Cabinet Refacing: Ultimate Guide to Cost, Process, Pros/Cons

Kitchen with wood cabinets
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If your cabinet boxes are in good shape but the outside is dated or falling apart, why replace the entire cabinet?  This makes sense in so many ways.  After all, you may consider it equally ridiculous and wasteful to buy a new car simply because your present car needs a paint job.

Cabinet refacing is always less expensive than the usual cabinet demolish-and-replace process.  With only the bare minimum of materials being sent to the landfill, it is also the greenest way to revitalize your cabinets, short of painting them.

Refacing:  Like a New Skin for Your Cabinets

Cabinet refacing is a surface change, much like painting your car or buying a set of new clothing.  It is a new skin.  In fact, the language of cabinet refacing mirrors this, with some industry pros calling the cabinet box the "carcass" and the veneer the "skin."

When they enter your home to complete the project, the projects the surfacing company will perform fall into three main categories:

  1. Doors and Drawers:  Cabinet doors and drawer fronts are removed and replaced.
  2. Skinning:  The remaining part of the cabinets--the box or carcass--remains in place.  Veneers (or "skins") are applied to the boxes.  Shelves and all other interior parts remain the same.
  3. Accessories:  As a final step, they will remove and replace fixtures and hinges, if you desire.  You can also keep your existing fixtures and hinges if they fit the new drawer fronts and doors.

The Process:  Refacing and Replacing

Cabinet refacing involves both refacing and replacing certain elements of your cabinets, while leaving other elements intact.

  • Cabinet doors are removed and replaced.
  • Drawer fronts are removed and replaced.  The rest of the drawers remains intact.
  • The front portions of the cabinet boxes are veneered either with wood veneer or RTF (Rigid Thermofoil), a melamine-based product.
  • Cabinet sides are skinned with wood veneer or laminate.
  • New hinges are added.
  • New handles and other types of fixtures are installed.
  • Optional additions such as crown molding, glass, custom pot drawers, countertops and adjustments to the layout or additional pieces such an island or pantry are also available

Wood Veneer Makes This All Possible

Most of the popular hardwood species are available, such as birch, maple, ash, oak, hickory, walnut, and so on.  Hardwood the thickness of cabinet boxes would be astronomically expensive to purchase. 

Wood veneer is between 1/40' and 1/90' thick, meaning that from a single inch-thick sheet of hardwood you can slice off anywhere between 40 to 90 sheets of veneer.  

Veneer correctly installed should last for many years.  If it peels, it was not installed correctly.  

Despite the bad connotations associated with the word veneer, it is not inherently inclined to peeling.  Veneering is not a modern technique. It has been used successfully for hundreds of years.

Are Your Boxes Good Candidates For Refacing?

As long as the boxes are structurally sound, they can be refaced. One company, Kitchen Tune-Up, has told us that they have found that older boxes tend to be stronger and sturdier than newer boxes, and thus are great candidates for refacing.

Schedule:  Finished In 2 to 4 Days

While this depends on the company doing the refacing and on the size of your kitchen, most refacing can be done in 2-4 days. A three-day schedule might be something like this:

  1. Remove hardware, doors, and drawer fronts. Begin veneering. Pick up and clean at end of day.
  2. Continue veneering. Pick up and clean at end of day.
  3. Finish veneering. Install new doors and drawer fronts. Install hardware. Make final adjustments.

Cost Is About Half Of That Of New Cabinets

Refacing cabinets costs less than replacing your kitchen with custom cabinets.  But do not rush to cabinet refacing on the assumption that it is a dirt-cheap alternative to new cabinets.  Generally, it will cost about 50% of the cost of custom cabinet installation.

Christie Mawer of Kitchen Magic notes that:

It costs about 40-50% less than a full kitchen. So an average size full kitchen generally costs $12,000-$20,000 while a refaced kitchen of the same size is usually $7,000-$10,000.

Advantages

  1. Green:  Refacing keeps cabinet boxes away from the landfill--a great advantage considering that many cabinet boxes are made of MDF, which contains formaldehyde, a hazardous chemical.  It also prevents more trees from being cut down to construct new cabinet boxes.
  2. Cost-Savings:  As noted, refacing will give you the look of new cabinets for about half the cost of new cabinets.
  3. Kitchen Layout Remains Intact:  Refacing is not for people who want to change their kitchen's footprint.  However, it is perfect for those who are content with their current layout and only want a surface change.

Disadvantages

  1. DIY Not Possible:  Do it yourself cabinet refacing is tough. You would be able to replace the cabinet doors and drawer fronts, but veneering is a skill that has quite a steep learning curve. It's not something you pick up in a day or two.
  2. Cabinet Boxes Remain:  You are still stuck with your cabinet boxes, for better and for worse.  The worse is that your 20 year-old cabinet boxes are only going to get older. 
  3. Box Interiors Do Not Change:  It is up to you to update cabinet interiors.
  4. Waste:  While touted as eco-friendly, refacing still produces waste.  It is not a given that the company will dispose of your old materials.  Negotiate this with the company in advance.

Should You Do This?

Cabinet refacing is best for people who like the basic layout of their kitchen; want to have a new look (and possibly a few changes); want to spend less money; want to have less disruption in their lives; and want to make less environmental impact.