Cutting Costs Without Cutting Corners

One Simple Exercise That Can Save Big Bucks
One of the surest ways to shave costs is to do more with what you've got. So before taking the sledgehammer to your existing kitchen, try this: Empty every drawer and cupboard. Revisit where you've been putting things. Is there an organizational scheme that makes more sense? Think in zones, storing items closest to where they are used. "In the end," says architect Dennis Wedlick, "you may like the reconfiguration so well that you'll decide to just paint and stick with the kitchen you've got." And if you do go forward, you'll have a clearer sense of how you really use the kitchen, which will help save time and money on the redesign.

Five Things that Really Matter When Shopping for Appliances

Call it the Emperor's New Stove. Today's appliances are jam-packed with features, but don't let all those bells and whistles fool you. When comparison shopping (which you really should do, since prices for the same item can differ by hundreds of dollars), pay particular attention to these five things:

1. Burner heat output (in Btu): Ideally, you want a combination of high highs and low lows. A standard burner goes from a low of around 2,000 Btu to a high of 12,000. Pro-style models can pump out 15,000 Btu or more to boil pasta water in a flash, but ease down to a low of 400 for gently simmering sauces.

2. Energy efficiency: Look for dishwashers and refrigerators that have earned Energy Star ratings ( You'll save money on operating costs as you conserve resources.

3. Ease of operation: Easy-to-grip stovetop knobs, accessible refrigerator controls, convenient dishwasher loadability: The little things mean a lot.

4. Safety features: Choose a cooktop with controls at the front or side, not between burners, and click-and-turn knobs that kids can't light by mistake. Don't skimp on ventilation: The mightier the stove, the more powerful the range hood required. And be sure your design plan includes plenty of GFCI (ground-fault circuit interrupter) outlets to avoid the use of extension cords.

5. Ease of cleaning: Options like sealed stovetop burners, sliding tempered-glass refrigerator shelves (not drip-through grates), and fingerprint-resistant textured finishes reduce cleanup time.

Four Budget Balancing Scenarios
1. You love the look of stainless steel appliances, but not the price tag. Near-record prices for stainless steel drove the cost of pro-style appliances up as much as 10 percent last year, according to the Wall Street Journal. A 36-inch pro-style dual-fuel range now runs $6,000 or more. Affordable alternative: Get the look by installing a six-burner pro-style cooktop ($800?$2,500) and a pair of mid-range wall ovens (about $1,500). Save $2,000 or more.

2. You really need more storage space, but you plan to move in a few years and would rather not invest in custom cabinets. Custom-crafting every nook and cranny for the way you cook may not be the most economical use of your dollars when someone else—with different cooking and lifestyle habits—will be living in your kitchen before the home-equity loan is paid off. Affordable alternative: Consider working a walk-in pantry into your plan. It's a remarkably economical way to upgrade your kitchen—a pantry can supply as much storage as a wall or more of custom built-ins. Save as much as $1,100 per linear foot.

3. You want granite countertops, but they'll bust the budget. Granite's resistance to moisture, scratching, and high heat makes it a perennially popular (if pricey) choice. Affordable alternative: If you love the look of granite—or soapstone or marble or handcrafted tile for that matter—work it into your plan. But instead of using it for every countertop, try limiting it to a high-visibility island or to the areas flanking the range. Elsewhere, use less expensive options like plastic laminate or ceramic tile. Mixing also adds visual interest. Save $150 or more per square foot.

4. You want a lighter, brighter kitchen, but knocking down walls just isn't an option. The space may be drab and dingy, but it gets the job done, and a major overhaul isn't in the budget right now. Affordable alternative: Sometimes a well-planned lighting scheme is all it takes to brighten a kitchen. Spend the bucks for the services of a professional planner or lighting designer. That plus simple cosmetic upgrades, such as a fresh paint job, new cabinet hardware, upgraded counters or flooring, and a couple of new appliances can totally transform the space. Save untold thousands by sticking to the original layout.

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