How do we survive a kitchen remodel?
February 22, 2019 8:40 AM   Subscribe

We are about to do a major update of our 30-year-old kitchen, replacing all the cabinets and countertops, removing a soffit, and repositioning the stove and refrigerator. We like the contractor and his crew, but previous projects like replacing doors and molding were disruptive enough and this job is bigger and focuses on what, in practice, is the center of our home. Trepidation. I've got trepidation. What advice, tips, etc. do you have for coming through this with our sanity intact?
posted by DrGail to Home & Garden (27 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Is there any chance you can move out? My house was entirely unusable during my kitchen remodel, since they were doing a lot of electrical work and everything I owned was upended.

If not, you need to plan how to feed yourselves. Assume you'll be doing a lot of take-out, but also think about moving the fridge somewhere you can get to it, using a toaster oven and/or hot-pot, and figuring out how to clean and store your dishes.
posted by suelac at 8:44 AM on February 22, 2019 [4 favorites]

Basically make yourself a kitchenette somewhere else in the house (mini fridge, microwave, hotplate) and get two rubber bins for washing dishes (there's a method you can Google) and pretend like your kitchen doesn't exist during the remodel because it effectively doesn't and trying to work around them will be misery.
posted by julie_of_the_jungle at 8:51 AM on February 22, 2019 [19 favorites]

We had a run down kitchen in our basement as the previous owner rented it out. We used it way less than we thought, but it was useful in the mornings.

Moving your fridge and microwave to another part of the house, and then building a menu of simple to prepare foods is a big help. Consider some money for takeout as part of the budget for the project.

Start inviting your friends and neighbours over for meals now, before the work gets done, so that you can get some invites over to their places when your kitchen is demolished.
posted by thenormshow at 8:52 AM on February 22, 2019 [1 favorite]

As a former renovator, I would say that the absolute best thing you can do, if you can manage it, is to spend as much of the time as possible living somewhere else. Stay with relatives, in a hotel, or something like that. Seriously, it's way less stressful and will lead to a happier customer (you) and a happier contractor.

Other than that, you need to set up a field kitchen in another part of the house. Think something like a hotplate, mini fridge, and microwave. Wash your dishes in the bathroom sink. Get some folding tables and a dish drainer. And if possible, don't do this in the winter. All renovation projects are harder, dirtier, and more stressful in winter. In the spring, summer, or fall, you can do a lot of outdoor cooking.

It will also help if the contractor puts up plastic sheeting to separate the construction zone from the rest of the house, and lays dropcloths from all entrances to said construction zones, to contain the mess. They may well already be planning to do this but it helps to make sure.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 8:59 AM on February 22, 2019 [9 favorites]

If you like to camp, just consider it glamping!

The must-dos are to move your fridge into the living room, set up a folding banquet table, and put the microwave and toaster oven there. You will wash dishes in the bathroom sink. Other ideas are:
  • Grill a lot: damn near anything besides soup can be heated in a foil packet.
  • Throw yourself on the mercy of family/friends, and promise lavish meals in the "new kitchen" when it's all over in exchange for a civilized meal.
  • Put your environmental ethics aside, and embrace paper plates -- or, as someone suggested to us, wrap your real plates in plastic wrap before every meal so you don't have to wash them. (We went with paper plates, mostly.)
If it gives you hope, we did it with four kids for like six weeks. It sucked at times, but we ended up with some crazy-creative solutions.

(Other things that we did were simply crazy, like washing dinner dishes. My wife would go into the bathroom where all the dirty dishes were stacked, and then I would carry a small folding table to that door and block her in, where she was already washing dishes. When rinsed, the dishes went on the folding table for me to dry. When everything was done, my wife shimmied out under the table and together we carried it, piled high with clean dishes, back to the living room.)
posted by wenestvedt at 9:24 AM on February 22, 2019 [5 favorites]

We just did this--the whole thing took about 7 weeks. We're a family of 3 (two adults, one 6-year-old) in a fairly small house. We didn't have to move out or eat out constantly or do anything too drastic. It wasn't, like, super fun times but it was fine. Here's what we did.

--Packed up everything currently in the kitchen into giant rubbermaid tubs, while designating two of those tubs as the one we were going to keep our dishes in during the remodel, and the other for unrefrigerated foods needed to prepare meals. The other tubs went to the basement for storage. For dishes we kept around 8 plates, a few bowls both small and large mixing size, a few sets of silverware, some spatulas an serving spoons and things and some all-purpose glasses.
--Got a smaller rubbermaid tub to serve as our dishes caddy to and from the basement utility sink where we were doing all our dishes. Dirty dishes go into the tub after a meal, they get washed, dried, put back in the tub and brought back up and put back into the larger tub with the rest of the dishes.
--Moved a work bench into the dining room (our kitchen was so crappy that this is a workbench we'd already been using as a countertop in there for years, but you could just go get a card table that fits your purposes). On this work bench we put our toaster oven, microwave, kettle, and InstantPot.
--We ate as close to normal food as we could manage throughout. Trader Joes is an excellent source of things like frozen heat-and-serve pasta dishes and bagged salads and the like. Highly recommend. But we could prepare anything that could be microwaved, toasted or baked, or InstantPotted, and that turned out to be a pretty broad range of food.
--The thing about a kitchen reno is that various parts of the kitchen can still be usable at various times. We had our cabinets fully installed about 2 weeks prior to getting the countertops done, so we had a fully functioning kitchen, minus the counters. Enter this giant Ikea cutting board. Lay it across the top of the cabinets and voila: a countertop.

Our contractor was able to keep the fridge plugged in the whole time work was being done. They just moved it around when they were doing the flooring and otherwise it just hung out while they were working. The stove also got put back in and hooked up before the rest of the kitchen was done, so we regained use of that (to limited effect because the sink was literally the last thing to be hooked up again, so no pasta).
posted by soren_lorensen at 9:25 AM on February 22, 2019 [1 favorite]

The field kitchen part is easy, as there's a small appliance for just about every conceivable task and most of them are cheap. We rarely use our oven or stovetop as it is, because we have an electric skillet, Instant Pot, my beloved grillgriddle, convection toaster oven, microwave, rice cooker, kettle, coffee machine. (I do own both butane and induction single-burners, they've remained unopened for a year since the other appliances are handling those tasks just fine.)

When I set up the summer kitchen outside, I use one of these ubiquitous 6' or 4' folding tables on bed risers to make a high counter, which is generally high enough for your average rolling cart or rolling plastic drawers to park under.

Field sinks are the most irritating part. If your weather/outdoor space is not conducive to setting up your field kitchen outside, a bathroom is the next least irritating place to wash up. If you need to make a sink area, you may want a 5gal refillable jug and rechargeable pump faucet like this. (Tip: Dollar Tree, Everything's .99, Big Lots etc all have cat litter pans for about a dollar, they make good sinks/dish tubs.) Dump graywater that has food debris in it into the toilet, not the bathroom sink drain.
posted by Lyn Never at 9:30 AM on February 22, 2019 [2 favorites]

Agreeing with the advice to not be there, if it's at all possible. We gutted our kitchen down to studs a few years ago, rearranged the layout, replaced the floors. We made a kitchenette with a toaster oven etc, elsewhere in the house, used paper plates, washed other dishes in the bathroom sink, grilled a lot, and it still entirely sucked. If I had it to do over, I would figure out how to move out for a couple of weeks. I had sticker shock from the cost of the project and wasn't willing to add more expense, but it was really hard with two kids and a dog in the house and the inevitable delays with the work. Psychologically, it was harder than I anticipated to live in first a demo'ed space and then somewhere with active construction going on. If you really can't leave, try to contain what you need in one area, rather than having things spread across a few rooms.
posted by danielleh at 9:31 AM on February 22, 2019 [2 favorites]

We just set up a "kitchen" in the living room as described by others. The only suggestion I don't see is an extra bookcase to store food, supplies etc so you aren't trying to find everything in a tall stack of boxes. Also, we just put the refrigerator/freezer in the living room for the duration.
posted by metahawk at 9:57 AM on February 22, 2019 [2 favorites]

So I've done a full kitchen gut reno twice.

The first time my house had previously been two units, so we had two kitchens. We used the upstairs one while the main one was gutted. It was totally sealed off the whole time. I assume this is not an option.

The second time we did our reno in the summer. We created a whole camp kitchen in the back yard, like wenestvedt's suggestion. We had a sink, water from a hose for dishes, a 5 gal bucket for slop that got emptied after every meal into a toilet, a pop-up canopy and a camp stove for cooking. We did it for a couple months. It was actually pretty good. Where you live in February this may not work.

My suggestion is to convert a different room in the house into a kitchen. And just don't go into your actual kitchen at all. It'll be a construction zone and a mess. Get a table or two, a camp sink, a five-gallon bucket from home depot to go under the drains. Water comes in via pitchers from a bathroom, get a kettle to make hot water. Water goes out in the bucket to a toilet. Put your fridge in the same room if you're keeping it, otherwise get a bar fridge for the duration. It helps if the reno people can just move it into that room when they start the removal. Get a camp stove and a microwave, abandon your actual stove as it needs a high-voltage outlet you won't have. Keep a window open as a propane stove indoors is dangerous. (Ours was outside). And don't plan on doing any baking for a couple months. You'll be enjoying a lot of pasta.

Good luck!
posted by GuyZero at 10:01 AM on February 22, 2019 [2 favorites]

We also moved our fridge to another room and just got by for a 6 week renovation. It wasn't fun, but it wasn't not fun either. And for me personally, being at home will beat spending time in a hotel 6 days a week and occasionally on Sunday, so a hotel was a no-go.
posted by The_Vegetables at 10:19 AM on February 22, 2019

I have been through two of these. It is very stressful. Plan on it taking longer and being more expensive. Washing dishes in the bathtub is not fun! Go for microwave meals, paper plates, etc. And eating out. By the time it’s all finished you will really want to cook at home, no desire at all for going out to eat. Also if it is not to late, add way more electrical outlets than you think you’ll ever need.
posted by Sunday Morning at 10:20 AM on February 22, 2019 [4 favorites]

a slow cooker or instant pot can be used safely outside a kitchen
posted by slateyness at 10:44 AM on February 22, 2019 [2 favorites]

Could you take a look at your house & see whether part of it could become a studio apartment at some future date, and if so, see if they could first put a wet bar in that room? Then you could use that, and sometime later, you or a future owner could rent it out.
posted by ClimateCal at 11:16 AM on February 22, 2019

All the advice about a camp kitchen above is spot on.

The only thing I would add is that our contractor basically built a few non-permanent "walls" for us, one that blocked off the family room, one that blocked off the upstairs from the downstairs, and two that blocked in our camp kitchen in the living room. They put doors in the walls, too. This was immensely helpful in keeping the majority of the dust and debris out of our living and sleeping areas. I highly recommend this approach and if your contractor is willing, I say do it.
posted by cooker girl at 11:31 AM on February 22, 2019 [1 favorite]

Plan on it taking longer and being more expensive.

Yes, yes, yes. A thousand times yes. I don't know what it is about construction projects but they always turn out to be more expensive and take longer than projected. Actually I do know what it is, but it's a lot of things and it's complicated and there are perverse incentives at play. In any case, if you can just accept right now that instead of being a $30,000, six-week project (or whatever) it is actually a $40,000, twelve-week project, you will then be free to be pleasantly surprised rather than a complete nervous wreck when it turns out to be $35,000 and takes nine weeks to complete.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 12:13 PM on February 22, 2019 [6 favorites]

Paper plates, and grilling. Doing dishes in the bathroom is murder. If you have a laundry sink use that but be prepared for an aching back. All the above advice is useful, but be prepared to be sick of the whole process by the time 2 weeks are up, and go away for a couple of days if possible.
posted by Enid Lareg at 12:50 PM on February 22, 2019 [2 favorites]

When a coworker renovated their kitchen, I loaned them my portable induction burner. It's a super great way to get the performance of a regular range top without a ton of cash. Make sure the cookware you are using is magnetic though. It doesn't work with all aluminum pots and pans.
posted by advicepig at 1:38 PM on February 22, 2019 [1 favorite]

Beware that moving your fridge back into position can TRASH your new floor.

Luckily, I recently discovered that some pros use narrow metal tracks, laid atop hardboard (Masonite), to spread the load of the fridge’s weight. We did this and it worked perfectly.
posted by wenestvedt at 5:05 PM on February 22, 2019 [1 favorite]

+ kitchenette, + storage bookcase.
If your makeshift bookcase pantry is in full, unsightly view of the main living space, get a tension rod and a dropcloth or opaque curtain to hang from the top shelf.
posted by Iris Gambol at 5:20 PM on February 22, 2019 [1 favorite]

Do you work in an office? Does it have a kitchen/kitchenette? You can do *some* food prep there, and then use a crockpot or instapot at home. You can use a bbq to cook meat; do a whole pack at a time and pop it in the fridge for microwaving later in the week.

If you can't move out, consider staying at a hotel once or twice during your project. We did a major reno and basically were camping in one bedroom for the duration; the weekend we went to a midlevel "suites" hotel, with a separate bedroom door (we didn't have to be in the same room the whole time!) and a kitchenette was luxurious, and that isn't even taking into account the pool or jacuzzi.
posted by vignettist at 8:29 PM on February 22, 2019 [1 favorite]

Seconding the advice to go full paper/disposable during this time. Six-eight-ten weeks of this isn't going to kill the Earth, and you'll be *immensely* happier than you would be trying to wash dishes in the bathroom sink. I did a full gut kitchen reno a few years ago and it wasn't a bad experience at all ... I stayed in the house the whole time, the contractor moved the old refrigerator for me to use in the "temporary kitchen" (aka dining room) and overall it worked out fine. Congratulations and good luck!!
posted by mccxxiii at 5:28 AM on February 23, 2019 [1 favorite]

Even if it's cold winter by you, hey free fridge (or freezer)! Just make sure anything is boxed up/stored so animals can't/won't get to it.

If it were me I would have one cup/mug, bowl, spoon, fork, knife, and also kitchen scissors because I need those at all times, and just wash them after every use. Maybe eat a lot of sandwiches I prepare precariously on or in the bowl. Cuts down on washing stuff and not wasteful or "sad" like paper plates. I do this when I'm sick or moving, makes me feel more normal. You can cook basically anything in a crock pot. Anything!! Pasta, lasagna, an entire chicken. More annoying to wash but still. It's only one thing to wash, and often makes food for several meals. Rice cookers are great too. I cooked only using a toaster oven for a year- full meals, including some fancy ones. It was not ideal but I did not go crazy.
posted by love2potato at 8:04 AM on February 23, 2019

There is no mention of new floors. If there is any consideration for doing the floors, the time to do it is during this renovation. Even if you were not planning to redo the floors, I would strongly suggest that you at least consider this.

Having a completely open space (no cabinets and appliances) makes this job much more manageable than deciding you want new floors after the new kitchen is in place.
posted by bonofasitch at 11:03 AM on February 25, 2019 [3 favorites]

just had my kitchen completely gutted (new subflooring and flooring, cabinets, countertops and plumbing) and restored after a plumber installed a dishwasher wrong and caused a bad leak.

i had to move out for two months. it sucked. i'd return every couple of days to check on progress (wish i didn't have to, but contractors tend to not be super great with details, i've found), but not living in my house during that time was really the only way to manage it. again, it sucked, but less than trying to live in my house while that was going on.
posted by hollisimo at 12:08 PM on March 12, 2019

Excellent advice upthread, one more caveat to add. If you move your main fridge into a different room, be sure you don't gouge up your new floors, as wenestvedt mentions, but also the room where your fridge will reside temporarily. We had to move our fridge into the dining room to replace the kitchen floor and unbeknownst to us, it leaked during those 2 days and left a dark stain on our oak hardwood floor. grrrr
posted by sarajane at 12:40 PM on March 12, 2019

I did this and it really wasn't a big deal.

The kitchen part of the house was separated off by plastic sheets taped to the ceiling and floor, to contain dust. We didn't go in there except to look at the progress. It wasn't any kind of usable.

I moved the fridge and microwave into the guest room, where the fridge sat on a big wood board just in case of any drips. We set up a camp table and chairs there too. Coffee maker lived in the bathroom. We had meals as usual, and ate foods that were either meant to be eaten raw, or pre-prepared foods that got reheated in microwave. It turned out to be, not only not a big deal, but actually very freeing (nobody expecting me to cook.) Meals would be, like, a Trader Joe's meatloaf heated up in microwave, with salad and cut up fruit on the side. (Had I not had Trader Joe's access, it might have been trickier; but they have endless options for prepared foods in small family sizes.)

Paper plates. Regular silverware and mugs for coffee as those are small and easy to wash in bathroom sink.

A shelf or two set up for pantry stuff that doesn't need cooking: snack foods, etc. I actually used very little of this stuff.

It would have been a problem if the fridge couldn't fit through the guest room door... if you do run into that problem, you could rent one.
posted by fingersandtoes at 8:01 PM on March 12, 2019

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