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Updating your kitchen on a budget – tips from Which? Trusted traders

Want to transform your kitchen without spending a fortune? Here's how to get the best value out of a kitchen installation or refurbishment.

In this article

Each kitchen, even if it has a ready-made design, will be different. The cost of units and appliances will vary enormously – and that’s before you even start any installation. Beyond that, each home has different features, spaces, wiring and plumbing. Your kitchen fitter will have to work around what’s already there, or call in specialist electricians, plumbers or builders if you need to move pipes, cables or walls.

This all makes it very difficult to talk about ‘typical’ costs when it comes to kitchen fitting. We’ve put together some specific examples in our cost guide – kitchen fitting, which can provide some guidance. 

We spoke to some of our Which? Trusted Traders-endorsed kitchen designers and fitters to get the benefit of their experience, plus some money-saving tips. We asked them to talk through what’s involved in updating a kitchen – everything from a complete remodel to individual jobs that can refresh your existing kitchen.

Find a Which? Trusted Traders-endorsed kitchen installer in your area.

Complete kitchen remodelling

A complete kitchen remodel is when you rip it all out and start again. It involves:

  • a redesign of the kitchen
  • removal of the old kitchen
  • the supply and installation of a new kitchen.

A full remodel is a big job, which is likely to take several weeks. The time and cost will increase if you need to take down walls, move appliances, install new services (waste disposal, plumbing, electrics) and so on.

What makes it more complicated?

A kitchen fitter can install units and worktops. But if you need to hire specialist contractors, such as electricians, gas engineers or plumbers, then costs can mount up.

Donna Byars from Dorset-based kitchen and bathroom fitting firm K and B Installations said: ‘If appliances are in the same places, you can just rewire them. But if you want to move them around, you’ll need an electrician, who will have to evaluate your entire electrical system. If your electrics aren’t up to standard, you might need a new consumer unit (fusebox). That can be very expensive.’

Tips to keep costs down

Which? Trusted trader Prestige Installations UK Ltd’s Eddie Douse said: ‘Keep to the same layout, and leave services in the same place as much as possible. Try to arrange sinks so they don’t interfere with the electrics – they need to be at least a metre away from a socket.’

You don’t necessarily need to upgrade your appliances or tiling. Sometimes a kitchen can be completely transformed with only a change of the unit doors and worktop. This can reduce the overall cost by as much as 50%.

Read more kitchen installation tips from our Which? Trusted traders.

Installing a store-bought kitchen

Buying an ‘off-the-shelf’ kitchen from a supplier or manufacturer, rather than getting a bespoke design for your space, is usually a cheaper version of remodelling.

 The fitting time would be similar to a bespoke, designed kitchen – unless you’re moving appliances and services around. Donna Byars told us: ‘If you’re doing a straight swap, then most off-the-shelf kitchens take one to two weeks to fit.’

One point to be aware of is that suppliers may not have the kitchen you want in stock immediately. It can take around eight weeks to supply a specially ordered kitchen.

Check the Which? guide to the best and worst kitchen brands to find out how the big-name brands fared in our survey.

What makes it more complicated?

If you are buying a ready-made kitchen, it’s essential to measure up correctly and get the right units and parts delivered before the kitchen installer arrives. ‘Always double check your measurements,’ Donna said. ‘You may want to over-order on elements such as plinth and cornice, rather than have to go back and forth to the supplier. Order an extra couple of handles, as sometimes these are damaged on delivery.’

A kitchen that doesn’t fit is going to make life a lot more complicated and expensive. ‘Often people won’t allow for end panels,’ Donna said. ‘You need to check the height of wall units, too, to ensure you can fit the cornice on top.’  (A cornice is the section of wood that goes on top of your unit to give it a finished appearance).

Tips to keep costs down

You can often buy ex-display kitchens for significantly less than a brand new one. Eddie Douse told us he’s had several clients who buy them from exhibitors at trade shows. ‘One client bought £8,000 worth of kitchen for less than £1,500,’ he said. ‘It included worktops and units. She spoke to the exhibitors, who sold it to her. She had the kitchen picked up and fitted after the show finished.’

Retailers’ own installation services aren’t necessarily the cheapest. You can use Which? Trusted Traders to find local kitchen installers – always get at least three quotes to compare.

Try to get a total price for the job including all fittings and fixtures, rather than a rate per day. Traders who charge by the day might drag their feet to boost the value of the job. With a fixed cost, there are no nasty surprises. As a guide, it should take around a week to completely remove and refit a kitchen, or two weeks if there is building work or lots of tiling.

See more advice on how to hire a kitchen installer.

Granite worktop installation

If you’re happy with your appliances and units, replacing the worktop can provide a fresh new look, at the fraction of the cost of a new kitchen.

Granite worktops are expensive and require specialist fitting, because of their weight and the tools required to work with them. But they provide a modern look, while being stain-resistant and hardwearing.

Your fitter will need to remove the old kitchen worktop, and often a specialist will refit the new granite one.

What makes it more complicated?

‘The carcasses (insides of the units) need to be strong enough to support a granite worktop,’ Eddie Douse advised. ‘Sometimes you have to add in extra support because of the weight. A specialist installer will be able to advise you.’

‘Complications such as under-mount sinks and lots of joins lead to a much longer installation time,’ Donna told us. ‘This can’t be avoided if your heart is set on the granite surface, but you could think about choosing another material.’

Always use a kitchen fitter who has training and experience in these specialist materials to achieve the desired luxury finish.

Tips to keep costs down

Ask your kitchen designer or retailer about alternative worktop materials. ‘Composite worktops can be fabricated and fitted on site – with no need for specialist fitters,’ Donna said.

Kitchen touch-up

You don’t have to go for a full new kitchen to achieve a dramatic change. Consider replacing separate elements of your kitchen if your basic units are still in good order. You can change the unit doors and/or worktops, while leaving the base and appliances in place. ‘Most people do it when their doors are peeling,’ Donna told us.

‘As long as the units are a metric size, most cabinet doors will fit,’ Eddie explained. ‘I worked on one kitchen upgrade recently, which involved installing straight worktops and changing the doors. It took around three days to complete.’

What makes it more complicated?

If a worktop needs to go round a hob, sink or corners, this is going to be more complicated than a straight worktop, and will require cutting out and fitting carefully.

Donna’s advice is to ‘steer clear of unusual finishes. Handleless doors are often not compatible with a lot of cabinets, because they operate on a runner.’

Tips to keep costs down

See what elements of your kitchen you can reuse – this can be everything from cupboard carcasses to handles. Instead, you can replace separate parts, such as the plinth (boards that go underneath the units) and panels (board that goes on the side of units), on their own.

You can paint wooden doors rather than replacing them – some companies specialise in this.

Shop around for new handles – you can’t go too far wrong size-wise with those.

Changing just the doors and keeping the worktops in place is a cheaper option.

For more ideas, check our 10 space saving tips for small kitchens.

Tiling

New tiles can bring a contrast colour, or revitalise a tired-looking design. Fresh floor tiles bring a whole new look to the room.

Your kitchen fitter will need to remove any existing tiles, prepare the walls or floor, and re-tile.

What makes it more complicated?

The underlying condition of the surfaces can make life more difficult. ‘It can be tricky taking tiles off the walls of newer houses (from 1980 onwards) with plasterboard walls,’ Eddie told us. ‘You can end up removing chunks of the walls, so you need to repair them before tiling.’

Any time you need to cut the tiles to fit awkward shapes, it gets harder. You also need to consider what type of tiles you want to use.

Tips to keep costs down

‘Porcelain and natural stone tiles are much more time consuming to cut and lay. They also need more expensive cutting tools to work with them, which adds to the cost,’ Donna told us. ‘Ceramic tiles are generally cheaper, although small mosaic tiles are an expensive option.’

However, Eddie warned: ‘Very cheap tiles are often very thin, so you don’t really save anything, as you have to use more and they’re difficult to fill. It’s best to go to a tile manufacturer and negotiate on the price.’

‘You can reduce the cost by choosing an upstand or splashback to finish the edge of the worktop,’ Donna suggested. ‘This creates a lovely finish and can save a lots of money on installation time.’

Vinyl flooring can be a cheaper option than floor tiles. Modern styles are a world away from 1970s floors, and it’s less slippery when damp.

If you need a kitchen designer or fitter to update your kitchen, Which? Trusted Traders has endorsed businesses in your local area that can help.

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