Remodeling Your Kitchen in Stages: Detailing the Work and Costs

To successfully pull off a remodel and stay on budget, keep detailed documents of everything you want in your space

Brizo, original photo on Houzz

After completing the planning and design phase of remodeling your kitchen in stages, you’re ready for Step 2: detailing your scope of work and pricing out how much everything will cost. This is when your organizational skills will be put to the test, as you’ll need to plan for and keep track of every nut and bolt (quite literally) that will go into your kitchen project. You’ll want to know specifically what color those bolts will be, as well as wall color, cabinet color, faucet finish and names of brands and model numbers on countless other items, before you can move forward with your plan.

How to Document Your Scope of Work

If you are using a general contractor, preparing a formal document to define scope of work will be his or her job. This document should detail and explain the work necessary to execute the plan and design. 

The level of specificity in the document can vary, but the more details you review with your contractor, including selections of fixtures, materials and finishes, the more accurate and valuable the scope can be. 

But you may end up managing your own kitchen remodel, in which case creating the scope of work will be your job. The scope can be documented in a simple text document or spreadsheet, formatted to include plenty of space for detailing the various categories and selections making up your remodel. 

You also must confirm whether your job is a realistic candidate for a staged remodel. If your job includes an addition or a totally revised kitchen layout, it is going to be difficult to live through an extended remodel with time gaps between each phase.

Consider DIY

There is a high probability your staged remodel will be, at least to some extent, a do-it-yourself project. You may need to hire a designer. You may need to hire subcontractors. But, as we have mentioned in this series, it is difficult to find a good, reputable contractor who wants to complete a remodel in phases, with substantial time separating the various tasks.

So it may be up to you to coordinate your job. You will want to consider each task carefully and decide which jobs you have the expertise (and time) to complete effectively. Obviously, the answer will vary depending on your situation, skills and the extent of work required.

As we discuss each work category, consider the ones you can complete yourself and those for which you will need to hire professionals.

Trademark Architecture + Interiors, original photo on Houzz

Rough Work

To properly plan your job, you need to break up the typical construction tasks and associated costs into a series of buckets (categories). 

In your estimate, rough work is going to include any demolition and off-haul that might be required. It also may include framing (revised walls, soffits). And if the remodel includes an addition, then grading, drainage and foundation work can be included in the rough construction category. 

There is no magic to how this is all categorized, but it should be intuitive and encompassing. Some rough work likely will be required even in a small remodel. If you are replacing your hardwood floor, for example, someone is going to need to remove the existing floor.

The hardwood flooring category might read: 

  • 5-inch walnut by “XYZ Industries,” ebony finish, selected at “All American Hardwood” to be installed in the kitchen and nook as shown on planset (which includes diagrams), laid in the direction shown on the attached, revised plan dated xx/xx. Hardwood installer also responsible for removal and off-haul of existing hardwood floor.

Your rough construction category for a small job might simply specify:

  • Rough cleanup and off-haul to be included during the course of the job. The existing kitchen island will be removed. Care will be given in the removal of the existing undermount sink in an attempt to avoid damage so the sink may be reused. A new 42-inch-high pony wall abutting the new island will be constructed per the plan. Note the existing hardwood flooring to be removed by hardwood installer and not during the initial demo.

In more complicated plans, you might break up the categories further, and framing, drainage or grading each might require its own category. The goal is to define the scope of work in an accessible but thorough format that bidders, as well as those working in the field, can reference to ensure they have properly accounted for the details of your job.

You need to anticipate every little detail to get an accurate picture of what the remodel will cost you and to ensure things run smoothly.


Changing the layout is perhaps the biggest decision you will make in your kitchen remodel. 

By layout, we are referring to the locations of cabinets, appliances, sinks and fixtures. If you can make the existing layout work, you will go a long way toward keeping costs down and creating a job scope that can more easily be completed in stages. 

On the other hand, spending time and money updating a poor layout can be wasteful and unappealing, so this decision is worthy of careful consideration.

This decision covers a number of categories, certainly including the plumbing work scope category. If you are just replacing existing faucets with new faucets, the plumbing scope costs should be low, and you or a competent handyman can probably handle the work. 

If you are changing the sink location, adding a sink or changing the location of your dishwasher, then providing water supply and drainage to a new location can be challenging and will require study to properly assess feasibility and cost. 

To generate an accurate bid in these cases, it may be necessary for a plumber to come out and assess the existing conditions in your home, as well as review a new plan and work scope. For instance, if your gas supply is insufficient for a new gas range, you will need to understand plumbing costs before placing your order.

The plumber also must carefully review a list of new fixture and appliance selections before creating an accurate bid, so you’ll want to have all that on hand. That means adding to your document names, brands and finishes of every plumbing fixture you want in your remodeled kitchen.

Replace Your Faucet

Futurian Systems, original photo on Houzz


Some architects and designers spend a lot of time on the electrical plan, including it as a specific discussion point with clients, but many do not. We always go over the electrical planset page with our clients before sending plans to an electrician for bidding.

The same layout criteria discussed for plumbing scope apply here. If you are merely replacing old fixtures or recessed cans, the electrician work and associated cost will be diminished. New fixtures, new lighting layouts and new appliance locations require careful study and will add to costs for the electrician.

You should manage your appliance selections under a different category cost, but the electrician will need those selections to ensure proper power requirements are available at the locations for each respective unit.

Typically, the architect or designer will call out new recessed light can models and also the brand of lighting controls (switches). Your electrical scope might simply state:

  • Electrical work is defined by the attached, edited electrical plan and specifications, consisting of replacement of all 6-inch kitchen recessed cans (per selection noted on plans), and the addition of four new cans as noted on planset. Two new pendant lights centered over the new island are also included, located per plan. Pendant lights to be ELK 10435, Hand Formed Glass Mini Pendant, Finish – ORB


There is a lot to consider in the cabinet design and cost category. As it relates to astaged remodel, you need to carefully think about the kitchen layout again. 

If you are using the existing layout, you may be able to simply paint existing cabinets, possibly replacing cabinet doors and drawer faces, creating a modern look at a reasonable price. If you are planning the replacement of your cabinets, you are likely considering new design elements and possibly a new layout. 

For your cabinet cost estimate to mean anything, your cabinet plan needs to include elevations and selections such as material type, door style and finish. The initial plans for your cabinets will likely be provided by your designer if you are using one. If you are not, you will need the help of a pro to detail your cabinets, and a local custom cabinetmaker can help you make selections and in some cases help with design.

For semi-custom cabinets, stores such as Home Depot and Ikea have designers who can work with you to specify your new cabinet plan and details.

You will need to confirm that your cabinet bid is an installed price and that the selected finish is included. Only after these decisions are firmed up can you generate an accurate cost for your new cabinets.

8 Ways a Kitchen Renovation Can Break Your Budget

Trevor Brown Architect, original photo on Houzz

Tile and Slab

Your tile installation and slab fabrication may be provided by the same subcontractor or by different companies. The costs often are combined into one number since they are closely related. 

Replacing countertops, backsplashes and floor tile are common updates that provide a fantastic bang for the buck since they can be executed without modifying the layout and can vastly improve the overall look and feel of a kitchen. They work quite well in a staged remodel.

For an accurate estimate, you must make selections for your tile material and individual slabs because costs among material types can vary astronomically. The tile design also should be specified. A straight set installation will cost less than a diagonal set, and detail tiles can add both installation and material costs.

These selections can be made very affordably with a trip to the hardware store, but a greater selection is available at tile stores or online, and often stores include some design help as a part of their service. Kitchen designers and contractors can assist with tile designs as well. 

One other factor to consider in your estimate is your edge detail if you’re going with slab countertops. Simple three-quarter-inch eased edge splashes for slab countertops are the least expensive way to go. Thicker edge details with various shapes can add substance and style, but also cost.

Finish Work

This category includes everything necessary to complete your kitchen remodel. It includes finish carpentry such as baseboards, casings and crown molding. It can include installation of cabinet hardware and door hardware, and it might even include installation of the cabinets themselves if not included under the cabinet scope. It can include installation of appliances, drywall repairs, painting (which might be a bid item from a painter or a simple DIY item) and final cleanup. 

Finish work can add up on a project, so this is also a good place to add some contingency for cost overruns, even though the entire purpose of our effort here is to mitigate that overrun. Even with the best of intentions, jobs rarely come in under budget. Perhaps this is because subcontractors, contractors, and do-it-yourselfers tend to share one human common foible: They think they can do more and work more efficiently than they really can. 

By properly detailing the work for each category, you’ll be taking an important first step toward creating a work plan for your job as well as a critical aid in estimating costs. 

Once the scope is created, each subcontractor can carefully review not just the plans, but the entire scope, with special attention to the work scope defined in his or her specific category. Tile setters will reference their scope of work when placing an order for material and in the field when they are studying designs and descriptions before beginning each step of work. 

If you are doing portions of the work yourself, this scope becomes the basis for your estimate, so you can be sure each required task is properly accounted for in the work plan and cost estimate. The well-defined scope of work will become a critical document in the field, used by tradesmen, who might reference a paper copy kept on the job, and office managers, who plan for the work and place orders.

BODesign, original photo on Houzz

Finding Subcontractors

Once your scope of work document is completed, in conjunction with your design planset if you have one, you are ready to begin accurately pricing your job and selecting subcontractors where necessary.

If you are not in the business, and do not have a network of trusted professionals, I highly recommend that you find a professional to suggest competent subcontractors with good reputations. Subcontractors are tradesmen who can execute specific tasks such as electricians, plumbers and tile setters. 

Despite horror stories you may have heard, most subcontractors are hardworking and honest, and when problems do arise, they typically result from miscommunication related to work scope, timing and cost. These problems can be mitigated by detailing the work scope for each category with as much precision as you can. When a detail is not noted, the subcontractor who is making a bid must make assumptions, and like allowances, assumptions can lead to insufficient estimates and bids.

For instance, a bid from a tile setter means very little if he or she does not have material selections and a design to bid from. The tile setter may assume you’ll go with a low-cost subway tile, when you’ll actually end up choosing a high-end marble tile in a herringbone pattern. The cost difference between the material and installation in these cases is quite large. So if you want an accurate estimate, be specific. 

Hire a Pro Plumber Before Changing Your Kitchen's Layout

Total Estimate

Over the course of a staged remodel, an accurate estimate covering each category is especially important since no one wants to live with a half-completed kitchen for an interminable length of time because the first stage went way over budget.

The list of categories noted above is not exhaustive. You really need to walk through every aspect of your job conceptually and define every task required to complete the project. For a small job, creating a proper scope might be a simple weekend activity, but for larger jobs, creating a good scope of work could take a month or more. As stated earlier, you might have foundation work, roofing, exterior stucco or siding, new drywall, masonry work and added fireplaces, not to mention new windows, skylights, doors and hardwood flooring, all including the cost of the material selections themselves in addition to their installation.

Your total estimate for the cost of work is only as good as the information provided. Each of the categories will be estimated separately using the plan and information detailed in the scope of work. Each task will be completed by a subcontractor, your general contractor or you. If the scope is accurate and comprehensive, you can expect a good total estimate for the cost of your project.

Categories: Architecture and Interiors, Kitchen Designs, Kitchen Remodeling Tips