Kitchen remodels continue to be popular home improvement projects despite the economic stagnation, according to the August 2010 issue of the Consumer Reports. This isn’t exactly dish-shattering news given the impact of a kitchen to a family’s lifestyle and home value.

Many homeowners are uncertain about where to start. A simple first step is to consult a kitchen designer. A professional designer understands the entire process, inside and out, and will provide many important services: in-home measurements, personalized consultations, layout designs, computerized renditions, installer referrals, oversight management, and more.

Some companies hire professionals to provide free kitchen design services to their customers.

“Kitchen designers provide invaluable support throughout the entire remodeling project,” said Bob Hunt, director of Kitchen Destination, the new cabinetry and design division of New England Building Materials. “We provide these services free as an added value to our customers.”

Following are some things to consider doing before starting a kitchen remodeling project.

Start asking questions. Why do I want a new or remodeled kitchen? What do I want to change and why? What are my needs and wants? Is my budget fixed or flexible? When is the best time and way to begin? Tip: Search the internet for other questions related to kitchen remodeling.

Set a budget. Establishing a preliminary budget will help keep you on track and make temptations more resistant. The National Kitchen & Bath Association claims the average kitchen remodel costs between 10 percent and 20 percent of a home’s value.

Still, kitchen remodels are one of the best home improvement investments with an average return of 76 percent according to the Remodeling Magazine’s 2009-2010 Cost vs. Value Report. Tip: Budget 10 percent to 15 percent of the total cost for unanticipated surprises.

Explore ideas and identify needs versus want. Perhaps the most challenging and exciting part of the entire process is exploring possibilities. However, it’s important to balance functionality and style. Make a list of what you need first and then move on to wants. Don’t forget to consider cabinets, flooring, appliances, sink, faucet, lighting, plumbing, windows, and wiring. Tip: Make sure to include any special needs of small children, handicapped or elderly members of your household into your budget and design.

Schedule a home visit with a kitchen designer.

The designer will take accurate measurements and provide a professional perspective on your design with additional attention to walls, doors, windows, lighting, wiring, plumbing, and so on. Tip: Save money by consulting a professional designer from a building company that provides these services for free.

Visit a cabinet showroom. “Visiting a kitchen design center showroom is a great way to explore cabinet options,” says Joy M. Martel, a certified kitchen designer for Kitchen Destination. “Unfortunately, images in magazines and on the internet are not as reliable as seeing and touching the real thing.” Tip: Having a good understanding of your taste will help in the selection process.

Find a contractor or installer. Ask friends, neighbors or your designer if they can recommend a reputable contractor or installer. Tip: Ask for references and a copy of the contractor’s license and workers’ compensation and liability insurance to confirm they are current.

Get a quote. Your designer and/or contract need to confirm all aspects of the kitchen remodeling plan before providing accurate quote. Otherwise you may end up incurring unnecessary costs and delays due to misunderstandings or misinformation. Tip: Ask your contractor to the written contract give you a list each phase of the project; every product, including the model number.

Kitchen Destination’s website is www.visitnebm.com.