Kitchen islands are freestanding structures in cooking areas that provide additional counter space for work, dining and storage. Some also feature cooktops and sinks.
Whether you go big or small, adding an island can make your kitchen more functional — and perhaps more pleasant. According to a 2019 survey from the National Association of the Remodeling Industry, or NARI, 74% of survey respondents have a greater sense of enjoyment at home after a kitchen upgrade.
Here's what to know before adding a kitchen island.
What does a kitchen island cost?
While adding an island to your existing kitchen design can be costly, the project is relatively inexpensive when compared with a full kitchen remodel. Kitchen islands cost an average of $3,000 to $5,000, according to the home services marketplace HomeAdvisor.
“The cost can vary greatly depending on size, features and existing conditions,” says Josh Beisley, an estimator and former project manager with Building Specialists Inc. in Virginia's Roanoke Valley. “If you want to include a sink or cooktop, and there are no existing plumbing, gas or electrical connections in the right location, that drives up the cost.” Costs vary depending on your location, too.
A 4-foot island with custom cabinets and a granite top, but with no sink or appliances, would cost around $3,500, according to Beisley, who's worked in the home building industry for 15 years. If you go larger, he notes, a similar 8-foot island with a sink would run about $9,500.
Beisley says that the cabinets and countertops are the “largest single-ticket item” when adding an island. In most cases, building codes also require outlets to be installed on the island. Even if a building permit isn’t required in your locale for the island itself, you’ll still need to secure an electrical permit for the wiring and a permit to move plumbing and gas lines if you're including a sink and cooktop.
How to plan for your kitchen island project
Determine the goal
Are you primarily looking to add more counter space, a sink or a cooktop? Prioritizing what's most important to you can help you decide where to spend money and where to trim costs.
When Randall and Tammy Cullers of Broadway, Virginia, remodeled their kitchen, they added a kitchen island to increase counter space. Although the Cullers’ daughters are grown, they still enjoy preparing meals together for family gatherings.
“We were pretty happy with the existing layout of the kitchen,” Tammy says, “but I needed more work surface. When the girls and I tried to cook together, it wasn’t a pretty sight.”
Randall drew up their ideas, and they worked with a local cabinet maker to finalize the product, which includes cabinets for storage and a few electrical outlets. The decision to not add a sink or cooktop to the island saved them money.
Create a budget
How much are you willing to spend on your kitchen island? Once you have a figure in mind, you’ll know how large you can make it and what types of features you can include.
Make two lists: one with your basic requirements for the project and another with nice-to-have features. Then, consult with a general contractor for an estimate.
“The general contractor will review the existing utilities and constraints for things like the plumbing,” Beisley says. “Once your consultation assures the cost of the work aligns with your budget, you can finalize the specs and design and obtain a permit.”
Do your research
When shopping for a contractor, look for someone who has experience in the type of job you want done — in this case, someone who’s installed plenty of kitchen islands. Before hiring someone:
Ask your friends. The best way to find a general contractor is by asking friends or co-workers for referrals. If they’ve had a kitchen remodel done recently, ask them who did it and if they’re happy with the results. Or check out listings on credible sites like HomeAdvisor or NARI.
Visit the kitchen showroom at a local appliance retailer. Gather ideas about what you want your kitchen island to include. Ask the designer there for referrals for a general contractor with kitchen island experience.
Read reviews. Once you get a few names, look them up online and read customer reviews. Look for any violations or complaints on file with the Better Business Bureau.
Schedule an interview. Set up a consultation with the contractor you’re most interested in hiring and request an estimate. Ask them for referrals from happy customers, apart from their online reviews, and contact those homeowners for their input. Also, ask to see the contractor’s license and insurance certificates to make sure they’re up to date. If you’re unsure what licenses and insurance are required, contact your local building official.
Tips to make your kitchen island more affordable
Choose different materials
Do you really need a marble countertop? If you’re over budget, a quartz countertop will give you a similar look for less money.
Reduce the size
A smaller island will cost less than a larger one if you stick to a standard-sized base. But think carefully about this one. The Cullers now wish they had gone bigger.
Add things later
Beisley suggests that if you don’t have enough money now, do the basics and add other options down the line. “Additional lighting, for example, can be added later,” he says. Other things you could add later include small appliances like a wine cooler.
Make it movable
"If the furniture remains movable, you don’t have to worry about building codes and permits," Beisley says. That could lower the overall cost and complexity of the project. It might also be possible to save money by upcycling an antique or vintage cabinet that you already own. In this case, the cost could be reduced to refinishing the piece and adding the countertop.