One of the biggest decisions when updating your kitchen is what to do about the cabinets. New cabinets can consume a significant portion of your kitchen renovation budget, particularly if you are buying custom cabinetry. However, there’s another choice for modernizing your kitchen when all-new cabinets are outside your budget, or you’re just not sure you want to do a complete remodel — it’s called refacing.
What is Refacing?
Refacing is the process of switching out the door and drawer fronts with new ones and applying a new laminate or wood veneer on the cabinet framework. The cabinet side panels, face frames and moldings are also replaced so everything matches. It’s usual to replace the hinges, handles, knobs, and pulls as well.
How It’s Done
- A professional installer will measure your cabinets to determine the amount of veneer required, the correct sizes and quantities for door and drawer fronts, and how much hardware is needed. The doors and drawer fronts may take one to two weeks for delivery.
- When the materials arrive, the cabinet doors, hinges, and drawers are removed, and the drawer fronts taken off.
- The exteriors of the cabinet boxes are washed with a degreaser, and lightly sanded. Surface flaws are repaired or filled to ensure a secure, smooth fit for the veneer.
- All visible exteriors of the cabinet boxes are covered with matching coverings in a choice of natural wood veneer, RTF (rigid thermofoil, a thin layer of vinyl applied to fiberboard), or plastic laminate, and then trimmed for a perfect fit.
- Doors, drawer fronts, and hardware are then installed in this order:
- New door hinges. Current hinges in good condition can be reused
- New doors and drawer fronts
- New hardware, such as handles, knobs, and drawer pulls. Existing hardware can be used if in good shape
- Accessories such as crown molding, lighting, glass panels, or storage
Pros of Refacing
- Refacing costs much less, typically 30 to 50% cheaper than replacing cabinets while still achieving the look of brand-new cabinets.
- Takes less time — usually 2 to 4 days, depending on the size of your kitchen.
- You can still use your kitchen in the evening. Appliances don’t have to moved, and there are no plumbing or electrical interruptions.
- There’s less clutter, mess, and dust.
- You can save your existing countertop. Countertops can rarely be reused after being removed from old base cabinets during replacement projects
Cons of Refacing
- Refacing won’t solve the problem of poor kitchen layout.
- There may be limitations in adding cabinet accessories that improve storage and functionality to your current cabinet design.
- You might spend more on expensive veneer and hardware, resulting in fewer savings.
When Replacement is the Only Option
Not all cabinets can be refaced. Here are some situations when you’ll have to replace them:
- The Cabinets are Structurally Unsuitable
You may have moved into a home with cabinets made of low-grade materials. If the entire cabinet and interior structure is composed of something very inexpensive and non-durable, such as compressed particle board, then refacing isn’t an option. The structure just isn’t good enough to work with, and you’ll need to replace.
- The Cabinets Can’t be Repaired
If a cabinet frame is rotted, covered in mold, water damaged, or the wood is swollen or falling apart, it can’t be refaced. However, some of the other cabinets may be in good shape, in which case you can reface those, and replace the ones that can’t be repaired.
- Internal hardware in Bad Shape
If the drawers are off track and don’t operate smoothly, and the cabinets don’t have adequate shelving or storage accessories, replacing them with modern cabinets and drawers is the preferable option, rather than spending the money on refacing.
- Change of Kitchen Layout or Complete Remodel
Refacing is used for kitchens retaining essentially the same configuration. You’ll need new cabinets under the following circumstances: the layout is going to be completely changed (e.g cabinet walls removed), the kitchen’s being moved to an entirely different room, or you’re doing a complete remodel. Only cabinet boxes remaining in place can be refaced. For partial layout changes, the cabinets staying in place can be refaced, while new ones can be installed elsewhere (e.g. for a kitchen island or peninsula).
- The Cabinets are Metal
Metal cabinets are difficult to work with, are sometimes rusty, and can’t easily be refaced. It’s better to replace them.
- The Cabinets Have an Unpleasant Odor
Food odors can permeate the wood in cabinets over time, leaving unpleasant odors that are extremely difficult to remove. You don’t want smelly cabinets in an updated kitchen. Replace them with fresh cabinetry.
- Structural Limitations
In some older homes (and some newer ones), floors have sagged and settled, walls are leaning and out of plumb, and the kitchen cabinets attached to them are also out of kilter. There are gaps at the edges of the cabinetry, and the doors don’t close properly. These cabinets have to be replaced with brand new ones, and you may want to consider a complete kitchen renovation.
Refacing Finish Options
Generally, there are three finish options for refacing:
- Rigid thermofoil (RTF) is a very malleable vinyl foil that is pressure-molded over medium-density-fiberboard (MDF) doors. It’s moisture-resistant as long as the coating isn’t damaged. There’s a wide choice of colors and patterns, and its wood grain is made to look realistic. It’s the most affordable option compared to laminate and wood.
- Plastic laminates come in hundreds of colors and patterns, including a wood-grain look. They’re slightly more expensive than RTF and are moisture-resistant. A cabinet door with laminate will last longer than a cabinet door with thermofoil. However, they lack malleability, which compared to RTF limits them to plain cabinet door styles.
- Wood Veneer includes oak, cherry, maple, birch, walnut, or almost any wood you want, with a choice of different stain colors. Wood must be sealed to protect against moisture. It’s the most expensive option, running 10 to 25 percent more than RTF and laminates.
Freshening Up the Interiors
When refacing the cabinets, you may want to consider freshening up the interiors as well. For a low cost, you can sand and paint them yourself for a clean new look. Be sure the paint you choose is suitable for the surface you’re working on, and that the primer is tinted the same color as the top coat.