Nowhere else in the home must design and function marry as harmoniously as in the kitchen. The most-used room in the house is also the one where we spend the most work and leisure time, the one that gets the most scrutiny from potential buyers and the spot where most renovation dollars get spent.
A minor kitchen remodel costs around $21,000 and has the potential to recoup nearly 73 percent of that expense at the time of resale, according to Remodeling Magazine's Cost vs. Value Report. A major job averages around $58,000 and can recoup about 68 percent of the renovation costs.
"When you're spending that kind of money on a remodel, you want to choose upgrades that accomplish multiple objectives, including improving efficiency, functionality and beauty," says Ross Vandermar, national product manager with skylight manufacturer Velux . "Sometimes that type of upgrade will warrant a greater expenditure, but others are easy and relatively low-cost to make."
So what are some of the top kitchen upgrades that provide the most beauty and functionality for your investment? Here are five:
In any kitchen, the countertops are both a significant design element and a functional necessity. Countertops act as work and storage areas, provide staging and serving space, and have a major impact on the overall look of the room. Replacing lower-cost countertops such as laminate with higher-end materials like granite can enhance the usability and look of your work surface. Even if you opt to replace older laminate with the same material, your kitchen can benefit from a fresh face and improved material quality.
2. Lighting and ventilation
Illumination and fresh air in a kitchen not only allow you to appreciate the beauty of the room, they ensure a safer, more comfortable work environment. Under-cabinet task lighting, pendants over a breakfast bar and upgrading an old box-style fluorescent with a more attractive, energy-efficient style can enhance the usability and look of a kitchen. Adding Energy Star-qualified skylights can also boost the appearance, appeal and efficiency of a kitchen. If you opt for venting skylights, they can help release hot air, moisture and odors while admitting additional light.
Accessories like decorator blinds with remote control ensure you can adjust the amount of light that enters your kitchen from a skylight while dressing up your decor. If a traditional skylight isn't right for your needs, you can still enhance the room with natural light; tubular models like Velux's Sun Tunnel skylights use reflective tunnels to deliver light from above and are usually less expensive. Add an optional light kit and the units provide light at night as well as during the day.
Improving cabinets can be a costly prospect, but one worth the investment since they are not only a major design element in the kitchen, but essential to the room's efficiency and usability. You can find a range of options for upgrading cabinets, from total replacement with custom-made cabinetry to simply resurfacing or repainting existing cabinets.
4. Hardware and fixtures
Think of cabinet hardware and faucets as the jewelry of your kitchen. Swapping out dated or worn hardware - including knobs, handles and hinges - is a fast, easy and cost-effective way to change the look of the entire room. Plus, you can improve functionality by choosing larger handles that are easier to grasp and replacing old-style hinges with modern varieties that close silently and smoothly or are completely hidden behind the cabinet door. Replacing the kitchen faucet is also an easy, relatively low-cost upgrade. Opt for a pull-out spray head or touch-free model and you can also enhance the usability of this key kitchen feature.
Your car couldn't function without tires and a steering wheel and no kitchen can serve its purpose without the right appliances. If your appliances are more than 10 years old, chances are they're starting to look worn and dated. They're also likely less energy efficient than newer models, many of which are now made to meet Energy Star standards. Appliances account for nearly 20 percent of the energy consumed by an average home, according to Energystar.gov.
Upgrading a kitchen is a great way to enhance the value and your enjoyment of the most-used room in your house. Choosing improvements that add beauty and efficiency can help ensure you get the most for your renovation dollars.