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Cabinets or Hardwood Floors First?

Which to install first? Floors or kitchen cabinets? This discussion is probably one of the most often disagreed upon subjects with hardwood flooring, Shim kitchen cabinet on wood floornext to using felt paper or rosin paper. We’ll look at it from two different angles and let you decide.

Installing Floors Before Cabinets

By installing the floor first there will be no need for using trim moldings against toe kicks unless the floor itself is far out of whack. But...cabinet installers use levels, hardwood installers do not. Occasionally after the they are are installed, one side of the cabinet may be higher than the other side. This can be taken care of if the trim carpenter scribes the toe kick to the contour of the finished floor. But some lower grade cabinetry does not have separate toe kicks.

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Another benefit of installing the floor first will be possible design changes at a later date. A new kitchen remodel may bring in smaller or larger units, and they may be placed in different positions. With the floor running under the entire area, gaps will not appear as they will be by installing the flooring Cabinets installed on hardwood floorafter the cabinets.

Kitchen Remodeling At A Later Date?

But one has to wonder. How often do people do kitchen remodels? In most cases the original owner is long gone when a remodel comes around. Why is it your concern? The new owner will probably do something different anyway. Another thought is how wood flooring changes color. Let's say the floor has been covered for 15 years. Once the older cabinets are taken out some hardwoods will show an extreme color difference. You will swear it's not the same. These color variations cannot be sanded out either.

One major disadvantage of installing the flooring first is damage caused by the actual cabinet installation. However having seen these situations numerous times I've found more damage is incurred when cabinets are installed afterwards.

Protecting floors are a great option while the cabinet guy is working, but plain old cardboard, or kraft paper does not protect it enough. This is especially true with prefinished hardwoods and can be a concern with unfinished that still needs to be sanded and finished. Cabinets have to be carried in and set down before they are ready to lift and install. Sometimes they are set down on a corner, dings happen. Screws get lost and stepped on. Masonite board is ideal for covering floors. Another drawback with this procedure is doing repairs when the flooring runs under the cabinetry.

Installation Before Floors

Cabinets before floors offers both advantages and disadvantages as well. The biggest concern may be getting appliances removed should they need to be repaired. This only affects dishwashers for the most part as other appliances are often set into recesses that can be moved in and out easily.

Ordinarily dishwashers are installed before the flooring. One way to combat a potential locked in appliance dilemma is by installing plywood (same thickness as flooring) in the area under the dishwasher. Often without planning, these appliances can get locked in when the hardwood guy is done installing the floor. This is more common with solid 3/4 inch floors opposed to thinner hardwoods.

Possible damage to the cabinets during the installation is a possibility. However, having seen these situations numerous times I've found more damage is incurred to floors when they are installed afterwards.

Image Source: This Old House (top)