Should you install your own kitchen cabinets?

Shannon Lee | Improvement Center Columnist | October 20, 2014

New kitchen cabinets are an investment. If you intend to sell the home in a few years, remember that the kitchen is often a big selling point, so those new cabinets can make a favorable impression. If you intend to stay in your home, new kitchen cabinets can make everything from cooking to home organization much more enjoyable. Once you have decided on kitchen cabinets, it's time to answer the installation question: Do it yourself or hire a contractor?

Installing new kitchen cabinets

Installation of new kitchen cabinets might seem easy at first blush. After all, how tough can it be to assemble those pieces? Then all you have to do is put them up where the old cabinets were, right?

There is actually much more to it than that. The assembly of those cabinets can require serious skills, as well as serious tools. A good contractor will likely be busy for many hours putting the cabinets together, emerging from a heap of sawdust when finished.

Keep in mind that kitchen cabinets are very heavy, and when you put items on the shelves, they become even heavier. That means that the kitchen cabinets absolutely must be bolted to the studs in the walls, and sometimes even more reinforcement is in order. In addition, the measurements must be absolutely accurate, and all the cabinets must be plumb and level -- a single centimeter out of place with the first cabinet means serious problems when you get to the fourth or fifth one.

Also, remember that installing kitchen cabinets requires a great deal of effort and strength. You will definitely need more than one person to make it happen, as simply lifting the cabinets can be tough; someone will have to hold them in place while another person fastens them to the wall. Installation of kitchen cabinets is usually not a solitary kind of job!

When homeowners see the price tag of new kitchen cabinets, they often decide to attempt their own installation in order to save money. And why not? According to Cost Helper, a low-end kitchen cabinet remodel can run between $4,000 and $5,000, and a high-end remodel with custom cabinets can take up to $20,000 or more out of your wallet. That price does not include installation.

But only those who are very handy and already have some experience with cabinet installation should try to handle the job themselves. That's because when something goes wrong -- and it often does! -- calling a professional contractor can become a necessity anyway. Then the installation cost goes up, because now the contractor has to undo whatever damage might have been done during the failed installation attempt. Many homeowners have been caught in the unenviable position of paying even more money than they would have had to pay in the first place.

And besides, a kitchen cabinet remodel is an investment in your home. Don't you deserve the best possible job, done right the first time?

What about cabinet refacing?

Rather than install a whole new set of cabinets, many homeowners choose the more affordable option of cabinet refacing. If the cabinet boxes are in good shape, simply replacing or updating the doors, drawer fronts, and hardware can save a great deal of money, time, and construction hassle. According to Cost Helper, a complete kitchen cabinet refacing can cost between $1,000 and $3,000 for rigid thermofoil or laminate, $2,500 to $6,000 for real wood veneer, and $7,000 to $9,000 or more for high-end replacements.

Can you do it yourself? When it comes to cabinet refacing, often the answer is a resounding yes. However, remember that the job can be very time-consuming, messy, and leave you without a proper kitchen for quite some time. Doing it yourself can run between $200 and $500 for materials, and another $60 or more for tools.

Those who want to find the middle ground between full replacement and refacing could opt to purchase new doors, drawer fronts, and hardware. Simply replacing these components can be done by the seasoned weekend warrior, and can give you a looks-like-new kitchen at a fraction of the cost.

Finding the best contractor

If you choose to go with a contractor, look for one that is bonded, insured, and licensed in your state. Always get at least three estimates, request and check references, and make certain what is and is not included in the estimate before you agree to have any work done on your kitchen remodel.

Though it takes some work to find the right materials and contractor, and takes some time to get the job done, just remember that at the end of it you'll be enjoying your updated kitchen.

Photo credit to Kevin Irby

About the Author

Shannon Lee is a journalist and occasional novelist with a serious weakness for real estate. When she’s not writing, she and her husband are taking road trips to explore covered bridges, little wineries and quaint bed-and-breakfast inns in their beloved Pennsylvania.