Cabinet Refacing Explained

If you’re tired of the way your kitchen looks and want to change it, you don’t have to start planning a full renovation. Changing the kitchen’s look is as easy as giving those cabinets a new makeover with cabinet refacing. Simply changing the look of the cabinet doors and drawers and applying a new veneer to exposed panels can do wonders. Best of all, it’s an entirely cost-effective option that many homeowners use. While that’s a basic explanation of cabinet refacing, there are still some important things you’ll have to decide on and consider.

There are a few steps involved in the process. This handy guide will help explain what refacing is and the process of it all. That way, you’ll have the information you need to determine if cabinet refacing is a good choice for your kitchen remodel.

Difference between replacing and refinishing? 

Replacing and refinishing are other terms often used when talking about kitchen cabinet renovations. Replacing, as it sounds, means tearing out the old cabinets completely and installing new ones. That is ideal if you want a whole new look and design layout or if the cabinets are old and worn and need to be replaced. It can also be done if you are increasing the overall square footage or generally upgrading with higher-quality materials.

Refinishing relies on paints and stains to change the appearance of the cabinets without changing their design. It’s a great way to give wood cabinets a new look. You can use new paint colours to brighten the room. Keep in mind as well that refinishing keeps all the original doors and drawers. It can only be done with wood cabinets since the initial stages include sanding and priming the surface. Laminate and Thermo Foil cabinets cannot be refinished since the materials can’t be sanded to strip the old colour. The cabinets must also be in good condition; otherwise, any dents or scratches will show through.

What is cabinet refacing?  

Refacing refers to stripping down the exterior parts of a cabinet and installing a new look. The physical structure and location of the cabinets and cabinet box stay the same. At a minimum, refacing removes all cabinet doors and drawers and replaces them with new fronts. A new veneer is also applied on the front and sides of the cabinet to transform the old cabinets into something totally new. New fixtures and door hinges can be installed if necessary, or if you want to enhance your new cabinet faces with modern hardware. New eye-catching door handles can help boost that final transformation even more. Matching hardware colours as well, such as with new faucets or wall paint, will help add a uniform appearance throughout the room.

Reasons to reface 

Before refacing kitchen cabinets, think about the reason for doing so. Knowing when to reface and why will help make the process much easier. A main reason to reface is if the layout and design of your kitchen still works, but the overall appearance is old or worn-out looking. Since cabinets take up such a large amount of space in the kitchen––around 70%––utilizing them for an update is a cost-effective way to renovate. Time and cost are other reasons to reface, especially since the timeline is much shorter. With a professional’s help, refacing will only take between 3-5 days to complete. A full kitchen renovation, in comparison, could take weeks or months to complete, depending on the scale of work involved.

It’s also an eco-friendly option if going green is an important factor for your home. There is less waste as you reuse your cabinet structure and recycle the doors and drawers. Plus, there is no need to source wood for new custom cabinets. Well-built cabinet boxes can have a lifespan of upwards of 50 years, so refacing to change the look over that time is much easier than replacing each time.

What are the downsides? 

Like any renovation, there are some downsides to consider with cabinet refacing. While the exterior of the cabinets is completely changed, the interior stays the same. That can be a problem if the interior is lacking storage or adequate shelving. If the paint or appearance is chipped or worn, additional costs to update the storage and buy paint must be factored in. Kitchen cabinet refacing is also more expensive than refinishing, and that cost can easily go up even more without proper planning. High-end designs or more exotic veneers are both major cost culprits when refacing. Before you buy any materials, browse for ideas online or speak with a professional for some options. You can still reface with a high-end finish, but without breaking the budget to do so.

The process 

Whether DIYed or handled professionally, the process of refacing a cabinet is much the same. If the work is too much to do or the timeline too long, then hire a professional. Otherwise, the steps for refacing kitchen cabinets are as such:

Step 1: Remove all doors, drawers and fronts from the cabinets, including hinges and any handles or pulls. Leave the cabinet box intact.

Step 2: The front-facing cabinet box is covered with wood veneer, Rigid Thermofoil (RTF), or a laminate of your choice. Cabinet sides are also covered with the matching veneer.

Step 3: If necessary, new hinges can be installed or the old ones reused at this point. The new doors and drawers are then installed. New handles, pulls, or fixture details can be installed at this point for further customization. Other accessory ideas include custom lighting, new storage solutions or custom cabinet crown moulding.

Wood veneer vs RTF vs laminate 

As mentioned above, there are three different options for covering your cabinets. Each material comes with its own benefits, appearances, and costs to factor in. There is no right or wrong decision, so decide what cost and appearance would best suit your kitchen.

Wood veneer: a thin layer of real wood that is glued to the surface of a cabinet. It provides all the beauty, appearance, and feel of natural wood cabinets, making it a popular choice. Most wood species, like oak, cherry, maple, or mahogany, can be used for a veneer. It is the most expensive option and must be sealed to protect it from moisture damage.

Laminate: made from plastic with a printed surface that can resemble the look of real wood if that is your choice. It can be made in a wide variety of different colours and patterns as well. Laminate is highly durable and moisture resistant, and it’s easy to clean, making it a popular option. Its midrange price makes it a less expensive option over real wood veneer.

RTF: This is a thin layer of vinyl that is installed by pressure-moulding it to medium-density-fiberboard (MDF) cabinets. It is one of the most durable and cost-effective options and comes in just as wide a range of colours and patterns. RTF can be made to resemble natural wood, even with realistic wood grain, but without the maintenance requirements.

Which cabinets can be refaced? 

An important thing to know is that not all cabinets can be refaced. Cabinets need to be the right candidate and have a sturdy structure to accept refacing. Remember that refacing doesn’t repair blemishes or damages either; it just covers them up. If your cabinets have excessive damage, wear, or are warped from water, they likely are not a match for refacing. These problems will need to be repaired, or the cabinets replaced entirely if the damage is extensive. You should also look at the interior of the cabinets. Depending on how much hardware needs to be replaced or accessories added, the increased cost may not be worthwhile.

Otherwise, candidates for cabinet refacing include:

The frame and boxes are in good condition: The veneer needs a smooth surface to adhere properly. Any warped or damaged surfaces risk the veneer peeling or the damage underneath worsening. The actual structure of your cabinets need to be in strong condition too. If not, consider a cabinet replacement.

The hardware inside is in good condition: Bumpy drawer tracks or creaky hinges won’t end the possibility of refacing, but will ruin the effect. If the interior isn’t the same quality as the exterior, make sure to plan some updates.

The cost 

Cabinet refacing costs will vary depending on materials, whether you DIY or hire a pro, and how many cabinets you own. As the cost of cabinet refacing varies widely, it’s best to get an accurate estimate from a professional before you begin. They’ll factor in the size of your cabinets, what veneer you plan to use, and how much time and labour is involved. Cabinets with more involved designs or tight angles will likely cost more since the labour and installation become more complicated.

Data from The Spruce show that refacing is just 50% of the cost of installing new custom cabinets. It is also 70% to 80% of the cost of replacing cabinets with new stock ones.

Cost-wise, it’s a worthwhile option, but to ensure that investment, it’s important to decide whether you plan to DIY or hire a professional.

DIY or pro? 

Choosing to reface alone or with a professional comes down to a matter of cost and skill. While DIY is typically done to save money, cabinet refacing may not be the best project to tackle alone. To start, there are many necessary tools when properly refacing cabinets, which, if you don’t already own, will increase the costs. Refacing also requires the right amount of skill and attention to detail. If done wrong, the final look can easily be ruined and the value lost in the process. The process of cutting and shaping the veneer or laminate is one that requires more skill than most DIYers have. Not only do mistakes mean more time spent fixing them, but they also mean more money to repair the damage.

Underlying issues, such as cabinet damage or uneven hardware, can easily be missed by a DIYer and may even mean that refacing isn’t an option. Before you tackle any DIY refacing, talk to a professional for some estimates and help. They can provide the right tips for your kitchen, provide cost breakdowns or find ways to accommodate your budget. If parts of the kitchen cabinet refacing process can be DIYed, like removing old doors and drawers and reinstalling them, that can help cut cabinet refacing costs without losing quality.

Pro benefits 

Instead of the headache and potential stress of trying to DIY your cabinets, consider the benefits of hiring a professional. They’ll have all the right tools from the start and the right experience to guarantee a quality finish. The work will also be handled within a few days, so you can get back to using your kitchen in no time. A professional can also provide design consultations or ideas for the finished look. If you can’t decide between a painted laminate finish or wood veneer, your contractor can help. With years of experience, they’ll have the right eye for details when it comes to maximizing the transformation of your cabinets.

The cost you do invest initially into a professional will also be a long-term investment. If you ever plan to sell, potential buyers will value attractive and professionally-finished cabinets. Both in your lifestyle and home value, you’ll benefit by working with a professional when refacing kitchen cabinets.

What to look for in a professional 

Proper experience and skill are essential when hiring professional cabinet refacing services. Before you hire any company, check how many years of experience the company has. Over that time, have they maintained a strong base of happy clients? Make sure to look at past projects, not just for quality checks, but to see if you personally like their work. Once you have a company in mind, don’t hesitate to talk to one of them and ask some questions. Find out about their skills, the work process, how long it will take, and any included extra services. Some companies include soft closer drawers and hinges as part of the upgrade and cabinet refacing cost.

Also, don’t just get one estimate from a single company and base your costs off that. It’s better to get a range of estimates and service options so that you can find the best company for your needs. Be sure to get those estimates in writing to ensure you get the same offer once you settle on a match. Once you have the right company and professional contractor, you can enjoy peace of mind during your cabinet renovation.

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