Help!! Kitchen Soffit Nightmare!

6 days ago

Hello Houzz community. Hoping for some helpful suggestions. I am currently building a home with a community builder and have been having a tough time getting them to accommodate any of my requests. I have decided to hire an independent contractor to re-do my kitchens, bathrooms, and laundry room after closing because the cabinetry company the builder uses is impossible to deal with and does very poor work. Right now, the issue I'm having is with bulkheads in the kitchen (the builder also put them all throughout the house but I can live with the others).

The kitchen installer said removing the one over the kitchen cabinetry would not be a problem. We have planned for open shelves over cabinets topped by furring panel and crown (see design which will be mirror image in my home). The big problem is they added another soffit over top the sliding doors and windows to conceal duct work. They will not move the duct because apparently there is no room to go where it should (photo with circle). Below are photos of my kitchen design and how the kitchen is framed right now. My contractor is suggesting just cutting the side soffit in half so it's only over the window so we can go ahead with the rest of the kitchen plan but I'm not sure if that will look odd. I really want to have the cabinets and upper shelves, so suggesting that I stick with both bulkheads and just have the cabinets go underneath with no upper shelf is not an ideal solution for me. Any other suggestions?

Comments (51)

  • live_wire_oak

    Buy a different house. Spending a completely unrecoupable 100K+ on a bad design right after you buy a house to redo a house is nuts. Up your budget and buy elsewhere. Or do your time in it as is for a few years and then sell and move. A tract build is not a custom build. You’re wasting money and causing aggravation to try.

  • chocolatesnap

    I agree with live_wire_oak. Step back and think about this. You are paying a PREMIUM already for a newly built home. And now your plan is to GUT the MOST EXPENSIVE rooms and pay for them AGAIN--with even more expensive finishes. There can't be a universe in which this is the best plan.

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    I do not know your budget - but taking down a wall can be expensive. You can consider taking down part of a wall - sort of a pass through, but done attractively. Put your dishwasher as close to the sink as possible to rinse and load, and cabinets for dishes also in that area for unloading dishwasher. Make sure you have ample space on either side of stove top for cooking and consider a true range vent hood rather than over the range microwave. You may need to do over the range microwave for space reasons, but it doesn't vent as well. With everything open, you want things to vent well to prevent spread of cooking odors and grease. Keep fridge, sink and oven/stove within a reasonable walking distance. Reconsider marble especially if you have kids - it scratches and stains very easily and consider a marble like quartz instead. Here are some examples of opening up the kitchen without taking down a total wall: If you have the space, have a good size pantry. That will eliminate the need for many upper cabinets for a less closed-in look.
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  • PRO
    ProSource Memphis

    This is not a well thought out plan. On multiple fronts. This is not the house you should be buying if you have to make such massive expensive changes to it.

  • A S

    I just reread your post. This is a new build you are modifying??? I have to agree with others that’s not the normal order of events. I would also walk away.

  • cpartist

    Once you do what you are thinking you want to do, you have wound up pricing yourself out of your neighborhood if you ever need to sell. Meaning you will never recoup your money for redoing the 3 most expensive rooms in the house.

    I have to agree with the others. You either live with it because you are buying a tract house or you walk away and buy something else

  • cpartist

    Plus I also agree your design idea is a bad one

  • hemina

    Is the open shelving on top because you want it for decor? Or because you have things that you won’t be able to store without the space?
    Are you adding shelves to the top of the cabinets that were purchased as part of the home buying contract, or are you removing the new cabinets and replacing all with your own design?

    That space isn’t easily accessible, nor will it stay clean, so neither reason is a good idea to pay for this update after the fact.

  • lafdr

    I am sorry for your distress that the work is not coming out as you want it to be. It helps me to remind myself what if I was just shopping for a house, would this be a deal breaker? Versus feeling like you should be able to have exactly what you want in a new build.

  • PRO
    Flo Mangan

    Agree with comments. You are buying what we call a “production” home. These are designed with least expensive to build elements and limited choices for buyers. Any changes become huge budget busters. What you are planning makes no sense to me. Either try to get out of this deal and get with a architect to design what you want and pay for this level of custom home, or do nothing and get into thus house without modifications and plan to sell at a loss in 3 years.

  • D M

    Thank you everyone for your comments. Walking away from this house at this point is not an option for me, so I have to work with what I've got. This is not a fully custom built house. It is a selected floorplan from the options the builder offers in a new build subdivision. Rather than pay for overpriced upgrades with the builder and choose from a very limited selection, I am opting to redo some spaces after closing. That means ripping out standard base cabinetry and laminate countertops and installing better cabinetry and quartz countertops to my liking in the kitchen and bathrooms.

    Buying a plot of land costs as much or more in my area as buying a house. The only open spaces you can find to build on are acreages out in the country, sold for half a million and up. Add in long wait times for permits and services, and a fully custom built house, and this takes me to a $2million price point with at least a 2 year wait on a home. Not in my budget.

    Many people who buy new builds in subdivisions make mods afterwards because upgrading with a builder is the actual budget buster. I am definitely not paying $100K+ for the planned renos after the fact. I live in a new build right now (7 years old now) and also made modifications to my current home, as did most my neighbours. It's more cost effective to do it this way. Builders charge ridiculously exaggerated prices for upgrades as they bank on people doing them upfront. As an example, 12 cup pulls for the drawers at a wholesale cost of $4.12 were going to cost me $400, plus an extra $400 custom drilling charge with the builder because it wasn't part of their standard package. Swing closet doors cost $800-$1200 per door as an upgrade. A waffle ceiling would be $5000 per room! To have the lowest grade of quartz countertops in the kitchen would have cost me over $10,000 plus tx with the builder; I'm paying about half of that for better quality quartz doing it with an independent counter company. This is how builders make their money. Most people either pay $50-$100K in upgrades with the builder or save the upfront spend and end up making some kind of major modification in their home afterwards (usually flooring and cabinetry), so I'm definitely not doing something that other neighbours haven't done as well, nor would I be pricing myself out of the neighbourhood at resale time. I'm actually saving money by doing the most expensive rooms afterwards, rather than paying for higher level cabinetry with the builder and still getting subpar quality and workmanship.

    Below is a photo of the kitchen my neighbour put in after ripping out the builder kitchen (at half the cost the builder was charging with no uppers). He also redid his bathrooms. Buying new and making modifications in my area actually costs much less than buying an older home and doing full renovations. And new builds also increase much more in value over a year than an older home. The people who bought the homes in my subdivision as an investment sold for at least $75K+ more than what they paid at closing. Not a bad profit for just a year's wait time.

    But back to the design... In respect to the shelving uppers I prefer this over the typical glass cabinets people are putting in nowadays. I'll be using it to display my pottery and decorative china, so it's not really a storage space. Dusting is not an issue for me. It's too high for me to access on a daily basis anyway as I can barely reach the top shelf in the cabinets as it is so keeping daily use stuff up there wouldn't be practical. As for the vent, it won't be a chimney fan (the icon is just added in the drawing to show where ventilation will go). I'll be installing a professional hood fan which will need an upper to top it. either stainless, furring panel or cabinetry.

    All that being said, any other ideas?

  • PRO
    Patricia Colwell Consulting

    I am with the other answers really not the way to build as for the soffitts IMO the least of your worries but you don’t mind so go for it.

  • PRO
    Mark Bischak, Architect

    Sounds like Henry Ford's adage of "Any customer can have a car painted any color that he wants so long as it is black" is live and well.

  • live_wire_oak

    Sorry but it’s very easily 100K for all the most expensive rooms, and this is a bad design, because it has prior restraint from the builder. And it’s just goofy to have open shelves at the top of the room. That’s just too short cabinets you’re calling shelves.

    You’re going to need all kinds of electrical and duct work and drywall work. In addition to the cabinets and counters and demo and disposal fees.

    WTH is a “waffle“ ceiling? Does it come with syrup?

    None of this makes any sense.

  • J Williams

    Too bad they can’t just give you an empty shell. Seems stupidly wasteful to rip out brand new albeit possibly low grade junk.

  • cpartist

    And what happens during the next market downturn? And where is this place where resale on A 1 year old house nets more money than a brand new house? And where builders mark up 1000%?

    Those shelves above are an even bigger issue if you don’t clean up there. But even if you do, most buyers will decide they don’t want to clean up there and will figure out what it will cost to redo those cabinets and deduct it from the price they offer you.

  • J Williams

    For me, it would have to be glassed in. We have open space above our cabinets which went against what I wanted. It is a big grease and dust trap. I have to literally climb up onto the counters and clean it out at least seasonally.

  • D M

    From the responses posted, it sounds like renovating new build homes is a foreign concept to those who've chimed in. Rest assured, this is very common practice where I live.

    @cpartist Welcome to the Greater Toronto Area, where new builds do in fact cost less than resale fixer uppers. You get a discount for the inconvenience of waiting for your home to be built and then living in a construction zone for a couple of years. At least I won't have to mow the lawn for a couple of years as it takes a year or more for grading and sod. lol With my current build in Guelph, from the time I signed the deal to just 8 months later, the builder was asking $45K more for the same floor plan, claiming it was due to a rising cost in materials. In just 7 years, I'm selling for 70% more than what I paid because this is now an established neighbourhood with a great school and the cost of houses continues to rise at crazy rates. A couple of years ago, there were bidding wars on my neighbours' houses with $50K-$100K above asking price because people were desperate to get into my neighbourhood! The housing market has been hot here for years with no sign of slowing down much.

    In the new subdivision I'm buying in, there is an investor who apparently already bought 17 homes in Phase 1 and resold them at closing for about 15-20% more than what she paid, depending on house style and upgrades included. Not a bad ROI. She obviously has enough disposable income to pay the 10% deposit the builder requests upfront (plus 25% deposit for any upgrades) so kudos to her. There are those like myself, who prefer to choose their own upgrades and wait a year or more to save money, and then there are others who prefer to move into a ready new-build home and not wait at all. But then they're stuck with a house they may not be 100% happy with either and will have to dish out even more money for modifications.

    @live_wire_oak The independent contractor has already priced it out and I can assure you I'm paying less than what I would for shitty builder upgrades or I would have never even considered doing mods to begin with.

    @J Williams I agree. Unfortunately, builders are not allowed to offer empty shells. City codes do not allow it. And if you subtract anything from their standards list, for example you want to remove a door or a wall, you do not get a deduction for the materials not being used and are instead charged for a modification. It's just stupid.

  • AnnKH

    Soffits are not ideal, but not the end of the world. I would design cabinetry to fit within the soffits before I would tear them out to leave a gap. Normally the reason people eliminate a soffit is to run cabinetry to the ceiling, to avoid an open space above.

    No one has comment on your kitchen design (that I saw - I skimmed through previous posts). Make sure your base cabinets are all drawers - they are far more efficient storage than cabinets. And now is the time to develop a storage plan for the new kitchen. Figure out now where you will put dishes, glasses, flatware, cooking utensils, potholders, spices, baking ingredients, cookie sheets, cutting boards, small appliances. That exercise will help you determine the kind of storage you need - deep or shallow drawers.

    Good luck with your project.

  • fissfiss

    We had the same experience in a SoCal tract neighborhood...it’s weird, but a reality. It is cheaper to accept the standard package, rip it out and upgrade later.

  • Tootsie

    It’s common in Florida also. You add just enough to get an occupancy permit,ie, plywood counters, cheap appliances, sheet linoleum, pedestal sinks... make sure the habitat for humanity gets the appliances and cabinetry you tear out.

  • PRO
    Kristin Petro Interiors, Inc.

    Use the soffits to create a tray ceiling in the kitchen. It will look like an intentional design element.

  • D M

    Thanks @AnnKH! Luckily, I'll have lots of storage space! More than I need. That's one thing I do love about the kitchen. The width along the wall is a little over 16 ft. I have two large 3ft pot drawer stacks on each side of a 36" range. Plus the lower side cabinets for storing oils, and heavier items like food processors, juicer, crockpots, cast iron cookware, etc. that aren't appropriate for drawers. Upper cabinets and towers will home flatware, stemware, herbs/spices, etc. And the cabinetry next to the fridge will serve as my bar area. Crystal stemware in glass cabinets and liquor in lower cabinet next to mini fridge.

    There will be no gap above the cabinets and between the ceiling if I remove the soffit. There will be decorative open shelf uppers above cabinets plus 7 inch furring panel (to hide the wiring and small pipe) and crown up to ceiling. I know it's not everyone's cup of tea to have open shelves but I quite like the look.

    Here are some photos with similar looks:





  • D M

    @fissfiss Yes, thank you! Finally someone who gets it! ;)

  • D M

    @Tootsie No appliances included. I'm buying what I want there. Least of my problems. lol My neighbour sold the builder standard thermofoil kitchen for $3K. I intend to do the same with my kitchen and bathroom cabinetry. People buy them for cheap renos and basement kitchens/bathrooms.

  • PRO
    Kristin Petro Interiors, Inc.

    You have to design for the house you have. If you like the open shelves (I agree they would be a nightmare to style and to keep clean), but cannot have them because of the soffits, then find another design element you like equally as well. Design is a sum of its parts. Sometimes you have to give some things up to achieve a cohesive, well-designed space. I would often take a look at some of the designs my employees were working on and I would suggest they remove something. And often, what I was suggesting they remove was the item they were most tied to. But when they removed it, everything else they pulled together worked so much better. Don't try to twist the design into a knot to make one thing work. Get rid of it and see the big picture.

  • D M

    @Kristin Petro Interiors, Inc. The soffit above the stove is not the problem. That will be removed. The builder adds that in to cut costs on cabinetry and to not leave an empty space. Also, I don't know about everyone else but I clean my house weekly so dust is not an issue. It's the side soffit above the window and sliding door that is an issue right now. I'm trying to get the builder to move the ductwork as it was not built this way in other homes with my same floorplan. Perhaps the trades went rogue. lol I just heard back and they may actually cooperate. Wish me luck!

  • PRO
    Debbi Washburn

    First question - how are they venting out the stove? Where are they running the ductwork? Is that an outside wall?

    Second - I would suggest taking down the wood framed soffit on the stove wall as it is now but sort of rebuild it for your decorative items using open cabinets and then run a crown across the top and down the other soffit. Just integrate the 2 .

    As far as decorative items, mount them down with a museum wax so they don't fall over and then you can just swiffer up there

    Pardon my amateur mock up

    Good luck with your new home!

  • D M

    @Debbi Washburn Yes, it is an outside wall so it's being vented out. You can see all the ductwork and electrical in the pics I posted. I was planning on taking down the soffit above the stove and hiding the everything behind a furring panel. That's not an issue. My question was about the side soffit. Would it look ok if it was cut and remained only over the window portion, or run it straight through to the back wall and redesign the upper cabinets portion and lose my pottery shelves, or pay someone after the fact to move the duct and re-do the drywall. The last option is the one I'm trying to avoid because it's an added expense I hadn't budgeted for.

    Great tip on the museum wax! I'll have to hunt that down. In my current home I have a corner shelf that displays a few of my pottery items. I do take them down when I dust so I can get in there and dust them out too but I like the wax idea to keep them more stabilized. Thank you!

  • PRO
    Debbi Washburn

    Thats what I was trying to show in my mock up - leave the soffit hiding the duct. I don't think it will look good just cut off since there is also a bump out from the wall hiding that duct. I can't imagine it would be easy to move that otherwise it wouldn't be the way it is.

    If you feel like you have a good amount of storage you could also come down from the soffit to the right of the cabinets with a sheetrock bump to match the size of soffit and just shorten the run of the cabinets then you are not fighting the 2 things...Maybe do cubbies for some cute storage or do a pantry piece there for mops and brooms so the soffit traveling on the top would look ok.

    Here's my (bad) mock up

    If you are working with a kitchen designer, they should be able to show you this in a 3d prespective.

  • cpartist

    Also, I don't know about everyone else but I clean my house weekly so dust is not an issue

    I have a weekly housekeeper who is excellent. In my old condo above my fridge I had open shelving like you're contemplating. The stove was on an entirely different wall and there was no gas in the condo and yes, I had a powerful vent hood. There was still dust and grime up there weekly that needed cleaning.

    While your inspiration pics look fabulous, the reality is actually quite different.

  • J Williams

    What about going the opposite direction, and putting the cubbies on the bottom?

  • PRO
    Flo Mangan

    Reminder, new flooring might be required when you take out base cabinets. I get where you are coming from. Toronto housing has been crazy for decades. Just be smart about what you do when.

  • M Miller

    “A waffle ceiling would be $5000 per room!”

    I believe you mean coffered ceiling. When taking on this kind of project it’s best to get the terminology down. You cannot imagine how many posts we see on here from projects in trouble just because there was a communication issue and mixup in terminology. Having said that, you do not want a coffered ceiling in this house. Ixnay that plan.

    As to the venting in the kitchen, this kind of builder will very likely install ductwork for the kitchen exhaust that is too small. You want an 8” diameter duct to go from the hood to the outside. Pay the upcharge if there is one for an 8” duct. It’s worth it in both efficiency and noise factor.

  • J Williams

    I don’t think they are in Toronto, I think they said Guelph.

  • worthy

    Last time I looked, Guelph wasn't in the Toronto GTA.

    The OP's approach is not altogether irrational as long as the idea is to get into a suburban home quickly that suits her style. As long as she doesn't overimprove. And is not counting on some immediate windfall profit. (FWIW, my mortgage investors have actually been calling mortgages on suburban properties which have fallen in value in the past two years, though they seem to be stabilizing lately.)

    During the '90s slump--which ran for 17 years(!) one of the tract builders I know actually bought a Greenpark home for himself, then renovated it.

  • D M

    @M Miller No, I meant waffle ceiling, a description typically used and often interchangeable with coffered. https://www.houzz.com/photos/waffle-ceiling-phbr0lbl-bl~l_64895 Coffered has intersecting beams which may vary in width and length, while waffle is typically evenly spaced creating squares. I did not go with any upgraded ceiling option. I was merely giving an example of typical upgrade costs.

  • D M

    @cpartist I have open shelving units in my current home. While I agree that dust can build up (as it can anywhere in a home) wiping them down is not a problem for me.

  • A S

    Debbi’s image is much better than I pictured in my head. It sounds like you are married to this idea so just go with it. Have a soffit on the side with duct work and not the other.

  • lindahambleton

    What did your neighbor (the picture of the kitchen you posted) do about the soffit in his kitchen? I couldn’t see that window wall.

  • D M

    @worthy I know. I grew up in Toronto and currently live in Guelph. The new home is elsewhere. Most people aren't familiar with outlying suburbs though, so it's easier to say GTA. To mention towns like Rockwood, Acton, Fergus and Elora that border the GTA boundaries would confuse most people.

  • D M

    @lindahambleton He only had the soffit over the stove wall cabinets, which was removed as I intended to do. They didn't put one on the side. That's why we're all surprised. It was never mentioned to me and none of the previous homes built that are my exact same model have this side bulkhead.

  • margaret T

    It looks like the duct running above the window is only feeding a single register, is that right? If so, there may be a way to replace that larger duct with two smaller ducts, or install an in-duct fan in a single smaller duct to provide the same airflow through a smaller diameter duct. If the duct and the sofit could be reduced to a 7" x 7" size, you would be able to put furring and crown along it to match the 7" furring above the uppers.

    What room upstairs is getting that heat? If is is a bathroom, you could consider in floor heat or some other heating option and take out the duct entirely. Also, if it is a larger room, is there a reason that the register has to be above the window? Could the register be above the point where the duct run goes vertically up the wall? Could the duct run all the way to the ceiling of the second floor and provide heat from above instead of from below? Drywall and duct modification should not be a huge expense after the fact, but if there is a way to heat that room without the register in that location and do it now, I would strongly suggest it. Otherwise, have them at least take out the portion of the soffit where the duct is missing and make the soffit only as wide as the duct, not the full 12", so you have less to repair later.

  • J Williams

    Who is confused. You mentioned Guelph. The way things are going these days people are commuting from Barrie and St Catherine’s into Toronto.

  • shead

    I like Debbi's idea above. As for cleaning, I'd tape pieces of wax paper on each open shelf and just throw away each time you clean. Since the shelves will be high, you won't notice the dust as often as if at a lower level. Obviously, however, I'm not neurotic about those things. Once a month or so would be as often as I'd change the wax paper ;)

  • D M

    @margaret T Above is the master ensuite and yes, there is just the one register. It should have gone up the side and into the floor as it did with the other houses but they somehow closed off the space with too much woodwork, as shown in the one image with the circle, so they had to extend it over.

    I like your suggestions. I think smaller ducts would work and a 7" furring panel with crown moulding to match the back wall would be fine with me. Plan B is also to request removing half the framing so it's less drywalling and patching to do after the fact if I get someone to remove the duct after closing. But I'm still hoping the builder will remove the duct and soffit altogether. I'll find out next week if they'll accommodate me as again, it was never mentioned to me in the plans.

  • D M

    @shead Haha Wax paper. Love it. Clever idea but the poor forests! lol I'm a clean freak though so the dust must go. Luckily, I don't hate cleaning and love a clean house. Dust is the least of my concerns.

  • D M

    @J Williams I think someone got confused when I mentioned I currently live in Guelph and thought the new house was also in Guelph. And yeah, those long commutes are insane. When I first moved to Guelph from Toronto, I was working in Mississauga and commuted for about a year. It was torture. Hours of my life wasted at a standstill. I don't know how people do that for years and years. I used to know one person who commuted from Niagara Falls to Barrie. I can't even imagine.

  • live_wire_oak

    If you don’t have soffits then you can’t have your “waffle ceiling”. No matter how many times someone uses a term incorrectly, it does not make it correct. 🤦🏾‍♀️

  • Junk*Salvation

    Curious question, as I've not built a home with this type of mindset. Why can't you just ask the builder to NOT finish those rooms and pay less upfront? Why waste the materials to begin with? Seems so very wasteful. I would think that any amount saved upfront from not finishing the rooms would also help you in demo costs, plus be less wasteful. Just ask for everything plumbed out, etc...painted and so forth, but leave the kitchen & bathrooms without cabinetry, and whatever else you plan to rip out to upgrade. Just a thought...no idea how feasible.

  • chiflipper

    Junk*Salvation, the issue here is the mortgage holder (bank). The loan is based on "completed home value". When paying cash you can delete (whatever) so long as the local Gov body will grant a Certificate of Occupancy. Some County's will issue a CoO if the structure passes electrical (main service panel & x-number of outlets) and plumbing (working water source and toilet) inspections...common practice in rural areas. Rcv'd CoC in Maricopa Cnty, AZ and Potter Cnty, PA for these home "shells".

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