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Should You Install a hardwood floor before or after you install cabinets

Updated on March 15, 2010

Next to using felt paper or rosin paper it seems like the experts are split as to what is better;  should you install the cabinets before laying the hardwood floors or vice versa?

The case for installing the floors first before the kitchen cabinets

The professionals who think the floors should go first are quick to point out that by doing this first, you won’t need to add trim moldings against the “toe kicks”.  This would be the case if the hardwood floor is level and even though.  And considering that hardwood installers very rarely use levelers, this could be a problem.

The cabinet may not be level….

There are a lot of cases where once the cabinets are installed, one side could be lower than the other.  If this is the case, you will need the use of a trim carpenter to scribe the toe kick to the look of the floor.  It is much easier to do this with the floors in first.

What happens if you decide to remodel?

Another argument for installing the hardwood floors first before the kitchen cabinets is the fact that you may want to remodel in the future.  With the hardwood floors running over the complete floor, the remodeling project can have more options….you may want smaller cabinets in spots that is on the subfloor.  If this is the case, then you will either have to lay more wood flooring or make a different plan to cover the subfloor.

Removing Appliances can be a problem if you install the cabinets first

Another big problem with installing cabinets first is the fact that removing something like a dishwasher suddenly will become an ordeal.  The “cabinet first” professionals argue that this can be alleviated simply by fitting a piece of plywood under the appliances making it easier to remove.  Other appliances such as an oven or refrigerator are typically in a recess of the area making it a non-factor, they will argue.

The Case for installing the cabinets first
The pro’s who think that cabinets should be installed before the flooring will quickly point out that there is a great potential for damage to the floors by installing the cabinets last.  The thought process goes that cabinet installation will have a greater chance of ruining the floors as they are set.  The usual methods to protecting the floors such as laying cardboard or kraft paper will not protect the hardwood from damage.  The cabinets have to be “set” in place; if they are set using a corner, dings and scratches will happen.  And considering the fact that most people who add hardwood flooring, usually will use engineered prefinished hardwood in their kitchen, the option for sanding and refinishing after the fact, is not there.  And we won’t even discuss hardwood flooring repairs under the cabinets should they be moved in the future.

Poaking holes in the “remodeling” argument

The cabinet first pro’s will quickly point out that since most hardwood will discolor when exposed to light, if the remodel is 5+ years or more, chances are the wood underneath the cabinets isn’t going to match the kitchen floors and will need to be replaced anyways.  What about sanding or refinishing?  Nope….it won’t work.

So what is better? Installing the flooring before you put in the cabinets or after?

The reality is that each have their advantages and disadvantages.  If you forsee a major kitchen remodel in the near future, then laying hardwood flooring throughout your kitchen would probably be the best best.  However, if you intend to sell your house or the remodel will be years from now, then it really won’t matter whether you install the cabinets first or you install the flooring first.  To protect your flooring during the cabinet installation, use masonite boards to cover the floors.  If you are installing the cabinets first, you will want to think ahead to when you are replacing appliances to make sure that removing them is easy and painless by laying a fitted plywood board on the subfloor under the appliance.


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      Henry 6 years ago

      Not cheaper. Labor will be more to install around cabinets as opposed to have an open run. Never install cabinets before flooring. Go cabinet installer will not damage the floors. Higher chance the flooring installer will damage the cabinets

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      7 years ago

      It's also cheaper to install cabinets first b/c the floor won't cover the entirety of the floor, just the part not covered by the cabinets.