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Kitchen Nightmares: 11 Renovation Mistakes to Avoid

September 19th, 2023 | 12 min. read

By Steve Sheinkopf

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Kitchen Nightmares: 11 Renovation Mistakes to Avoid

It's easy to see that this kitchen is a nightmare; even the wall oven is sad:

wall-oven-with-cooktop-and-paddec-counters

You probably have the common sense to not use upholstery as your cabinet fronts.

But this kitchen is much worse in some ways, even if the two tones of cabinets are likable:

kitchen-with-no-ventilation-and-two-toned-cabinets

You should even reconsider or at least understand why you should think twice about this design:

kitchen-with-professional-range-and-sink-separated-by-table

Hint: It's not the appliances in this one.

We will get back to both examples at the end of the article. By then, you will understand the problems of both.

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Kitchen Nightmares: 11 Renovation Mistakes to Avoid

I initially wrote the article “10 Kitchen Appliance Remodeling Mistakes You Should Never Make” three years ago.

This article will be split between planning or the failure of planning in all its different forms to popular products you shouldn't buy.

I removed the annoying but not fatal mistakes like buying black steel appliances, super quiet dishwashers, extra-large laundry machines, and combo washers and dryers.

If you want to save your money and time, make sure to avoid these 11 common mistakes that are known as the "money and time black holes".

You will learn a bit about kitchen design, the planning process, and how to overcome the many challenges.

Be wary.

Construction is divided into four equal parts:

  1. Designing
  2. Scheduling
  3. Construction
  4. Closeout

This article deals with the first two.

Let's start with planning and the two biggest mistakes you can make.

1. Hiring the Wrong People

kitchen-general-contractor

Every renovation nightmare usually involves a bad general contractor (GC) or contractor.

One of our salespeople at Yale hired his underqualified best friend to renovate his house.

Let's just say they are not friends anymore.

I am sure the court proceedings haven't helped either.

But lost money, time, and relationships are just the beginning.

Your house is usually the biggest chunk of your net worth, so act accordingly and vet everyone working on it.

Contractors

Truly great general contractors and people who know what they are doing only know great subcontractors, plumbers, electricians, masons, and appliance stores.

So, your job will run smoothly even with problems, and there will always be problems.

We had to rip the front off our store in Hanover before we started construction. I didn't know it was rotten when we bought it.

The frame was stainless, but not the front.

hanover-showroom-before-construction
Before Construction
yale-hanover-front-signage-nl
After Construction

That wasn't part of the plan, but our GC (our Director of Facilities also) still delivered the store on time and under budget.

The good news is you can easily find the right contractor.

The internet is great for searches.

Looking for builders in your town is a good search. They will know the inspectors and local tradespeople.

Look around your neighborhood or at similar houses under construction. Look at magazines for names as well.

But don't stop there.

Ask for references and interview the homeowners for what they liked and didn't like.

Ask if their project was on time and within your budget.

Here are some more questions to ask:

  • How long have you been a General Contractor?
  • How many years of construction experience do you have?
  • Are you licensed by the state in which the project is located?
  • Do you have Proper Insurance, current and up to date with at least 1 GL?
  • Are you familiar with the city/town Permit Process and Bylaws?
  • Have you built new homes in the past? Locations? ( If a new home is the Scope of work)
  • Would I have a point of contact for my project?
  • What companies do you typically use for subcontractors?
  • Do you have any references I can contact?
  • How does your payment schedule work?
  • What would be your timeline for the project?
  • What type of warranty do you offer?
  • Can you provide a letter of completion (to avoid any lien against the property)?
  • What do you see as the biggest challenges for this project?
  • What is your policy on project delays?
  • How do you close out a project? (A good contractor would clean the site like he was never there).
  • Do I get weekly and or monthly progress reports?
  • How can we receive the written proposal?
  • Would the proposal have a detailed list of material?

Project Managers

Let's say you pick a great GC. Fantastic. You are almost there.

Now, you need to interview the Project Manager, the point person, to see your project to a successful conclusion.

But what do their skills and experience look like?

(One of the best general contractors in Boston City is S&H Construction. It's also woman-owned).

ricky-yale-appliance-project-manager

Anyway, here is a good blueprint. Ricky, our Project Manager, has:

  • 28 Years of experience
  • Master licensed electrician
  • GC License
  • 7 Years as Head of Yale Installation
  • 5 Years as Head of Facilities
  • Familiar with plumbing, roofing, drywall, and waterproofing

You probably won't have someone with this experience.

However, good Project Managers were tradespeople at one time.

They must understand each trade and be three steps ahead to schedule the right time for each aspect of your construction.

You don't want the owner's kid out of college.

You want a tradesperson who understands the process and the trades.

Spend time here because good contractors solve problems, but bad contractors seem to cause them.

2. Not Knowing Your Lifestyle

not-knowing-your-lifestyle---kitchen-design

A good contractor will know good people to help you, schedule your project, and help with the design.

They can't help you from you.

You have to make the decisions.

If you don't know what you're looking for before you start your project, that's OK.

Here are a few tips from my recent renovations:

I gutted my condo in 2013 and rebuilt a brownstone in 2017, plus the store in Framingham in 2016.

In a previous article, I talked about renovating and moving after my daughter's birth.

I placed the kitchen in the basement because I wanted direct access to parking for bundles and unloading Sophie without walking to another floor.

I was traumatized by the walk-up and the process of bringing a baby to my apartment and battling the residents for parking spots.

That was my lifestyle, battling through the walk-up with bundles and then the war for a parking spot.

She is seven now.

It's a different lifestyle because I could drop her off, and she can walk into the unit on her own.

Penthouse to Basement:

first-renovation-1
First renovation

second-renovationSecond Renovation

Living on a fourth-floor walk-up will imprint that on your brain.

At the same time, my sister moved from her house, sold her cottage, and bought a home on the water.

Full-Kitchen-with-TV-in-Hood-1

She wanted an undisturbed view of the water and a Miele coffee maker to enjoy.

She bought the coffee maker and placed the TV in her hood. Now she has both.

So, what's your lifestyle like?

Here are some questions to ask yourself:

  • Do you cook? Do multiple people cook?
  • How big is your space?
  • Where are the kitchen and other rooms?
  • Do you have an island?
  • How about windows?
  • Are there objects you want to highlight?
  • Do you have children?
Do you cook? Do multiple people cook?

I cover this in detail in "How to Plan Your Kitchen Project."

It's a template for basic kitchen and lighting design. It will help you start and enjoy a functional kitchen.

Kitchens and baths are the hardest rooms to design.

You must worry about plumbing, lighting, electrical, and hardware in greater detail than any other room.

3. Thinking You Have Time

Wolf-Kitchen-at-Yale-Appliance-in-Framingham

First, you do have time. Endless amounts before construction begins.

Planning should be the biggest and first part of what you do. You shouldn't feel rushed.

Decisions You Have to Make:

  • What color are my countertops?
  • What color are my cabinets?
  • What about cabinet hardware?
  • What faucets do I prefer in the bath and kitchen?
  • What shower heads?
  • Which decorative lights?
  • What is the shape of my bathtub?
  • Should the shape of my bathtub match my overmount bath sinks?
  • Do I buy Baldwin Hardware?
  • How about my vanities?
  • Do I purchase Sub-Zero and Wolf, Thermador, and/or Miele appliances?

Do not be brand loyal and lock yourself into one choice. Pick the category and look at the options

However, that will change once the shovel hits the dirt.

Supply problems can create bottlenecks.

Appliances are finally over their supply chain issues other than Sub-Zero and Wolf who have 12-month lead times.

However, doors, windows, and other needed materials still have delays.

So, prepare for delays.

The best contractor in the world can't help you if you are indecisive.

When I was selling appliances, contractors would call asking for appliance specifications for their clients or reconfirming what they thought was an order.

When I said there was a quote or the client had not booked an appointment, the contractor would not be happy.

Without appliance specifications, the contractor could not order the cabinets.

The electrical, plumbing, and venting lines could not be run, causing massive delays, not including the additional time for appliances.

Red Hot Labor Market

Every trade from plumbers, roofers, masons, and electricians, is busy. If you miss their deadlines, you can add a significant amount of time to your project.

Remember, your Project Manager has to be three steps ahead but can only do so with your concrete decisions.

Many of the decisions you are or will agonize over, like the color of your countertop, the cabinet, and the faucets and tubs in your master bath, won't matter much once you live in your house.

When I renovated mine six years ago, I agonized over matching the sinks to the bathtub. Do I notice now?

Not really.

Get the flow and lifestyle right and be willing to compromise on some finishes and product choices.

4. Overpaying for Cabinets and Underpaying Cabinet Designers

custom-cabinets-in-a-kitchen

Kitchens and baths are two of the toughest rooms to plan.

You need to plan the flow, the electrical, plumbing, and functional lighting more than any other space.

Living rooms and bedrooms are much easier.

That's why your kitchen designer is important.

They can find storage places you wouldn't have considered.

In my new kitchen, there is a place for the tops of pots (it's a great idea, by the way).

second-renovation

I have a spice rack next to the stove to easily access turmeric, rosemary, and oregano and a garage for the blender and juice, so it's not exposed on the counter.

What I have in my current kitchen:

  • Platter Holders
  • Spice Rack
  • Pot Top Shelf
  • Garage for Countertop Appliances
  • Microwave Decentralized
  • Glass Cabinet for Glassware
  • Under-Cabinet Lighting

Guess which one was my idea?

Not even one.

A good cabinet designer is worth the investment.

Cabinets? I am not so sure.

When I was training salespeople, I always asked which kitchen display was the most expensive.

Most guessed wrong.

It's easy to understand why. Most white cabinets look the same.

There are details in the hinging and overall construction, but not immediately apparent.

However, there are four types of cabinets:

  • RTA or Ready to Assemble: You assemble RTA cabinets yourself. Durability is a long-term issue with RTA cabinets. That said, some European cabinets are RTA.
  • Stock: Stock doesn't allow any customization. However, that doesn't mean you should not consider a stock cabinet. You are buying the wood and finish as much as the dimensions. Good materials are available in a stocked cabinet.
  • Semi-Custom: This allows some customization of materials, sizes, depth, and finishes.
  • Custom: Custom is built to order and is the most expensive. Materials really could be almost anything from plywood to wood. What you want is decent material with a good finish.

Could a $15,000 kitchen with stock cabinets look better than a $30,000 kitchen with semi-custom cabinets?

It depends on the materials you use.

la-cornue-chateau-surpeme-range-drakes-kitchen

A great designer can make average cabinets look very good and provide a better kitchen design.

5. Putting Your Stove in the Middle of the Island

_Thermador-Pro-Harmony-Induction-Range-Installed-in-Kitchen-Island

Look at the picture above of what looks to be a high-output professional range in the center island with no ventilation.

There is no law against it (oddly enough, laws only start with ventilation).

However, that gas range and, to a lesser extent, induction and electricity create a toxic brew of gasses like Nitrogen Oxide, Carbon Dioxide, Carbon Monoxide, and Formaldehyde.

With new building codes, windows, and other building materials are far more efficient. That brew stays in your house longer and can cause issues.

The new ranges in 2023 have 2-5 times more output than when I started in 1986.

You must properly vent your cooktop.

Yet many people like to entertain in their kitchens. I was in Needham (my hometown) a few months ago at the Fuji Hibachi House.

They have large canopy hoods, not ceiling blowers, shallow hoods, or downdrafts.

Sinks

Sinks work so much better in a kitchen island.

You don't have to worry about venting. Light is so much easier as well.

You can always entertain with one of these.

6. Not Understanding Ventilation

Yale-Appliance-Ventilation-Hoods-Gas-Cooking

Ventilation is extremely important.

Planning ventilation incorrectly will either make your kitchen smell like your meal or deny a sign-off from your inspector for lack of fresh air intake or make-up air.

Let's look at each problem.

According to a guide published by Broan, a hood manufacturer, the quality of indoor air can be up to five times worse than outdoor air.

Cooking appliances can release harmful pollutants and compounds like Methane, Nitrogen Oxide, and PM2.5, which further contribute to deteriorating indoor air quality.

High-output burners create more gases that stay in your house longer.

Ventilation is composed of four elements:

  • CFM or Cubic Feet Per Minute: A 600 CFM exhaust will evacuate 600 cubes of air per minute.
  • Capture Area: The depth of the hood is the capture area. A high-powered but shallow hood will still have smoke billow past it into the kitchen. Plan on at least 24 inches on the depth.
  • Duct Size: You should use the minimum specs for ducting. You may also want to oversize if you stir fry or wok cook.
  • Duct Run: Short as possible. Straight up or straight back. Do not use more than one elbow, which will reduce the static flow to almost nothing.

7. Downdrafting a High Output Range

You are looking at a recent trend. Placing cooking on an island is already a bad idea, as we mentioned above.

Placing a high-powered professional (pro) range with a downdraft is a worse one.

Smoke is captured, channeled, and exhausted, as you know.

Downdrafts have a two-inch slot for capture area for the 60,000-150,000 BTU range.

Then, the smoke needs to be reversed downward.

In other words, no capture, no channel, then no exhaust. The Broan Cattura advertises this solution.

Cattura Downdraft - Best

Save yourself the trouble. It won't work.

8. Oversizing a Vent (Massachusetts Residents Only)

Thermador-kitchen-display-at-yale-appliance-in-hanover-2023

You have a Wolf range in a new kitchen. That is not the time to learn about the 2007 Massachusetts Make-Up Air Regulations.

Any vent over 400 CFM needs fresh air return.

Here's why: You fire up that pro range and turn on your 1100 CFM hood. That's 1100 cubes of air exiting an airtight home or the equivalent of a small room.

You must return the air, or it will create an incredibly unhealthy environment because the air will be "made up" from your furnace, attic, or garage.

Make-Up-Air-Graphic-Yale-Appliance

It's easy to do through your HVAC during the planning stage.

It's not simple once you have finished your kitchen renovation.

You must cut an equivalent return somewhere in your kitchen at least 10 feet away and on the other side.

Broan has a $100 aftermarket smart damper kit and exit cap kit. However, you must still cut the hole and wire the smart damper to open when your hood is on.

Learn more: Free Ventilation Buying Guide

9. Outdoor Grills Placed on the Inside of Your Home

indoor-bbq-grill-on-a-three-season-porch

You probably wouldn't put an outdoor grill inside your house (please don't do this).

How about your three-season porch or pool house?

I have personal experience with this nightmare.

One of our best builders once had a previous customer who placed a Lynx grill (not our installation, thank heaven) on a three-season porch and needed advice.

I grilled some chicken sausage on the grill and watched the smoke billow past the hood.

The smoke is aided by the grill cover projecting the smoke farther into the room.

The poor guy had to buy a commercial hood with an enormous commercial blower on the roof.

Plus, he had to reinstall a particular duct.

The total cost was $35,000 plus two months of planning and installation.

Now, my point: A grill creates a ton of smoke. Place it outdoors - entirely outdoors.

If I have not discouraged you, then know many towns do not allow it by code.

If you are still unmoved, plan a huge vent. I mean HUGE - deeper than 27 inches.

Residential vents cannot handle the smoke from an outdoor grill.

Commercial vents are typically island-style because the stove is in the middle of the kitchen.

10. Stacking Wall Ovens

stacking-wall-ovens--kitchen-mistake

I look at this picture and cringe.

Designers are centralizing cooking appliances in the kitchen, but stacking wall ovens is dangerous.

I think of my daughter tugging at me as I try to take that hot food from over my head.

The most you should stack is a single wall oven, microwave, and warming drawer.

You want to save space, but not at the expense of safety.

You can always place microwaves, speed ovens, and warming drawers elsewhere.

Microwaves can be placed under the counter, in a cabinet, hung from a cabinet, or in your appliance garage your designer built.

Double-wall ovens with an appropriately mounted warming drawer are as high as you should go.

11. Thinking Your Appliances Will Be Repaired

yale-service-tech-team-hanover

Yale Appliance Service Team

Repair has to be part of your consideration.

Here is the sad reality: Most of our business is now repair and maintenance. As appliances become "smarter" and more complicated, appliance repair will become more of an issue.

Many manufacturers offer limited repair services, while others provide no repair options at all. The same goes for retailers.

Ninety-five percent of retailers don't employ a single technician.

Investigating who will fix that new steam oven, stove, or coffee maker should be part of your research.

Read reviews of all perspective retailers before you buy from them.

I could say the same about installation and especially delivery.

Service is only marginally worse.

Read More: Why Your New Appliance Will Not Be Repaired

Kitchen Nightmares: Key Takeaways

Abraham Lincoln once said, "Give me six hours to chop down a tree, and I will spend the first four sharpening the ax."

Sage advice.

Planning solves all these problems.

Remember, construction should be broken down into four equal parts: design, scheduling, construction, and closeout.

Finding good people at every level and truly taking time to understand your lifestyle will mitigate most of these issues.

Think a bit about how you cook and how you will use the space.

You can plan, but once you start, move decisively.

You can do this, and it can be fun and rewarding as you beam at your new kitchen.

Here are some other resources to help you with your project:

Webinar Recording: Kitchen Renovation Mistakes to Avoid

Below is a recording of our recent webinar on this topic, with a great Q&A from the webinar attendees and panelists from our team.

Let's solve the problems of the kitchens at the beginning of this post (about a lifetime ago).

First the dreaded downdraft.

You can always drop a hood from the ceiling. However, it is expensive in an existing kitchen.

Even as a new construction, a ceiling hood from a taller ceiling is expensive and will dominate the room.

Still, it's an option.

You can also swap the placement of the sink and stove. You will lose some windows but can probably reconfigure to add more elsewhere.

Small Note: Windows are the objects people design around.

The third kitchen is beautifully designed.

However, that table poses a problem.

It will be in the way if you need to go from your sink to your stove quickly.

The redesign is easy: Remove the table.

Additional Resources

Want more information on the worst renovation mistakes to avoid? Get The Book of Bad Renovations to learn how to avoid a renovation failure. Well over 1 million people have read and trusted a Yale Guide.

Related Articles

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Steve Sheinkopf

Steve Sheinkopf is the third-generation CEO of Yale Appliance and a lifelong Bostonian. He has over 38 years of experience in the appliance industry, and he is a trusted source of information for consumers on how to buy and repair appliances.

Steve has also been featured in numerous publications, including the New York Times, Consumer Reports, The Boston Globe, Bloomberg Radio, the New York Post, The Wall Street Journal, and Entrepreneur, for his knowledge of how to buy appliances and appliance repair.

Steve is passionate about helping consumers find the best appliances for their needs, and he is always happy to answer questions and provide advice. He is a valuable resource for consumers who are looking for information on appliance buying, repair, and maintenance.

Despite being the worst goalie in history, Steve is a fan of the Bruins and college hockey, loves to read, and is a Peloton biker. The love of his life is his daughter, Sophie.

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