling your house, then take your time with your renovations.  Many people who are well past retirement age are renovating their homes ever so slowly.  I walked into one particularly impressive house that was maintained very well by its homeowners.  When I asked them their secret, they said they’ve been working on the house for 20 years and still weren’t done.  They don’t have plans to stop, and they took their time to do it right.

If you don’t plan on staying in your house for the rest of your life, you need to keep something else in mind entirely.  While it may be a difficult pill to swallow, you’ll get a much better return on your investment if you do.

When you’re ready to sell your house, people will come by to take a look at it.  After all, would you buy a house you’ve never seen before?  If the house is personalized too much, it could turn potential buyers away.  When a potential buyer comes to look at your house, you want them to see a blank slate—something they can personalize once they buy it.  Therefore, it is vital that you choose gender-neutral designs and colors.  Leave the walls blank, the hallways and aisles clear and the house clean.  Anything that is personalized too much may cause a buyer to think, “This isn’t the house for me.”  As a seller, you don’t want that.  You want the buyer to be impressed enough to spend a couple hundred thousand dollars purchasing your home.

EPILOG – Appliance Considerations

As you choose appliances for your renovation, go through the following checklist.  This checklist applies to any appliance from the air conditioner to the stove.  Remember that cheaper appliances aren’t always as they seem. Inexpensive appliances often end up costing you money in the long run.

For stoves and furnaces, consider the BTU output.  BTU is an acronym for British Thermal Unit. Although its name seems to suggest otherwise, it is no longer commonly used in the United Kingdom. BTU is a unit of measurement for energy. One BTU is equal to the amount of energy used to raise the temperature of one pound of water one degree Fahrenheit.  Case in point, the higher the BTU output, the more energy the appliance will output.

Do you need that $18,000, six-burner gas stove?  It is a luxury item that will certainly look good in your kitchen, but there’s a reason most stoves have four burners.  Most people want six but only need four.  Consider your needs over wants.

Study the energy efficiency of the appliances.  A higher efficiency leads to a higher upfront cost, but a lower operational cost that might save you money in the long run.  For example, an air conditioning unit that is a 16 SEER minimum will save you money over cheaper, less efficient models.  It will cost less to operate because it will do a better job keeping your air at a desired temperature, thereby causing the unit to not have to work as hard.

Consider the ease of operation.  Is it easy to operate or do you need a two-inch thick instruction manual to make a few adjustments? What safety features does it have?  Consider the case of a water heater.  Many water heaters require you to use a screwdriver to remove the cover that gives you access to the dial that allows you to change the water temperature.  Even then, the water temperature must be adjusted with a screwdriver.  This procedure prevents accidental water temperature changes and prevents unexpected water burns.

How easy is it to clean the appliance?  Some appliances, like the fins of the outside air conditioning unit, work better when they are cleaned professionally.  Choose something easy to clean and maintain, like a glass-top stove.  A glass-top stove is surely easier to clean and is safer for children than a six-burner gas stove.

In The End

Home ownership is not a luxury afforded to everyone.  Equal opportunity also means equal responsibility.  Your house is an investment – care for it!  Enjoy your home.  Love your home.   Take care of your house, and your house will take care of you for years to come.  Do things right the first time and call RWC for your remodeling needs.

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