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6 Secrets to Finding Cheap Kitchen Cabinets

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Updated December 11, 2014.

What s going on here?  It seems like no matter how hard you look, kitchen cabinets are over-the-top expensive. One reason for this is that for so long the process of buying and installing cabinets has been controlled by manufacturers, retailers, and installers. The presumption has been that homeowners will want the full service kitchen cabinet installation, which of course does a full service job on your bank account, too.

But if you can get out of that controlled process, doing some of the steps yourself, and being a little creative, you can save quite a bit of money.

First, you need to make a big decision about materials for your kitchen cabinets. While everyone would prefer having 100% wood cabinets, real wood will always mean higher costs. At the other end of the scale is MDF (medium density fiberboard). which is a type of particleboard that you so often see in cheaply built furniture. In fact, even the highly praised IKEA furniture, which looks stylish and high-quality, is also made of MDF or even the lesser quality low-density fiberboard.

Although MDF is about as cheap as you can get, decide whether you want any, some, or no MDF in your kitchen cabinetry. One important thing to note about MDF is that eventually it is going to fail on you. No matter what level of care you take with your kitchen cabinets, no matter how much you try to avoid direct water contact, moisture, humidity, and the like, MDF cabinets will eventually warp and sag.

Another acronym?  Yes, but this is one where I recommend you sit up and take notice.  RTA stands for Ready To Assemble. a type of cabinet available mainly through Internet retailers and rarely in brick-and-mortar stores.

After you place the order online, cabinets are shipped to you flat-packed.  Ever bought a piece of furniture at IKEA?  It works much the same way, except for the part about tying boxes to the top of your car with string.  Assembly is super-simple with the cam lock and bracket system that most makers integrate.

RTA prices occupy the $2,000 to $5,000 zone more than the $10,000 price tag you ll find from the typical cabinet manufacturer-retailer-installer juggernaut.  Hate the idea of self-assembly?  You shouldn t; but if you do, most companies sell pre-assembled cabinets.

Why buy the name brand kitchen cabinets like Kraftmaid and Merrliat? Kitchen cabinet manufacturing has become somewhat of a cottage industry because it is essentially nothing more than putting together a box made of wood and hardware.

True, it is a highly exacting type of construction, not one that you would want to do in your home workshop.  Still it is not one that requires special materials or tools. Consequently, there are plenty of cabinet makers out there—not just the handful of five or six that the kitchen designers tend to palm off on you.  All of these no-name cabinet companies are vying for your cabinet dollars, alongside the Kraftmaids and Merrilats.  Except they don t have the big advertising budgets.

Another way that kitchen cabinet manufacturers really pry open your wallet is by adding extras that cost more than their true worth. This is, of course, the same thing that auto manufacturers and retailers do, adding “options” and extras like undercoating. Not all of these extras are bad. You just need to think twice about these extras before ordering them up.
  • Turntables built-in to your cabinet will cost more than if you purchase a simple $10 turntable by yourself.
  • Fancy glass doors will cost more than solid doors.
  • Any kind of hardware (hardware being defined as cabinet pulls, changes, knobs, etc.) purchased through the cabinet manufacturer will always be extremely expensive. Purchase your own hardware, install it yourself. and save a lot of money.

Have you ever heard that old saying, One man s ceiling is another man s floor. The same thing applies to kitchen cabinets. Kitchen cabinet installation also means the “de-installation” of the current cabinets. If the homeowner is doing the job by himself, then he will have to pay a hauler, rent a rolloff dumpster, or make a costly trip to the landfill to get rid of the old kitchen cabinets. It can be quite expensive to get rid of old kitchen cabinets, and that is why you will see plenty of homeowners advertising their old kitchen cabinets on places like Craigslist, FreeCycle, and other free online classified outlets. Unless the kitchen cabinets are of extremely high quality, it is unlikely that you will have to pay anything for these old cabinets. After all, you re saving them money.

The caveat: if you agree to take a set of cabinets that are currently secured in a kitchen, and then later find out that they have been trashed during removal, are you still committed to taking the cabinets away? That is something between you and the owner, but there is a very good chance that removal of the cabinets will not go very smoothly, and you may end up with just a pile of broken boards. This especially is true if you are dealing with MDF cabinetry. It is my personal opinion that it is impossible to remove MDF cabinetry without breaking it.

Another area where you can save money with your kitchen cabinets is installation. When you go to a full service kitchen cabinet company, they are going to roll all the costs together, and you will never know the true cost of installation.

You have two options here. First, you can buy the cabinets only and have them delivered to your house. Then, search for a local contractor--in fact, you don t even need to find a contractor, just a handy man or two, because this is a very simple work--and have him put up the cabinets. No matter what the cabinet company claims, no matter what the cabinet manufacturer claims, installing kitchen cabinets is not rocket science. You can do it.

The main issue with self installation is that cabinets are very heavy and unwieldy. That is why at the very least you must have two people, and preferably three people, helping with the cabinet installation .

A second issue with self installation is that it is a very exacting process. If you cannot stand the thought of working with levels and stud-finders, and dealing with measurements down to an eighth of an inch, then do not even attempt to install your own cabinets. Because any kitchen floor, no matter how level it looks, is not perfectly level and you will need to adjust the base of your cabinets to level them out.

And the third issue with self installation is that, no matter how hard you try to do it all yourself, there is one area that is difficult for the do-it-yourselfer: countertops. If you are looking to have a custom, seamless countertop, such as Corian or Silestone. or slab granite. you will need to have a company come in to do that. But the good news is that you can isolate just that one process and have a counter company do that part only.

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