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Cabinets > Costs
RTA & Stock
Installation & Finishing
|Cabinets represent the largest expenditure for the vast majority of kitchen construction and kitchen remodeling projects. The general rule of thumb is that about half of the total budget should be devoted to cabinets. Some designers and kitchen experts recommend a number as high as 70% of the overall budget and virtually nobody suggests a number that is less than 40%. The takeaway is that cabinets are both an expensive and a critically important component of the kitchen. They are also the largest component, providing a combination of form and function and largely shaping the look and feel of the kitchen.|
this section, we explore the average costs associated with various
cabinet configurations. It bears noting that these average numbers are
provided for illustrative purposes and that actual costs will vary by
region and by provider. Certain areas have either higher or lower
average charges for labor and higher or lower average costs for
materials. Still, if you are being quoted costs that are significantly
different from the averages provided here, then you may want to
consider alternative options.
Whether purchasing RTA, stock, semi-custom, or custom cabinets, the total price tag will depend not only on the materials and amount of customization, but also on the actual number of individual cabinets required. Generally, total pricing is computed on a cabinet by cabinet basis. Since every kitchen is different, we will use a 10' x 10' basic U-shaped kitchen as our base case for estimating costs. If your kitchen is materially larger, then your costs will be correspondingly higher.
We begin our discussion by examining the typical costs associated with RTA and stock cabinets. These are the least expensive options. They are mass manufactured and come with a limited range of designs. If you need new cabinets because the old ones are beyond refacing or because you are moving into a new construction, but you find yourself on a tight budget, then RTA or stock cabinets are the appropriate choice.
Because they are not pre-assembled and may involve weaker joinery, RTA cabinets are less expensive than stock cabinets. RTA cabinets are also available through a large number of online sellers, which further drives down their costs. The cost of RTA cabinets largely depends on the materials used. Among leading online retailers, veneered plywood boxes with solid maple doors cost on the order of $100 to $140 per cabinet (more for oversized units such as sink cabinets or pantry cabinets). Veneered plywood boxes with oak doors cost on the order of $50 to $90 per cabinet. Thermofoiled plywood construction costs on the order of $125 to $180 per cabinet. Veneered plywood boxes with solid cherry or mahogany doors cost on the order of $150 to $350 per cabinet.
Given these average cabinet costs, a full set of RTA cabinets for our base case kitchen would run between $1,000 and $5,000, with most options falling in the $2,000 to $3,000 range. Considering that most RTA cabinets offer all wood construction which incorporate plywood boxes and solid wood doors, this is a great deal relative to stock or semi-custom cabinets, which cost significantly more for those same materials. However, going the RTA route puts more of an onus on you to make sure the measurements are correct and then to go ahead and put together the cabinets once the flat-packed boxes have been delivered. Is this worth thousands of dollars in savings and better quality materials? The answer will vary by consumer.
Stock cabinets from online retailers cost 50% to 100% more than RTA cabinets made from the same materials. In addition, stock cabinets incur a higher shipping cost as they come pre-assembled rather than flat-packed. At home improvement stores, such as Home Depot or Lowe's, stock cabinets are usually made with particle board or MDF, but actually cost more than similar RTA cabinets made utilizing all-wood construction. Of course, the extra cost also comes with the peace of mind of actually being able to see and feel how the cabinets look in the store's showroom.
If you are working from a limited budget and know that RTA or stock cabinets are your only viable option, you will be able to realize far greater value from the same level of investment if you go with RTA cabinets. For under $4,000, you can put together an entire kitchen of cherry or mahogany cabinets with solid plywood boxes that will have the look of a semi-custom cabinet set worth three to four times as much. Your dollar will not go as far with stock cabinets - chances are that the boxes will be particle board or MDF and the doors made of a less expensive and less elegant wood product. If your primary concern is not wanting to spend time assembling the RTA cabinets, you can consider hiring a local contractor to do the actual assembly. Chances are that the combined cost of the RTA cabinets with the contractor's fee for assembly will still be no higher than the cost of buying and shipping stock cabinets.
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We next turn our attention to the typical costs associated with semi-custom cabinets. These are a more customizable and generally higher quality version of stock cabinets. Semi-custom cabinets come in a wider range of sizes, layouts, designs, finishes, decorative trims, and shelving configurations. In essence, semi-custom cabinets allow a substantial level of personalization at a materially lower cost than custom cabinets.
The cost of semi-custom cabinets is about 80% to 150% higher than stock cabinets, meaning that a full set of semi-custom cabinets for our base case kitchen would cost in the $7,500 to $15,000 range. A number of factors will affect where you end up in that range. Pricing absolutely varies by manufacturer, so it makes sense to comparison shop. In addition, the options that you select will further move the needle on the final cost by 50% or more. Multi-drawer base cabinets and pantry cabinets cost more than regular single-drawer base cabinets. Similarly, cabinets which incorporate specialized shelving or lazy susans will be more expensive than cabinets with standard shelving. Wall oven cabinets will ramp up costs relative to having a freestanding range. Door designs such as arches and more intricate edge profiles will also serve to increase the cost. For wood cabinets, a painted, glazed, distressed, or burnished finish will typically price at 10% to 20% higher than a basic stained finish. The species of wood will also make a difference, with cherry or mahogany costing at least 15% to 25% more than oak or maple.
The quality of construction and the materials used will also have a significant impact on the price of semi-custom cabinetry. Glued or pinned particle board cabinet boxes and drawers will cost a fraction of what dovetailed solid wood construction will run. Veneered or laminated MDF doors will be substantially cheaper than solid wood doors made from a quality species of wood. Frameless cabinets with slab doors will usually cost somewhat less than framed cabinets with raised panel doors due to the latter's more involved material and construction requirements.
Semi-custom cabinets are considered to be the mid- to higher-range option. If you have a budget of $20,000 to $40,000 for your kitchen construction or remodeling project, then chances are that semi-custom cabinets are the appropriate product category for your needs. Generally, semi-custom cabinets are sold through showrooms at authorized dealers, home improvement retailers, and specialized stores. You can also contact manufacturers directly to find out the nearest bricks and mortar locations to sample their cabinetry wares.
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The final cabinet type we consider from a cost perspective is custom cabinets. Without question, custom cabinets represent the high-end of the cabinetry spectrum. Here, every aspect of construction, from the materials used, to the joinery employed, to the sizes configured, to the designs created, to the finish utilized, can be customized to your exact specifications.
Custom cabinets are by far the most labor-intensive and, by extension, the most expensive option available. A full set of custom cabinets will cost from $16,000 at the low end to as high as $100,000 for large kitchens incorporating intricate hand-crafted designs and exotic materials. Many custom cabinet sets will fall in the $25,000 to $35,000 range, not including installation. Consequently, for an overall kitchen construction of remodeling project, you would need a total budget of at least $40,000, and preferably $50,000, to seriously consider going the full-on custom cabinet route. For larger kitchens and unique preferences, the budgetary need is even higher.
With a custom cabinet order, you not only get control over the details and a higher quality of construction, but also a more personalized service. In most cases, the cabinet maker will visit your kitchen, make exact measurements, collaborate with you to select optimal materials, help you to navigate design and finish options, keep you apprised of work progress, and, once the cabinets are completed, personally perform the installation.
Be wary of cabinet makers who offer to make a full set of kitchen cabinets at price levels that sound too good to be true. There are numerous mentions of "miracle deals" on custom cabinets in online forums dealing with home improvement and kitchen remodeling. If a cabinet maker offers to make a full set of kitchen cabinets for under $12,000, that should set off your internal warning system. Such a "deal" may simply involve the cabinet maker taking a set of RTA cabinets and assembling them. Make sure you perform complete due diligence on the service provider and ask to see samples of prior work. In addition, be wary of cabinet makers who try to compel you to go with a particular material or design against your wishes. Given the price that you are paying, the cabinet maker should be willing to accommodate your needs to the fullest possible extent. When you are presented with price estimates, do not be shy about asking for a detailed cost breakdown and an accompanying explanation of individual charges.
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Another component associated with cabinets that often requires separate purchasing is the hardware. Stock and RTA cabinets usually come without door handles or backplates, so these require separate purchasing. In addition, you may want to incorporate lazy susans, rollout shelves, cutlery separators, and other items which compartmentalize and enhance access to cabinet space.
Individual door knobs or pulls are not particularly expensive, but given how many are required for a typical kitchen, the costs can add up quickly. Basic door handles run in the $2 to $8 range. Better materials, such as stainless steel, cost in the $20 to $50 range. For our base case kitchen, there would be around 30 handles required which, at a median cost of $30 for stainless steel would come to nearly $1,000 just for the hardware. Clearly, this is not an insignificant cost. At the highest end, luxury door pulls can cost as much as $300 or $400 apiece. However, few can afford, or find it worthwhile, to outfit their kitchens with $10,000 worth of door pulls.
If you are having custom cabinets made, you may want to spend some time identifying high quality door knobs or pulls which will complement the look of the cabinets. Generally, if you are looking at more than $60 or so per handle, you are likely overpaying substantially. There is an entire universe of exceptional knobs and pulls for well under $50 and given the number of individual units you will need to purchase to outfit your entire kitchen, it makes sense to do a bit of comparison shopping to find a good value.
With respect to other hardware types, lazy susans for blind corner cabinets typically run $80 to $150. Trash receptacle or wire basket rollouts usually cost between $50 and $100. Individual cabinet organizers, spice racks, or spice drawer inserts are usually around $20 to $40. Generally, you will be able to find greater selection and better pricing for these items online, along with detailed consumer reviews and feedback, than at specific retail stores.
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Another set of expenses associated with kitchen cabinets is installation and finishing costs. After they have been delivered and, in the case of RTA cabinets, assembled, the cabinets have to be physically installed inside the kitchen. Certain RTA and stock cabinets come unfinished, so they also require finishing, whether it be painting, staining, or varnishing.
For installation, service providers can either charge per hour, per cabinet, per linear foot, or as a set percentage of the cabinets' purchase cost. The benefit of getting charged per cabinet or per linear foot is that the price stays the same no matter how long the installation takes. However, the drawback is that service providers are incentivized to get the job done as quickly as possible which can lead to lower quality work. With getting charged on a per hour basis, there is a better chance that the service provider will put in the necessary time to get the installation done properly. However, the cost can balloon if the installation takes longer than expected. Moreover, certain unscrupulous service providers can "milk" the hours by working slowly and/or inflating their time sheets. Getting charged as a percentage of the cabinets' purchase cost is usually the worst option, as it balloons the price unnecessarily, particularly in the case of semi-custom or custom cabinets. Everything else being equal, per cabinet or per linear foot pricing is usually the most advisable way to go.
Generally, installation costs come out to between 10% and 20% of the cabinets' purchase cost, with few installations costing less than $500. Most installations come out to be in the $1,000 to $4,000 range. In most cases, the cost is around $50 to $75 per cabinet. If you are being charged more than $100 per cabinet, then chances are that you are overpaying for installation. If you are purchasing an expensive set of custom cabinets and the cabinet maker wants to charge you 20% to 25% of the purchase cost for installation, you may want to consider contracting out the installation piece to a less expensive provider. That is to say, if you are paying $40,000 for an exceptional set of custom cabinets, why should you then spend another $10,000 on installation when many service providers can do the installation work for less than half of that amount? The $5,000 to $6,000 you save can then go toward buying a top-of-the-line range or an exceptional set of stone slab countertops.
With regard to finishing unfinished cabinets post-installation, the cost is usually about a quarter of the installation costs. Service providers will charge around $200 to $400 to paint and around $400 to $600 to stain and varnish a set of cabinets in an average-sized kitchen. For specialty finishes, or multiple coats, the charge will be correspondingly higher. Many homeowners who purchase unfinished cabinets opt to do the finishing work themselves. If you want to go that route, there are a lot of DIY resources available online, including free text guides and educational videos explaining the step-by-step process for painting, staining, or varnishing kitchen cabinets.
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The final set of costs we will discuss in this section pertains to cabinet refacing. As a lower cost alternative to replacing cabinets, refacing provides a budget-friendly way to completely update the look and feel of your kitchen cabinets without having to pay for a new set, pay again for the removal of the old cabinets, and pay once more for installation of the new ones.
While it is substantially less costly than purchasing new cabinets, refacing your existing cabinets is still a capital-intensive enterprise. The ultimate cost largely depends on the material used to reface the old cabinets. The least expensive option is a set of synthetic coverings such as thermofoil or laminate. For our base line kitchen, refacing all the cabinets with one of these would cost on the order of $1,500 to $2,500. If, however, we wanted to use wood veneers and replace the cabinet doors entirely, the cost would go up to between $2,500 to $5,000. In the case of a larger kitchen or a particularly exotic wood species, the cost can go as high as $10,000.
In most cases, the cost of refacing will fall in the $2,000 to $3,500 range. Only RTA cabinets are available for a comparable price, with stock, semi-custom, and custom cabinets progressively more expensive. Given that refaced cabinets look virtually the same as newly installed cabinets, this represents a much lower cost for largely the same effect as purchasing a brand new set of cabinets. Thus, it is not surprising that refacing has become increasingly popular as a remodeling alternative.
In addition to the type of veneer utilized, the specific cost of a refacing project will depend on the service provider. As with other services, you should consider a range of local contractors and look to receive at least four separate estimates before making a final decision. Prior to taking on the job, the service provider should examine your existing cabinet boxes to make sure that they are structurally sound and do not require replacement.
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