Our DIY Kitchen Renovation – What Is Taking So Long?

We’re into our eighth month of our fairly epic kitchen renovation project. Some friends (and some readers) have been starting to wonder why the heck it’s taking as long as it is.

Doesn't look a whole lot different from this today...

Doesn’t look a whole lot different from this today…

At the start of the project, Mr PoP thought there was a good chance we’d be wrapped (or wrapping) up by now. As recently as April, I thought there was a decent chance we’d be racing my best friend to the finish line with our respective 2015 projects (her pregnancy and our renovation, which are still remarkably similar). Well, she’s technically full term now (due next month), and unless that kid decides to somehow incubate in the womb for an extra few months (which my friend desperately hopes isn’t the case), his grand unveiling to the world (yes, it’s a boy!) will definitely predate our kitchen’s.

I’m now optimistic that we’ll be able to score some deals on fancy-pants new kitchen appliances on Black Friday and that sliding those in place will be the capstone purchases/actions of this entire project. (This was written a couple of weeks ago… now we’re not so sure on that timeline.)

So what the heck is taking so long?

It’s More Than A Kitchen

In our defense, while we talk about this remodel as though it’s a pretty straightforward kitchen renovation, it’s really not. In fact, one of Mr PoP’s colleagues from work stopped by the other day and was shocked at how big the project is and what we’ve done considering how casually Mr PoP talks about “working on the kitchen” as his weekend plans.  For the record here, it’s a bit more than “just the kitchen”. When we’re done with this project, we’ll have renovated about 50% of the square footage of our house.  (Granted, it’s a small house, but still.)

  • We will have completely rebuilt 33% of the trusses – those all important structural elements holding the roof up over our head and supporting our new solar panels – by installing over 9,000 nails and 32 pieces of plywood to reinforce their new structure.
  • We will have completely redesigned multiple electrical circuits to make them robust and to current standards.
  • We will have basically taken apart and rebuilt half of an exterior load-bearing wall in order to change the dimensions of a couple of windows.
  • We will have brought 550sqft of our floors down to the concrete slab, refinished the slab where necessary to make a smooth and flat surface, and laid wood plank tile that is a notoriously difficult install.
  • We will have built a kitchen and dining room full of cabinetry from scratch.
  • And we will have built and finished a butcher block countertop and matching dining room table from very rough cut lumber that was just one step removed from being a part of the tree.

With limited time as weekend-DIY-warriors, this is a lot of work. But is it the better part of a year’s worth of work?

If You Give A PoP A Cookie…

We knew getting into this project, that it would be the origin of a “cookie problem” – so named after the snowball effect of related projects that it could (and inevitably would) effect as we started changing one relatively small aspect of our kitchen that are reminiscent of the adventures of a somewhat OCD mouse in my favorite childhood book* – If You Give A Mouse A Cookie.

[Related but unrelated – if you haven’t yet seen the Ayn Rand version of If You Give a Mouse A Cookie, read this for a chuckle.]

Knowing that this would be a cookie problem, we did what we could to quarantine our efforts. We defined the scope of our project so it was big enough that we wouldn’t be re-doing work later if we wanted to continue with our eventual whole-house renovation plans, but small enough that we could still tackle it. But it wasn’t quite enough, and we’ve have some project bleed through and scope expansion we hadn’t thought about. For instance:

  • Instead of changing the flooring in ~180 square feet (just the kitchen and dining area), we knew we’d be doing at least 500 square feet to include the adjacent living room and entry way at the same time. But we didn’t decide until the last minute to extend that area another 50 square feet to include another small hallway. In fact, I didn’t decide this until AFTER we had returned the rental jackhammer and had the first 500 sqft of tile hauled away in a Bagster.  So that stuff was removed by hand.  =(
  • We thought we’d be able to keep most of the existing electrical system in the kitchen intact. Same with the dryer vent. And some lines from the air conditioner. And the plumbing line that brings water to our refrigerator. Sure, they would all require small changes – the ceiling change would require a new duct line for the AC, the dryer vent would need a new line in the wall, but we could tie into the existing hole in the roof, the electrical system could largely stay the same since most of the major appliances were in the same locations to within a foot or two. But these all (seemingly minor line items initially) ended up being pretty significant expansions of the scope of the project once we got in there and discovered the “guts” behind these systems needed to be addressed in addition to just the final part that we could see sticking out of the wall. Each one added weeks, if not a couple of months in the case of the electrical system, to our timeline that we hadn’t planned on initially.
  • And then there’s the cabinetry, wherein I opened a huge can of worms by deciding that I wasn’t pleased with the cabinetry we were seeing available (at anywhere near reasonable prices), so I was better off ordering a bunch of cabinet-grade plywood and building it myself. I’ve made good progress there, but it’s not anywhere close to finished and won’t be for another couple of months at least, I bet.

So yeah. As much as we tried to contain the cookie problem from the start, we’ve still found ourselves chasing crumbs again and again. And that takes time – time that we couldn’t foresee at the start.

Over-Thinking And Over-Engineering?

Another non-trivial factor in our extended timeline is the fact that we have a tendency to over-think and over-engineer sometimes. Would a contractor have completely ripped out our existing thirty year old electrical wire? Probably not – a contractor probably wouldn’t have taken the walls down to the studs across the entirety of our kitchen and dining room the way we did. But a big part of Mr PoP’s MO (and I’m on board most of the time, too) when it comes to pleasing the inspectors is having his work be as professional as possible and not necessarily aiming for the “bare minimum” code requirements. This means a lot of researching not only the current code requirements, but also online discussions by professionals of where the code requirements are headed and to determine if it makes sense for us to leapfrog the minimum requirements to make the improvements even more robust.

While we try to do most of our pondering over this kind of researching and pondering during our evenings on weekdays (since we have very little time for actual DIY most Monday-Friday), sometimes we get to the weekend and realize an hour into our game plan for the work that our game plan is off and the solution we thought we had wouldn’t work. And as we head back to the drawing board for more research, we lose out on precious DIY-time. (This killed much of our planned “productive hours” both of the last weekends…)

We Didn’t Stop Living Life

I would have loved nothing more than to go all-out on this project from day 1. Seriously, that’s the kind of person I am. I like to sprint through projects once the planning phase is over and the starting gun goes off. Unchecked, I’d wear us both out by insisting on an unrelenting pace of physical labor every night and every morning before going off to work our 9-5 jobs.

Luckily for both of us, Mr PoP isn’t this kind of person at all. He is deliberate and measured and continues to remind me that when we get too tired or burned out, the quality of our work declines, too. So he normalizes my go-go-go desires, and I push him to keep going to finish a project when he might be content to get a project to a usable state and not worry about finishing it for a while. And we end up with a balance in the middle.

Where is our middle? About 8-10 hours of DIY per week. Usually most of the day on Saturday, leaving us Sunday to catch up on everything that we need to get done in the rest of our M-F lives. We also haven’t stopped vacations – Mr PoP is getting ready to leave on another one at the end of the month – though I did use some of my own vacation time to spend working on the cabinetry this summer.

Is that reasonable? I have no idea. My gut still wants to keep going full-speed, but my brain knows that I’ll run the risk of alienating Mr PoP if I pressure him to go faster. And though I’m sometimes loath to admit it, my brain also knows that Mr PoP is right in slowing me down. This project is big enough that burnout is a real risk.

Will Your DIY Kitchen Renovation Take This Long?

It could. But you could easily go much faster than we are and measure your remodel timeline in months (like the one by the cool folks at FI Big Sky) instead of seasons.

But in the grand scheme of things, I don’t think we’re doing too badly given that Kristi at Addicted 2 Decorating spent February – October of 2014 doing her own kitchen renovation that was on a similar scale as ours. She opened up a load bearing wall, installed new wood floors (and then refinished them a few times), had to completely redo the ceiling (though she didn’t mess with trusses), and customized all of her cabinetry starting with unfinished stock cabinets from Home Depot (I think she should have built her own, but what do I know!).  She’s not only a pro-decorator, she blogs about her home renovations as a full-time gig. So while she’s only one person, she doesn’t have a pesky 9-5 J-O-B to get in the way of progress the way we do.

So when I get down on myself and feel like we’re dragging, I remind myself that our timeline’s not all that insane.


TL/DR – It’s a big-ass project and we make it sound smaller by calling it a “kitchen reno”. Plus, as we progressed, we made it even bigger than originally planned. And we have a tendency to over-research and over-engineer when we DIY, which adds time. And we had lives that we couldn’t/didn’t want to put on hold. Avoid these things, and your “kitchen reno” probably won’t take nearly as long as ours. But if it does, it could.  =)


* My best friend (yes, the pregnant one) also loved this book as a child and we have often wondered if it contributed to our somewhat OCD tendencies, or if children with somewhat OCD tendencies are drawn to the adventures of a somewhat OCD mouse? Or is this a chicken and an egg situation?


 How long do your renovations seem to take?

16 comments to Our DIY Kitchen Renovation – What Is Taking So Long?

  • I’m a weekend warrior also PoPs. Between the job, fun, and our son, it usually takes a long time for me to finish projects. That’s why I sub out projects that would make our house unlivable…..because they would eliminate water or power. I need to get out counter tops replaced in the kitchen, and I’m thinking of just hiring someone so they can do the work in an afternoon…..but we’ll see
    Income Surfer recently posted..What a Day!My Profile

    • There’s definitely some strategic planning involved when water and electricity get turned off, but Mr PoP has been pretty good about keeping plumbing going (the longest stretch I think it was out was about 6 hours), and electricity to the rest of the house hasn’t been disturbed too much – though we were without power on our lanai and in most of our kitchen (stove stayed powered, thank goodness!) for about 3 months during the worst of it. =P

  • This is why I make sure to buy my houses with the kitchens already renovated :) Just imagining all that interference with daily life and never-ending timesuck makes me batty. If I was retired, sure, I’d tackle it. But not when I have so precious few leisure hours. I admire your work ethic, but at the same time, it’s not for me. I do identify with that need to get things exactly how you want them, sometimes going to weird lengths to do it, even when those details aren’t anything someone else would notice.

    That said, we are about a year into our backyard projects. I just put up my very first blog post about the first step, the garage demolition, which happened last September. We haven’t gone all gung-ho on it since a bulldozed backyard doesn’t interfere with our lives. We just wanted to get it all done this year, which it will be. I’ve been building the shed for weeks now, after the setback of the neighbor’s tree, and put on a few more pieces of siding every day this week. I hope to have the actual work and the blogging about it all wrap up around the same time in a few months.
    Norm recently posted..Building The Patio, Part 1: Garage DemolitionMy Profile

    • Ha… while it’d be nice to do this when we’re retired, we didn’t want to put it off that long.

      Glad you got past the tree setback with your patio! Did their (or your?) insurance cover tree removal and any damage costs? Your space will be great when it’s all said and done.

  • You have quite the project on your hands Mrs. Pop. I do smile though when I think about you building your own cabinets. That may sound a bit weird but I am uber impressed!

    Don’t discount Craigslist for appliances. I am completely in love with my Craigslist stainless steel finish dishwasher ($250), over the range microwave ($125), and ceiling fans ($30 each)! The dishwasher is less than a year old and is a current model still selling at Lowes for $700, the microwave is touch screen which I can’t even find in stores, and the fans are perfect.

    I am as happy with these as I would have been purchasing brand new from the store. Well, maybe even happier because I got such a deal. I do not feel in any way that I purchased inferior or used appliances.
    Mrs. Crackin’ the Whip recently posted..What if I had started now?My Profile

    • Not weird at all! Thinking about my cabinetry makes me smile, too!

      I’ll check Craigslist for appliances, but we’ve been burned on there before. We bought a bunch of used appliances for our duplex when we first got it, and replaced most of them within 2 years. I don’t know if we went too cheap, but every appliance we’ve ever bought new is still going strong 6 years later, while the used ones crapped out pretty darned quickly.

  • How are you handling food prep?
    nicoleandmaggie recently posted..Poll: What is your area of expertiseMy Profile

    • You mean you can’t tell that the stove and sink both double as a prep-counters? =P

      Seriously, our tiny (smaller than a sheet of printer paper) cutting board that fits over ~1/6 of our sink is most of the prep surface we have in there when the stove/oven is in use. I sometimes set up the small table that was in our dining nook in the living room near an outlet so I can plug in the pressure cooker and not have it sitting on the floor. Though there have been times that table was in use elsewhere and I had to resort to bringing a pot of soup into the living room and using my immersion blender while sitting on the floor with the pot of soup on a hotpad on the concrete slab next to me since we’ve got the outlets pulled on the wall by the stove. Food prep has definitely been an adventure.

  • First of all, mad props on the DIY skills. I even mention a kitchen remodel (and not nearly on your level) and the hubs cowers in fear What is it they say? Double the time and double the money?

    • Well, right now we’re looking at 25-50% more time and 25-50% more money… Hopefully we don’t get up to double on either of those counts!

  • I’m still impressed. Thanks for the update!
    Leah recently posted..Time and seasonsMy Profile

  • I still have wood sitting in the garage waiting until I figure out how to use the new router I bought to round over the edges (and to decide if I really need to round over every edge…) Friends are coming over Labor Day weekend to help put the swingset together – assuming I have cut the wood and drilled the pilot holes as necessary first… I totally understand the “life gets in the way” part of DIY. When you’ve got a kiddo who won’t go to sleep until almost 10pm, it’s made even worse!
    Mom @ Three is Plenty recently posted..First DIY Building – Ever – Starting Our Swing SetMy Profile

  • I don’t think you are taking unduly long at all considering the level of customization you’re going to have in your place. Looking forward to seeing it done, I’m sure it’ll be swank!
    Taylor Lee @ Engineer Cents recently posted..The Quest For The Perfect CouchMy Profile

  • Thanks so much for the mention! Like you said, you guys are doing so much more than just your kitchen and are tackling a good amount more yourselves on top of that, so of course your timeline is going to be longer, and rightly so! Congrats with how far you’ve come and for making it through a construction zone for so long. We’ll continue to follow your progress and admire your DIY skills from afar 😉
    Mrs. FI recently posted..Kitchen Renovations and Fighting IdealismMy Profile