Cabinet refacing vs. cabinet replacing: Which is right for you?

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Are your kitchen cabinets old and tired, and you’re hoping for something new? If money is no object, you can choose to fix the problem by renovating the entire kitchen. But sadly, most of us are stuck in the other camp: Those who have to pick and choose their home improvements to meet budgets and time constraints.

That get to the heart of the pros and cons of cabinet refacing, but there are plenty of other factors to consider as well. Here’s a breakdown of cabinet refacing vs cabinet replacing.

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Cabinet refacing: Pros and cons

When you choose to reface your cabinets, you are probably going to save a great deal of money. If your cabinet boxes need no work at all, you are looking at simply replacing cabinet doors and drawer fronts, a job that most handy homeowners can do themselves. Therefore, price estimates will depend heavily on the materials you choose to use, and whether you want to refinish the old cabinet doors or replace them altogether.

Refinishing the old cabinets requires the least amount of investment. You will need a few good stripping chemicals, a place to work (usually in the yard is just fine) and the materials necessary to make the cabinets look as you wish, such as stains or paints. Depending upon which you choose, you’re looking at a few hundred dollars to get the job done. New hardware might add another $50 to the bottom line.

But what about materials if you need a complete overhaul? Here’s where the choices get interesting. There are three basic materials to look into: plastic laminate, rigid thermofoil (RTF), and wood veneer.

RTF tends to be the most affordable, as well as the most durable. Plastic laminate comes next on the affordability hierarchy, and has a wider range of styles and finishes than RTF. The most expensive will be wood veneer, which might cost up to 25% more than other materials. However, the look of wood is second to none, and with the right care, it is also the longest-lasting option.

Keep in mind that cabinet refacing means your kitchen layout is going to stay the same. In order to do a more serious overhaul, cabinet replacement is the answer.

Cabinet replacement: Pros and cons

If the cabinet boxes have seen better days, it’s time to put them out of their misery. Replacing the cabinets completely also means you can move around the elements of the kitchen, such as switching the sink with the stove. But as you might imagine, all of that work comes with a much higher price tag.

To put things in perspective, let’s look at the Remodeling Magazine 2016 Cost vs. Value Report. A minor kitchen remodel — one that includes kitchen cabinet refacing, among other changes — has a national average price of $20,122. (Editor’s note: Our contributor Jacob Wade did it for much cheaper — only $5,000!) But a major kitchen remodel, one that includes completely replacing the cabinets, has a national average price of $59,999. The National Kitchen and Bath Association points out that 50% to 60% of the cost of remodeling a kitchen goes toward cabinetry. Given those numbers, you can see how much more cabinet replacement can cost, especially if custom work is involved.


The good news is that all that extra money gives you a few very valuable options. Custom-made cabinets allow you to create your kitchen from the ground up, with any bells and whistles you’ve been longing to have. Pull-out shelves, unusually-sized cabinets and unique details, such as recycling drawers, can be added during the design phase. You can also choose materials, colors and the like — whatever suits your fancy and your budget.

How long does it take to replace or reface cabinets?

Time is a consideration for busy homeowners. If you intend to simply replace the cabinet fronts and doors, you might be able to complete your cabinet refacing project in a single weekend. Expect to sink a few weekends into the project if you are going to be stripping the old cabinets and applying new paint or stain.

Cabinet replacement takes much more time. The contractor will have to tear out the old cabinets, which means you must empty all of them, find a place to store the items and plan on another place to eat while your kitchen is taken over. However, the advantage is that all the hassle leads to gorgeous, brand-new cabinets that should last for decades.

Whatever you choose in the war between cabinet refacing vs. cabinet replacing, make sure your choices reflect what you really want. Those new kitchen cabinets, doors and drawers are designed to last for many years; choose something that fits with your personal style, and you will be happy with your kitchen for a very long time.

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