Working on this website definitely has its perks: I have access to product-performance scores. And I get to test and tinker with the newest appliances. So when the time finally arrived to remodel my kitchen (read: my savings account hit five figures), I thought I had the inside track. Little did I know that the next few months of dust, disarray and lack of privacy would be among the most stressful time of my life (right behind becoming a new mom).
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After years of living with circa 1950 mustard yellow cabinets with unruly doors and a stainless steel-trimmed countertop that snagged my favorite suits, I was determined to redo the kitchen. And the mere thought of brand-new appliances made me euphoric. Months before the dumpster arrived in the driveway, I began to fantasize about a purring dishwasher that didn't drown out the sound of the 10 p.m. TV news (my antiquated model with porcelain interior sounded like a B52 taking off when turned on). Clicking through the brandwise appliance pages, visions of cooking souffles and muffins in a self-cleaning wall oven with smooth touchpads danced through my head. Then, the first sign of reality hit: I overheard a colleague kvetching about his home remodeling "nightmare." I thought he was being a wimp; I'm now sympathetic.
Having my home "under construction" for two-plus months (the original plan was two weeks) and having survived to tell my tale, here's my take: Remodeling is costly, time consuming and can turn a normal family dysfunctional within a week. It requires shop-'til-you-drop strength, decision-making stamina, and the ability to bite your tongue (but not so hard as to impair your ability to scream) when, say, the Corian countertop arrives with the cooktop opening incorrectly cut.
But homeowners can reduce the chaos, confusion and desire to commit homicide if they're prepared. For starters, hire an honest contractor (I played it safe and commissioned a Boy Scout troop leader). Next, budget at least 10 percent more than you'd expect to spend. You might also reserve a few personal or vacation days at work -- for the alleged delivery of the counter and cabinets. Lastly, add the following essentials to your remodeling shopping list:
Inexpensive throw rugs, plastic sheeting, painter's tarps and cut-up leaf bags
To prevent dust and dirt from destroying furniture and to preserve carpeting from worker foot traffic, keep your house under wraps while it's under construction. Tie leaf bags around hard-to-clean chandeliers, line hallways with plastic sheeting and throw rugs, and remove pictures from the walls and breakable knick-knacks from the shelves of adjacent rooms that could suffer from vibrations.
Disposable plates, cups and utensils
Avoid the time-consuming task of washing 12-inch dinner plates in an itty-bitty bathroom sink and pick up a supply of paper and plastic dinnerware.
Liquid dish detergent
Even if you plan to dine out, you're bound to have to wash a few dishes -- especially if you can cook in a microwave oven. So keep a bottle of liquid soap stashed below the bathroom sink. Better yet, pour it into an attractive dispenser and leave it on the vanity.
20-gallon plastic storage totes
Available in a variety of colors to match your decor, they quickly conceal the contents of your kitchen or bathroom cabinets. What's more, the tightly sealed lids on many storage bins prevent dust from collecting on their contents. But be sure to place frequently used essentials, such as the can opener and kitchen shears, in a specially marked box that's easy to reach.
To keep Rover occupied and quiet while workers come and go (and to keep peace with the neighbors), stockpile rawhide bones, chewy toys or old leather shoes, and offer them to the dog as soon as she starts yapping.
A large manila envelope or folder
Even homeowners with type-A personalities can become organizationally challenged when the project gets underway. One way to keep order in the house is to designate a safe haven for important renovation papers, such as receipts, contracts, blueprints, warrantees and owner's manuals. Also, instruct family members to file all new paperwork immediately.
A countertop microwave oven and cart
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Unless you have a beefy budget and can afford to put on an extra five pounds, you won't eat every meal out -- especially if you have kids who snack 24/7. So park your microwave on a cart (I stashed the coffee maker and toaster oven on the second shelf, too) and roll it into a room that's free from dust and debris. It's ideal for whipping up main meals or warming tea and coffee.
If you'll have access to a refrigerator/freezer during the project, pack it with microwavable foods, such as frozen dinners, hot dogs and bacon or sausage. If a fridge will be unavailable, pick up a bag of potatoes (my kids love nuked spuds for snacks), microwavable macaroni 'n' cheese in the box, popcorn, canned soups, and rice.
Set aside an egg poachers a bacon rack, a muffin pan or any microwave-safe dish, as they can be indispensable when your kitchen is out of commission.
A barbecue grill
If the thought of another microwavable frozen dinner or takeout Italian dinner turns you off, stoke up the grill for a change of pace. Meats, veggies and seafood are great on the "barbie" - especially when marinated with homemade or store-bought sauces.
A handheld vacuum
To reduce sawdust and dirt from being distributed throughout the house, vacuum daily -- and as soon as the workers leave. Or if you're hiring a contractor, make cleanup a stipulation in the contract. Either way, park an electric broom or handheld vacuum near the demolition area for easy access.
If your cabinets arrive broken (for the third time) or if only a partial order is delivered to your door (when you've taken the day off from work), here's my prescription: Take two aspirin and call your contractor or manufacturer in the morning.
Author: Gail Gabriel
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