MONEY Ask the Expert

What That Kitchen Remodeling Bid Will Really Cost You

140605_AskExpert_illo
Robert A. Di Ieso, Jr.

Q: The bids for our kitchen renovation looked low—until we realized they left out cabinets, appliances and such, which apparently we buy separately. Is there a way to ballpark those costs, so we can judge whether the project fits our budget?

A: Are you sitting down? The bids you received probably account for only a quarter to a third of your project costs, according to kitchen designer John Petrie, who owns Mother Hubbard’s Custom Cabinetry in Harrisburg, Pa., and is president of the National Kitchen and Bath Association, a trade group.

Many general contractors separate out cabinets, countertops, appliances, plumbing, light fixtures, tiles, and paint from their bids because the costs for these decorative items vary exponentially depending on what you choose. A kitchen faucet, for example, can range from $20 to $3,000. Backsplash tiles might run from $7 to $90 per square foot. So unless the contractor is providing design services—as a kitchen remodeling company would—he may prefer to let you select and order your own decorative items, even though he’ll still install them, and help with delivery if necessary.

The NKBA provides guidance on what percentage of the total budget certain elements eat up in a typical kitchen project:

Cabinets: 30%

Appliances: 14%

Countertops: 10%

Lighting: 5%

Plumbing fixtures: 4%

Paint: 2% to 3%

Tiles: 1% to 2%

The rest, about one-third of your cost in this scenario, is largely the stuff your contractor likely included in his price—from demolition and disposal of the old kitchen to new floors, walls, and windows to the labor for installing everything.

“These are only ballpark figures,” says Petrie. “But they work remarkably well at different budget levels.” For example, he would expect the cabinets to cost about $15,000 on a $50,000 kitchen project, $30,000 on a $100,000 project, and $45,000 on a $150,000 project.

For each estimate you receive, be sure to ask the contractor what specifically was included, and what was left out, to avoid unpleasant discoveries once it is too late to turn back.

MONEY home improvement

4 (Mostly) Cheap and Easy Ways to Green Up Your Grass

Greening up the grass
Jason Schneider

Brown patches and weeds getting you down this summer? To keep your turf lush and thick, try some of these cost-effective tactics.

Does it feel like the grass really is greener in other people’s yards? Summer’s heat and low rainfall are tough on turf, so neighbors sporting lush lawns this time of year probably have better species of grass, higher-quality topsoil, and automatic irrigation. You, too, can have all that—for perhaps $10,000 or more—with a complete lawn replacement. Or you can try more affordable approaches to keeping your existing grass verdant.

Mow smarter

“Taller grass holds more moisture and stays greener than short grass,” says Mark Schmidt, principal scientist at John Deere. “Plus, it shades the soil, helping to keep the roots wet.” Set your mower deck to three inches (or as high as it will go). Also, inspect the grass right ­after mowing. Jagged tears indicate that the blade is dull, and these wounds sap moisture from the plants. Get a replacement blade for $10 to $40 or take your mower for a tune-up ($75 to $200), which includes blade sharpening.

Do not feed the plants

When a lawn turns brown, it’s not dead—it’s just gone dormant to save energy for cooler, wetter times. You may be tempted to apply fertilizer and weed control, but if not done right, those chemicals can burn a heat-stressed lawn, says Oregon State University horticulture professor Alec Kowalewski.

Water on schedule

Dragging around the hose and sprinklers to hydrate parched grass may do more harm than good. “Coming in and out of dormancy can kill the lawn,” says John Stier, a playing-field consultant to several National Football League teams. “So don’t water unless you’re going to be superconsistent about watering all season long.” That’s probably not realistic with manual efforts, so either let nature take its course or go for automatic irrigation, a $2,000 to $4,000 expense for which there really isn’t a good low-cost workaround. To maximize your investment, ask the installer to arrange sprinkler heads into zones based on the quirks of your property so that shady, sunny, poorly drained, and sloped areas can get programmed for their own watering needs. Opt for a rain sensor too (around $150), which will override sprinklers when Mother Nature provides irrigation for free.

Aerate in autumn

Whether or not you irrigate, think of lawn restoration as a multi­season project. In the fall, plan to aerate—cutting hundreds of holes to loosen the soil—and top with compost and a mix of grass seed bred for your climate ($500 to $1,000 to hire out the job). Repeat for several seasons, and you’ll gradually improve the soil and grass type, making your lawn more drought-resistant, and yours the greener side of the fence.

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