How to save the kitchen cabinets you have now

Consumer Reports News: June 18, 2013 04:38 PM

You can save thousands on a kitchen remodel by refurbishing your cabinets and it's the green way to go. To be fit for reuse, the cabinets must work with your layout, and the units must be plumb, square, and sturdy. Delamination, either from peeling veneers or plywood layers coming apart, is a sign that the cabinets are too far gone. Assuming the cabinets are structurally sound, they can be refinished or refaced. Here's how.

Refinishing or painting costs less, especially if you do the work yourself. But the process is messy and time consuming. It involves removing the doors and drawers, cleaning them with a degreasing agent, sanding them, and applying a primer, multiple top coats, and often a sealer. Paying a pro will cost $50 or more per door opening.

Note that if your home was built before 1978, the pro will have to be certified under provisions of the Environmental Protection Agency's Renovation, Repair and Painting rule that took effect in April 2010.

Refacing is more expensive, but it lets you change the style of the cabinets by replacing the cabinet doors and drawer fronts and applying veneers to the face frames and ends. That solution works best for cabinets with visible face frames, though it is possible with full-overlay units. Peel-and-stick kits are available at home centers, or you can pay a cabinet-refacing pro $150 and up per door opening to do the job. New hardware, including hinges and drawer slides, can make your cabinets function like new. You can also make old cabinets work better by adding pull-out shelves, lazy Susans, retractable trash and recycling bins, and other inexpensive upgrades.

If you need new cabinets
If you're opting for new cabinets, quality construction is key. Features that held up best in our cabinet tests include solid-wood or plywood doors; boxes made of ½- to ¾-inch plywood; solid-wood drawer sides with dovetail joints, full-extension glides, and a plywood bottom; adjustable, ¾-inch plywood or medium-density fiberboard shelving; and ¾-inch hardwood or metal mounting strips. Lesser-quality ⅝- and ½-inch particleboard shelves are likelier to sag. We didn't find any differences among door-hinge types.

Stock units start between $250 and $350 for a typical 21-inch-wide base and 30-inch-tall wall cabinet. You can find solid construction at that entry-level price, though style and trim options will be limited, and the units only come in 3-inch increments. Semi-custom units offer more choices in sizes, styles, finishes, and interior storage accessories but cost around $400 per unit and up. If you're after a built-in look with your pick of material, finish, and hardware, expect to pay $600 per unit or more.

For more on kitchen remodeling, check our new report, "Get the kitchen you've always wanted" and see the cabinet choices three homeowners made in "Magnificent kitchen makeovers."

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