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Power Tools for Professionals

How to Install Cabinets

How to Install Cabinets

Need to install cabinets? You first need a to-do checklist.

If you want to successfully install cabinets, you need to be obsessively planned and organized. While that means having the right drills, drivers, bits, and other tools on hand when work starts, a trouble-free cabinet installation actually starts long before then.

A crucial first step is for the cabinet installer to confirm, before placing the final cabinet order, that everything will fit together in the allotted space and that the homeowners are getting what they want. This review is doubly important when the installer is working for a home center or cabinet shop and hasn’t been involved in the design. Short-changing it not only invites problems: it leaves potential profits on the table.

The next step for cabinet installation is the review. The review takes place during a pre-construction meeting with the homeowners, and the secret to making this meeting earn its keep is a written checklist. While cabinet installers all seem to have different lists, they have several things in common, from carefully confirming measurements to reviewing countertop materials and lighting needs. (We have included a sample checklist below but it’s meant as a starting point, and should be customized for your needs.)

Rob Corbo, a remodeling contractor in Elizabeth, New Jersey, makes it a priority during this meeting to double check problem areas like corners. “If there’s a drawer cabinet on an inside corner, you want to make sure that when the drawer opens it won’t hit the intersecting cabinet’s door hardware.” When he identifies problems or conflicts, he calls the designer and faxes or emails the completed list with the items marked that need correction.

Some contractors don’t use formal lists on job types they have done a hundred times before. But the habit of doing so on every job makes installations go more smoothly – a real payoff when installing low-margin stock cabinets.

The list review is also a good time to do some upselling for your cabinet installation. “You can ask the clients about custom tile backsplashes, overhead and under-cabinet lighting, and whether they want extra electrical outlets,” says Corbo. “If no architect or interior designer has been involved, those items will not have been addressed.” He notes that while cabinet installation alone isn’t a high-profit work, such extras can be.

Of course this approach will yield the best result when followed consistently. That’s not always the case. “The biggest challenge is complacency,” says Dennis Gehman, a Harleysville, Pennsylvania remodeler who serves as a trainer in the National Association for the Remodeling Industry’s Lead Carpenter Program. “Some installers have a ‘been there done that and I don’t need to check the list again’ attitude. This may work fine most of the time, there’s always that one time when it causes a problem.”

Gehman suggests having leads complete the list in writing, sign it, and turn it into the office. “For those of us in management, checking lists is our nature, but tradesman have a lot of other things to think about.”

What does he consider the most important items in the list review? While it’s a good time to sell extra work Gehman agrees with Corbo that the first order of business is to make sure the dimensions are correct. “Measure twice and cut once may be a cliche but it’s a very wise cliche. If you don’t do it, you’re going to end up needing a wood stretcher.”

The questions on this list are ones that most cabinet installers will want to review with the homeowners before placing the final cabinet order. Note that this list is only a sample to get you started. Think through it and add additional questions as needed.

A To-Do Checklist

(Carefully check the dimensions on the plans and confirm that the cabinets will fit into the space without conflicts. Double-check corner clearances, blind cabinets, sink bases, appliance openings, and cabinet reveals at windows and doors.)

  • Do the dimensions on the plan match those of the actual space? Do the cabinets as shown on the plan fit into that space?
  • Is the space level, plumb and square? If not, do any cabinets need to be altered to accommodate the space?
  • Is the sink base centered on the window?
  • Are wall cabinets symmetrical on both sides of windows and doors?
  • Are there adequate clearances for corner cabinets and appliance doors? Does the refrigerator chosen by the homeowners fit into the allotted cabinet openings? (Check width and height.) How about dishwashers other undercabinet appliances?
  • Does the order include adequate filler strips?
  • Will large items such as refrigerators and pantry cabinets fit through small vestibules or existing door openings?
  • What will the countertop and backsplash materials be?

  • How extensive will the demolition be? Will it include cabinets, appliances, flooring, or a full gut down to the framing?
  • What will be done with old cabinets, counter tops, and appliances? Will they be donated, kept, or discarded?
  • For items to be kept, where will they be stored?
  • Where can the dumpster be located?

(Note existing lighting, switching, and box locations, and compare them with any new electrical plans and appliance specification sheets.)

  • Will dedicated lines be needed for the following: disposal, microwave, refrigerator, and electric range?
  • Will additional ceiling lighting be wanted?
  • How about undercabinet and other task lighting?
  • Are additional countertop receptacles needed?
  • Does the existing kitchen have two countertop circuits as required by code?
  • Will a toe kick heater be needed?

  • Does the refrigerator need a water supply?
  • Can the existing plumbing below the sink base handle the new sink and dishwasher?
  • Is the gas feed for the range in the right location?
  • Will the exhaust vent be adequate for the new range hood?
  • Will any appliances need to be ordered?
  • Will a disposal be needed?
  • Will any heating elements (radiators, duct registers, baseboard heaters) need to be installed or relocated?

  • Will the old floor need to be replaced?
  • What material will the new floor be?
  • Will the new flooring go over the old?

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