Refacing or Replacing Kitchen Cabinets

A Comparison Guide

My new Kitchen - Sink area
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Not long ago, the only alternative to cabinet replacement was to paint the cabinets--a mighty poor substitute, and an impossible task when confronted with largely unpaintable thermofoil cabinets

Cabinet refacing has been around for a long time--it's essentially wood-veneering on steroids--but cabinet refacing as a cottage industry is new.  Because cabinet refacing is a close substitute for replacement, the differences tend to blur.

  So, in this comparison guide, let's look at the similarities and differences between cabinet refacing and replacing.

 

Reface

Replace

What It IsCabinet refacing has two major components:  installation of new drawer faces and doors; veneering of the cabinet boxes.  In addition, new cabinet fixtures are usually installed.  If you have a bad drawer (or several), the company may be able to replace entire drawers.Existing cabinets are removed.  Experienced installers set and precisely level your base cabinets, a critical task to ensure that counters remain level enough so that the eggs don't roll.  Also, improperly leveled bases might result in counters cracking years down the road.  Wall cabinets are hung.  Doors and hardware are installed.
Can You Do It Yourself?Difficult.  While there are companies that sell refacing materials and equipment to the general public, cabinet refacing requires techniques and tools that most DIYers do not have.Less difficult than refacing.  Cabinet replacement is partially about heavy lifting of wall cabinets, but mostly about precise leveling of base cabinets.  Professionals will always do a better job than you, but you can save money by doing it yourself.
Number of Professionals Who Do ItA moderate number.  Fewer companies reface than replace, though the balance is slowly shifting as more homeowners discover refacing.  Franchises such as Kitchen Tune-Up provide refacing services throughout the U.S.Thousands.  From home improvement stores like Home Depot and Lowe's to local kitchen remodel centers to individual contractors who will install for a price, there is no shortage of companies that replace cabinets.
Cost$7,000-$10,000.  Refacing costs about 40-50% less than the cost of replacing cabinets in a full kitchen.​$12,000-$20,000 for contractor-grade, budget cabinets.

When It's Recommended
  • When the cabinet boxes are in solid shape.
  • When cost is an issue.
  • When remodeling, as opposed to building a new house.
  • When you like your current kitchen layout.
  • When constructing a new house, bumping out your kitchen, or building a new addition containing a kitchen.
  • When creating a new kitchen layout.
  • When cabinet boxes, drawers, or doors are in bad shape.
  • When doing a whole-kitchen remodel.
How Long Does It Take to Complete?2-4 days.1-2 days.
How Eco-Friendly Is It?Extremely.  The only items that get trashed are cabinet doors and drawer fronts.Less so than refacing.  Often, every bit of the cabinets--from boxes to hardware--gets landfilled.  It's possible, though, to donate good cabinets to recycling yards such as Habitat for Humanity's Re-Store.
Tips For Saving MoneyProvide your own cabinet hardware rather than buying from the refacing company (but have them install the hardware).If you're at all handy, seriously consider RTA (ready to assemble) cabinets.  They come flat-packed, and you assemble and install them yourself.

Which Do I Recommend?

Who doesn't want new cabinets?  If your budget at all allows for it, new cabinets give your kitchen long-lasting value for your enjoyment or for resale. 

If money is an issue, then cabinet refacing is the closest alternative to replacement available at this time.