Renovating Kitchens Cheap

Linda Harrison's kitchen cabinets look brand new. All it took was a can of paint and new knobs to completely transform her kitchen, which used to be very dark. She says now, "I'm just much happier. It's brighter. It's more cheerful." Since Linda's cabinets are in good condition, another option would have been to reface them. Either option is a whole lot cheaper than buying new ones.

Adding under-cabinet lighting is another inexpensive way to update your kitchen. Consumer Reports tested strip lights and puck lights, which cast a pool of light onto the countertop. Consumer Reports Dan DiClerico explains, "And they all come in different types of bulb. We have fluorescents, halogens, xenon, and L.E.D." The tests showed the ones with fluorescent bulbs and L.E.D.'s are energy efficient. But fluorescents don't accurately show reds, oranges or purples, which changes the way food looks on your counter. Halogen and xenon lights give much more accurate color, although they do use more energy and get very hot.

Whether it's getting your cupboards more organized, taking advantage of wasted cabinet corners, or easier access to your garbage cabinet organizers are a great way to streamline your kitchen. Consumer Reports found you don't have to pay a lot to get a good organizer. Bob Karpel tested dozens of organizing systems and found, "In all three categories, our best performers were also the least expensive." Top picks were the Real Organized Pull-Out Shelf from Lowe's for $30, the Simplehuman Single Pull-Out Trashcan, Model CW1124, for $60, and the plastic Hafele Lazy Susan for $40.

Finally, consider replacing your kitchen floor. Consumer Reports tests how well various types of flooring hold up to scratches, stains and dents. Plastic laminates, which are tougher than wood, usually cost a lot less. And they're easier to install. DiClerico: "You can float them on the surface without the use of fasteners, staples, or glue." So you don't have to spend tons of money to get a great-looking kitchen.

Appliances can also be big-ticket items when redoing a kitchen. But Consumer Reports tests find price is no guide to getting the best. In fact, among smoothtop electric ranges, the most expensive a $4,000 Viking came in at the bottom of the ratings. Consumer Reports' top-rated electric smoothtop range scored very good in baking and is a Best Buy. It's the Kenmore 9641 range, which retails for $750.

When it comes to countertops, there are so many to choose from and they're pricey. So what works best in a busy kitchen? Consumer Reports put nearly a dozen to the challenge to find out.

Testers looked a variety of countertop materials, including the ever-popular granite as well as quartz and laminate. Also included in the tests new materials like paper composite countertop.

First, testers evaluated stain resistance. They put twenty different substances on countertops including food coloring, tomato sauce, and mustard. With certain countertops, sealers are important for stain resistance. But they didn't always help. Consumer Reports' Celia Lehrman observed, "Unfortunately, we found that DuPont's Kashmir White sealer in one of the instances actually spread the stains instead of repelling them. This is food coloring and here we've got some cooking oil."

Next is the heat test. A pot filled with 400-degree oil is placed on each surface. While most did well, the varnished butcher block ended up with a big scorch mark! A third challenge how easily countertops can chip. Testers drop a heavy, blunt weight through a tube. Quartz and granite didn't do very well.

Nevertheless, Consumer Reports found quartz is the best choice for a busy kitchen. It's low maintenance and stain- and heat-resistant but it is pricey. Much less expensive laminate. It's also excellent at resisting stains and heat damage. If you're wondering how the paper composite countertop did in Consumer Reports tests not so well. It was susceptible to wear and tear. And in the knife test where something is cut right on the counter the surface showed cuts. Of course, you shouldn't cut anything without a cutting board but you want a countertop that holds up in case someone makes the mistake.


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