Understanding Cabinet Refacing

Kitchen and bathroom cabinetry takes a beating over the years from moisture, grease, daily use, and more. At some point, even quality wood cabinets start to show their age through fading, peeling finishes, and dated styles. While completely replacing cabinets can be expensive, refacing provides a budget-friendly update by renewing cabinet exteriors and hardware. Refacing transforms the look of your existing cabinets without having to gut and rebuild your whole kitchen or bath.

What is Cabinet Refacing?

Cabinet refacing essentially means replacing the exposed exterior surfaces of your cabinets with new materials and hardware without having to remove the cabinet boxes. Keeping the existing frames and interior structure intact substantially reduces costs compared to full cabinet replacement.

During refacing, old doors, drawer fronts, and exposed sides are removed and replaced with new matching components. The new exterior surfaces – usually veneer, thermofoil, or painted MDF – conceal the old cabinet boxes.

Along with fresh facades, refacing includes installing new doors, drawers, and hardware. Some projects also incorporate updated interior storage solutions. Refacing provides a custom, built-in appearance and completely updates style and finish.

Benefits of Refacing vs. Replacing Cabinets

Why choose refacing over replacing cabinets? Refacing offers numerous advantages:

Cost Savings – Refacing averages about 50% of full cabinet replacement costs. Savings come from reusing existing frames and interior structures.

Less Disruption – Refacing avoids lengthy demolitions and renovations. Kitchens and baths remain functional with minimal downtime.

Customization – Mix and match finishes, hardware, and storage upgrades tailored to your space.

Environmentally Friendly – Refacing recycles materials and avoids landfill waste. It’s a sustainable, eco-friendly option.

Maintains Layout – Keep existing kitchen layouts and measurements that work by preserving cabinet footprints.

For kitchens and baths needing a face lift more than full gutting, refacing provides huge returns on investment through cost-effective, custom upgrades.

Evaluating Your Cabinets for Refacing

Not all cabinets make good candidates for refacing. Certain structural and environmental factors impact the viability and results of refacing projects. Inspect your existing cabinets carefully to determine if they can be successfully refaced.

Structural Soundness

Only structurally sound cabinets should be considered for refacing. Test doors, drawers and shelves for smooth operation and full closure. Probe for signs of swelling, peeling, and deterioration. Damage signaling that cabinets won’t hold up through refacing includes:

  • Delaminating frames or boxes – peel away laminate coating
  • Swollen wood or substrates – moisture damage and loss of structural integrity
  • Infestations or rot – insect/water damage making wood unusable
  • Broken joints – separator of joints indicates weakness
  • Defective boxes – holes, flaws, cracks, or unsound materials
  • Warping – twisted frames won’t support new flat facing

If cabinets show extensive damage, refacing likely won’t address fundamental structural issues. Full cabinet replacement is the better, longer-lasting solution.

Installation Type

How cabinets are installed impacts the refacing process. Initially inspect where and how cabinets are anchored.

  • Free-standing – easy to work around during refacing
  • Wall hung – new facing materials often thicker than original, leaving gaps if reused
  • Banked cabinets – may not be removable and unable to access sides

Refacing generally works best for base cabinets sitting on the floor, not wall mounted units. Otherwise, surrounding surfaces may need modifications.

Existing Finishes

The existing finish must be fully removed for new finishes to properly adhere during refacing. Eliminating old finishes like paint, stain, and varnish takes skill, chemicals, and labor. Refinishing is unrealistic if:

  • Multiple layers build up over time
  • Finishes penetrate deeply into the wood
  • Veneers are too thin to sand
  • Substrate is prone to damage during stripping

A small strip test area can help you assess if the existing finish can realistically be removed. Contact a refacing company for a consultation.

Material Composition

What materials cabinets are constructed from determines which refacing techniques will work:

  • Solid wood – can be sanded, primed, and painted or stained
  • Plywood/veneer – new veneers often applied directly over existing
  • Thermofoil – adhesive thermofoil skins work over properly prepped substrate
  • Laminates – new laminate won’t bond well if old can’t be eliminated

The composition informs the preparation and methods. Refacing contractors are experienced with different cabinet materials.

Keys to a Successful Refacing Project

Careful planning, preparation, and execution help ensure your refacing project goes smoothly and delivers the upgraded kitchen or bath you envision. Here are best practices to integrate:

Hire a Professional

Cabinet refacing requires specialized skills and techniques. Work with an experienced contractor unless you have expertise with finishes, carpentry, and kitchen remodeling. Pros ensure quality results.

Check portfolios and reviews. Look for demonstrated experience successfully refacing projects similar to yours. Beware low bids – refacing is labor intensive.

Maximize Functionality

Think about your needs. Refacing provides a great opportunity to enhance storage, accessibility, and functionality. Consider upgrades like:

  • Pull-out shelving for pots/pans
  • Spice drawers
  • Retractable power cords
  • Pull-out cutting boards
  • Roll-out trays in blind base spots
  • Small drawer dividers

Discuss options with your contractor to get the most out of existing cabinet footprints.

Select Durable Materials

Long-lasting refacing relies on materials that withstand moisture, impact, and wear-and-tear. Plywood offers strength. Thermofoils, thermally fused laminates, and polyurethanes create resilient exteriors.

While real wood veneers are attractive, moisture causes swelling and damages adhesive bonds over time. Choose durable, low-maintenance synthetics.

Design Consistency

The new facings, doors, and hardware should create a unified, consistent design. Mixing and matching unrelated elements risks an eclectic look.

Carry door styles, finishes, and hardware choices throughout for continuity. Tie together your countertops, lighting, and backsplash as well.

Proper Surface Preparation

Meticulous prep removes old finishes and conditions surfaces to accept new finishes. Contractors may:

  • Strip old paints/stains with chemical solvents
  • Fill scratches and gouges with putty
  • Sand to smooth and remove residue
  • Clean thoroughly before finishing

Proper prep prevents problems like peeling and gives the best refacing results.

Adequate Drying and Curing

Whether painting, staining, or adhering new veneers, adequate drying and curing time is essential between steps. Rushing the process risks bubbles, cracks, lifting, and premature breakdowns.

Follow manufacturer directions for drying and curing times. Factor extra time into schedules. Your patience leads to durable, flawless finishes.

Refacing vs Refinishing Cabinets

While often used interchangeably, refacing and refinishing kitchen and bathroom cabinets represent different remodeling options. Understanding the distinctions helps match the appropriate approach to your goals.

Refacing involves replacing cabinet doors, drawer fronts, and visible exteriors while retaining existing frames and boxes. It modernizes aesthetics and function. Refacing typically utilizes plywood, veneer, thermofoil, or laminate for new exterior facings.

Refinishing focuses on stripping cabinets down to the bare wood and applying new stain, paint, or clear coats. It revives the existing cabinet materials through cosmetic treatments. Refinishing alters color and sheen but doesn’t modify storage function.

Here’s how the two stack up:

|New door/drawer fronts|Original doors preserved|
|New exterior surfaces|Existing surfaces prepped and refinished|
|New finishes and materials|Same wood, new stain/paint|
|Storage upgrades|No functional changes|
|Higher cost|Lower cost|
|More disruptive installation|Clean in place process|
|New custom look|Enhances existing wood|

Choose refacing for a total style change and storage improvements. Opt for refinishing to refresh and change the color of existing wood cabinets.

Planning Your New Look

A successful refacing project stems from thoughtful planning centered around your goals, needs, and style. Before meeting with contractors, think through these key considerations:

Aesthetic Goals

What look are you hoping to achieve through refacing? Traditional styling with intricate wood details? A sleek, contemporary vibe? What finishes and door styles help create your intended aesthetic? Gather inspiration photos to share.

Storage and Organization Needs

Take time to assess how your cabinet storage currently functions. What frustrates you? What works efficiently? Envision how you want to organize kitchen tools, pantry goods, bathroom linens, and more.

Workflow/Traffic Flow Accommodations

Pay attention to how you circulate through your kitchen or bath. Can the workflow be enhanced through refacing modifications? Consider blind corner access points, retrievable interior storage, and other functional upgrades to complement your lifestyle.

Budget Expectations

Understand that refacing costs roughly 50% of full cabinet replacement. Prices vary based on materials, finishes, custom upgrades, and labor. Get bids from at least 2-3 refacing contractors and clarify exactly what is covered.

Doing this upfront thought work allows you to clearly communicate your goals and sets the stage for a successful cabinet refacing experience.

Typical Process for Cabinet Refacing

The refacing process generally follows a standard series of steps that transform tired cabinets into fresh, renewed fixtures:

Template and Measure

The contractor will come onsite to template and measure your existing cabinets. They account for all doors, drawer fronts, and openings. Custom sizing ensures proper fit of new facing components.

Remove Doors, Drawers, and Hardware

Your contractor will dismantle and remove all doors, drawers, and hardware components to access cabinet boxes. These items get refurbished or recycled.

Remove Old Exterior Finish

Existing facing materials require removal to prepare for new finishes. Contractors strip old paint, stain, laminates, and veneers using heat guns, sanders, and chemical strippers.

Repair and Resurface Boxes

Once stripped down, cabinet boxes get repaired and resurfaced. Contractors fill dents, smooth edges, and prepare for finish application via sanding, patching holes, etc.

Install New Exterior Refacing

Whether new veneer, thermofoil, laminate, or paint grade MDF, the selected material gets professionally installed onto exposed side and face surfaces to reface cabinet exteriors.

Install New Doors, Drawers, and Hardware

Refurbished or new doors, drawers, and hardware are reattached with soft-close hinges and slides. Finished pieces are aligned and adjusted as needed.

Cleanup and Protection

Carpenters carefully clean up dust and debris, removing all traces of refacing work. Floors are covered and surroundings masked during the process.

With proper planning, materials, and skill, refacing noticeably transforms the look of your kitchen or bath.

Common Refacing Finishes

The material used to resurface cabinet exteriors dramatically influences the overall look, feel, and functionality of your remodeling project. From traditional wood grains to sleek laminates, numerous options exist for refacing.

Wood Veneers

Thin sheets of real wood glued over existing boxes. Provides an updated wood look, but moisture affects adhesion over time. Can feel dated quickly.


Photographically printed papers fused to substrate under high heat and pressure. Affordable, extensive patterns and colors, resistant to scratching. Can chip or bulge.


Thin plastic film bonded to wood substrate. Seamless, uniform finish across surfaces. Very durable and stain proof. Limited color/pattern options.

Thermofused Melamine

Melamine panels thermally fused to medium density fiberboard. Mimics wood grains. Budget-friendly. Prone to bubbling from excess heat/moisture.

Paint-grade MDF

Medium density fiberboard prepped for painted finishes. Primed and painted onsite. Offers huge color selection. Requires prep and priming for good adhesion.

Discuss options with contractors to select the optimal materials for your cabinets’ refacing.

Estimating Your Refacing Costs

It’s difficult to estimate exact refacing costs without professional input, as many variables affect pricing. However, you can expect to pay roughly 50% of full cabinet replacement costs.

For a typical 10×10 kitchen with 30 linear feet of cabinetry, expect to invest $5,000-9,000 for midrange refacing services. Smaller bathrooms with 5-15 linear feet of cabinets often run $1,500-3,500. Higher grades raise costs.

Exact pricing depends on factors like:

  • Type and grade of materials
  • Amount of labor required
  • Specialty storage upgrades
  • Overall kitchen/bathroom size
  • Required modifications to surrounding surfaces
  • Geographic location and contractor rates

Get bids from at least two or three refacing contractors. Ask what is included and clarify any confusing line items. Look for experience with projects similar to yours.

While not cheap, refacing still offers huge savings over cabinet replacement. And it allows you to stretch your budget further by customizing finishes and storage solutions.

Timing Your Refacing Project

Most kitchen refacing projects take 5-7 days total to complete, while bathrooms require 2-3 days. During active refacing, expect cabinets to be largely unusable as doors, surfaces, and hardware get removed.

If possible, avoid major holidays where kitchen prep is integral. Schedule extra time cushions in case of delivery delays or unexpected issues.

Discuss timing and a complete schedule with contractors upfront. Factor in:

  • Template and measure appointment
  • Material ordering and delivery
  • Installation timeline
  • Dry times between steps like painting
  • Countertop installation
  • Time for unexpected issues

Careful scheduling minimizes disruptions and keeps projects seamlessly on track.

Maintaining Your Refaced Cabinets

Refacing instantly improves the look of your kitchen or bath. But proper care is required to maximize the lifespan of your investment. Follow manufacturer recommendations for cleaning specific materials.

General tips include:

  • Use microfiber cloths and mild soap/water for surface cleaning
  • Immediately dry any spills or splashes
  • Avoid abrasive pads/cleaners that could scratch finishes
  • Don’t expose to excess moisture that damages bonds
  • Use cutting boards and protect from sharp utensils
  • Open drawers/doors carefully and don’t slam
  • Inspect hinges/glides and lubricate periodically

While durable, refaced cabinets do require gentle care and attention. But with basic maintenance, your kitchen can look fresh for 15+ years.

Cabinet Refacing: FAQs

Does refacing save money vs. replacing cabinets?

Yes, refacing typically costs roughly 50% less than full cabinet replacement. Exact savings depend on project size and selections. Refacing skips demolition and reuses existing frames.

Do refaced cabinets look different than new cabinets?

If done properly with quality materials, it’s very difficult to visually distinguish refaced cabinets from new cabinet installations. Refacing allows completely customizing colors and finishes.

Can any cabinets be refaced?

Cabinets need to be structurally sound with removable doors and accessible sides. Particle board and thermofoil often don’t work. Contractors can assess viability. Custom designs limit possibilities.

Is there a big difference between refacing and refinishing?

Refacing replaces exterior surfaces while refinishing strips and recoats the existing cabinet boxes. Refacing also allows functional upgrades while refinishing focuses on cosmetics.

Does refacing affect my kitchen layout?

Generally not, as the existing cabinet footprints stay put. Some modifications may be needed around resized doors or new integrated storage solutions. But overall arrangements remain unaltered.

Give Your Kitchen or Bath a Modern Facelift

Refacing kitchen or bathroom cabinets provides an affordable, customized way to renew your space without extensive remodeling costs. Carefully evaluate if your existing cabinet boxes can support refacing to achieve the best outcome. Select durable, low-maintenance exterior materials that stand the test of time.

Enlist an experienced contractor to flawlessly execute the technical refacing process. Integrate upgraded storage and hardware to maximize functionality. With strategic planning and execution, you can enjoy beautifully refaced cabinets that function like new for years to come.