Everything You Need to Know Before You Replace Your Kitchen Cabinets

October 04 2022 – Nelson Agredo

One of the most dramatic ways to transform your kitchen is replacing your kitchen cabinets. Not only will new kitchen cabinets completely change the aesthetic, but they can also totally transform the functionality of your kitchen, too. And when you’ve been working on renovating your kitchen, finally getting to the stage where it’s time to bring in your new cabinets is a big accomplishment.

But because the kitchen cabinets are so important, it’s crucial that you replace and install them correctly. Unfortunately, there’s a lot that can go wrong with kitchen cabinet installation if you’re not fully prepared. And, sometimes, those mishaps are incredibly costly, not to mention extremely frustrating. 

That’s why we’ve made this guide to help you fully prepare for your kitchen cabinet replacement. Now that you’ve made it this far with your project, let’s make sure the rest of your renovation goes off without any major (or even minor) problems!

Here’s a list of questions to consider before you dive into replacing your kitchen cabinets:

  • Are you replacing your kitchen cabinets yourself? If your kitchen renovation is totally DIY, then the prep work you do before you get started is even more important. Making sure you have all the right tools ready to go will help the cabinet install go smoothly. In addition to the right tools, you’ll want to be prepared to handle a variety of aspects that come with kitchen cabinet installation, including basic carpentry, electrical work, and plumbing. Having experts on-hand can help you with questions that might arise during installation. And, in a pinch, knowing that a pro can come and help with a certain part of the install you’re less confident about will put you at ease once you get started.

  • Do you know what your exact budget is? It’s easy for home renovation projects to get expensive quickly, even if you’re doing all (or most) of the work yourself. Keeping track of your budget, including actual costs of supplies, professional labor, etc. will make sure you know what’s realistic. This is why understanding all of the details of a kitchen cabinet install is so important. While you might have considered the cost of the cabinets themselves in your budget, you may have overlooked other details, like flooring, new appliances to fit a new layout, labor, etc. And, as always, plan to pay more than you expect so that surprise costs don’t ruin your project completely. 

  • Are your walls and floors ready for installation? Having your kitchen prepped for cabinet installation is essential. Overlooking your walls and floors can dramatically affect how smoothly your cabinet installation goes. In some cases, improperly prepped floors and walls can even damage your cabinets or your entire project altogether. In most cases, you’ll want to be sure that your cabinets are installed on the sub-flooring, not the actual flooring. You’ll also want your area to be spotless, which means sweeping and vacuuming everything before installation is a must. Even a few small pieces of stray wood on the floor can result in your cabinets not being installed correctly. 

  • Have you assembled everything so that it’s ready to be installed? Because you want your kitchen to be spotless for installation, you’ll want to have all of your cabinets assembled first. If you have the space, assemble your cabinets in another room so that you can keep your kitchen area clean and tidy. Assembling your cabinets first will help you make sure that everything goes together smoothly and it gives you another opportunity to measure before starting your installation. While it can be tempting to install a cabinet as soon as it’s ready, having everything assembled first will make sure that you don’t have to go back and tear something out. Remember, kitchen cabinet installations are like a puzzle: You want to have all of your pieces laid out first so that you’re confident everything will go together the right way once you get started with the actual install. 

  • Have you triple checked your plans and measurements? Even though it’s exciting to get started, kitchen cabinet installation is not something you just want to jump into. Planning and preparing everything will make sure you’re not disappointed with the final result (or forced to tear things out and start again). Before bringing your cabinets in for install, you’ll want to make sure that all of your basic electrical and plumbing work is done. Putting a cabinet in before a pipe is placed or a wire is laid can cause major headaches right as your project is finishing. You’ll also want to triple check all of your measurements so that you know your cabinets are ready to be installed. Knowing exactly where all of your cabinets are going, including their orientation in your kitchen, will help ensure that you don’t have to bring cabinets in and out multiple times. 

Pro Tip: One of the biggest mistakes homeowners make when installing kitchen cabinets is measuring the height of the underside of the countertop with the finished floor. If your finished floor is too thick and the cabinets haven’t been measured properly, appliances (like dishwashers) can be impossible to install or replace.

  • Are you ready to install your uppers first? Installing your upper cabinets before your lower cabinets makes sure that you have the room you need to work. Because upper cabinets need to be held in place, having lowers in the way can make this task more difficult — you also run the risk of damaging lower cabinets if you have to climb on them. When you have the choice, install your uppers first. When there’s not an option, prep your lower surfaces as much as possible to minimize the risk of damage.

These questions might seem basic, but they’re critical to consider before starting any kitchen cabinet replacement project. The more you prep and plan, the easier your project will be — and the better the result. Kitchen renovations are a lot of work, but the reward can be huge. Considering all of your options, including changing the overall footprint of your kitchen for better flow and function, can help you get the dream result you’ve been wanting. 

Now that you’ve answered these questions, here are a few more things to consider before you get started with your kitchen cabinet installation. While there’s no “right” or “wrong” answer to any of these, it’s good to know your options and the pros and cons that come with each.

Kitchen Cabinet Installation Pros and Cons List

Pre-Fabricated vs Custom Cabinets

The cost difference between pre-fabricated and custom cabinets is noticeable to say the least. While pre-fabricated cabinets are typically made from materials that allow them to be more affordable, there are plenty of creative hacks that can make them look and feel more custom. Of course, the quality of truly custom built cabinets can’t be matched, which means that custom cabinets will last longer and fare better with daily wear and tear. 

Knowing what your budget allows for will, of course, determine which route you’ll take when purchasing your kitchen cabinets. Remember, however, that a small budget doesn’t necessarily mean that your kitchen renovation won’t be dramatic — or beautiful. And, likewise, paying a lot of money for custom cabinets doesn’t guarantee that you’ll love the way your kitchen turns out. Do your research and know what you’re hoping for with your project’s look and feel. With some planning and creativity, you can completely transform your kitchen cabinets no matter your overall budget. 

Open Shelving vs. Closed Cabinets

Open shelving can be beautiful in a kitchen space when it’s done correctly. Not only is it oftentimes a more affordable option than cabinets with doors, but it totally transforms a space, making a kitchen feel more open and spacious. Of course, having everything in your kitchen out on display isn’t always practical or desirable. If you’re considering having open shelving in your new kitchen, determine what you’ll put on display and decide if you’re willing to “maintain” the look and feel you’re after. 

Doing a mix of closed cabinets with some open shelving is a practical way to create a completely different look and feel without sacrificing storage for less attractive appliances and kitchenware. 

Floors First vs. Cabinets First

There’s a bit of a debate about whether or not you should install your kitchen floors before your kitchen cabinets or vice versa. Depending on who you ask, there’s a clear right or wrong way to go about your project. That of course means that there really isn’t just one way to get started. If you have a big reason why you need to do one before the other, the reality is that your project can still turn out just fine as long as you’re prepared.

When installing floors first, you avoid having to cut your flooring to fit around cabinets and appliances. This saves work, headaches, and the potential of not having flooring where you need it if you change the footprint of your kitchen in the future. The other benefit of installing flooring first is that you aren’t forced to install quarter rounds alongside your cabinets, which saves you time and money.

The problem with installing floors first, however, is that you waste flooring materials — a lot of what you lay down will be covered by cupboards and appliances. The other issue with floor-first installation is that materials can expand and contract (especially wood flooring), which means that appliances, cabinets, and countertops can be impacted after installation.

The only time you should definitely not install floors before your cabinets is if you’re using a floating floor. Because of the weight of the cabinets and appliances, floating floors can actually fall apart if they’re installed first.

If you choose to install cabinets first, one of the biggest advantages is that you won’t risk damaging your new floors. While you might have to do a little more work upfront to cut materials to fit around your kitchen’s footprint, you’ll be confident that once your floors are installed other aspects of your project won’t cause any damage. 

If you’re not doing the kitchen renovation yourself, ask your contractor what their plan is and make sure that you agree with their method. Most of the time an experienced contractor will have plenty of reasons why they choose to do one or the other first and you can trust their expertise. In general you’ll notice that contractors will choose to install cabinets before flooring because it saves on cost — you don’t use flooring that won’t be seen. If you or your contractor choose to install flooring before cabinets, it’s most likely because there’s a unique aspect to your design and construction that requires floors to be finished first. This can include having to elevate your total flooring height by more than two inches in order to ensure that your countertops are at the right height.

Once your kitchen cabinet installation is complete, remember to take care of your new cabinets by purchasing custom kitchen cabinet mats that will protect them from any potential damage caused by liquids, spills, or water leaks. Check out our selection of custom kitchen cabinet mats by clicking here.

READ MORE: The Best Way to Waterproof Your Under The Sink Cabinets