Installing Kitchen Cabinets

Learn how install your own kitchen cabinets, a money saving step in your kitchen renovation.
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Sink drywall screws into the wall, through the shims, securing the cabinet to the wall.

By: Amy McEvoy

Installing your own kitchen cabinets is a great way to save money on your kitchen renovation. Using pre-made or stock cabinets will make the job easier and allow for a quicker installation project.

Kitchen Cabinet Choices

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Freshen Up What You Have

If existing cabinets are of good quality, in excellent working condition and the layout functions well, the most affordable option is to simply paint or restain them. Another alternative, refacing, involves installing a new veneer on the exterior of the cabinet box and replacing the doors and drawer fronts, and should be handled by a professional. Design by Candice Olsen

Costly Doors and Drawer Fronts

If you decide to reface rather than replace your cabinets, be forewarned: Doors and drawer fronts account for the greatest expense. "Sixty to 70 percent of the cost of the cabinet is the door," says Jeff Cannata, past president of the National Kitchen & Bath Association (NKBA) and president of Designer's Showcase Kitchens & Baths Inc. in Carol Stream, Ill. "So, if you're paying someone to put a new door on or a new drawer in ... it might be more affordable to purchase all new cabinets." And with new cabinets, there's an added bonus: the freedom to explore different kitchen layouts.

Starting Fresh With Custom Cabinets

Once the decision has been made to install new cabinets, there are other choices ahead. Are custom cabinets required or will stock cabinets fit the bill? Custom cabinets are built to exact specifications and offer endless design possibilities. This option requires the longest lead time and is the most expensive route, but it also allows you to include cool hidden conveniences like this built-in refrigerator, cleverly disguised as part of the cabinetry. Photo courtesy of GE Monogram

Best of Both Worlds: Semicustom

Semicustom cabinets are just that: partially custom. While the cabinets are made to the homeowner's size requirements, the manufacturer produces them in predetermined increments. Often a spacer may be needed to conceal unused wall space, and that sacrifices storage. The range of materials, designs, finishes and accessories available is not as broad as entirely custom cabinets, but semicustom cabinets cost less while still allowing more flexibility than stock cabinets. Design by Rebekah Zaveloff

Extraordinary Results With Stock Cabinets

Stock cabinets, which are the least expensive of new cabinet options, are premade and come in standard sizes. Though stock cabinets often get a bad rap in terms of quality of construction, there are many on the market that are made of solid wood. "Eight out of 10 kitchens could probably be done with stock cabinetry. And what I mean by that is a good designer can design with any line," Jeff says. "Anyone can say, 'Oh, I need this cabinet to be 21 1/2 inches.' But a good designer should be able to design using a 21-inch cabinet." Design by Thomas A. Conway

Opt for Durability

No matter what type of cabinet is selected, it's important to evaluate the quality of hinges, doors, drawer systems and finish. Homeowners should choose cabinets that offer at least a five-year warranty, according to Al Pattison, president of NKBA.

Select the Right Door Style

Next, consider the construction type and door style. Framed cabinets, which are popular in traditional kitchens, have a front frame around the cabinet opening. The door attaches to the frame. Frameless, or European-style cabinets, have no front frame. The door attaches directly to the side of the cabinet. Frameless cabinets, which are often used in contemporary kitchens, offer an advantage over framed cabinets. Because there is no front frame, there is open access to the cabinet interior. Photo courtesy of Erinn Valencich.

From: Erinn Valencich

Add Hidden Functionality

After giving thought to the cabinets' exterior, turn some attention to their intended use and interior features. "It used to be that we would place cabinetry in the room and make it functional," says Al. "Now every cabinet has a purpose." There are pullout drawers for pots and pans, oversize drawers for baking sheets and even high-tech under-counter cooling drawers that keep beverages and snacks within easy reach. Accessories like lazy Susans, built-in spice racks, drawer organizers and other cabinet extras make the kitchen a much more efficient and enjoyable place. Photo courtesy of GE Monogram

Complete the Look With Hardware

As a finishing touch, add pulls, knobs and handles that complement your kitchen's design style to cabinets. Hardware comes in a wide variety of styles, finishes and colors at all price points, and the right hardware contributes to a truly finished look.

Installing cabinets is still a big job, however, and it will require a friend or installation assistant–particularly when you start hanging the upper cabinets.

Your first step in the installation process is to prepare the area where your new cabinets will go. This step can be a big one or little one depending on what currently exists in this area. You may need to pull out old cabinets, patch and paint walls on which the new cabinets will be built, finish or renovate flooring in your design space, and possibly remove appliances and shut off the water and electricity in your renovation space.

Once your renovation space is prepared, you will want to measure the layout for your new space carefully and precisely. You may end up using your existing cabinets as a pattern; alternatively, you could seek out a template from a design center to create your new space. Either way, this step is essential to ensuring that the cabinets you will be installing will work in the available space. Sketches, whether professionally made or not, are important tools to assist you in this step. Don't forget to account for appliances such as your stove and refrigerator when making your measurements, and be sure to factor in your range hood if installing upper cabinets.

When your plans and measurements are prepared, and you have all of the cabinets and tools ready for installation, the assembly can begin. Upper cabinets are typically installed first so that you don't have to awkwardly work over lower cabinets later. You will want to assemble and install your cabinets first without their doors on to ensure that they are installed evenly and securely. You will need to find the studs of the support wall using a stud finder prior to actually installing the cabinets. You can then either hang your cabinets onto a support beam or French cleat screwed into the studs, or screw the cabinets directly into the studs.

Once the upper cabinets are installed, you can begin work on the lower cabinets. You will also need to locate the studs to screw the lower cabinets into. With the lower cabinet installation you may need to make cutouts for any electrical outlets or plumbing hookups that may be needed for your appliances. You will also want to ensure that the tops of your lower cabinets are level as you will be installing countertops on top of them at a later point in the renovation. It is important to note that it is generally preferable to begin the installation in a corner and work your way in. It's also a good idea to dry-fit the cabinets before securing them to the wall.

Finally, you can add your countertops. Caulk them into place, then install your appliances. Once everything is in place according to the design layout, you can attach your cabinet doors and install any hardware to complete your renovation project.

Getting Started: 10 Steps to a New Kitchen
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