Remodeling Your Kitchen—An Order of Steps

Helpful Tips for Getting it Just Right

Image shows 10 icons depicting a sledgehammer, complicated piping, a chandelier, a woman holding a piece of drywall, a tub of paint, isolated flooring, open cabinets, countertops, a sink with a backsplash, and a fridge on a dolly. Text reads:

Image by Maddy Price © The Balance 2019

You don't have to spend a fortune to make your kitchen look like a million bucks. Establish a plan for the kitchen remodel before you jump in with a sledgehammer and start knocking down walls. 

You might begin by visiting home improvement stores and thumbing through remodeling magazines to get an idea of the type of kitchen you want. Try to incorporate the way your kitchen is presently used. Plan your kitchen around the style of your home. Little looks worse than updating an Old-World Craftsman kitchen with cherry cabinets and white appliances. 

Now it's time to get down to work. 

  • 01 of 13

    "Undo" the Kitchen

    Remove cabinet doors first. Most cabinets are attached to the wall by two screws. Make sure you have a plan for holding up the cabinets up as you remove the screws.

    Carefully remove the doorway and window trim if you plan to reuse them. Slide a putty knife next to the nails and tug gently, working your way to the corner.

    Shut off the power and remove appliances and lighting fixtures that are directly wired. Cover exposed wires with wire nuts.

    Use a crowbar to force sheets of paneling from the walls. You can employ a sledgehammer for brute force, but don't smash the studs.

  • 02 of 13

    Who's in Charge?

    You can hire a general contractor to oversee other workers, or you can hire them yourself. A general contractor can charge up to 30% of the total cost of the project to handle it for you, and you might want to use that money for other purposes. But hiring a general contractor means you'll be relieved from supervision and chasing after tardy or no-show workers.

    Make sure your contractors are licensed, bonded, insured, and that they pull the necessary permits. Ask for evidence of this.

    Establish a payment plan. It's common to pay no more than 10% upfront, then 50% when the job is halfway completed and the balance upon completion. 

    Many contractors don't want to work on top of each other and might ask you to schedule them to work on separate days. 

  • 03 of 13

    Replace Dated Kitchen Plumbing

    It's the perfect time to replace your plumbing when your walls are open. Realize that older plumbing might break and leak, so keep buckets handy to catch the water. Be prepared to replace your shutoff valves.

    Consider running a new gas line if your previous stove was electric, and install a shut-off valve box for the refrigerator. Replace all the plumbing under the sink if it's galvanized.

  • 04 of 13

    Replace Wiring and Install Kitchen Lighting

    Many kitchen remodels involve recessed ceiling lighting, new pendants, or breakfast nook lighting. Check with your city code department to determine any requirements for incandescent, fluorescent, and halogen bulbs.

    You might want to consider upgrading your circuit breaker box to 200 amp—ask your electrician if it's necessary. It's important to replace all the wiring, especially if your present wiring isn't conforming to code. Every appliance—except maybe the refrigerator and the range hood— should have a dedicated circuit.  

    Types of electrical jobs you'll have to address include: 

    • Overhead lighting, including recessed fixtures
    • Under-cabinet lighting
    • Wiring the dishwasher either directly or by plugging into a receptacle
    • Wiring the garbage disposal either directly or by plugging into a receptacle
    • A 120-volt or 220-volt receptacle for the range and oven, depending on whether it's gas or electric
    • A receptacle for the refrigerator
    • Wiring for the range hood
    • A receptacle for the microwave
    • Countertop receptacles—more are always better
    • Consider dimmer switches for some or all of your lighting
    Continue to 5 of 13 below.
  • 05 of 13

    Hang the Drywall

    It's time to hang drywall after the electrician and plumber have finished their jobs. This job is so easy you might be tempted to do it yourself, but you'll need the right tools.

    • 4 x 8 sheets of drywall, commonly called Sheetrock, a trademarked name
    • Utility knife and plenty of blades
    • T-Square
    • Drywall gun
    • Drywall screws, typically 1 1/4 inches
    • 3 sizes of mudding knives
    • Pencil

    Measure from the corner to the first stud that's within 48 inches. Transfer that measurement to the drywall and, using a T-square, draw a straight line. Cut along the line, again using the T-square.

    Crack the drywall with your knee or hand to break it. Secure the drywall to the wall with screws, alternating each screw within a half-inch of the edge and about a foot apart. Always butt finished edges to finished edges and unfinished edges to unfinished edges. This creates valleys.

  • 06 of 13

    The Art of Mudding

    Hanging Sheetrock is a simple job, but mudding—the process of applying thin, multiple layers of compound to the joints—is an art.

    Mud is a joint compound that's best used when it's dumped into a mudding tray and smushed around to soften the consistency. The job can take up to three coats of mud. The drywaller will need three days for each coat to dry in between. Some products on the market dry faster, but they might not be practical to use in a kitchen.

    Tape the seams and mud, and let it all dry. Sand, and mud again with a larger mudding knife, spreading the joint compound further. Let it dry again and sand lightly again.

    Spread a finish coat using a large knife. Let it dry and sand with 150-grit for a smooth finish.

    Consider hanging the drywall and hiring an expert to do the mudding if this feels like too much work. 

  • 07 of 13

    Paint Kitchen Walls and Ceiling

    Lots of tradespeople call themselves painters, but few truly have a calling. This is a job that the average homeowner can do, but typically do-it-yourselfers can't do it as quickly. 

    Paint the walls—or have them painted—before the cabinets are installed. Use quality brand paint, preferably a semi-gloss for the walls and ceiling because it's easy to wipe down and it doesn't retain moisture.

    Buy the right paintbrushes. Angled brushes work great on trim, but cutting in around the ceiling and floor is best done with a four-inch brush.

    Don't use a paint tray as you see on those HGTV shows. A five-gallon bucket works better. Mix all your paint cans together to ensure consistency.

    Buy a screen to place in the bucket. Use a quality roller with an extension. Sometimes the handle from a garage push broom can do double duty.

    Cut in the ceiling and floors before rolling on the paint, then sand between coasts with 150-grit sandpaper after the first coat is dry. Apply two coats, not one, and plan to touch up the paint after the cabinets are installed.

  • 08 of 13

    Install Kitchen Flooring and Baseboards

    Some builders like to install flooring after the cabinets are installed to save on cost, but you might prefer to do it before. No quarter rounds are needed.

    You have several eco-friendly choices here. Cork flooring is made from stripped tree bark, leaving the trees intact. It's warm and inviting, but cork can yellow in sunlight. It scratches easily and moisture makes it swell.

    Bamboo flooring is a grass, not a wood. It renews itself every three to five years. Ask for premium bamboo, made from adhesives that don't contain formaldehyde. Bamboo can be nailed, glued, stapled, or floated, and it comes in both horizontal and vertical patterns. Don't install it in areas that are likely to get wet.

    Recycled carpeting is made from recycled plastic food and beverage containers. These vibrant color options tend to last longer than nylon carpets. It's a shock-free static product that doesn't emit volatile organic compounds, which are part of that "new carpet smell" but can irritate the lungs. Recycled carpets are stain-resistant.

    Linoleum flooring is a manufactured product made from natural raw materials such as linseed oil—a binding agent obtained from pine trees without harming the trees—renewable wood products, ground limestone, and jute, a plant fiber. Linoleum floors are stain-resistant. They don't absorb water and they're biodegradable at the end of useful life, usually around 40 years.

    Wood floorings, such as Brazilian cherry or white tigerwood, are grown in South America. They're harvested from well-managed forests with renewable resources. Brazilian cherry is an engineered wood made from 3-ply construction using formaldehyde-free adhesives. It's generally more expensive, but it's resilient and harder than oak.

    Continue to 9 of 13 below.
  • 09 of 13

    Install Kitchen Cabinets

    You'll probably want to hire a professional installer to hang your cabinets. A pro will make certain the cabinets are plumb, level, and are installed properly.

    Basically, you'll have wall cabinets—which are secured to the wall and don't touch the floor—and base cabinets, which are also secured to the wall and do touch the floor. Not only are the cabinets secured to each other, but they must be level with each other as well.

    Your choices in cabinets typically include crown molding and bottom molding, plus scribes. Scribes cover the spaces between the wall and cabinets.

    The company or store that sells you the cabinets should be able to provide you with qualified installers. It shouldn't take more than a day to install the cabinets.

    Review the layout with the installer beforehand to make certain he knows where the cabinets are supposed to go. The cabinets won't sit flush with the ceiling or the corners because no room is perfectly square, not even new construction. You might have to caulk the spaces and touch up the caulk with paint.

    The cabinets can't be installed until the electricians and plumbers are finished. 

  • 10 of 13

    Order and Install Kitchen Countertops

    It will cause the longest delay if your countertops fabricated, and the installers will insist on measuring the template with the cabinets in place. You might have to wait for seven days to seven weeks. 

    Quartz countertops are heat resistant and hold up better than granite. It's a bit more expensive, but the material you choose is important if you're not planning to remodel your kitchen again for another 50 years.

  • 11 of 13

    Install Kitchen Backsplash

    Take a sample of your countertop and your cabinet door to your favorite tile store. Many employ designers who will help you choose the perfect backsplash. Some involve designs on the diagonal, employing various sizes and types of tile as accents. This can be a good way to pick up a complementary color in your kitchen.

    The backsplash can be installed at the same time as the countertops if it's the same material, fabricated from the same product, such as quartz, granite, or soapstone. But the backsplash can't be installed until after the countertops are in place if you choose a material that differs from the countertop, such as tile, aluminum, concrete, or wood.

    Most heavy stone countertops require a few days to settle before an installer will put in a backsplash. It might not be significant, maybe just 1/32 of an inch, but it could result in an unwanted seam if you don't wait.  

  • 12 of 13

    Install the Hardware

    Hardware—the pulls and knobs—can make or break your cabinets. Choose a style and type of finish that complements not only your cabinets but the age of your home. Try to avoid trendy finishes that will scream "time warp" in a few years.

    Continue to 13 of 13 below.
  • 13 of 13

    You're Done...Almost

    Call the electrician and the plumber back to install your appliances. Electricians will finish out the installation by adding receptacle plates and pulling your receptacles forward to match the backsplash.

    Your range hood will typically be installed first. This might require a roof jack to vent the exhaust. Never vent exhaust directly into your attic.

    Take care to cover your flooring when you're wheeling in heavy appliances such as the refrigerator, stove, and dishwasher. Make certain each is aligned and plumbed.

    If you have an under-mount sink, it will already be installed by the countertop installers, but any other type of sink is installed after the counters and backsplash are in place. The plumber will hook up your faucet and insert the airgap for your dishwasher into the countertop. Check for leaks. Make sure every appliance is working properly before paying the contractors in full.

    At the time of writing, Elizabeth Weintraub, CalBRE #00697006, is a Broker-Associate at Lyon Real Estate in Sacramento, California.

Final Thoughts

You might want to hire a kitchen designer to draw a design to scale. Buy your cabinets, appliances, flooring, lighting fixtures, sink, faucet, tiles, baseboards, and paint in advance, then obtain building permits, if required. Interview contractors. You might need an electrician, plumber, HVAC contractor, drywaller, painter, flooring and/or tile installer, and a demolition crew.