The rule of thumb in kitchen cabinet refacing is that you can get existing cabinets refaced - with new doors and drawer fronts and matching exterior surfaces - for about half of what new cabinets would cost.
Properly done, no one will know they're not completely new cabinets except you and your contractor.
But not all refacing jobs are equal, say a couple of veteran local refacing professionals.
The old kitchen cabinets have to be well-constructed to start with or a quality refacing job will either be too expensive or not worth doing, says Tucson custom cabinet maker and refacing contractor Wayne Even of Anything Wood Inc.
Some tract homes from the 1980s and later building booms were often equipped with low-end cabinets made of particle board, rather than plywood and solid wood, and are not as sturdy, Even says. In other cases, Even has seen cabinets that are falling apart not because of the structural material, but because of the failure of the glue used to hold them together.
In other cases, the cabinets may be usable, but the drawer glides and drawer box construction are "cheap junk," and replacing them could raise the cost of the refacing job too far to make it practical.
But Erin Brayton, owner of Let's Face It, a Tucson cabinet maker and cabinet refacing contractor, says he routinely replaces drawer glides - the mechanisms that slide drawers in and out.
"The glides usually need to be replaced," Brayton says of older cabinets. He sees it as an opportunity to upgrade the entire cabinet system to match the new look, by using modern European glides with a self-closing feature.
Often, Brayton can give a homeowner "a nice expensive looking kitchen for $5,000 that will add $15,000 to the value of your home."
INTO THE WOODS
Although some cabinet refacing companies offer wet-look synthetic surfaces, even metal, use of darker natural wood is the trend in Southern Arizona. The light woods (oak and white-washed pine) and beige laminates of the 1970s and '80s are out of fashion. Darker woods dominate.
"Alder and cherry are popular, maybe rustic hickory," says Even.
He advises homeowners shopping for a refacing to keep in mind that not everything that looks like wood is real.
Many refacing companies use Rigid Thermofoil doors and drawer fronts, better known as RTF. These components are manufactured using a system that presses a pattern into particle board to form window pane muntins (partitions between glass panes) or to look like routed- wood patterns and then shrink-wrap it with a woodgrain vinyl skin, or any of a variety of images.
Even says "RTF has come a long way" since it was introduced. He said some of the earlier examples of the RTF doors and drawer front products didn't look good up close, nor did they hold up well.
The best of the modern RTF products aren't bad, Even says. But he says local cabinet shops, like his, can usually do a refacing using real wood for less than some franchise refacers charge for RTF.
RTF offers some advantages, according to Brayton, of Let's Face It, who uses both RTF and solid wood. He says RTF is less expensive than real wood, waterproof and easy to care for, and can be guaranteed for several years. He said the one-piece vinyl coating is impervious to water, making it easy to clean.
NEW DOORS AND MORE
Refacing sometimes offers customers other opportunities. Brayton said he has done a number of refacing projects in which he has replaced the doors in lower cabinets with a couple of large, deep drawers. He said the big drawer conversions are particularly popular with older customers because it lets them get to the contents while standing instead of rummaging around in the back of a cabinet on hands and knees.
Out with the old
Oro Valley resident Jan Egerton said her 20-year-old home's white-washed kitchen cabinets were well-made, but looking dated. "We had good cabinets, the 'bones' were good," so we re-faced them." They went with solid knotty alder, built and installed by Even's Anything Wood Inc.
The Egertons also went with new granite countertops and backsplashes, replacing the old light-colored formica. "Once you start putting in new things, the old things look even older," Egerton said.
Another thing she liked about the refacing job was that it didn't interrupt their use of the house for long. The work of removing the old doors and drawer fronts and installing the new parts took less than a week, Egerton said.
Homeowner can get 'a nice expensive-looking kitchen for $5,000 that will add $15,000 to the value of your home.'
Owner, Let's Face It
Before you reface
Some things to keep in mind:
• You'll need solid cabinets to make a refacing practical.
• Consider that a major change in cabinet color or style may call out for other changes, especially in a matching countertop.
• Keep in mind that if you later decide to get new countertops, older cabinets built with plastic laminated wood countertops might not be sturdy enough to support stone or concrete countertops.
• Check the Arizona Registrar of Contractors azroc.gov site to make sure the refacing company is licensed, bonded and in good standing.
• Get a bid that specifies the exact type of material that will be used, the costs and how long the project will take - including when the project will start and finish and how many days crews will be working in your house.
• Get a second or even third bid, and make sure you're comparing equal material, procedures and guarantees on parts and workmanship when choosing a contractor.