Should Your Replace, Refinish, or Resurface Your Cabinets?

Has the time arrived when you are contemplating replacing your kitchen or bathroom cabinets?

There are several things to consider before you make a final decision on which approach is best for you.

As a professional in the industry, I meet with people with varying degrees of knowledge and know-how when it comes to home remodeling or renovation projects around the house. When it comes to updating kitchen and bathroom cabinets to give your space an updated look, you should weigh all the options before you make a final decision. Let's discuss the options.


Cabinet Replacement


If you've got the budget for new cabinets and nothing else will do, there are 100's of kitchen and bathroom cabinet manufacturers out there. It's important to ask the right questions when it comes to buying new ones. Since you'll likely be purchasing your new cabinets from a dealer, it's important to know what you're looking for. Like most things, if you know what to look for, you will quickly point out the good ones from the bad and move on quickly if it's not a good fit.


Do your homework. The internet is not forgiving of the work a contractor provides. I always suggest considering what the dealer's reviews are. Reading through reviews that are relevant to your project will help you determine an anticipated outcome. As with all companies, most of the time you will be able to find a threshold of reviews that land in what is the average for that company. While a company’s overall rating maybe three stars, perhaps their cabinet replacement averages four stars. I always encourage people to read all reviews that are "like" their projects. If a company has lower reviews for their kitchen faucets but score well on cabinets, it's good to consider all options. Perhaps the dealer received a bad batch of faucets, to no fault of their own, that brought their average temporarily down. Way all the facts.

Once you're set on a couple of dealers to bid your project, be clear as to what you want. Are you looking for a framed cabinet, a frame-less cabinet, or do you lean towards traditional? It's a good idea to create a storyboard on Pinterest or Houzz. Share your boards with the dealer so that they can make sound recommendations based on your preferences. If creating an online inspiration board isn't your idea of fun, grab a couple of design magazines and flag pages that inspire you. Take the magazines with you.


Not all dealers carry the same products or the same manufacturer's, this is where comparing apples to apples will come in handy. Having a knowledgeable liaison, someone like me is helpful, I provide the installation labor for you, with no ownership as to where you buy your products. I can speak to the quality of materials and craftsmanship and help you find the best design option with the highest quality for your budget. I act as a neutral third party.


Be clear on what your budget is going in, although you won't necessarily share your budget at this point with the dealer, it is a good idea to know what your limits are and not get overly romanced with the top of the line options if your budget doesn't support it.


Many showrooms are designed to romance you with strategically placed design rooms laid out in such a way to get you to at least walk by the more expensive options. If you know going in that you are in the "mid-range" cabinet arena, stay there. Don't venture out too far outside of your budget zone.


A knowledgeable dealer will appeal to your design options and offer you samples that represent your vision for your new kitchen or bathroom remodel. Most dealers will offer to measure your space (often for free) and may provide a design rendering. Depending on the dealer, they may charge for the rendering which is often credited back on your order.


My experience has taught me that projects often grow in scale, size, and budget. As the cabinets are being replaced, other desired updates surface, like replacing the countertops, adding a new backsplash, replacing the kitchen or bathroom flooring, adding fancy hardware and knobs, even replacing the appliances. If you're able to find a single contractor that can help with most of the items on your growing checklist, your stress can diminish as you're relying on the professionals to get everything ordered and delivered according to the project’s timeline.

One thing I always need to understand is the reason for wanting to replace the cabinetry in the first place. Is the issue a quality, color, or condition issue? If color is the problem, it is fixable for a fraction of the cost of new cabinets.


Most builders install builder grade cabinets. Depending on if you're the first owner of the home or the fifth, you may determine if you know the quality of the cabinets. Were they upgraded? Are they solid wood? If the cabinets are solid wood and are in good condition, you may be a candidate for resurfacing or refinishing instead.


What's the Difference Between Cabinet Resurfacing and Refinishing?


Cabinet resurfacing is the act of applying a custom-made veneer product to the exterior of the cabinets and possibly the doors. In some cases, replacing just the cabinet doors is a good middle ground. The final output will be determined based on the style of cabinet you're looking for. If you're going from a traditional, framed cabinet style to a frameless, modern style, the best way to achieve this is to replace the door. If you're going to keep the current style, repainting may be the best solution.


Refinishing cabinets is the most time consuming of the options in terms of time without cabinets. To refinish cabinets correctly there are a couple of options. The first is to take them down off the wall. Meaning you must box up your kitchen and be able to sustain without the contents for the projected time frame. The second option is to leave them on the wall, working around them.


There are pros and cons to both options. If you choose to have the contractor remove them, he will need a workplace, possibly your garage or backyard (to save time and money). Having them removed means the chemicals used for refinishing will not be directly inside your house, and trust me; they don't smell good. If you leave the base cabinets installed, you will be dealing with sawdust everywhere for as long as it takes the project to be completed. While a professional will mask off the area, sawdust has a habit of finding its way beyond the masking and plastic. There is no short cut a professional should take to refinish your cabinets correctly. If you're getting quotes and your contractor suggests skipping a step to save money (or to work within your budget), understand the result will not be long-lasting.


The proper way to refinish cabinets is to remove all oil and built-up dirt off the cabinets. The second step is to sand the cabinets down to the wood grain. The third is to apply a layer or two of primer, followed by the necessary paint color of choice. All of this takes time and requires patience by the homeowner. Click here to see the process in action as well as before and after photos.


Let's say the contractor suggests skipping the sanding portion, over time, the paint will start to roll off cabinets. It's never recommended to go through the amount of work involved in refinishing and not take the time to sand or prime first.

If you're on a budget or like the idea of continuing to use your existing cabinets, refinishing, when done correctly, is likely to save you $1000's.

Insured & General Contractor License #AEC7352

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