How To Remodel a Kitchen in Chicago

Our guide will get you started on achieving a budget, getting a handle on project duration, and finding your general contractor

how to remodel a kitchen in chicago

You’re in good company if you’re looking to elevate your kitchen. Remodeling a kitchen in Chicago is one of the most highly requested projects because it can add significant value to your home. However, kitchen spaces involve complex systems that require strict adherence to building codes. The right contractor will guide you through the most challenging parts of the process, but here we break down kitchen remodeling, so you can feel prepared for the journey.

Getting prepared: Budget and design

Most real estate professionals will tell you the kitchen is the single most important room in any home, at least in terms of home value. The kitchen can represent up to 20% of the cost to build a home, but according to the National Association of Realtors, a kitchen upgrade has a 67% ROI. While other factors are involved (overall condition of the home, market conditions, buyer preferences), a well-designed and updated kitchen is a top priority with potential buyers. Your first step in starting your remodel is to establish what your new kitchen will achieve and in what style.

Set a budget that is workable

Before starting your kitchen remodel, establish a budget that covers the entire process. To do this, create two lists: one outlining your “must-haves” and the other detailing your “nice-to-haves.” These lists will help you organize and determine what are the essential requirements versus your preferences. By highlighting your preferences, you can remove them from the scope, if needed to prevent exceeding your budget.

Next, have a contingency plan ready. Your initial budget will go to materials, labor, and permits. However, you’ll need a budget contingency set aside in case unexpected issues or challenges arise during the renovation. Some examples include unforeseen structural repairs or additional work required to fix hidden issues. We suggest a fund of 10-15% of the original budget so that the project can continue moving forward.

Pulling the vision together

How do you want the space to function and which materials are most important to you? There are plenty of visual inspirations on Pinterest, Instagram, and from our Sweeten homeowners. Keep in mind the kitchen experiences daily traffic and is a high-touch space. Therefore, visiting kitchen showrooms or tile shops in person will give you ideas that jive with your lifestyle.

Local designers from Chicago reported what their clients are seeking function and design-wise. Their clients want their kitchen islands to do more which affects its size and shape. Many islands feature “step downs” with multiple levels of countertop each with a different function. Another design has storage on one end and an open space at the other to fit chairs. Additionally, there is a move away from the color white in cabinetry. Nature’s colors in greens, blues, and blue-greens are growing requests. The designers cite the popularity of quartz and porcelain slab countertops for their ease of maintenance.

Cost factors for your Chicago kitchen remodel

Having a realistic budget in hand is important when you meet with contractors during site visits. Our kitchen cost guide for Chicago is a good starting point. We’ve estimated the costs based on scope, finish level, and the type of service. 

For example, in Chicago, starting costs for a full renovation in a standard-sized kitchen, with no additional square footage added, are:

  • Budget full kitchen remodel: Starts at $23,500

  • Mid-range full kitchen remodel: Starts at $35,500

  • High-end full kitchen remodel: Starts at $72,000

We suggest meeting at least three potential GCs at site visits and having at least three estimates from contractors you’d like to consider working. Post your project and we can connect you with vetted firms in Chicago who have experience in your scope of work and within your cost range. We can also talk you through the costs on a call if you need help honing in on a realistic budget.

Putting your renovation team together

You have a few options for your renovation team depending on the type of services you’re looking for. With that said, in all scenarios, your project will require a general contractor to execute the renovation. If your scope doesn’t include moving walls, tearing down walls, or modifying the electrical or plumbing systems, then you can hire a licensed general contractor directly. Projects with a more complex scope should engage an architect or interior designer to draw up plans. Your design visions should be in line with code and regulations. Lastly, a design-build firm will have both services from one company.

Preparing for permits and plan approvals

Chigagoans can generally expect to need some form of building permit from the Chicago Department of Buildings. Simple projects like painting won’t require a permit but kitchen remodels typically need a permit depending on the scope of work. 

Who applies for the building permit in Chicago?

One of the functions of your general contractor is to apply for any required building permits on your behalf. The Chicago DoB requires a general contractor to have a state issued license and carry a worker’s compensation insurance policy, among other qualifications.

Plan approvals

The DoB handles the permits for kitchen remodels and needs to approve any changes made to infrastructure including plumbing and electrical. Other systems are inspected as well such as a vent system installed in a new kitchen island or making sure fire suppression codes are up to date.

Your kitchen remodel may be subject to other approvals, such as those from a homeowner’s association or condo approval board. It’s best to have the paperwork they require far in advance of actually needing them. The HOA’s governing documents will list what must be submitted. Most application packages include detailed plans, drawings, specifications, and other documentation showing that all systems follow the HOA guidelines and regulations.

Permits

A kitchen remodel in Chicago typically requires various permit types depending on the scope of the project. Permits are required if there are significant changes being done such as structural work, relocating fixtures, or making changes to load-bearing walls. Common permits include a building permit, an electrical or plumbing permit, and ones relating to HVAC, gas, and ventilation. Also, the processing time varies so be sure to work the time range into the renovation calendar.  

If your scope is more straightforward and includes none of the above, you may qualify for the Easy Permit Program. This allows your contractor to sidestep the plan review process. Rip-and-replace projects in Chicago are commonly permitted this way, but there are limitations to how much, and what kind of work you can perform. 

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Above all, be sure you’re working with a contractor who is up-to-date with Chicago building codes and regulations. Noncompliance can result in fines, work stoppage, or possibly post-renovation property devaluation. Our Sweeten contractors are qualified to work in the local Chicago area and are up-to-date on local codes and regulations.

How long does a kitchen remodel take?

The duration of a kitchen remodel in Chicago can vary depending on several factors, including the complexity of the project, the size of the kitchen, and the condition of the existing space. Typically, a kitchen remodel in Chicago can take anywhere from several weeks to several months.

For example, if you keep the kitchen’s layout, electrical, and plumbing systems unchanged and choose readily available materials, you can complete the renovation within a few weeks. Sweeten homeowners, Leah and Brian’s kitchen, initially decided to refinish their existing cabinets but had a change of heart and committed to replacing them instead. Black cabinets and marble-look countertops gave their Logan Square loft an instant update even without structural changes. 

However, if you’re looking for a renewed layout and are relocating plumbing and electrical, expect the project to take longer. Obtaining permits and board approvals or ordering custom items will also add to the timeframe.

In general, the order of a kitchen remodel is:

  • Demolition and site preparation
  • Installations
  • Finishing
  • Final walkthrough and punch list creation

Demolition and preparation

This first phase involves removing existing fixtures, cabinets, flooring, and appliances. It typically takes around 1-2 weeks, depending on the size of the kitchen and the extent of demolition required.

Before demolition, you’ll want to remove all loose kitchen items, furniture, and personal belongings to protect them from being damaged. Your contractor will safely disconnect all necessary utilities such as electricity, gas, and water. Therefore, be sure to plan for a temporary kitchen setup during the remodel so you can engage in some type of daily routine. 

To minimize dust and debris from spreading to other parts of the home, surrounding areas will be protected. This can include plastic sheeting, using temporary walls or barriers, and covering floors and furniture with protective materials.

After the demolition phase, the contractor assesses the condition of the walls, floors, and ceiling. Any underlying issues or necessary repairs identified will need to be addressed before the remodel can continue. It’s not unusual for a few surprises to surface at this point—or during the remodeling process—but an experienced contractor will know how to manage the situation. 

Issues can range from required plumbing or electrical updates, repairing conditions behind the walls to be code-compliant, or applying structural changes based on the plan. This is where having a contingency plan ready will allow the renovation to move forward smoothly.

Construction and installation

The key activities includes framing, electrical work, HVAC, and plumbing. If no new framing is needed then roughing-in new systems takes place or updating existing ones. The DOB will conduct an inspection for overall compliance to codes and regulations before the work is covered in drywall or flooring. This takes place if any of these systems are being installed or moved from one part of the room to another. If any work doesn’t meet approval, then it will be fixed, inspected again, and approved to move forward. 

New cabinets, countertops, flooring, backsplash, and appliances are installed by skilled labor, carpenters and technicians. Finally, a final inspection is scheduled to assess the overall safety, functionality, and compliance of the finished kitchen.

The duration of this phase can range from 4-8 weeks, depending on the complexity of the remodel.

Finishing touches

When the major construction phase is complete, the backsplash is put in and finishing touches are applied. This phase includes installing cabinet hardware, trim work, and painting. It usually takes around 1-2 weeks to complete.

Final walkthrough and punch list

At the final stage, you and your contractor will have a final walkthrough to assess the completed work. This is an important step where any issues or areas needing attention are identified before considering the project fully finished. This is your punch list, a checklist that may include touch-up painting, adjusting cabinet doors, or resolving any small tasks that might have been inadvertently overlooked during the project. Once each item on the punch list has been addressed, the project can be officially marked as complete.

Tips for surviving a kitchen remodel in Chicago

With proper planning and preparation, you can navigate a complex remodeling process more smoothly. Here are some tips to help you and your family get in the right mindset:

Create a temporary kitchen setup

Before the remodel begins, designate a temporary kitchen area in your home. This could be a small space with essential appliances like a microwave, toaster oven, and mini-fridge.

Establish a realistic timeline

Discuss the project timeline with your contractor and have a clear understanding of how long the renovation will take. Keep in mind that unforeseen delays can happen, so factor in some extra time when planning your temporary kitchen and adjusting your daily routines.

Protect belongings and minimize dust

Kitchen renovations can generate a significant amount of dust and debris. Before demolition starts, take the necessary precautions to protect your belongings.

Communicate with your contractor

Maintain open and regular communication with your contractor on the project’s progress, any unexpected changes, and potential disruptions. Clear communication will help address any concerns promptly and ensure that the project stays on track.

Be flexible and patient

Remodeling projects often encounter unexpected challenges or delays. Stay flexible and patient as these issues arise. Temporary inconveniences are part of the process and your experienced contractor will know how to navigate the issues.

Take breaks and relax

It’s important to prioritize your well-being during a renovation. Take breaks outside the home and step away from the construction site. Stay focused on the end result—a functioning dream kitchen.

What’s the first step to starting a kitchen renovation in Chicago?

Whether your project requires the services of an architect or designer or not, you will need a general contractor to execute the build. We can match you with local professionals who are vetted and have experience with a scope similar to yours. We suggest getting estimates to compare from at least three firms you like. Post your kitchen project and get started.

Sweeten handpicks the best general contractors to match each project’s location, budget, scope, and style. Follow the blog, Sweeten Stories, for renovation ideas and inspiration and when you’re ready to renovate, start your renovation with Sweeten.

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