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Veteran Member
Join Date: May 2004
Location: Ottawa, ON
2011-02-17, 17:58

Answering a few questions and comments…Thanks, we were very happy with the way the kitchen turned out…even as we were astounded by the mounting costs. If you are doing it yourselves though, it will be a lot less. Looking back, the total cost of the materials was not that high – it was the labour, including the professional design services (which in our case were worthwhile, given the extent of what had to be done).

That does, however, suggest one thing in my mind: use high quality materials whenever you can. Providing you don’t go for the outlandish stuff, the ‘good’ materials often do not cost that much more than the cheap stuff if you are careful how you source it. Since the labour is the big element, you might as well splurge a bit on the materials if you can. Keep in mind as well that cheap materials often don’t hold up very well, so unless you are doing the reno as a temporary thing (not staying in the house, for example), better materials are going to cost less in the long run, and often even in the medium run.

The cost of the slate counter is a good example. I don’t recall the cost per square foot (sorry), but we spent some time working with the designer/contractor to source it (we ended up doing some of the research online ourselves) and ended up paying less than most of the other finishes originally suggested, such as granite. It was still pretty expensive, but perhaps less so because it was ‘almost’ local, given our proximity to New England.

The floor was another example. Reclaimed wood floors can cost less than new floors. The wood from our floors was probably originally cut more than 100 years ago. We sourced it from a company that reclaims logs from the bottom of the Ottawa River. During the 19th and early 20th century, the River was a big part of the transportation system for the lumber industry, with log booms floating down the river to the mills. A certain portion of the logs would sink to the bottom, where they would be preserved by the cold, low-oxygen water at the bottom and become hard and mineralized. Now those logs are being carefully raised again. Though still expensive, it was less expensive than the new wood we originally considered. Again, it is local. And the quality of the wood was higher than new wood – it is wide-plank, flamed-grained wood that, if available new at all now (quite rare), would strictly be used for high-end veneers. (Incidentally, the website gets part of that wrong. The reclaimed wood that was available and that we used for the floor was birch, not maple: we had it stained to match the darker colour we wanted.)

The kitchen island is a further example. We bought that thing at an antique show a few years ago with a plan on using it in our eventual kitchen reno. It was originally a 19th century shop counter from somewhere in southern Ontario. It is solid maple and sturdy as anything. But it cost us less – much less – than a new particle-board kitchen island of the same size that is what you will get at a standard supplier.

Actually, the big costs that we encountered were due to the difficulty of the construction. There were surprises. Cast-iron pipes (for our old radiant heating system) were in the ‘wrong’ location behind walls, requiring some surprisingly difficult and expensive re-routing to allow for the rest of the work in that area to be completed. A structural wall move exposed weaknesses in the sub-floor structural wood due to a furnace fire that happened maybe 80 years ago and that was never properly remedied and that required considerable work in the basement to fix. There was a realization half-way through that our existing electrical panel was just not going to accommodate the new kitchen wiring, requiring a replacement panel, forcing still additional electrical work to accommodate modern electrical code requirements.

Permits were required, including special engineering reports and sign-offs due to the structural issues. The bulk of the reno took about 3.5 months (with a couple of additional months to accommodate some final finishing items) and was kind of hellish at some points, despite all the great work by the people we hired. It was worthwhile though.

When there's an eel in the lake that's as long as a snake that's a moray.