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Saturday, May 7, 2016

5 Things to Look Out for When Buying a Recycled Kitchen

I got an email asking how I can tell a recycled kitchen will work for me. Good question! The cost savings will be completely negated if it ends up not working in your space. Here are 5 things to keep in mind if you're shopping for a recycled kitchen, plus, a real-life example of a kitchen I've been considering — and how I discovered it won't work.

1. Know your kitchen measurements
I carry my kitchen measurements in the notepad on my phone, so I have them with me at all times. I actually carry all kinds of measurements, including the length and width of my windows and doors and the dimensions of the elevator in our building, just in case I'm in a shop, making a purchase on the fly. The last thing I want is to find a great deal on a Wolf range, only to learn I can't get it through the doorway of my narrow galley kitchen. Or buy a sofa too wide for my elevator that has to be carried up six flights, incurring additional white-glove fees that wipe out any savings. Ouch!

2. Sketch it out
When I'm considering a kitchen, I use SketchUp, a free online CAD tool, to sketch it out. Before I learned to use SketchUp, I often used IKEA's free kitchen planner. Any drawing program will work. Cabinets are modular and share some standard dimensions. Base cabinets are always 24" deep — the depth of a standard countertop — and 36" high — the height of a standard countertop. Only the widths vary, so it's pretty easy as a first pass just to draw some boxes the right width, and make sure all told they fit the span of the wall, with a few inches left over for spacers that might be needed wherever doors open next to each other. You can as easily do this using pen and paper two-dimensionally. The important thing is to see the footprint of each cabinet and appliance, as it would be configured in your space. I'll come back to this with an example.

3. Discuss the project with your contractor before you buy
Once you've laid out the kitchen to the specs of your space, if it mostly fits but there are a few things that need workarounds, it's time to show the sketch to your contractor. If you have a good contractor you work with regularly, getting his buy-in ahead of time just makes good sense. If the contractor is you, your partner or a relative who is prepared to deal with tricky fit problems, lucky you! Don't be surprised to learn that some contractors don't want to work with a recycled kitchen, for many reasons, including having to deal with damaged or missing pieces, countertops that need to be re-cut to fit obstructions, and outdated appliances that are missing instruction manuals. Look at it from the contractor's point of view. They are paid the same for two jobs, one using brand new materials and the other putting together puzzle pieces. Would the latter appeal more to you? If you do find a contractor who will work with you, read your contract carefully. Note whether there's a change order for dealing with every little surprise, because retrofitting can bring up a lot of unforeseen changes and that will add up.

4. Buyer beware
Some re-use stores offer very limited warranties on appliances and everything else is 3-days to 1-week for returns. Build It Green in New York City, for example, offers a 90-day return policy on appliances. That's rare. I know from experience that Habitat ReStore will accept returns if the appliance hasn't been damaged. This is good to note, because most reuse sellers have very limited return policies. Steve Feldman, founder of Green Demolitions tells Consumer Reports:

"It's the buyer's risk. So if someone wants a guarantee, we can't provide it. We do inspect items — if it's a refrigerator we'll plug it in and see if turns on and cools down. But we sell everything as is. ...we never sell items for more than 50 percent of their original value. So even if you're out the cost of the repair, you're still way ahead."

Read the contract carefully and know what you are getting into. Especially note any exclusions.

5. Plan to be on-site to help your contractor troubleshoot
Installing a recycled kitchen is a collaborative effort. Your contractor is going to be solving lots of small issues when he retrofits that kitchen to your space. Be on hand to weigh in with your opinion and help troubleshoot, even if it means taking time off work to do it. You typically get one pass with a kitchen right? You'll be living with the outcome for some time, so give it the proper attention now.

Here's an example of a kitchen I'm considering, and the steps it took for me to realize that this particular kitchen isn't for me.

This kitchen pictured above is currently listed at Green Demolitions for $7,900.

What I like about this kitchen
  • The style is modern, so it will fit within the overall look and feel of our midcentury home
  • The sink is in the island, which works with the location of our plumbing lines
  • I love love love the marble waterfall countertop
  • I'm okay with mahogany wood veneer; I'd prefer glossy white, but this can work
  • The luxury appliances are included; there are no exclusions
  • There are three tall pantries, which we need for storage in our small kitchen
What I don't like about this kitchen
  • I don't like the two-tone cabinetry, especially that the wall cabinets are beige
  • I'd prefer all white cabinetry to mahogany cabinetry, though this can work
  • I'd prefer a cooktop and wall oven, because of our narrow aisle, though a range can work
  • I dislike the gray countertop surface on either side of the range; too many colors happening here
  • The sink cabinet is 28", which means the sink is small
  • I don't really need a wine cooler
  • The marble waterfall is beautiful, but presents problems vis a vis the raised floor 
  • We have room for more cabinetry than is being offered here, so I'll have 4 foot stretch of unusable space
Weighing the "value" of this package

The appliances alone, if bought new today, would cost roughly $18,000:
  • Sub-Zero refrigerator: $10,000
  • Viking range: $4,000
  • Best hood: $500
  • Bosch panel-ready dishwasher $900
  • GE microwave: $175
  • Uline wine cooler: $2400
However, most are 2005 models, so already 11 years old. They're good brands that retain some value over time. But with the general lifetime of a refrigerator running about 10 years now, there will be repairs in the not too distant future. The description on the range notes that the range has a broken knob stem — and it's the one that controls the oven. A quick google search reveals a DIY repair for the stem, or if it can't be repaired, the whole thermostat has to be replaced for around $300.

In any case, the valuation of the appliances is not $18,000; it's whatever the appliances would be worth second-hand today, which is about $8,000 from a cursory glance at reuse prices online. As the whole package is listed for $7,900, including appliances and cabinetry, it's a pretty good deal... if it fits our space.

If I decide to pursue this kitchen purchase, my next step would be to get the serial numbers and model numbers for these appliances. I'd check the serial numbers with the manufacturers — some do offer limited lifetime warranties for certain types of repairs. Then I'd google the model numbers to see what the major complaints are in forums like GardenWeb. 

How can I tell if this kitchen will fit our space?

Though the recycled kitchen is an L-shape with an island and I'm looking to have a single span with an island, it's easy enough to relocate the pantries to the end of the range/refrigerator span to make it work for our configuration. Here's the 2D layout of the recycled kitchen:

Here's my 3D model:

In this sketch, I've solved some functionality issues in my kitchen:

  • The range is placed strategically after the island ends, so that I can open the door while standing in front of it to lift out heavy roasting pans
  • The refrigerator is placed far from the sink and dishwasher, so it's still reachable for family members and guests, even while we are cooking or washing up
I've also accounted for some known obstructions in my sketch. Our current kitchen is on a raised platform, which was a common style in midcentury architecture. I'd like to keep that, if I can. It offers visual interest and separates the kitchen area from the living room area.

The column to the left of the island is where I believe plumbing lines are located. One clue is a small door on the living room side near the ceiling that is painted shut; I've been told there's a shut off valve in there. The pipe near the window is a steam pipe related to our building's heating system. It gets very hot in the winter, when the heat is on. It's possible it could be capped, as we are on the top floor, but if not, I can insulate it with rope as I did in the bathroom.

Sketching this up revealed a few issues to me.

Issue 1: The recycled kitchen doesn't have enough cabinets for us. There will be a 4-foot span of emptiness that I've indicated with two white pantries.

Possible workaround: Purchase two new pantries and try to make them look harmonious with the existing cabinets. IKEA has 24" wide pantries that are the right height for about $800. Two of those might work. I could have doors fabricated at Semihandmade to match the beige wall cabinet doors.

Issue 2: The marble waterfall countertop, while I love that look, presents some problems vis a vis the partly raised floor. Could we build up a box on the living room side, to stabilize the island? I'm in unchartered territory. I'll need to go over this with my contractor.

Possible workaround: I don't really want seating at my island and the 11" overhang is just robbing space from the adjacent living room area. Could I have the marble countertop cut down? Yes, but it's an added expense, and there's always the possibility the marble will be damaged during refabrication.

Issue 3: The gray color of the countertop material to either side of the range is off to my eye. With light oak wood floor, mahogany veneer cabinetry, beige upper cabinets, gray countertop and marble countertop, there are just too many colors going on in such a small space.

Possible workaround: Replace them. We're talking about two 24 x 24 inch slabs of countertop, so it's a minor expensive. I might find a marble remnant that works. Low-end, we could always go with with butcher block. I love wood countertops. I have them at our cottage and areas not near the sink still look good as new.

Is this kitchen a good deal for me? 
Additional costs include buying two pantries, matching the doors, and cutting down the marble countertop or building a box under part of the island.

I'm going to talk with my contractor. Meanwhile, our search continues.