A prime goal during kitchen remodeling (sometimes the only goal) is changing the look of the cabinets. Surprisingly often, cabinets that are otherwise in good structural shape are demolished and replaced simply because the homeowner is tired of their look. This is similar to getting rid of a perfectly good car just because you don't like its color. In many situations, however, you can dramatically change the look of your kitchen by a process known as refacing, which gives most of the benefits of cabinet replacement but at a fraction of the cost.
What Is Cabinet Refacing?
Cabinet refacing is essentially a replacement of the cabinet "skins"—replacing the doors and drawer fronts and applying a new veneer over the existing surface of the body ("carcass") of the cabinets. The hardware—the hinges, handles, and drawer pulls—are usually also replaced during refacing.
How Refacing Works
Many firms specialize in performing cabinet refacing. A skilled and patient DIYer can also perform cabinet refacing by buying a veneer kit containing the wood veneers and application materials, then special-ordering cabinet doors and drawer fronts. Either way, the process follows the same order:
A cabinet refacing pro will usually require two to four days to perform this service, depending on the size of your kitchen. A three-day schedule might look something like this:
When doing this work yourself using kit materials, allow yourself a full week, at least, for the work.
Evaluating Cabinets for Refacing
Not every cabinet is a good candidate for refacing. This doesn't mean those old cabinets are bad candidates, though, because in many cases older cabinet boxes have sturdier construction than newer factory-manufactured boxes and will accept new veneer and doors quite successfully. Good cabinets for refacing have these elements:
Refacing cabinets cost less than replacing your kitchen with custom cabinets, but don't rush to cabinet refacing on the assumption that it is a dirt-cheap alternative to new cabinets. Generally, refacing performed by an installation specialist costs about 50 percent of the cost of a new custom cabinet installation and about 70 to 80 percent of the cost of installing stock cabinets purchased off the shelf from home improvement centers.
Costs for a professional refacing for a typical 10 by 12-foot kitchen begin at $1,000 to $3,000 for laminate veneers, but can go as high as $2,500 to $6,000 for real wood veneers. Costs upwards of $9,000 are common for larger kitchens using top-quality wood veneers. Hardware can cost you an additional $2 to $50 per piece, depending on how luxurious you want to be.
By contrast, all-new cabinets can be installed for $4,000 to $5,000 for off-the-shelf stock cabinets, or upwards of $20,000 for new custom cabinetry.
Christie Mawer of Kitchen Magic notes that refacing "costs about 40 to 50 percent less than a full kitchen. So an average size full kitchen generally costs $12,000 to $20,000 while a refaced kitchen of the same size is usually $7,000 to $10,000."
Cost savings are somewhat more for the DIYer able to perform the refacing. Expect to spend $200 to $500 for the veneer materials, plus the costs of new doors, drawer fronts, and hardware.
Pros and Cons
The advantages and limitations of cabinet refacing should be carefully considered when weighing options for your kitchen remodel.
Buying Refacing Services and Materials
An online search will give you the names of many firms that perform cabinet refacing services. Cabinet refacing contractors tend to be local firms specializing in these services, not national franchises. You can also discuss your needs with a consultant at a big-box home improvement retailer, who can arrange for services from one of their affiliated installation vendors.
Cabinet refacing can be a good, cost-saving option for kitchen remodeling if the existing cabinets are well-constructed and in good shape, and where a radically different look is desired. It is also a good choice where the existing kitchen layout works well as it is. But where the existing cabinets have structural problems, or where hardware is in poor condition or internal storage features are lacking, you may be better off installing all-new cabinets.
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