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Welcome back to Ask a Contractor, a monthly column where Chip Brian, founder and CEO of Best & Company, answers your questions about renovations, contractors, and anything related to home improvement. Have something on your mind? Leave it in the comments or send a note to pitches@domino.com and Brian will weigh in with his expert tips and solutions.

How can I estimate how much my renovation will cost? Is there a formula?

There is not an exact formula when it comes to estimating a home renovation but of course there are ways to ballpark it. Ideally, you should engage an architect to come up with a preliminary set of drawings so a contractor has a detailed scope of work from which to derive a price. Until your plans are properly documented, any numbers tossed around will really be just a guess.

Replacing a toilet, for instance, will completely depend on the price of the particular toilet that you want so you’re better served to have that specified. The labor cost for a plumber to remove the existing toilet and install the new one may be fixed, but pricing on toilets can vary widely so the delta is really contingent upon your selection.

That said, if you’re not ready to go through the whole rigamarole of hiring an architect and are in need of more immediate pricing, you can use a cost per square foot estimate (based on historic precedents in your region) in your early stages of planning to give you a preliminary sense of how much you’ll be in for and ensure that that figure aligns with what you’re prepared to spend.

Labor costs do vary widely depending on your geography so call around to a few local contractors to find out the average cost per foot in your area. If they think there’s potential business in it for them, and that they could possibly build your project in the future, they should be glad to share this information with you.

So if, for instance, you have a 200-square-foot kitchen you are looking to renovate and the average cost given to you by your local general contractors is $300 per foot, you can figure you’ll be looking at around $60,000, depending on whether you are okay with more standard finishes and appliances or are looking for everything to be top-of-the-line.

Of course these figures will all be approximate as you can’t arrive at a hard number until you specify every last knob, hinge, tile, toilet, and so on, but at least these placeholders will help you decide whether to dial down your champagne taste or to go whole hog on those marble slabs at the stone yard.

Get more renovation advice:

This Is the First Step When Planning a Renovation 7 Things to Know Before You Renovate What to Expect When Planning a Bathroom Renovation

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