Ready-to-assemble (RTA) kitchen cabinets offer homeowners an option to save money on kitchen remodeling—though this option comes with a time and labor cost. Rather than ready-to-hang cabinets, these cabinets are delivered in parts in a flat pack, along with all the hardware needed for assembly. Because you do the assembling yourself, you can cut costs significantly by spending more time assembling your cabinets.
Before you start shopping for new kitchen cabinets, it pays to take the time to learn more about RTA cabinets. Our comprehensive guide will take you through what to look for when buying RTA cabinets, approximate costs, assembling, and more.
What Are RTA Cabinets?
The ready-to-assemble name explains these products in a nutshell. When you order RTA cabinets, all of the parts have been cut to size, holes have been drilled where needed, and any finishes you requested have been applied. Then the parts are stacked and wrapped. You can bring them home from the store, if they have them in stock, or have them shipped to your home.
You then face the job of assembling and installing the cabinets. They should have instructions included, but these may be mostly drawings and steps with minimal or no written guidance. Some also have a link to online videos that show how to assemble your cabinets.
Before Replacing Your Cabinets
Kitchen cabinets like other items in your home require some maintenance and upkeep on the owner's part, and after time get out of style. If this happens, you might find yourself considering replacing your cabinets with new ones. But before you do, you might choose to look if it's worth the time and the money to reface the cabinets that you currently own. This option can be the least expensive way to go when updating your kitchen and help you get a few more years out of the original ones.
That being said, sometimes it is just not possible to fix them as they're falling apart, cracking, or damaged. If this is the case, then it's best to go the route and the expense of replacing them with new cabinets and RTA cabinets might just be the perfect option for you.
Buying Considerations for RTA Cabinets
Like pre-assembled cabinets, ready-to-assemble cabinets cover the full spectrum of quality, from poor to very good. You can buy RTA cabinets that are every bit as strong and attractive as anything you find in a kitchen showroom. But you need to be able to recognize inferior quality. Avoid cabinets with stapled particleboard drawers, integrated rail drawer guides, and doors made of veneered particleboard or medium-density fiberboard (MDF).
The features of a quality cabinet include:
- Solid wood drawers with dovetail joinery
- Full-extension drawer guides
- Doors that have a solid wood frame, with panels made either of solid wood or plywood
- Finishes and coating applied by brush rather than sprayed on
While you can check these features in person at a store, you can also request a door sample when buying online. You may have to pay a small refundable deposit and shipping, but this ensures you know what you will be getting when you eventually place an order.
Ready-to-assemble cabinets have become so popular in part because they are so easy to put together. Most products need nothing more than glue, wood dowels, and screws, all of which should be supplied with the cabinets, along with clear instructions. Cabinets, drawers, and doors are predrilled for attaching hardware and hinges. Often, the only tool you will need for assembly is a screwdriver.
However, it's a good idea to refer to online videos showing how your cabinets are assembled, if available. Reviewing demonstration videos can help prevent common assembly mistakes.
Types of RTA Cabinets
Beyond the style of the cabinet, there is also the cabinet overlay which is something that should be considered for any type of cabinetry you purchase, not just RTA cabinets. This has to do with the way the cabinet door sits on the frame of the cabinet. There are three cabinet overlay types: partial overlay, full overlay, and inset overlay.
The partial overlay is the most popular and standard type of cabinet you will find. This overlay leaves some space between cabinet doors and drawers, and hardware is not always necessary. The partial overlay is the least expensive type of cabinet to purchase. The partial overlay offers a more traditional and classical look.
The full overlay type of cabinet covers the entire front of the cabinet frame. Where the cabinet doors meet, there is little to no space between them. Hardware needs to be attached to allow you the ability to open and close cabinets and doors. The full overlay allows a bit larger storage capacity and easier access to items in the cupboards. The look is considered to be sleek and contemporary.
Inset cabinet doors fit on the inside of the frame, making them lay flush with the cabinet frame. The entire frame is exposed to view and the cabinet's door edges are protected and less easy to nick or damage. This type is typically more expensive than either the partial or full overlay and you can tend to lose more space. The look that they provide is clean and smooth lines with everything matching up evenly and proportionally.
You can save a substantial amount of money with RTA cabinets as opposed to custom cabinets or assembled cabinets. The savings come in two ways. First, because they come to you disassembled, RTA cabinet shipping costs are less than fully assembled cabinets since they take up less room. Second, because you are taking care of assembly and installation, you will save on labor charges.
Your costs can vary significantly depending on such factors as materials, finish, complexity, and degree of completion. At the low end of the cost spectrum are cabinets with white, melamine-coated, particleboard cabinet boxes and drawers; flat panel doors; and unfinished elements that you paint yourself.
More expensive options will include veneered plywood cabinet boxes, hardwood face frames, solid wood doors, and dovetailed drawers. Cabinets in odd sizes and with angles can cost more, as can accessories such as crown molding or interior lighting.
Kitchen cabinets are often priced by the linear foot, which is simply the horizontal distance along the wall that will be filled with cabinets. The linear foot cost typically includes both upper (wall) and bottom (base) cabinets in one price. Depending on the mix of low-cost and expensive options you choose, kitchen cabinets for a full kitchen can range from roughly $250 per linear foot to $750 or more.
Make sure to get price quotes for comparable products from two or three suppliers. It's possible you might have to price out separate suppliers for the cabinet boxes, doors, and hardware. RTA cabinet suppliers are usually helpful in suggesting sources for the other materials, and you should be able to do this work online.
Check for the availability of replacement parts for your cabinets. If something breaks or is damaged in assembly, awaiting a replacement part might cause a delay in your kitchen remodel job. And if a part breaks years down the road, you'll want to be able to replace it easily.
How to Choose RTA Cabinets
It all comes down to personal preference when choosing the right RTA cabinets for your kitchen or bathroom. From the style of the cabinets to the color and finish, the choice is yours. But there are some things you should look at to figure out which ones will work best for you. Ensure that they will fit properly within the allotted space and that the cabinets are of good quality with nice features.
Knowing exactly how much space you have for each cabinet is vital to this project. Get the measuring tape out and measure once, twice, and three times to ensure you have the correct calculations before purchasing. Measure for length, width, and height for each cabinet you need to buy. If you don't feel comfortable doing this, then hire a professional to ensure you get exactly what size you need.
Making sure that the cabinets are of good quality so they will last for a long time is important, as discussed previously in the buying considerations section, but so are the features offered. When choosing cabinets look for features such as a soft-close mechanism, vertical dividers, trash pull out, corner storage, and if replacement parts are available. These extra amenities can make life easier for you as you cook and enjoy your kitchen. They also make it easier for you to set up and store your kitchen items.
How Long Do You Plan to Stay Where You Are?
No matter which way you look at it, new kitchen cabinets are a big investment. Take into consideration how long you are planning to stay in your home. Is it long-term? Or are you getting the house ready and updated to sell? Whatever the decision you make, can help determine just how much you really want to spend on kitchen cabinets.
Where to Shop
You can find RTA cabinets at some big-box stores (IKEA, Home Depot, Lowe's, and Costco), but a much broader selection is available from online retailers. Buying at a store allows you to interact with the staff, who may be able to help explain the differences in the cabinets available and give advice on your room layout. These types of services may also be available at some online retailers, with some sites having the ability to create a custom layout and display photorealistic renderings of the room.
How do you assemble RTA cabinets?
RTA cabinets go together with wood dowels, screws, and glue. Instructions are usually provided in the form of videos or written ones, to assist you in putting them together.
How long does it take to assemble RTA cabinets?
If you're a novice handyman, it should take approximately 45 minutes to one hour to assemble each cabinet. As you progress in the assembly line of cabinets, you might get a bit quicker.
How long will RTA cabinets last?
The typical lifespan of a good quality constructed RTA cabinet should last around 20 years or more. This also depends on the correct installation and proper care and maintenance throughout the years.