RTA Kitchen Cabinets: What to Know Before You Buy

Thermofoil Kitchen Cabinets

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If you have begun the process of remodeling your kitchen, you may have already learned that kitchen cabinets are exceedingly expensive. Kitchen cabinets physically comprise at least half of a kitchen's wall space. Unfortunately, cabinets can often comprise just as much of your entire kitchen remodeling budget. By lowering cabinet costs, you will have more money left over for remodeling the rest of your kitchen or for other parts of your life.

Cheap kitchen cabinets are hard to find. Salvaged and pre-owned cabinets tend to be your best bet, at least from the standpoint of money. But the conditions of these cabinets are usually poor. The most dependable way to find inexpensive kitchen cabinets that are new and of acceptable quality is with a category called ready to assemble, or RTA, cabinets. RTA kitchen cabinets are becoming a favorite way for do-it-yourself homeowners to control those spiraling remodel costs.

What Are RTA Kitchen Cabinets?

RTA stands for "ready to assemble." RTA kitchen cabinets are real cabinets, similar to the cabinets that you would buy from a local supplier or home center. The only difference is that you need to assemble and install the cabinets by yourself. Shipped to you flat-packed, RTA kitchen cabinets assemble fairly easily, with cam-lock and bracket systems being the norm. If you are familiar with self-assembly IKEA cabinets, RTA kitchen cabinets work along the same lines.

Many RTA kitchen cabinet companies also offer an assembly service. In essence, the company assembles your ready-to-assemble kitchen cabinets for you and sends you the finished product. By the time you receive the cabinets, all you need to do is unbox them and install them in your kitchen. Expect to pay about 25-percent more for these pre-assembled kitchen cabinets and another 25-percent more in shipping costs.

In years past, RTA kitchen cabinets were limited in colors and styles, with most of the cabinet boxes being constructed of MDF and faced with melamine or thermofoil. If the cabinets were real wood, invariably they came in limited wood species, door styles, and finishes. Yet with the ease of online ordering, RTA cabinets have come into their own. Now it is possible to order cabinets ranging from plain white thermofoil to sleek contemporary veneers and exotic hardwoods.

RTA Kitchen Cabinets Cost

RTA kitchen cabinets will nearly always cost less than cabinets installed by technicians and even less than pre-assembled do-it-yourself cabinets. The benchmark for comparing cabinet costs is with the standard 10-foot by 10-foot kitchen footprint. The total price will include cabinet boxes, door and drawer fronts, side pieces, shelves, and pull-out trays. Except in the case of a special offer, the cost will not include extras like lazy-susans, roll-out spice racks, and wine racks.

RTA kitchen cabinets come with a welter of extra fees that raise the price combined with credits that lower the cost. When comparing cabinets to cabinets, especially among different companies, it is beneficial to lay out the costs and credits on a spreadsheet.

Sales Tax Withholding

One cost-saving benefit of buying online is that you can often avoid being charged sales taxes at the time of purchase. Because sales costs are so high with RTA kitchen cabinets, you can save substantial money by choosing an RTA cabinet company that does not withhold sales taxes. It is important to note that, in many cases, you are still required to pay sales taxes for online purchases even if the retailer does not withhold those taxes.

Shipping Costs

When you are purchasing a small item like a kitchen faucet, shipping costs are a minor issue. The item is so lightweight that shipping costs, while not appreciated, are very low. But kitchen cabinets are enormously heavy. With all of that plywood, particleboard, doors, and accessories, the entire shipment may weigh several hundred pounds. This is why it is crucial to pay attention to RTA kitchen cabinet shipping costs; they are a very real part of the price.

One prominent company, RTA Cabinet Store, rightfully points out that free shipping does not exist. Even though companies may say that they offer free shipping above a certain purchase price, somewhere within the total cost of the cabinets the shipping costs will be included.

Restocking Fees

Most consumers should be familiar with the term "restocking fee," a catch-all term that basically serves as a safety net to cover a business' cost (and sometimes more) when an item is returned.

With RTA kitchen cabinets, restocking fees can be onerous, with some companies charging as much as 35-percent of the purchase price for restocking. Keep in mind, too, that the cost of restocking is in addition to the cost of shipping the cabinets back to the RTA cabinet company.

How RTA Kitchen Cabinets Are Assembled

In most cases, it is not necessary to be a woodworker to assemble RTA kitchen cabinets. RTA cabinets are specifically designed for easy assembly by do-it-yourself homeowners.

Most RTA kitchen cabinets assemble like IKEA products, with barely three or four tools required (screwdriver, drill, and mallet) and with some RTA systems even including a few tools. RTA cabinets have an invisible cam-lock and bracket system of assembly requiring no hammering, stapling, gluing, or cutting.

Be sure to verify the assembly instructions before you make the purchase because some RTA kitchen cabinet systems are almost like building the cabinet yourself from scratch. With these systems, you will need the tools mentioned previously, plus wood glue, a staple gun, spring and bar clamps, a cordless drill/driver, a hammer, and a saw.

Even though assembly is simple, it can take a long time to assemble an entire kitchen's worth of cabinets. A 10-foot by 10-foot kitchen might have as many as ten cabinets, not including extras. Do not expect to be able to assemble all of them in an hour or two. Think of RTA kitchen cabinet assembly as a project of its own. Homeowners often assemble the cabinets on one weekend, wait out the work week, then install them in the kitchen on the next weekend.