Refacing vs. Replacing Kitchen Cabinets

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When your kitchen cabinets are scratched and beat up, what are your alternatives? Not long ago, the only alternative to cabinet replacement was to paint the cabinets—an adequate substitute but difficult when you are confronted with largely unpaintable thermofoil cabinets. Now, cabinet refacing and cabinet replacement are both equally viable options when your cabinets are looking the worse for wear.

Cabinet refacing has been around for a long time—essentially it is wood-veneering on steroids—but cabinet refacing as a cottage industry is new. Since cabinet refacing is a close substitute for replacement, the differences tend to blur. The main difference is that refaced cabinets have a look that is new, but the cabinet boxes, and therefore the entire cabinet layout, are not new.

What Is It?

Cabinet Refacing

Cabinet refacing has two major components: installation of new drawer fronts and doors; veneering of the cabinet boxes. In addition, new cabinet hardware is usually installed. If you have a bad drawer (or several), the company may be able to replace entire drawers.

Cabinet Replacement

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. Improperly leveled bases might result in counters cracking years down the road. Wall cabinets are hung. Doors and hardware are installed.

 

Reface Cabinets

Replace Cabinets

What It Is Cabinet boxes are veneered, new doors installed, and door fronts replaced. Existing cabinets are completely removed and new cabinets are installed.
Can You Do It Yourself? Difficult for a do-it-yourselfer because veneering has a learning curve. Easier than refacing but still difficult to get right.
Professional Work Only a moderate number of companies reface cabinets. You will find a far greater number of individuals and companies that install new cabinets than reface them.
Cost Refacing is about 40 to 50-percent less than replacement. Expect to pay about $12,000 to $20,000 for contractor-grade cabinets.

When It's Recommended

Best when the cabinet boxes are in solid shape and cost is an issue.

Best when doing a whole-kitchen remodel or when cabinet boxes are in poor shape.

Do-It-Yourself Installation

Cabinet Refacing

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.

Cabinet Replacement

Cabinet replacement is partially about the 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.

Professional Installation

Cabinet Refacing

Fewer companies reface cabinets than replace cabinets, though the balance is slowly shifting as more homeowners discover refacing. Franchises such as Kitchen Tune-Up provide refacing services throughout the U.S. Cabinet refacing is a niche industry, so don't expect a general carpenter or handyman service to be able to provide this service.

Tip

One way to save money with cabinet refacing is to provide your own cabinet hardware rather than buying from the refacing company.

Cabinet Replacement

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

Cabinet Refacing

Costs range from $7,000 to $10,000 at a minimum to reface kitchen cabinets in a 10-foot by 10-foot kitchen. Refacing costs about 40-percent to 50-percent less than the cost of replacing cabinets in a full kitchen.

Cabinet Replacement

Costs range from $15,000 to $20,000 for contractor-grade, budget cabinets.

When Is It Recommended?

Cabinet Refacing

  • 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

Cabinet Replacement

  • 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 Eco-Friendly Is It?

Cabinet Refacing

The only items that get landfilled are cabinet doors and drawer fronts, making cabinet refacing an eco-friendly option.

Cabinet Replacement

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.

Tip

If you're at all handy, seriously consider RTA (ready to assemble) cabinets. They come flat-packed, and you assemble and install them yourself.