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DIY Kitchen Renovation Lessons Learned

diy kitchen renovation, how to renovate a kitchen yourself, galley kitchen

The appliance installer is in today to move the gas line for the stove and install the microwave and dishwasher. As we sit here almost at the finish line of our DIY kitchen renovation, I’m pretty surprised actually at how much of this renovation we were able to do on our own. All it took was a little bit of effort, some Googling, and leaps of faith. I’ll admit that I’m the one in the relationship to say “Call in the professionals!” at the first sign of trouble, but HandyMan is a bit more adventurous and we’ve benefited from that. Despite previous renovation experience, there was a whole bunch of things that we tackled for the first time.

If you’re contemplating tackling some of your own kitchen renovations, here’s my thoughts on kitchen renovation tasks that you can DIY:

Kitchen Planning: 

Yes, you’ll want to sit down with a professional who can help you determine what size of cabinets you need, finishes, and optimal placement, but there are many things only you can figure out. Like how many small appliances you have, which ones do you want readily accessible, and where ideally in the layout would you like them. Do you want an abundance of deep pot drawers or open shelves? Would you rather have more room for a wide fridge, or a double-bowl sink? Do you want extra drawers so you can store your fine china that’s currently sitting in the dining room hutch?

Think about sight lines too... are there any rooms that look into the kitchen? What will be the view with the new layout? How do you enter the kitchen typically – side door? Hallway? What do you want to see as a first impression? Taking the extra time to really think about how you live and how you will use the space really makes for a better design in the end. Kitchen designers can design what you ask them to... but if you don’t have a clear understanding of what your needs or wants are and don’t articulate them, then you can end up with a design that is good but not tailored to you specifically.


It’s a tough job physically but one of the best places to save some money. Don’t be afraid to do it yourself. Best tip: use a tarp zipper (available at Home Depot) to help contain the dust.


With a little know how, laying the floor tile is not a difficult job. You’ll need to ensure your subfloor is even, and decide on whether you want any sort of underlayment first (we used Ditra) But picking your tile, asking the pros what type of mortar and trowel to use, and doing the laying is a job a novice can do. Same goes for the backsplash. It’s a fairly easy job if you take the time and use the proper tools.

Door and window trims: 

Chances are you’ve bought some pre-made trim at your local big box home supply store. However, if you venture out to your local lumberyard, you’ll probably find more intriguing options. We didn’t know what backband was until we visited our lumber store. Now, we have much more substantial and attractive trims in the kitchen that are in keeping with the rest of the house. All it took was looking at places out of our norm for supply.


Surprised? I am too. HandyMan had experience with small plumbing jobs like changing washers and such but for this reno, he added shut-off valves, extended and connected the water supply line for the fridge, and installed the faucet. As he put it, “I’ll try it myself because the worst that can happen is I get wet”. And wet he got... but all is good now ;)

There’s a few things I would let the pros handle:

  • Drywall: this may look easy but I think it’s a surprisingly hard skill to learn. The boards are heavy to lift, taping and mudding is messy and it takes a real experienced hand to patch seams so they’re invisible. I’ve wasted buckets of drywall compound trying and trying to get small patches just right.
  • Electrical: call me crazy, but I think anything that can kill you is best left to someone who knows what they are doing

So those are just my thoughts. If we had to do it all over again, I probably wouldn’t change a thing. I would still bring in the pros where we did and DIY where we did. Now if I could only hire a pro to show me how to cook like a Michelin-starred chef in my fancy new kitchen...

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