Remodeling or completely renovating a kitchen can be a big task, but it also has the best return on investment of any home improvement.

But these improvements don’t come cheap. A 2013 U.S. Census Bureau report noted the cost of an average kitchen remodel was $5,000, with the price tag for complete renovation at $27,353.

Given these costs, remodeling experts say there are ways to save in order to have money to splurge on key items.

Begin with a detailed floor plan, said Ariel Darmoni, managing partner at 123 Remodeling, a general contractor firm which was featured in Houzz and on HGTV.

“It’s going to be so much more if you don’t have a floor plan that works for you because making changes later costs more. You can also save money if you don’t have to move plumbing and electric, even if you’re taking down walls,” he said.

Don’t skimp on important life-safety improvements like mold remediation and ventilation, said Beverley Kruskol, owner of M.Y. Pacific Building, a general contractor who has worked with high-end renovations, including for Mario Batali’s restaurants in Los Angeles.

Tile, flooring and lighting can be both economical and beautiful, Kruskol said.

“Tile is a great place to save money. There are thousands of styles, and they’re so amazing,” she said.

Porcelain and ceramic tiles can be used on both floor and in kitchen backsplashes, said Suzanne Falk of Suzanne Falk Interior Design, a ghost designer on HGTV’s “Kitchen Crashers.”

Tile is cheaper than hardwood flooring, and Darmoni prefers tile floors in kitchens because wood floors can be easily damaged by water leaks from dishwashers.

Big-box retailers sell attractive tiles for a fraction of the cost versus what’s sold at designer showrooms, Falk said. For people who have their heart set on high-end tile, she recommended highlighting it in a specific area, like in a backsplash around the range, and then framing it with subway tiles, which Falk said are her “go-to” tiles.

Distinctive, affordable lighting options are available at retail stores versus paying up at a showroom, they said.

“Compared to what was available four or five years ago, you can get beautiful lamps at a fraction of the cost,” Kruskol said.

Choose a nicer faucet over a sink, Darmoni said, but look at the faucet construction. Better-made faucets have durable metal cartridges inside, which are the valves that turn on the water and mix temperatures.

High-end appliances might be a worthy splurge; however, Kruskol said homeowners should think about how they use them and how long they’ll be in the home.

“If you’re in a condo, I don’t think you need to spend the money to get a Wolf range, but it depends on your lifestyle,” she said.

Homeowners who aren’t doing a gut rehab and really are scrimping can get new doors and hardware for their existing cabinets, Kruskol said, which can quickly update the look. Even refinishing existing doors can refresh a tired kitchen.

The two areas worth a splurge are cabinets and countertops, they said. Consider stepping up to semi-custom cabinets from a local cabinet supplier and avoiding the big-box retailer.

Working with a local cabinet supplier to design creative storage can help eliminate a lot of the wasted space in kitchens, Kruskol said. Upgrades like pull-out shelves and Lazy Susans are useful, but Falk warned about getting carried away with other costly upgrades like appliance garages and built-in spice drawers. These can look nice but may not be practical, she added.

Another benefit to using semi-custom cabinets is they can be designed to fit a home’s inevitable imperfections in a way prefabricated cabinets can’t, said Darmoni and Falk.

All three said consider upgrading to natural stone countertops versus manufactured styles. Not only do they look beautiful, but they will last for years. Granite has always been popular, but high-end materials like quartz and quartzite are becoming affordable.

The one stone they don’t recommend for kitchens is marble.

“It’s porous and stains easily. For instance, if you put a coffee cup on it, it gets a ring that doesn’t go away,” Kruskol said.

By Debbie Carlson, Chicago Tribune (TNS)