Project Planning Guide

Project Planning Guide

Project Planning Guide

When you don’t know where to start, start here.

John and Susan sat across from each other at the table, quietly thinking about what to order for dinner. 

“You know it just seems like we are spinning our wheels going to showrooms and looking at products when we don’t know what we want our new kitchen to look like,” Susan started.

“Well, the last guy we spoke with said we needed to have a list of things we want to install if we want to have some real estimates. I don’t know any other way to pull that together,” John explained.

Susan sighed. “Maybe we need to figure out what’s important to us about the kitchen first? Before we start trying to find the fixtures and finishes that will make us happy.”

Conversations like this happen at dozens of tables with dozens of homeowners every day. In a recent 2019 study, 90% of homeowners indicated that they plan on remodeling in the future. Getting started on a major home remodeling project can be a daunting task, but it doesn’t have to be.

At Murphy’s Design, we believe that offering a guide that helps you decide what you want before you start talking with pros makes it easier. That is how you know when you find the right fit.

I believe working with professionals too soon will only confuse you. They all want to give you their idea of what you should want. It’s better to get your ideas down first so that you are one step closer to making the process easier.

This guide should give you that jumpstart.

We’ll cover how to decide on your priorities, outlining your preliminary investment range, and preparing yourselves for pulling together the team of professionals you want and need.

This project planning guide is a blueprint outlining decisions, best practices, and the things you don’t know about remodeling but need to know before you remodel your home (or, as I like to say, the things you don’t know that you don’t know, wink wink).

Why, What, and Who:

When you don’t know where to start, start here.


If you have come across this guide, you probably have a reason to believe remodeling is in your near future. You might think that this is your why. After all, it seems pretty obvious. Unfortunately, it’s not that clear cut. Over the last 30-plus years, I have found that the first reason someone says they want something is seldom the reason at heart.

Maybe you can see yourself in John and Nancy’s story.

It was a rainy Saturday morning when my phone began ringing. It was Nancy, a homeowner in Vienna, Virginia, with a bathroom issue. After a few minutes of introductions Nancy shared with me the reason for her call:

“We’ve been in our home for about six years and our Master Bathroom’s shower is just too small. We are looking to remodel and get a bigger shower, and we think it makes sense to update all the finishes at the same time.”

That was Nancy’s why at the moment she called. And it was a good enough reason to start the process of remodeling. I worked with Nancy designing and planning their Master Bathroom for four weeks. Was the bathroom shower too small? Maybe a smidge, but I found the real reason for the Master Bathroom remodel while we worked together.

  • The tile in the space was builder standard and made them feel like they were living in someone else’s, anyone else’s home. The tile was cracked and in disrepair. It didn’t make them feel special in any way. They wanted their home to reflect where they are now: successful, efficient, and loving.
  • Their current bathroom was lacking in storage. There was a feeling of disorganization and messiness, neither traits they wanted to be reflected in any part of their lifestyle. What they did want is a bathroom that starts them off everyday feeling in control and on top of their lives.
  • A tub with large decking occupied a huge portion of the bathroom. Neither of them particularly valued a bathtub, and they saw it as wasted space. And it was just one more thing to clean. They wanted to feel the luxury of a Master Suite, not the nagging need to clean.

Although the catalyst for the remodel was the shower, at the core, it was only a symptom. The real reason was about the contrast between how the space was making John and Nancy feel and what they wanted to feel instead.

What they wanted…

  • A bathroom that reflects who they are: successful, efficient, and loving.
  • A bathroom that started them off each day feeling in control and on top of their lives.
  • A bathroom that invokes the feeling of luxury

What they had…

  • Builder basic not making them feel special in anyway
  • A disorganized messy space that was stressful every morning and every night
  • A bathroom that was invoking a feeling of needing to clean and wasted opportunity

The first step to embarking on a remodel is to figure out your Why. Putting it into how you currently feel and, in contrast, how you want to feel helps prioritize what needs fixing. This becomes your Northstar. Your understanding of what you need helps you identify the right team and who can get you to where you want to go. Only then, once you see they understand your needs, will you find a match.

Worksheet #1 that will help you get started on figuring out your why and prioritizing your project.


Now that you have your why you can get down to the what. If you are hiring a design team like ours, we will guide you into figuring out the why, and then help you create the what. But, if you are not using a design and planning team, then it will be up to you to take your why and list out what needs to change. Your Bathroom list might look something like this:

Priority #1: Finishes and fixtures that look like…
Priority #2: Shower with a bench seat and plenty of space for products
Priority #3: No tub or smaller tub that requires less maintaining, minimal cost
Priority #4: Vanity Storage for…
Priority #5: Handheld and fixed shower head in the shower
Priority #6: Taller toilet or other features

You can find visuals of these items on the internet from the comfort of your own home. There are great inspirations on Instagram, Pinterest, and Houzz.

A quick tip: Do your homework and grab some screenshots. Also, avoid heading out to the showrooms too soon. The feedback I receive most commonly from new customers is that they go to local showrooms and become overwhelmed and confused. Some couples even go so far as to say that they couldn’t agree on anything, end in an argument, followed by a silent ride home prompting their phone call to me.

Worksheet #2  lays out my best practices and how-to’s for putting together a swipe file of images that will make communicating what you like easy.

Once you have some images that reflect your priorities then move to the next step:  looking for the Who.


This is where ”you don’t know what you don’t know” really hits home. At this stage, you need to choose a path on how you want your remodeling experience to play out. If this is your first time doing a home remodel, then you are learning as you go. And this section will be life-changing. Finding out you needed more experience than who you’ve already hired is never good for the result. Researching your options and understanding the different roads to a successful remodel will make it easier for you to stay in control of the process.

I believe there are three factors you should consider to influence your decision on who to hire:

  1. How much time do you have to do the leg work involved in selections, planning, then coordinating the day to day and site questions?
  2. Is what you need to have done a Major, Moderate, or a Minor project? Do they have the skills, license, and insurance?
  3. How comfortable are you after talking with the candidates? Do they understand Why, What and How much based on the information they have provided you. (Don’t worry we will get to the How much in this section)

How much time do you have for selections and planning?

Evaluating your time investment is key to the success of your project in many ways. First, all remodeling projects have dozens of decisions that need to be made. Each decision builds onto the next. If you have plenty of time to check out local showrooms and a good sense of what will look good, not having any design and planning assistance could work for you. But if you work during the week, raising a family or at an office, be honest with yourself on how much time you can spend. Having an experienced designer and team dedicated to pulling together the options for you has value. As the saying goes, don’t be “penny wise, pound foolish.”

It isn’t just the selections. Planning, ordering, and coordinating will take time from your already busy days. Once the project gets started, there will be ongoing decisions and supervision that need attention every day.

Provider types:
Full service Design and Build
General construction services with job site supervision
A la cart such as Design, Tile, Electrician, Plumber, Paint and Drywall
Handyman service models

There are four general provider types, and they all operate differently and with more or less cost:

  1. full-service design and build
  2. general construction services with supervision
  3. a la cart services
  4. handyman service

The biggest mistake you can make is not doing the research to understand which of these “models” you should be hiring for your project.

Worksheet #3 has a list of questions to ask yourself about how much time you have available. These will help you identify where you need help so you can recognize the right fit for a team.

How much work do you need done: Major, Moderate, or Minor?

I like to categorize remodeling into three categories:

I. Major Remodeling: Class A State Contractor’s license and full Liability, Workmen’s Compensation Insurance and Umbrella Policy is an absolute must.

Provider types:
Full service Design and Build
General construction services with job site supervision
A la cart such as Design, Tile, Electrician, Plumber, Paint and Drywall
Handyman service models

Work Scope:

  • Additions
  • Moving walls
  • Making structural changes
  • Relocating and adding plumbing fixtures
  • Relocating and adding electrical systems

II. Moderate Remodeling: Class A or B State Contractor’s license and full liability, Workmen’s Compensation Insurance is an absolute must.

Work Scope:

  • Removing all old finishes to the studs
  • Altering existing electrical, plumbing, hvac, fixture locations
  • Minor load baring wall modifications such as pocket doors, widening openings, adding a window or a door.

III. Minor Remodeling: Class B or C State Contractor’s license and liability insurance is a must, Workmen’s Compensation Insurance if not a sole provider.

Work Scope:

  • Cosmetic changes such as pulling out the old flooring, cabinets, countertops and replacing in the same locations
  • Paint, wallpaper, tile, flooring as stand alone projects.

By determining which category your project fits, you will narrow down the type of remodeling/service provider you should hire. You wouldn’t hire a design and build firm to re-tile your shower. Similarly, you wouldn’t hire a tile company to design and build your new bathroom spa.

What should be outlined in my remodeling contract before writing a check?

What should be outlined in my remodeling contract before writing a check?

Today I am outlining when you should be writing a check for the construction of your planned project. Earlier I wrote an article on what you need to know before interviewing contractors for your home project. If you haven’t read it yet, you can go back and read it here. This is step 1 in the remodeling process, no matter the scope of your project

Once that is taken care of, you can move to the details of your project.

First, there are three times that you could be making a deposit outside of your construction remodeling contract where the details would not yet be applicable. I cover these in more depth in a separate article, but they are;

  1. The hiring of Architectural or Engineering Service Providers. This is for large scale projects that include additions and structural changes to the existing home.
  2. Start of the Design and Planning of your project. Design Build firms typically have a Retainer or Development Service Agreement. This agreement allows you to begin designing and planning your project to have a fixed price before signing a construction remodeling agreement.
  3. Material Deposits and Purchasing. When sent to outside showrooms and suppliers for project materials, you may be purchasing items in advance of signing the construction contract. If I were remodeling my kitchen, I would not be making deposits or ordering any materials until after I signed the Construction Contract. There are always extenuating circumstances, but as a practice, I would avoid doing this.

Let common sense prevail, but other than those three instances, the next time you should be expected to pay monies is at the executing of your Construction Contract/Agreement (also referred to as a Remodeling Contract).

Do you think you know what a Construction Contract Agreement is, and what it should include, you might be surprised…

What is a Construction Contract?


A construction contract is a mutual or legally binding agreement between two parties based on policies and conditions recorded in document form. … A construction contract is an important piece of document that outlines the scope of work, risks, duties, and legal rights of both the contractor and the owner.

This is not an estimate of work. A Construction Contract/Agreement is very different. You should never consider an estimate of work to be the sole document signed for your project work or the basis to make a payment.

What should be in your remodeling contract before writing that check:


Before you pull out your check book it’s key to review a fully detailed agreement that includes plans, drawings and material specifications that are ready for your signature. To ensure that you are ready make sure that everything listed below has been outlined to your satisfaction.

Disclaimer: I am not an attorney nor is this meant to be legal advice. This is for informational purposes only based on what I would want in my own contract if I was in the process of remodeling my home. There may be other things applicable to your project.

  • Drawings or Plans of construction changes, cabinet/built in layouts, and elevations also referred to as Exhibit A. If zero space changes, and just cosmetic improvements then this item might not be necessary. Example would be installing hard wood floors or painting the interior.
  • Complete schedule detailing the work they will be performing and of all the products they are providing and /or installing on your behalf. Materials that you may be providing should also be addressed. This would include overlooked details such as thresholds, relocation of registers, any trim work needed. All model names, numbers, finishes should be included. Even better a picture of each would make a thorough and complete Packet. If something is not listed out in the scope of work ask for it to be added, assume that if it is not directly addressed then it is not included. The State calls this the Exhibit B in every remodeling contract.
  • Start Date/Completion Date: You should have assurances that they will start before and not take longer than these dates. It’s okay if they start sooner or finish faster, and in some cases there can be delays. This protects you from a contract that keeps getting postponed after you have paid monies or drags on beyond what anyone could consider normal.
  • Total Cost and Payment Schedule: Obvious as this might seem piecing together a project without any idea of the total cost or when and how much will be due is a major red flag. At first glance this would appear to benefit the Contracting Company as much as you, but with the Exhibits referenced above this is a very powerful protection for you! We’ve all heard stories of projects with continual requests for more money with little to nothing to show for it. At the time of the signing of a Construction Contract you can expect to make an Acceptance Payment that is 20-30% of the contract amount. If you have not already made deposits on custom order items and materials then those payments may also be due at that time. Many States restrict the allowable amount that can be collected by the Contractor before they have performed any work. Check with your State’s licensing board for all the details. The remaining payment schedule is recommended to be handled via a performance draw schedule. That means once work has reached a percentage of completion then another payment would be due and payable. If something comes broken and needs to be replaced then a reasonable hold back could be agreed upon to continue work. This is also where the dreaded topic of Change-orders may be addressed. See below.
  • Representations/Warranties: Not the warranty after completion but warranties of performance, these our all the things that as homeowners we would assume would be done for us or on our behalf as the course of doing business. They are the everyday representations that protect everyone for misunderstandings, imagine thinking that the tile installation was included and then you get a bill from a tile contractor for their services. The binding nature of the agreement, the following of agreed upon plans, drawings or specifications while building, paying of sub-contractors, the relationship of contractor to homeowner, getting permits as required in your jurisdiction, and most importantly maintaining insurance coverages throughout your project,
  • Licenses and Permits: We already discussed licensing in other articles but if applicable for your project Permits should be listed out. Permits are not optional in many remodeling projects. Construction changes, not just structural in nature and changes to your mechanical systems such as electrical, plumbing, gas, and hvac are the responsibility of the Contracting professional. Why? You can’t assume that they have your best interest at heart or those doing the work understand building systems. Many a non-structural wall removal suddenly reveals itself as structurally important.
  • Waiver of Liability: This is a biggie. Did you know if you hire someone that is uninsured and without a license you could be as responsible as they are. In some states that is the case. Very scary stuff. Let’s say everything is going splendidly until the guy hanging light fixtures falls off the ladder and breaks his back. Yikes. You don’t know him, didn’t hire him but it’s your home. Without a waiver of liability you could be financially responsible for his injuries. Make sure you have the proper clauses to protect.
  • Indemnification: Walking hand in hand with Waiver of Liability is this item. Without it, I have heard that you could be pulled into any lawsuit that is filed against the contractor as it relates to your project. Check with your homeowner insurance policy for more detailed information.
  • Warranty: Now this is all about the work being performed. You can quickly see if you don’t have the details spelled out it becomes very hard to know who, what and when someone is responsible. If you don’t like the quality of workmanship, what’s considered acceptable, what’s normal wear and tear, what has a manufacturer warranty(s), and if you supplied the material will it be covered?
  • Change-orders: Causes? How will they be handled? When will they be presented? When are you responsible for payment?
  • Termination ,Access to Work and Notice. Most projects go from start to finish without any problems, unless they don’t. Everyone should know what is expected of them and what to do in the event that something happens. Clarity provides excellent motivation for everyone to do what they agreed to do . Did you know that locking out the contractor to make a point or withholding payment until you get your way could backfire and cause you to incur more cost? You also should have an address to communicate directly with each other not just sell phones and email addresses. A little old school but important none the less.
  • Buyers Right to Cancel: It’s a 3-day right of recession rule, signing a contract then changing your mind within the 3 Day recession period under certain circumstances is allowed. I would want to know my rights.
  • Assignment, Successors and Assigns, Nature of Relationship: There is nothing wrong with utilizing sub contractors but selling and assigning your contract to another entity is an entirely different matter. There should be provisions to prevent you from suddenly finding your project being performed by another company. It works both ways so selling the house mid project although rare should be addressed.
  • Recovery Fund. Because it’s a rule in our state I would want to see this in the contract or an attached Addenda. I’m a rule follower, its important to me that they are too!

“Consumer is hereby notified of the existence of the Virginia Contractor Transaction Recovery Fund. The Virginia Contractor Transaction Recovery Fund provides relief to eligible consumers who have incurred losses through the improper and dishonest conduct of a licensed contractor. More information on the Fund or filing a claim can be obtained by visiting or by contacting the Board for claim information at the following address:

Recovery Fund Office | DPOR
9960 Mayland Drive, Suite 400
Richmond, VA 23233
(804) 367-1559


  • Other: Every contract has the basics that the state you live in will want included in this document. It’s not personal to you or your project but based on previous history the most common areas that will help to prevent disagreements and misunderstandings. The above list are some for the State of Virginia but there are others, check with your State licensing Board and they will have a list.

Pros will discuss during the design/planning why they provide certain detailed information on their projects and what’s in their Construction/Remodeling Contract to help educate you. It’s just as much a benefit to me, as it is to you to be well informed because it helps to set great companies apart. I want my homeowners to be able to spot the difference. The above information is a starting point, ask questions and make sure you have a complete understanding of what is going to be providing on your behalf.

Important Links:

To verify a Contractor’s License:

This vs. That: What is the best home flooring?

This vs. That: What is the best home flooring?

Choosing flooring can be one of the toughest tasks. Whether you’re on a tight budget or the sky’s the limit, it’s never easy to decide on something so permanent. Here we’re breaking down the pros and cons of all the different home flooring choices.

Wood & Engineered Home Flooring

Image of kitchen where the owners chose home flooring in wood

$3 to $12 Per Sq. Ft.


Warm, beautiful, forgiving, and durable when maintained regularly. Great for living spaces, kitchens and half baths. While wood is far from waterproof it will last indefinitely in the kitchen if spills are addressed quickly and the floor is maintained with the correct cleaning products and practices.

A sister to solid wood floors are engineered wood floors- a sandwich of solid wood and plywood. They are not to be confused with laminate flooring- an image of wood printed on a thin plastic or LVP planks a 3-D printed composite. The top layer of engineered wood is solid lumber, meaning nicks and scratches only add charm, not unsightly scars.  Also, the floor can be sanded and refinished to restore its beauty. Scraped Engineered wood floors have a rich rustic patina that removes the worry from scratching and dents.

Engineered wood floors are most often finished in the factory, which allows a wide array of tones and a more durable wear surface finish. They shrink and expand very little leaving little to no gaps between boards which is good when installing over concrete or in high humidity climates.


You’ll pay a premium for the factory finish on the engineered wood floors. Solid wood floors can be damaged over time with the continuous abrasion from your pet’s nails. Softer solid wood floors with very dark finishes can be problematic showing every imperfection. Long term exposure to wet conditions is not advised.


$3 to $7 Per Sq. Ft.


Durable, sustainable, distinctive, bamboo is best for kitchens and living areas. Bamboo is more resistant to water, stains, and warping than other hardwood.


Bamboo is harvested and early harvesting can cause long term issues once the material reaches your home and is installed. Always purchase bamboo flooring products from reputable and reliable resources.

It can still expand and contract so its not best in high-humidity environments like bathrooms and spaces that are exposed to higher humidity fluctuations. The natural color is best as the wide array of colored finishes are very difficult to restore if damaged.

All bamboo is bonded together with adhesive, so look for formaldehyde-free and low VOC. Also make sure it can be sanded and finished (some can’t). There is no reliable grading system for bamboo so look for a reputable manufacturer. Prices can fluctuate based on product availability.

Luxury Vinyl Plank or Tile

$3 to $8 Per Sq. Ft.


This is least expensive home flooring option for kitchens and bathrooms when installation cost is factored. Comes in an infinite number of styles to suit every taste. Its resilient nature makes it comfortable for hours of standing. Installs quickly compared to tile or unfinished hardwood and most are installed in less than a day and put to service immediately.There are numerous brands available that are impervious to pets, waterproof and acceptable to be installed under heavy furnishings such as Pool Tables, in laundry rooms and kitchens.


It’s not as tough as porcelain tile and cant be refinished like hardwood. Visible damage requires replacement of the individual tile or tiles. Some lower priced brands can be damaged by pets and heavy objects cannot be placed on them. Finding the right product for your space is the key to this flooring product.

Ceramic & Porcelain Tile

$5 to $20 Per Sq. Ft.


Tile is waterproof, super durable, green, and with endless design choices. Also, this is best and traditional product for high functioning bathrooms.

There is common ceramic and a harder formulation called porcelain. Porcelain is a stronger product. Ceramic is more affordable but less dense and more porous requiring a hard surface glaze to protect it. Porcelain is durable and waterproof and is made with a process that allows almost endless design options including the look of concrete, wood, or natural stone without any of the maintenance they require.


Though high quality tile ages beautifully, grout doesn’t.  So experts recommend keeping grout lines on the small side and sealing them well to prevent staining. Ceramic tile is more fragile because of the glaze than porcelain so stick with porcelain for underfoot. Tile at its core is a hard non-moving material and will aggravate those with leg and back conditions if they stand or walk on them for long periods of time.

Cement Home Flooring – Encaustic Tile

$10 to $18 Per Sq. Ft.


Cement tile is thick, durable, and honed finish with crisp bright patterns. The materials are durable, and the results are unique, vibrant colors in a matte finish, with no glazing to mask their beauty. With time and traffic, cement tiles develop an aged patina that only enhances their handmade look. The tiles can also be resurfaced if desired.


Staining is a concern. Regular resealing helps to avoid the possibility of staining. Tiles will also chip when heavy objects are dropped on them. Similar to ceramic and porcelain tile, encaustic flooring does not offer any give when standing or walking on it.  Therefore it will aggravate people with leg and back conditions.

Natural Stone

Photo of stone home flooring in a bathroom

$2 To $30 Per Sq. Ft.


A durable, beautiful, and natural flooring. Natural stone is available in a wide range of stones and sizes, while offering rich history and soulfulness about where it was quarried. High shade variation adds to the natural beauty and visual interest.


Stone must be sealed, resealed, and cleaned with specially designed products. The high shade variation causes color unpredictability by piece often giving you a different look than you may have seen in the showroom. You must buy stone finished specifically for floors not walls, to avoid slips and falls. You should order 20-30% more material than needed to pick through. Close attention to the grade of the marble is important as low grade materials although well-priced also have more imperfections, pitting, veining and discoloration than high grade select materials. Similar to tile stone does not offer give when you are walking or standing on it and can aggravate those with leg and back conditions.


$2 To $5 Per Sq. Ft.


Warm, durable, and green, with brilliant colors, the solid sheets create a floor with fewer seams making it suitable for kitchens and bathrooms. The tiles & planks are DIY Friendly. Quick and Easy installation saves money.


The solid sheets do require an experienced linoleum installer who can heat-weld the seams and make the edges water tight. Although the seams are tight they’re not recommended for a children’s bathroom where there may be standing water. Staining, scratches and discoloration is a common complaint with this home flooring option.

How long does it take to plan and remodel a kitchen?

How long does it take to plan and remodel a kitchen?

Estimating a remodeling timeline is dependent on the overall scope of work requested, most kitchens follows one of three tracks for their scope of work; minor updates 2-4weeks, pull and replace 3-4weeks, and design build remodeling 11 weeks or longer. Since the scope of work for a kitchen remodel varies greatly from one homeowner to another identifying which improvement track your project will fit is the first step. The best decision a homeowner can make is deciding which track they want to follow and then focusing on the process, cost and execution of that track. The three tracks will be broken down and covered in my article; “How to get accurate cost information so you can hire the right contractor.”

But this article is about time, so below is the remodeling timeline for each of the three tracks in a kitchen remodel:

Track 1: Minor Updates

If you are planning to keep your cabinets as is or paint your existing cabinets, then this is the category you fall into. This is the quickest of projects and also the easiest on you and your family (pets included). You can expect to make all your decisions regarding new countertops, appliances, cabinet hardware, lighting, tile, and paint with only 1 to 2 weeks of planning. Once these selections/ decisions are complete, the work can be scheduled and should take 5-14 days to execute the updates. Estimated time from start to finish 2-4 weeks.

Track 2: Pull and Replace

Pulling out your existing kitchen and replacing it with new cabinets, countertops, and potentially updated flooring makes this project a big impact but a reasonable cost option. (More on that in the article, “How much does it cost to pull and replace my kitchen?”)

The pull and replace kitchen requires more time upfront in the selection/decision phase. You will need to select the new cabinet style, the countertop, tile backsplash (if applicable), and address the flooring. Also, cabinet hardware, sink, faucet, appliance changes, paint, and lighting is usually discussed. These decisions can be made within 2-3 weeks in the planning stage.

Once the planning stage is complete, there is typically a wait time of 2-6 weeks until the cabinets become available and delivered to your home. These changes are more disruptive than a minor update. Even so, pull and replace can be quickly executed if all decisions/selections have been made, and products are ready for installation.

Most of the work can be completed in 14-21 days, and your kitchen is back up and running. This also depends on if there is a floor change to raw wood sand and stained in place, which adds an additional week.

In our area, a pull and replace kitchen does not require permitting as long as you stay within the existing footprint and mechanical locations. Check with your local jurisdiction for more information. Estimated time from start to finish is 7-12 weeks.

Track 3: Design Build Kitchen Remodel

Because the very nature of this type of kitchen remodeling is to personalize the room just for you, it can be challenging to provide a timeline. Structural changes, wall removals, additional framing all make both the design and execution of this remodel more time-intensive.

The following guide will help you get started and adjusts based on your needs. The design build kitchen remodel can be executed by either a general contractor or a design build remodeling firm. There is a difference in time and process between the two, so check out the article, “How do I select the right Company for my Kitchen Remodel?”

There are three phases to a Design Build Kitchen Remodel:

  1. Design
  2. Pre-Construction
  3. Build Out / Installation.

Design (4-10weeks)

The very first allocation of the remodeling timeline goes to the design of your new space. This includes the wants and needs analysis and scope of work outline. I try to allow for no more than 2 appointments per week to tackle the decisions. Meeting twice per week is an aggressive schedule, and not all homeowners have that time available.

We have lots of local showroom options here in Fairfax, Virginia, so each client gets to decide if they want to meet at the local showrooms in their home. Check with your contractor on how and where the selection meetings will take place.  All told, the Design Phase can be completed in 4-8 weeks. Smaller projects with fewer decisions can be done more quickly. Larger projects can spend 6-10 weeks in design.

Maintaining a consistent meeting schedule keeps the decisions on track. Following a structured selection process is key to getting through the choices and getting the kitchen you want. (The article “Why do I need a Kitchen Designer?” goes into the selection process in more detail.)

From Design Selection to Beginning Work (2-8 weeks)

The time between finishing the design selections and starting the work is called pre-construction.

Remodeling your kitchen is similar to executing a favorite dinner recipe. When preparing a recipe, you have active prep time, inactive time, and cooking time. The pre-construction phase is like the inactive time, you are no longer actively doing any work, but behind the scenes, a lot happens.

The pre-construction phase of your remodeling timeline is entirely dependent on the policies of your contracting firm. It’s standard practice that the pre-construction phase lasts until all the products have been confirmed for delivery. The cabinets typically have the longest lead time so they can control your start date.

The schedule is also determined by the number of jobs ahead of yours. This determines the length of time a client will spend in this phase. On the short side of things, you can expect 3 weeks; on the longer side of things, you can expect 6-10 weeks.
Most contracting firms work hard to keep projects starting within 4-6 weeks of material being available unless the client has requested special scheduling considerations.

Construction (5-12 weeks)

The time it takes to build out your project is usually the most concerning for you. The best practice is for the contracting firm to work on your project from start to finish with a lead carpenter assigned to your project. What that means is that other than waiting for an electrician, plumber, or other specialty trade, you can look for progress each day.

The goal is always to finish one task and immediately be able to move into the next. On average, a major kitchen remodel will take 22-28 working days, or 4-6 weeks. If the project has a large structural or weather-related component, you should add a minimum of 10 working days to this estimate. It’s crucial in these projects to follow all building codes and local jurisdictional procedures.

nspections can slow down the process but are necessary to provide the removal of walls, relocation of appliances, additional electrical or mechanical changes that these projects require. Sitting down and communicating the schedule with you helps to ease the stress of remodeling. You can expect the contractor to use the scope of work to build a calendar before starting the demo. The calendar helps to keep you informed on what to expect when.

Working in your home for long periods of time requires daily consideration. The entire household’s scheduleb(pets included) is one of the keys to making the remodel go smoothly. This can be done be communicating the timing of electrical and plumbing disruptions in advance.

Closing Thoughts

In summary, you can see how easy it is for your expectations to be misguided for how quickly your project can be completed. The time it will take will be dependent on the work that you decide to do.

Start the process earlier than you think and allow yourself time to enjoy making the decisions that will impact your daily life. If you can do that, you will be loving your new or new kitchen sooner than you thought.

One last rule: don’t rush it. Starting the build-out and installation before finishing the design phase is always a bad idea. Decisions that are rushed are often regretted. Don’t allow yourself to be pushed or select placeholders for major items just to get the job started.

What should I expect from a free estimate for our kitchen remodel?

What should I expect from a free estimate for our kitchen remodel?

Providing free estimates for kitchen remodeling is a standard business practice for decades.  Homeowners see this as an advantage when considering whether a kitchen remodel is possible. A typical homeowner will begin getting estimates so that they can identify the costs and ultimately find the right contractor.

In the contracting world, however, offering “Free Estimates” has become a marketing and sales tool, sometimes with very little value to the homeowner.

In this post, I’ll outline what you can expect from a “free estimate” versus what you really need and how to get that information.

What can you expect from a free estimate?

In the typical “Free Estimate” appointment, you call the contractor to schedule a time to come to your home to give you an estimate. At this stage both people will be taking time from their schedules to meet which helpful as long as everyone involved in the decision making is present. Often times, only one person is present which is the first step in getting inaccurate or incomplete information.

Lots of ideas are tossed around, some big and others more realistic. Still, for the estimate to be of any value, it needs to be specific to one course of action. At this stage, most contractors will default to the most manageable scope of work and throw out general ballpark numbers for other changes. It’s almost impossible for you to keep straight what the estimate actually includes, and whether it accurately conveys the quality of materials you would expect.

You walk away with a couple of cost ranges and a detailed sales pitch on how they can take your kitchen anywhere you want for a price. They may or may not go back to their office and follow up with a floor plan and proposal to get started on your project.

Many homeowners will meet with as few as two companies or as many as five, which can lead to vast ranges of cost between companies.

Estimating is the same thing as pricing, except you don’t know what you will be installing. For this reason, it is like preparing a best guess. A bid is very different. In a bid, a specific scope of work with all the details and materials relating to the project already identified.

You shoul not assume that you are getting a bid. Many times customers are shocked when the original estimate is not even close to the proposed cost because of decisions made during the design and selection phase. This is where a design build company can excel at providing you with more accurate estimates and the guidance needed, helping you make the selections stay in line.

Wild fluctuations from company to company are caused by three factors:

  1. Opinions on what contractors think they heard you wanted and what they think you should do. Not everyone is a good listener. A misunderstanding of what they think you are visioning and what they are seeing can cause both low or high estimating.
  2. Good listeners can bring up ideas and solutions you have not thought about. This can cause one estimate to be for an entirely different scope of work. One thought or idea could add/subtract substantial cost.
  3. The varying overhead costs each company maintains.  The Direct cost of your project is the overhead of the employees and subcontractors and materials used to execute your project. Then general overhead is added to the project which covers the cost of the companies operations. General Overhead is maintaining office or showroom space, insurance, administrative personnel, management, benefits such as health insurance and 401K to employees, taxes, vehicle maintenance and continual education.

For more information on cost you can read; “How do I select the right Company for my Kitchen Remodel?”. This is one of the reasons it is not the wisest decision to go with the cheapest estimate, quality employees and business practices protect you, the homeowner, comparing two companies that are not the same quality can lead to disastrous results.

This is where “free” typically ends and you can now expect to pay anywhere from a small fee to a large deposit based on the proposal that has been provided. What you pay to proceed with your project is determined by the contractor/company you select.

If the contractor is only interested in installing and you provide materials, you are sent off to finish the design and make selections. Final pricing will be subject to what you pick. If the contractor includes design in his proposal, they will either have a designer on staff (this is Design/Build) or give you the contact information on where you are to go to make your selections (not Design Build).

Not all contracting companies offer free estimates for all types of kitchen projects. Once you start to talk about Design Build projects, there are so many variables that affect cost in impactful ways that a free estimate would be a waste of time. Asking about a Feasibility Study or Project Development Agreement would be a much better value.

When does a free estimate make sense?

A free estimate makes the most sense when you are doing minor remodeling updates and a pull and replace kitchen project. Cabinet and other material costs can be allocated.  The direct costs associated with the remodel can be estimated more accurately. It is not the best decision when looking at major structural or mechanical change to the space. The effects the scope of work can have on construction and design make them basically worthless.  In this event the next best option is a Feasibility Study.

What is a Feasibility Study?

A feasibility study is a paid process to identify, render, and estimate multiple options. A detailed feasibility study is valuable to you to determine if you have the right team to make your ideas come to life. It quickly shows you what improvements will be too cost prohibitive when compared to other options.

If your investment range doesn’t seem like it will work with the costs, you don’t waste your time spending hours designing and planning the wrong space. The investment range for a Feasibility Study can be several hundred dollars, but can save you thousands of dollars by identifying solutions that make a similar impact without all the headaches or cost of a larger remodel event. Once a Feasibility Study is complete you can move forward with the project by entering into a Construction Agreement or, better yet, a Project Development Agreement.

What is a Project Development Agreement?

A Project Development Agreement is a paid service offered by Design Build Companies and Interior Design Firms. The fee paid will either be a flat fee retainer or an hourly retainer. During project development, you will have a kitchen designer to consult with, prepare layouts, renderings, research available materials, and specify all the products to be used. In some cases architects and/or engineers may  become involved.

You receive individualized attention and someone guiding you on decisions, making sure the project is staying on track both in vision and cost. This is not an additional cost but takes the cost line item that would normally be included in a Design Build Proposal. By offering it as a stand alone feature, it is the best way to obtain a fixed price contract based on exactly what you plan on doing. No guesswork or large deposits ahead of final costs.

The Project Development Agreement can be used in conjunction with the Feasibility Study. Companies that offer the ability for homeowners to work with them and obtain detailed cost information are more vested in the success of your project. Kitchen Remodeling is an investment into your home and overall quality of life. When a company invests in having the right people on staff guiding you through that creation process they will have a higher burden of overhead and will naturally cost more than a Contractor that sends you off to make selections on your own.

What if I don’t know what kind of remodel I need?

So what happens if you don’t know whether a pull and replace Kitchen or a more major design build kitchen is what you want? In the past, most homeowners have turned to the Free Estimate as the first step. But there is a much better alternative that will give you more of the information and vision you need.

A Kitchen Design Consultation is a meeting with a Kitchen Design Professional in your home to review the state of your current kitchen. Armed with detailed lifestyle questions and focusing on your goals for the completed project, this one appointment can provide the clarity you need to best proceed. Usually billed at an hourly cost this will save you days of frustrating meetings and stress.

Finding the right Kitchen Designer can be easier than you think. Many Design Build remodelers can arrange for you to have a meeting in your home called a “consultation.”

You can expect that a consultation is a deeper discussion into the features and functions you want from your room’s remodel. By discussing your wants and needs, specific elements and ideas can be shared. The more details discussed the better information can be provided.

A consultation is an excellent tool to find a professional with whom you feel comfortable. It is also a great tool to use to begin to  build your project’s budget range.  An experienced pro will offer advice on the appropriate budget for the most expensive aspects of your project such as cabinets, flooring and countertops. They can also provide additional ways to save costs.  Consultations with the designer versus a sales rep saves time and produces more accurate costing models because they understand more deeply what you are visioning and are going to be the one guiding you through the planning phases.

Understanding What You Need

Understanding the differences between an estimate appointment and a consultation appointment will help you make the first important decision in the remodel process: who should I talk to about our remodeling questions?

If you want help budgeting your remodel, then the consultation format is going to give you a lot more information. If you know exactly what you want but need someone to do the work, the estimate will be advantageous.

Either way, by asking what is included in their “Free Estimate,” you will be able to separate the contractors focused on providing a task related price from those with options available to educate and guide the process. Both are valuable, but for different reasons.

The Last Word on Free vs. Paid

The truth is there is no such thing as “Free.” It might be “free” to you at the time but it costs professionals money to offer “free” services. When you become a customer the service is no longer free. The expenses of the time already provided is taken into consideration once you become a paying customer.  Here’s what I mean:

The cost burden of the “free” estimator in your home gets added into the overhead for the company, not just for your estimate but all the estimates that are done annually. They ultimately become part of the cost of overhead for your project.  The estimator gets paid whether you move forward or not. That means that his overhead shows up in your project price and how greatly that affects your bottom line depends on how successful he is at selling. The more projects contracted, the more projects his overhead gets split between.

Kitchen experts will charge for their time and they work hard to provide you with maximum value.  Remodeling your kitchen is a significant investment.  A small fee for a Kitchen Designer or Certified Kitchen Remodeler is money well spent when you get an industry expert into your home to guide you at the earliest stages. For more information on pricing I recommend “How do I select the right Company for my Kitchen Remodel?”

What To Watch Out For

  • Be watchful for those who waste your time providing no real value in advice, guidance or information, whether it be free or paid
  • Obtain License and Insurance information before meeting with them
  • Before moving forward with any company after the meeting make sure everyone is on the same page as to what the goal of the project is, cost and scope
  • be weary of too much focus on who they are, their accolades or obtaining an immediate commitment to move forward because of promotions or discounts only good that day.

“Time is one of the most valuable resources we have these days; protecting it for each other is the ultimate sign of respect.”

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