How to Prepare for a Kitchen Cabinet Installation

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Make sure to do the appropriate prep work before installing kitchen cabinets.

Installing new kitchen cabinets involves a considerable amount of prep work. Whether you do it yourself or have help from a contractor, you need to have a plan. Deciding what you wish to keep (if anything), clearing the kitchen and organizing its contents can be daunting. However, if you follow a few simple steps, successful kitchen cabinet installation will be that much easier.

Prepping Your Kitchen for Cabinet Removal

Before removing your old kitchen cabinets, remove and organize all of their contents since an empty space will be easier in which to maneuver. Make sure you have plenty of packing supplies on hand, including boxes, tape, newspapers and plastic storage bags. Keep the items you use every day in a place where you can continue to access them and pack and store the rest with like items together.

Removing kitchen cabinets is also a great excuse to reduce clutter by throwing things away or donating them. Don't forget to take down any window coverings and wall decorations and make sure to cover any electronics, furniture or valuables in adjacent rooms to protect them from dust and debris during demolition.

Before removing the cabinets, turn off the electricity, gas and water to the kitchen so you can disconnect and remove appliances in safety. Throw a dropcloth over the floor to protect it from damage and rent a dumpster. If there are any parts of the old cabinets you wish to preserve, such as hardware or doors, remove them and place them aside.

Remove the doors and take out all items before demolishing existing kitchen cabinets.

Removing the Countertop and Appliances From Base Cabinets

Before removing your cabinets, you'll need to remove appliances such as a garbage disposal and dishwasher from the base pieces. Unplug the garbage disposal and disconnect it from the drain pipe and the dishwasher if you have one. Then, remove it from the sink drain by loosening its mounting bracket. To remove the dishwasher, disconnect it from the hot-water supply line, the discharge line and its electrical feed. Unscrew the screws that attach it to the underside of the counter and pull it out.

Next, remove the countertop and sink from the base cabinets. If it is a drop-in sink, use a chisel and a putty knife to cut through the caulk around the sink's edge. Then, using a pry bar, pull the sink away from the countertop and lift it out. If it's an undermount sink, get someone to hold it up as you unscrew the brackets or clips securing the sink to the underside of the countertop. Cut through the caulk or adhesive seal along the sink's edge and then remove the sink.

Remove the countertop by loosening its screws from the base cabinets. Slide a pry bar under its rim to pry it loose. You may need help lifting the countertop from the base cabinets. You can also break the countertop in chunks and remove it if you don't wish to save it.

Removing Your Old Cabinets

Dismantling your kitchen cabinets is relatively easy, but you may need a little help with their removal, as the pieces can be cumbersome.

  • For base cabinets: Unscrew and remove the doors and slide a putty knife between the wall and the side of the cabinets to remove the trim along the bottom and pry them loose with a pry bar or hammer. Next, find the screws fastening a base cabinet to the wall and the other cabinets and remove them. Start at one end as you pull each section away and pull out any nails left in the wall with a hammer.

  • For upper and tall cabinets: You'll need helpers to hold tall and wall cabinets as you dismantle them. Make sure the cabinet doors and hardware are off before starting. With someone else supporting them, unscrew the cabinets from the wall and remove them from the kitchen.

Preparation and Installation of Flooring

If there is damage to the floor, now is the time to make the necessary repairs. You can install new floors before or after the cabinets depending on the type of flooring you have.

  • Hardwood: You have the option to install hardwood before or after putting in the cabinets. If you do put the cabinets in first, this will leave a little more room in your budget, as you'll use less materials. However, when installing a dishwasher, you may have to place a piece of plywood underneath or inside of its opening, as its feet usually rest at the same height as the cabinets. This will allow it to slide into place easily.

  • Floating floors: Designed to move freely as it expands and contracts, this type of flooring does not attach directly to the subfloor. Therefore, you should install the cabinets first. If you don't, this could lead to buckling and gaps in the floor. Laminates should also be installed after the cabinets.

  • Tile: Installation of tile can take place before or after cabinet installation, but this will depend on the strength of the subfloor and the total weight of the tile, cabinets and countertop. Consult a structural engineer before making your decision.
You may need to repair your flooring or install new flooring after the cabinetry is installed.

Repair Walls Before Cabinet Installation

After removing your old cabinets, you'll need to fix the wall behind where they once stood before painting it. Use spackle and a putty knife to fill small dents, dings and indentations and sand down the areas so that they're smooth and blend with the wall.

Thin layers of joint compound, also known as a skim coat, help fill uneven walls where the low areas are less than a quarter inch in depth. You can apply as many layers as you like, but you may wish to use hot mud instead. A setting-type joint compound, it's thicker, and you can sand it smooth when it's wet. It also hardens within two hours.

If your walls are severely uneven, you may want to consider removing a section of the drywall or the wall framing depending on the cause of the unevenness. If the wall has twisted or bowed studs or studs that aren't flush with the plates, you may wish to add secondary studs or shave off a portion of the studs to even out the wall.

Marking the Walls for New Cabinets

According to Old House Journal, upper cabinets should sit about 54 inches above the floor. This accounts for the height of the base cabinet (34.5 inches), a standard countertop (1.5 inches) and an 18-inch backsplash or empty wall space in the area between the countertop and the bottom of the upper cabinet.

Draw a control point or level line on the walls where the cabinets will be — this is the point from which all other measurements will come. From a 4-foot stepladder, aim a laser level (or 4-foot level) at each of the room's corners, dot them and snap chalk lines in between. Double check them with a spirit level to find your level line.

With tape, go around the room to measure from your level line down to the floor every few feet to find the floor's highest point. This will be the shortest measurement between the level line and floor and the control point from which the base cabinets will sit. From that point, measure up 34 1/2 inches and mark the wall. From the level line, measure down 16 1/2 inches in every corner, connect their dots and snap chalk lines between the corners to create the line on which you will affix the base cabinets' top rails.

From the highest point on the floor, measure 54 inches up to strike another level line. This line is where the bottom of the upper cabinets will go. Make sure to put the upper cabinets in before the base cabinets, as you'll need the room to work. To support their weight, you must screw upper cabinets into wall studs.

You can purchase ready-to-assemble cabinetry at many big-box retailers.

Prepping New Cabinets for Installation

Big-box retailers, including IKEA, Home Depot and Lowe's, sell ready-to-assemble cabinets. They come in standard sizes and in flat packaging, which includes everything you'll need for DIY kitchen cabinet assembly. A homeowner with just a little knowledge of cabinetry can put RTA cabinets together easily by simply following the directions that come with the cabinets. RTA cabinet manufacturers also have instructional videos online if you need further guidance. Make sure to piece RTA cabinets together before attempting any cabinet installation.

If you purchase preassembled cabinets, check them against your order when they arrive to make sure they are the right size, contain all the pieces — including shelves, doors and drawer fronts — and are free of damage that may have occurred during shipping. If everything looks good, you can begin cabinet installation, but don't attach any hardware, doors or drawer fronts until you put the cabinets in place.

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Michelle Nati has written DIY and home improvement articles for The Farmers’ Almanac, ApartmentShowcase.com, and Oddee.com. She holds a B.A. in Communications and English from Niagara University.

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