To Replace, Reface, or Refinish Your Kitchen Cabinets?

A kitchen with dark wood cabinets.

Kitchen cabinets are an important part of a kitchen because they set the style, create a mood, and have functionality. Replacing, refacing, or refinishing your kitchen cabinets is a process you only want to go through once. During a kitchen remodeling job, cabinets can be one of the biggest investments. Since cabinets are the biggest item in your budget for kitchen remodeling, you need to concern yourself with how much the project will cost, the time it will take, and the added value you are investing in your home. You want cabinets that will be convenient and the least costly. Make sure they provide the amount of space needed for storage, are hassle-free, and are to your liking.

As you decide to remodel your kitchen, think about what type of work your kitchen needs and how much you are willing to spend. If your kitchen is in good shape, then you can opt to reface or refinish your cabinets. This will cost less than replacing them. Refacing isn't an option if your existing cabinets are beginning to fall apart, were not built properly, you have rusting metal cabinets, or they are off-kilter. If you decide to go with refinishing, remember it is just a cosmetic makeover and that not all cabinets and countertops can be refinished.

If you're trying to sell your house, the condition of a kitchen can influence a buyer's decision. Before investing in your kitchen remodeling project, check with a local real estate agent on what type of investments to make and how much the value of your house might improve. If your house is sold within a year of remodeling, the return can be up to 90 percent. If you decide to keep your house for years, the value increases, according to Remodeling Magazine's Cost vs. Value Report 2003. In 2003, the average cost for an upscale kitchen remodeling job was $68,962. The value at the sale was $56,711, recouping about 79.6 percent of what was spent. For a mid-range kitchen remodeling job, the average cost was $43,804, the value at sale $33,101, and the recoup about 74.9 percent.


Refinishing your kitchen cabinets is the most economical solution for those who do not want to spend the time, or money, on a big remodeling job. Pricing for repainting or refinishing will depend on the type of paint and method you will use. All wood and plywood cabinets can be repainted. Metal cabinets, laminate, or melamine cabinets are difficult to paint because they require special paints, and can peel and chip otherwise.

Before you begin painting, remove the doors and drawer fronts from the base cabinets so you can get an even coat of paint. Clean the cabinets of grease and other kitchen contaminants. You can't apply the paint properly if they are dirty. A sprayed-on finish is recommended for repainting cabinets. It gives the best uniform coverage and leaves no marks from the application. You can paint cabinet shelves and the interiors, but don't paint the inside of the doors.

You will also need to prime them before painting. An oil-based primer works best because the paint sticks to it. You can use a gloss or semi-gloss paint, which are oil-based, or a water-based paint that is 100 percent acrylic.


Replacement is recommended if your kitchen cabinets and countertop are physically worn down. You will likely need to "gut out" your kitchen if you need more than a cosmetic job, or if you have the budget and desire to redo your kitchen. The bulk of your money will go into replacing your cabinets. Here's what you need to know when choosing your new cupboards.

You can either buy stock or modular cabinets or have them custom made. When deciding to go with stock or custom made cabinets make sure to consider how they are constructed; the quality of finish, the materials used, interior accessories, and door and drawer hardware. You may not get all of the features you want with stock cabinets. You can buy stock or modular cabinets at your local home center stores. If you decide to install the cabinets yourself, make sure to plan your layout carefully and take good measurements

Low-end cabinets are melamine covered and come with cheap hardware. Mid-range cabinets have paint grade plywood or solid wood doors with reasonably priced hardware. The thicker the plywood, the better the quality. On the high end are hardwood veneers and stain-grade solid wood doors with better hardware and excellent fittings.

Check how the cabinet joints hold together; are they nailed or glued, or are they dovetail and dowel joints? Dovetail and dowel joints will hold up better. Look at corner blocks; plastic ones indicate a low-quality cabinet. Inspect the hinges and slides to find which hardware is of better quality. Inspect interior accessories such as shelves and baskets. Wooden and stainless steel accessories are better than coated wire. Check to see if doors and drawers close smoothly.

If you want specially sized cabinets and a unique design feature, this is the way to go. Custom cabinets are not a recommended do-it-yourself project to build or to install. This is expensive and you must go to a specialized cabinet manufacturer to discuss the specifications of your kitchen. Things to ask about are what type of styles, finishes, accessories, and special features are available. Remember that not all craftsmen are the same. Check their references by requesting to view kitchens they have built and installed. Prices will change as you decide to make changes to your plans.


If you are satisfied with your existing layout but want a new style, then consider refacing your kitchen. This is a good idea if your existing cabinets are in good structural condition, and you have enough storage and counter space. Refacing is a remodeling job that gives you that custom looks at an affordable price. It consists of covering the exterior surfaces of your cabinets with new laminate. The doors and drawer fronts are replaced, and the front and side panels are treated with fresh paint or a new veneer. When you reface cabinets there is less mess, no damages to your walls and floors, and hardly any disruption of your kitchen use. Most refacing jobs take a few days, but it can take longer depending on how big the project is.

Remodeling your kitchen cabinets is an important investment if you plan to sell your home. A big investment is only worth it if your kitchen really needs it or if you plan on being in your house for some time.