Cabinets or Flooring: Which to Install First


When embarking on a kitchen or bathroom remodel, one of the biggest decisions you’ll need to make is whether to install the new cabinets or flooring first. Both options have their pros and cons, so it’s important to understand the key factors that will determine the best sequence for your project. Careful planning is crucial to ensure a smooth installation process and a seamless final look.

This article will examine the key considerations when deciding between cabinets or flooring first, including how each installation impacts the other, scheduling, costs, and aesthetics. We’ll outline the benefits and drawbacks of each approach to help you determine the best order for your specific remodel. With proper planning and coordination with your contractor, you can achieve the beautiful new kitchen or bath of your dreams while minimizing frustration along the way.

What Impacts What: How Cabinets and Flooring Affect Each Other

When determining whether to install cabinets or flooring first during a kitchen or bath remodel, it’s important to understand how the two elements impact each other during and after installation.

How Flooring Impacts Cabinets

If hardwood or tile flooring is installed prior to cabinet installation, the flooring contractor will typically leave a 1/4″ gap between the new flooring and the walls to allow for expansion. Once cabinets are installed on top of the flooring, this gap will be covered by the cabinet’s toe-kick.

One downside to flooring first is that the cabinets will need to be installed carefully to avoid damaging the finished flooring underneath. Floor protection will need to be used and cabinet installers will need to take care not to dent or scratch the floor’s surface.

However, a major advantage to flooring first is that cabinets can be installed on top of a level, finished floor surface. This allows cabinets to have a uniform base and minimizes gaps between cabinet bases and the floor.

How Cabinets Impact Flooring

If cabinets are installed prior to new flooring, the cabinet bases will need to be properly shimmed and leveled to provide a flat surface for the flooring. The gap for expansion can be left between the cabinet toe-kick and the wall.

The flooring installer will need to carefully cut pieces of flooring to fit neatly around the existing cabinet bases. This generally increases install time and cost when compared to installing on an open floor.

While covering the gap with the toe-kick hides uneven edges from view, it does not allow the same uniform base as direct cabinet installation onto the finished floor. Gaps are more likely to appear over time as the flooring expands and contracts.

Scheduling: Impacts on Timeline and Coordination

The sequence of installing cabinets or flooring will significantly impact the project timeline and coordination between trades. It’s important to plan the schedule carefully to minimize construction time while avoiding conflicts.

Flooring First

Installing flooring prior to cabinets generally allows for a more efficient and streamlined process. All demolition, subfloor preparation and flooring installation can be fully completed before the cabinet installer arrives.

The flooring contractor will have full access to the space during their work. Once finished, the cabinet installer can work efficiently without waiting for other trades to finish. This sequencing avoids potential damage to finished flooring as well.

However, the flooring will need to be protected after installation until cabinets are set. Gaps in scheduling could allow damage or debris on finished floors if not properly covered.

Cabinets First

Installing cabinets prior to flooring allows the cabinet contractor full access to install against the subfloor without worrying about finished surfaces. However, several extra installation steps are required.

The old flooring must be removed and subfloor prepped before cabinets can be installed. Once cabinets are set, temporary toe-kick boards will need to be attached along the base. After flooring is installed, the toe-kicks are swapped out with permanent finished pieces.

The flooring installer will have to cut pieces to fit around each cabinet, increasing installation time. Cabinet doors and drawers may need to be removed to allow flooring to slip underneath for a tight fit.

Coordination is critical to avoid leaving cabinets onsite without finished flooring for an extended period, which can lead to damage.

Costs: Impacts on Project Budget

There are a few cost considerations when determining the sequence of cabinet versus flooring installation. Proper planning can help avoid unforeseen expenses.

Flooring First Costs

Having flooring installed first typically avoids extra costs associated with a cabinets-first approach. Since the space is open, the flooring can be installed efficiently and quickly in one phase.

Cabinets can then be installed directly on the finished floor surface, eliminating the need for temporary toe-kick boards and associated labor to install and replace them.

Protection for finished floors will be needed during cabinet install, but overall costs are generally lower.

Cabinet First Costs

The main cost increase associated with installing cabinets prior to flooring is the additional installation steps. Labor is greater to:

  • Install and remove temporary toe-kicks
  • Carefully cut flooring pieces around cabinet bases
  • Potentially remove doors/drawers to allow flooring to slip underneath

There can also be costs associated with protecting unfinished floors or repairing any damage after cabinets are installed but before flooring goes in.

While a cabinets-first approach often costs a bit more in labor and materials, it may be worth it to simplify coordination between trades.

Aesthetics: Impact on the Final Look

The final visual appeal of your kitchen or bath remodel can be impacted by whether cabinets or flooring go in first. There are a few key considerations for the finished look.

Consistent Toe-Kicks

Installing flooring prior to cabinets allows for very consistent and uniform cabinet toe-kicks. Cabinets installed on top of finished floors can align perfectly with no gaps or variations in height.

With a cabinets-first approach, the expanded flooring will hide uneven toe-kick edges under the overhang. Small gaps may be visible over time as the floor expands and contracts.

Tight Floor Joints

For tile or grouted flooring like natural stone, cabinets first can impact visual appeal. When flooring is cut to fit around cabinet bases, the joints between pieces will be very tight or slightly misaligned.

Laying flooring prior to cabinets allows for full tiles and straight uniform grout lines, unbroken by cabinets. However, trim pieces may be needed to cover expansion gaps left during flooring installation.

Transition Pieces

Depending on flooring material, transition strips between rooms may also need to be considered. Carpet trim between carpet and tile floors, for example, will need to be cut to fit tight to cabinet bases if installed after cabinets are in.

Protecting Finishes

When flooring goes in first, both the flooring and cabinets will need protection during the opposite installation to avoid damage. If not properly protected, finishes could get scratched, stained or otherwise damaged.

Cabinets or Flooring First: Key Factors to Consider

When deciding between whether cabinets or flooring should be installed first, keep these key factors in mind:

  • Type of flooring material – Tile or natural stone is harder to cut and fit around cabinets than softer flooring like vinyl or engineered hardwood.
  • Coordinating contractors – Flooring first allows each trade full access without working around the other. Cabinets first requires careful coordination and scheduling.
  • Level finished surface – Flooring first provides the most consistent base and minimizes uneven toe-kicks.
  • Visual appeal – Look for consistent grout lines and toe kicks for the best finished aesthetic.
  • Budget – The sequence impacts cost for materials and labor time. Plan accordingly.
  • Protection – Finished floors and cabinets will both need proper protection during the other installation phase.

No approach is necessarily right or wrong. Many factors are specific to your particular kitchen or bath project. Careful planning, expert installation, and protection of finishes can result in a beautiful outcome, regardless of which goes first.

Flooring First: Pros and Cons

Installing new flooring prior to cabinets comes with several advantages along with a few potential drawbacks to consider:


  • Flooring contractor has full access to space without cabinets in the way. Allows faster installation.
  • Cabinets installed on finished floor for very consistent and level base. Minimal gaps between floor and toe-kicks.
  • Avoids damage to finished flooring during cabinet install.
  • Allows for full, unbroken tiles and straight grout lines if tile flooring.
  • Easier to align flooring patterns across rooms or transition strips.
  • Generally fewer installation steps and lower cost.


  • Finished flooring will need protection during cabinet installation.
  • If flooring is installed long before cabinets, gaps in schedule could lead to damage before cabinets are installed.
  • Cabinets may need additional shims or leveling to align with finished floors.
  • Expansion gaps may be more visible if not covered by toe-kicks. May require trim pieces.

Cabinets First: Pros and Cons

Alternatively, installing cabinets on the subfloor before installing new flooring has its own set of pros and cons:


  • Cabinets can be installed on subfloor without worrying about damaging finished flooring materials.
  • Trades do not need to work around each other’s completed work.
  • Expansion gaps can be easily hidden with standard toe-kicks.
  • Allows flooring contractor full access to cut and lay flooring pieces.


  • Toe-kicks will need to be installed and replaced, adding labor costs.
  • Flooring pieces will need to be carefully cut and fit between cabinet bases.
  • Cabinets and floor may not align well, leaving uneven toe-kicks visible.
  • Flooring installation takes longer working around cabinets.
  • Transitions between flooring types or rooms harder to align.
  • Gaps may appear in flooring over time as material expands/contracts.
  • Finished cabinets at risk for damage before flooring installed unless properly protected.

Flooring or Cabinets First by Type of Flooring Material

Certain types of flooring materials make more sense to install before or after cabinets than others. Here is a quick look at recommendations based on flooring type:

Tile or Stone Flooring

Install before cabinets – Cuts must be made to fit pieces around cabinets with difficult results. Grout lines will be uneven.

Hardwood Flooring

Install before cabinets – Provides most seamless appearance. Easier to protect than soft materials during cabinet install.

Laminate Flooring

Install before cabinets – Tight fits around cabinets can lead to buckling laminate planks over time.

Vinyl Flooring

Install after cabinets – Flexible material is easier to cut and lay under toe-kicks for seamless finish.

Carpet Flooring

Install after cabinets – Toe-kicks provide natural stopping point to tuck carpet edges under. Provides cleaner look.

Factors to Consider When Deciding on Cabinet vs. Flooring Order

While the overview gives a general sense of the pros and cons of each approach, there are several specific factors that will determine the better choice for your kitchen or bathroom remodel.

Cabinet Measurements

Getting accurate measurements for cabinet dimensions and layout is crucial for a smooth installation.

If floors go in first, the finished flooring under cabinets makes taking precise measurements more difficult. Subtleties like slight unevenness or gaps in flooring can get magnified across multiple cabinets, causing misalignments.

Installing cabinets on top of the raw subfloor provides a flat, level surface for precise measurements. You can use the exact cabinet dimensions to cut and install flooring for a perfect fit.

Verdict: Install cabinets first for easier and more accurate measurements.

Structural Support and Leveling

Cabinets should have a sturdy base that provides plenty of structural support.

Flooring alone often lacks the strength to fully support cabinets, especially upper cabinets. Over time, inadequate support can cause cabinets to shift or sag.

Resting cabinets directly on the subfloor gives them a stronger foundation. The sturdy support also makes leveling cabinets easier during installation.

Verdict: Install cabinets first to better support their weight.

Dealing With Uneven Floors

Many kitchen or bathroom renovation projects also involve repairing or improving subfloors. Old floors may have settling issues, uneven spots, or sagging areas.

If you install flooring over problem subfloors, those issues can mirror through to the new surface. This results in uneven cabinet bases that will need shimming and adjusting.

It’s better to address subfloor problems before laying flooring. That way cabinets have a consistently flat and level base.

Verdict: Correct subfloor issues prior to installing either component.

Minimizing Installation Damage

When you install cabinets after finishing the floors, you increase the risk of damage like scuffs, scratches, and dents. Heavy cabinets get slid into place across flooring, which can mark up surfaces.

Installing flooring after cabinets avoids this issue. The flooring can be cut precisely to fit in the voids left between cabinets and walls. No need to slide cabinets across freshly finished floors.

Verdict: Installing cabinets first minimizes damage to floors.

Dealing With Height Differences

Flooring thickness can vary and change the height between the subfloor and top of finished flooring. Standard cabinet sizes are designed for a particular height above the subfloor. Significant flooring thickness changes may require adjusting cabinet dimensions.

When flooring goes in first, you’ll need to account for the height difference when designing and ordering cabinets. Install cabinets first, and thickness changes only affect flooring.

Verdict: Install cabinets first to avoid resizing issues.

Ease of Installation

Installing cabinets generally requires more room to maneuver than installing flooring. Having an open, unencumbered space makes cabinet installation much simpler.

Working around existing cabinets when installing flooring involves carefully cutting pieces to fit between precise voids. The installation process takes longer and has a higher margin of error.

Verdict: Install flooring after cabinets for quicker, easier installation.

Recommendation: Install Cabinets Before Floors

For most kitchen or bathroom remodeling projects, installing cabinets before installing flooring is the better choice.

The ability to get precise measurements, provide robust structural support, and minimize installation damage makes putting cabinets in first the logical order.

However, there are always exceptions depending on your specific situation. For example, if your focus is on showcasing a high-end finished floor like natural stone, you may opt to lay flooring first.

Careful planning and ordering cabinets before floors go in can still allow for accurate measurements. Just be prepared to shim and scribe cabinets during installation to account for potential unevenness.

The points above should give you a good sense of the factors to consider when deciding between cabinet and flooring installation order. Analyze your priorities for the space, and choose the option that best supports your goals.

Step-by-Step Guide to Installing Cabinets Before Floors

Once you’ve decided to tackle cabinets first, follow this step-by-step guide for a smooth installation process:

1. Demolition and Subfloor Preparation

  • Complete any demolition of old cabinets, countertops, and flooring as needed.
  • Inspect subfloor for levelness, damage, or sagging. Complete repairs to ensure subsurface is stable.
  • Clean subfloor thoroughly so surface is pristine for accurate cabinet measurements.

2. Cabinet Selection and Ordering

  • Select cabinet style, finish, and layout that achieves your aesthetic vision.
  • Consult with designer or cabinet specialist to finalize key details:
  • Standard cabinet dimensions based on room size
  • Placement of sinks, appliances, etc. that impact cabinet configurations
  • Organizational features like drawer dividers, pull-out shelves, etc.
  • Place cabinet order with lead time of 4-6 weeks for production and delivery.

3. Detailed Cabinet Measurements

  • Use room dimensions, photos, and layout sketches to map out cabinet placement precisely.
  • Identify corner cabinet sizes needed based on room angles.
  • Determine locations and sizes for specialty pull-outs like spice racks and trash/recycling bins.
  • Note measurements of windows, doors, and all obstructions to tailor cabinet sizes.

4. Cabinet Installation

  • Unpack cabinets and allow to acclimate to room humidity/temperature for 48-72 hours.
  • Begin installation with corner cabinet boxes first to anchor layout.
  • Hang wall cabinets next using shims to ensure level.
  • Install base cabinets tight to wall cabinets for seamless transitions.
  • Attach countertops to cabinets for an integrated installation.
  • Complete final adjustments to doors/drawers for smooth and even gaps.

5. Flooring Installation

  • Select flooring material (e.g. tile, hardwood) based on cabinet style and room use.
  • Lightly mark cabinet perimeter with chalk lines to guide flooring placement.
  • Cut flooring pieces to tightly fit against cabinet edges or under toe kick spaces.
  • Complete all finishing like grouting, transitions, and base trim last.

Follow these key steps for a smooth cabinet-then-floor installation. With cabinets in first, you avoid many of the hazards that can plague flooring-first projects.

Cabinets or Flooring First: Frequently Asked Questions

Still unsure about the best order for your kitchen or bathroom remodel? Here are answers to some frequently asked questions:

Is it better to install cabinets or flooring first?

There is no universally better option. Key factors like flooring material, coordination between trades, and your desired final look should drive the decision.

Do cabinets go in before or after hardwood floors?

Hardwood generally looks best installed before cabinets for clean lines and easy floor protection. But either order can work with careful planning.

Should tile flooring go in before or after cabinets?

Tile flooring is easier to install and looks better when done before cabinet installation. Cuts around cabinets can be tricky.

What goes in a kitchen first: cabinets, flooring or countertops?

The typical order is 1) Cabinets 2) Flooring 3) Countertops. But flooring before cabinets is fine with the right materials and approach.

Can flooring be installed under existing kitchen cabinets?

Sometimes, but it often leads to subpar results. Removing cabinet bases for a clean install and reinstalling is better.

How do you match new hardwood floors to existing floors with cabinets?

Use filler strips the same thickness as the flooring around the bases to transition new flooring as seamlessly as possible.


Determining whether cabinets or flooring should be installed first is an important decision when remodeling your kitchen or bathroom. While there is no right answer, carefully considering the impacts on cost, project timeline, aesthetics, and coordination between trades will guide you to the best choice. Planning the sequence strategically from the start of your project and communicating expectations clearly with your contractors will result in a smooth install process and beautiful finished space.