Six kitchen remodeling projects that add value and appeal

These trendy projects will give your kitchen value and appeal.

Find yourself weighing the pros and cons of granite countertops in your spare time? Or considering the finer points of cherry cabinetry? Then you must have kitchen remodeling on the brain.

Turns out you're not alone. According to a 2012 survey by the National Organization of Home Builders (NAHB), kitchen remodels are actually up 17 percent from two years ago.

But before you pick up that hammer or grab that circular saw, Patrick Driscoll, a New Hampshire-based contractor and owner of Patrick Driscoll Residential Remodeling, advises that you consider what's best for your finances, family, and future - especially if you want a gorgeous new cookspace that'll be a sound investment down the road.

"During any remodel project that I do, I classify improvements into two categories: One being projects that add monetary value to the house, the others make the house more appealing," says Driscoll. "For example, a larger kitchen will increase the actual value of the house, whereas granite countertops are going to make the house more appealing to buyers."

[Ready to get your kitchen remodel started? Click here to find a home contractor in your area.]

So what's the right recipe for your redo? Read on for six hot remodeling trends that could give you a mix of appeal and value, so you can enjoy a kitchen that's a cut above the rest.

Project #1: Cabinet Replacement or Refacing

If you're not sure where to start your kitchen remodel, the cabinets might be your best bet. Why? While cabinets may look like just a series of wooden boxes, they're actually a major focal point for potential buyers, says Driscoll.

Because of the steep cost of cabinetry - anywhere from $5,000 to $50,000, according to Driscoll - it's best to consider all of your options when it comes to upgrading. On the high-end of the spectrum, you could start from scratch with a set of solid oak or cherry cabinets tinted with a fancy stain, says Driscoll. Or you could stretch your dollars by investing in a cheaper composite wood set with a few key features.

"Replacing your cabinets with mid-grade painted cabinets with some newer features like soft-close doors has the potential to add almost as much value as top of the line cabinets," says Driscoll.

[Do your cabinets need an upgrade? Click here to find the right home contractor.]

If a total tear-out is not in your budget and you've got plywood boxes that are sturdy, consider refacing, which involves changing out the doors and drawers and adding a matching veneer to the cabinet boxes. "Refacing cabinets is a good way to save money if the box of the cabinet [the shell being salvaged] is in good condition," says Driscoll. Again, you'd want to find doors with a finish to your liking, making sure to match the old cabinet frames to the new finish you choose.

Whether you reface or replace, Driscoll recommends hiring a contractor due to the cost and prominence of cabinetry in the kitchen. "If the cabinets are not aligned or have a screw popping through the face, people will take note," he says.

Project #2: Floor Installation

Linoleum, laminate, exotic hardwood. There are many flooring options in fashion these days. The trick is choosing one that suits your tastes, goes easy on the wallet, and will hold up to wear and tear.

According to Driscoll, hardwood is the way to go, but faux may be better than the real deal, at least when it comes to staying under budget. "With the popularity of the floating floor [also known as laminate flooring], people are trending toward the hardwood look," says Driscoll. "These floating floors come in a range of colors, qualities and prices" and nail the hardwood look at a fraction of the price - often without installation costs.

Why are they so magical? The great thing about floating floors, Driscoll says, is that because they often use snap-and-lock technology, they don't need nailing down, which means they can be DIYed pretty easily.

[Needing something a little flashier under your feet? Click here to find a home contractor who can help.]

Have a little extra cash to throw around? As with cabinets, consider going exotic. "People are investing more into the cherry and yellow pine floors," says Driscoll. "This being said, the exotic woods are a luxury item and will get roughly the same ROI (return on investment) as a well done oak floor," says Driscoll.

Project #3: Countertop Installation

Think of your kitchen countertops as the star of the show - the right material is what creates that wow factor when you enter a room. Want to cast the right character in this role? Driscoll recommends stone if you want to stay up with trends.

"If you are looking to add value to your house, stick with the more affordable granites and manufactured stone," Driscoll says. According to Driscoll, granite ranges in price from about $40 to $100 per square foot. Unfortunately, price and durability do not always go hand in hand, he says, so be sure to consider the strength of the material before you purchase.

Unsure where to start your shopping? As a rule, "darker granites with consistent patterns tend to be the stronger stone, and the more elaborate the pattern, the more expensive the cost," says Driscoll. It is best to stick to something dark and durable, he says, such as Uba Tuba, a black/dark brown granite that is "affordable and very strong."

[Does your kitchen deserve new countertops? Click here to find a home contractor for the job.]

Once you've selected a material, call in a contractor. "With the weight of stone, manufactured stone, or concrete, installs are best left to professionals," says Driscoll.

Project #4: Lighting

You've heard it before: Lighting is the key to setting a mood. Pick the right lights and install them in the right place, and your kitchen will not only look good, it'll also be more comfortable for you and your guests no matter the time of day, says Driscoll.

Lately, pendants over a kitchen island or breakfast bar are all the rage, Driscoll says, as is under-cabinet lighting. Both can add ambiance to the kitchen and also supply good task lighting for chopping vegetables and stirring what's on the stove, he says. But don't underestimate what installing lighting entails.

"Every light needs to have a wire run to it, and every run wire needs an electrician," says Driscoll. "If you are doing a remodel where the walls are being taken back to the studs, take the time to get the lighting the way that you want it. It will take an electrician at least four times as long to try and snake wires through existing walls."

If you can't put in new lights, consider changing your fixtures or adding dimmers to control light volume. Both can give you a new look for a fraction of the price of new wiring, says Driscoll.

Because of the risk of electrical fire or shock, Driscoll advises always leaving electrical work to a licensed electrician.

Project #5: Open Floor Plan

Has the heart of your home been feeling a little cramped lately? According to Anders Hanson, contractor and owner of Hanson Remodels and Landscapes in California, open floor plans, where the kitchen opens up to a living room or a dining room without walls blocking the view, are extremely trendy right now.

If you live in an older home, chances are there are walls segmenting your living area on the main floor of your home, and your space could benefit by removing them. "Life in the 50's and 60's was different," says Hanson. "Rooms were much smaller, and now a lot of homeowners want a more modern, open look."

Why? Well, according to Hanson, open floor plans improve the flow of a home and allow more natural light into its spaces. If you're planning a total overhaul of your cookspace, it's worth looking into taking down a wall or two to create a lighter, brighter kitchen. And of course, you should always consult a contractor before embarking on this kind of structural remodel.

Project #6: Tile Backsplash

Want to make your kitchen really pop? A tile backsplash can add appeal and allow homeowners to put their personal touch on the kitchen, says Driscoll.

Tiles for kitchen backsplashes come in all different colors, finishes, and shapes, running the gamut from old-world looking, neutral-stone rectangles to bright, modern glass squares. What's great about this project, says Driscoll, is that handy - and careful - homeowners can tackle it on their own over a weekend or bit by bit, if need be.

"If a handy homeowner takes his or her time and sets up properly, and makes sure to buy, borrow, or rent the right tools, then the job should go much smoother," he says.

A few more words of wisdom: If this is your first tile project, Driscoll says to take your time and get about 20 percent more materials than the space you are tiling. "The rule of thumb is 10 to 15 percent, but newbies should plan on making a few mistakes," he says.

Though tiled backsplashes struggle to yield total ROI, Driscoll says they certainly add interest to your kitchen. Plus, they can make clean-up after meals a cinch. After cooking, just wet a rag and wipe the tiles. Then just enjoy your new kitchen, rinse, and repeat.