Question: We are looking into having our kitchen cabinets redone in Formica--the shell covered and new Formica or wood doors attached. What should we look for? What are the pros and cons? How long can we expect this to hold up? Any additional information will be appreciated.
Answer: One of the primary considerations is the configuration of your kitchen. Also, are the cabinets where you actually want them? Are the walls behind the cabinets in good condition--free from mildew or dry rot?
Generally speaking, if you talk with a firm that only installs new cabinets, you are told that covering up an old problem isn't the answer. They point out such things as: cabinets installed 30 years ago probably did not allow space for electric mixers and food processors to be placed between the base cabinets and hanging cabinets; depth of the countertops often are not deep enough to allow a dishwasher to be inserted flush with the front of the cabinets; cabinets in old kitchens with high ceilings often go all the way to the ceiling and will still look out of date when covered with new material.
On the other hand, if you talk with firms that specialize only in refacing old cabinets, they'll likely say they can do the job for about half the price of installing new cabinets; old cabinets are generally made of solid wood, while many new cabinets use a less durable particle board; cabinets can easily be recovered without incurring the cost of making adjustments to old plumbing or wiring.
Which way should you go?
We contacted Frank La Rosa, owner of Re-Nu Cabinets of California, 6848 La Tijera Blvd., because his firm installs new cabinets and also refaces old ones. Some of the above are pros and cons he mentioned.
When asked how long a refacing job should last, he said his firm offers a 10-year product warranty on refacing with plastic laminate and a five-year warranty on wood refacing projects.
La Rosa puts a lot of emphasis on the quality of new cabinets, if that route is taken, and in figuring the cost of new as opposed to refacing, he says the 50% difference in price is based on high-quality new cabinets.
La Rosa lists some ways to overcome the few refacing problems listed here:
He says cabinets that are hung too low can be cut off at the bottom to allow more space between the hanging units and the base cabinets. Likewise for cabinets built to the ceiling: He points out the tops of cabinets can be cut off and either a sofit added or the ceiling dropped.
As for inserting a dishwasher, he says the homeowner often cuts into the wall to get the benefit of the few inches between the interior and exterior wall. As for other appliances, such as a trash compactor, he suggests that firms offering custom-built cabinets can often tear out just a section of the base cabinet and duplicate the old with provision for the new appliance.
La Rosa fears that some homeowners don't consider the resultant possibilities when they choose to tear out the old and put in new cabinets: "The walls may look OK when the job is started, but when you get into the job of removing cabinets, plaster may crumble and require replacement or patching."
Floor surfaces can also be damaged in removal of the base cabinets, he points out.
Persons who prefer the look of wood may want to weigh their preference against these considerations: Plastic laminate can cost about 25% less than wood, be more maintenance-free and usually look new for a longer period of time.