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: "How to remodel your kitchen: demo, replace old plumbing, replace electrical and lighting, add drywall, paint, install flooring and baseboards, add cabinets, install countertops, apply backsplash, install appliances and hardware"

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, thumbing through remodeling magazines, or scanning websites to get an idea of the type of kitchen you want.

Think about how you currently use your kitchen, such as your habits, how you primarily spend your time in the space, and your needs. Also, plan to incorporate your kitchen in the style of your home. If you have an Old-World Craftsman home, then an ultra-sleek contemporary kitchen will likely look out of place, whereas an Arts and Crafts or Shaker style might be a better direction to go.

Take a look at this order of steps for redoing your kitchen.

  • 01 of 13

    Clear the Space

    Demolish or clear as much of the space on your own. Remove cabinet doors first. Most cabinets are attached to the wall by two screws. Make sure you have help holding up the cabinets 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. 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.

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

  • 02 of 13

    Hire Your Workers

    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. If you are trying to save, this is where you might want to do it. The tradeoff is that the general contractor usually relieves you from time spent supervising the job and chasing after tardy or no-show workers.

    Make sure your contractors show you that they have evidence that they are licensed, bonded, and insured. They should show you they have the necessary permits, too.

    Establish a payment plan with your workers. It is common to pay no more than 10% upfront, 50% at the halfway point, and the balance upon completion. 

    It is customary that most contractors will request not to work on top of each other—plan for scheduling them to work on separate days. 

  • 03 of 13

    Replace Dated Plumbing

    The perfect time to replace your plumbing is when your walls are open. If you are replacing older plumbing, keep buckets handy to catch water in case corroded, old pipes break or leak. Also, be prepared to replace your shutoff valves.

    Consider running a gas line if your previous stove was electric. 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 redos include installing recessed ceiling lighting, new pendant lights, or breakfast nook lighting. Check with city codes to determine any requirements for incandescent, fluorescent, and halogen bulbs.

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

    Your electrical considerations should include: 

    • Overhead lighting, including recessed fixtures
    • Under-cabinet lighting
    • Wiring the dishwasher either directly or by plugging into an outlet
    • Wiring the garbage disposal either directly or by plugging into an outlet
    • A 120-volt or 220-volt outlet for the range and oven, depending on if it's gas or electric
    • An outlet for the refrigerator
    • Wiring for the range hood
    • An outlet for the microwave
    • Countertop outlets—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

    After the electrician and plumber have finished their jobs, the drywall comes next. This job is one of the easier installations; you might want to do it yourself. If you do plan to do it on your own, make sure you have the right tools:

    • 4 x 8 sheets of drywall, commonly called Sheetrock (the brand name)
    • Utility knife and plenty of blades
    • T-square
    • Drywall gun
    • Drywall screws, typically 1 1/4 inches
    • Three 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. Alternate 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. The unfinished edges will create valleys.

  • 06 of 13

    Apply the Joint Compound

    Hanging drywall 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 should be put into a mudding tray and mixed well to a soft consistency.

    Closing the joints between the drywall pieces will likely need up to three coats of mud. It takes about three days for each coat to dry. Some joint compound products on the market dry faster but do not use these products in the kitchen.

    Tape the seams and mud. Let it all dry for three days. Sand and mud again with a larger mudding knife, spreading the joint compound further. Let it dry again (three more days) and sand lightly again. Spread a finish coat using a large knife. Let it dry (three days) and sand with 150-grit sandpaper for a smooth finish.

    If you prefer to skip applying the joint compound, you can hang the drywall yourself and hire an expert to do the mudding. 

  • 07 of 13

    Paint Kitchen Walls and Ceiling

    Painting 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 cabinet installation. 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. A five-gallon bucket works better. Mix all your paint cans 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 as the extender.

    Cut in or do the careful edges where the ceiling and floors meet the walls before rolling the paint on the walls. Sand between coats with 150-grit sandpaper after the first coat is dry. Apply two coats. Plan to touch up the color after the cabinet installation.

  • 08 of 13

    Install Kitchen Flooring and Baseboards

    Some builders like to put in the flooring and baseboards after the cabinets are installed to save on cost, but you might prefer to do it before. No quarter rounds, base shoe, or floor moldings are needed.

    You might consider some eco-friendly, renewable choices. 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. Premium bamboo flooring uses adhesives that don't contain formaldehyde. Bamboo can be nailed, glued, stapled, or floated. It comes in both horizontal and vertical patterns. Don't install it in areas that are likely to get wet.

    Recycled carpeting comes 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 give conventional carpets that "new carpet smell" but can be lung irritants. Recycled carpeting is 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 natural 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.

    Brazilian cherry and white tigerwood are wood floorings grown in South America and harvested from well-managed forests with renewable resources. Brazilian cherry is an engineered, 3-ply wood made that uses formaldehyde-free adhesives. It's generally more expensive, but it's resilient and more durable than oak.

    Continue to 9 of 13 below.
  • 09 of 13

    Hang Your Kitchen Cabinets

    Hire a professional installer to hang your cabinets. A pro will make sure the cabinets are plumb, level, and are correctly installed. The electrical work and plumbing should be complete before cabinets can go in.

    There are two types of cabinets: wall cabinets and base cabinets. Wall cabinets are secured to the wall and don't touch the floor. Base cabinets are also secured to the wall, and they do rest on the floor. The cabinets each line-up, get secured to each other, and must be level with each other.

    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.

    If you get someone to install the cabinetry, review the layout beforehand to make sure the installer knows where the cabinets should 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. 

  • 10 of 13

    Order Your Kitchen Countertop

    The most prolonged delay with the kitchen remodeling work usually centers around your countertops. If you are having your countertops custom-made, then the installers will insist on measuring the template with the cabinets in place. This process can take as long as seven days to seven weeks from ordering to delivery. 

    If you are looking for the most durable countertops, quartz countertops are heat resistant, hold up better than granite, and are timeless. They are a bit more expensive, but if you're not planning to remodel your kitchen again for another 50 years, they are your best choice.

  • 11 of 13

    Install the Backsplash

    Take a sample of your countertop and your cabinet door to your favorite tile store. Many tile stores employ designers who will help you choose the perfect backsplash. Some involve designs on the diagonal and may use various sizes and types of tile as accents. A backsplash can be an excellent way to incorporate a complementary color in your kitchen.

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

    If you install a heavy-stone countertop, an installer might require a few days for the countertop to settle before putting in a backsplash. If you don't wait, it might leave an unwanted seam.

  • 12 of 13

    Choose the Cabinet Hardware

    Cabinetry 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. Avoid trendy finishes that will scream "time warp" in a few years. Although, the good thing with hardware is that it is one of the least expensive items in a kitchen to change, so in 5 or 10 years, you can usually afford a hardware redo.

    Continue to 13 of 13 below.
  • 13 of 13

    Get Your Appliances Installed

    Call the electrician and the plumber back to install your appliances. Electricians will finish out the installation by adding outlets and aligning your outlets with the backsplash.

    Your range hood is usually the first item installed. This installation might require a roof jack to vent the exhaust. Never vent the exhaust into your attic.

    When wheeling in your refrigerator, stove, and dishwasher, make sure your flooring is covered. Each appliance will need to be aligned and plumbed (if applicable).

    If you have an under-mount sink, your countertop installers would have installed it already, but any other type of sink gets installed after the counters and backsplash are in place. The plumber will hook up your faucet, insert the airgap for your dishwasher into the countertop, and set up your garbage disposal if you plan on having one.

    Before paying the contractors in full, check for leaks, and make sure every appliance is working correctly.

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 general contractors or subcontractors and get estimates. Workers you might need include an electrician, plumber, HVAC contractor, drywaller, painter, flooring and/or tile installer, and a demolition crew.

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