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Install Cabinets Before or After Flooring?

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So you’ve decided to build your ultimate dream home and it’s time to put together the construction schedule.  Should you install cabinets before or after flooring?  There are several different views as to which way to go.  When cabinets are installed first, isn’t it more difficult to install the flooring?  Is it more or less expensive to install flooring before cabinets?  Let’s see if we can answer some of these questions and provide some tips for getting it done right.

Installing Flooring First

One of the benefits to installing the flooring prior to the cabinets is there will be fewer cuts to make.  Whether you go with hardwood, tile or vinyl, having a wide open room allows for more full pieces of flooring to be installed.  This can save the installer time.  Will this time savings translate into more money in your pocket?  Maybe, maybe not.  Remember, when the cabinets are installed first, there is less floor to install…which also saves time.  It’s a good idea to ask the flooring contractor to provide the difference in labor price in going from one to the other. 

Another thing to contemplate when creating the new home construction schedule is the possibility of damage.  If the flooring goes in prior to cabinets, there is still a whole lot of work going on over the new floor which can leave you with scratches, gouges, and cracked tile.  You can see in the photo above that cabinets and granite countertops have been installed before the floor.  This gets a lot of the heavy objects out of the way prior to putting down your new precious flooring material.

Installing Cabinets First

Besides protecting the finished product there are other benefits to installing the flooring after cabinets.  First, the quantity of flooring needed will decrease by the area under the cabinets.  This might not sound like much, but if you are installing a high end stone tile, the price can easily go over $10 per square foot.  Let’s say the kitchen has an average cabinet run of twenty-five feet.  This would translate to a savings in flooring material of about five hundred dollars.  Now throw in the possible labor savings (as you probably know, flooring labor is typically calculated by the square foot), and you have a significant number.

Another benefit to waiting to install the flooring is the additional time allowed for the home to dry out.  The wood studs, drywall mud, new concrete, paint…etc. all need time to dry out.  The more time that passes after these scheduled items are completed, the more the less moisture available to affect your flooring.  This is a good thing because moisture is not a friend of your hardwood floor (or laminate).  If the material swells because of excess moisture, it can create humps, gaps and squeaks in the hardwood floor.

Quality Considerations

There are a couple quality items to consider when installing the cabinets before flooring.

  • Shim-up Base Cabinets – Keeping in mind the underlayment and flooring thickness, the base cabinets should be raised up to accommodate the thickness after installation of the floor.  Otherwise, the cabinet toe kicks and countertop will be short.
  • Island Positioning – Make certain the kitchen island is installed in the correct spot prior to flooring.  If not, you might end up with a subfloor exposed later on down the road when everything is close to being finished.

Michael Luckado

Michael Luckado has built, remodeled, and repaired thousands of homes across the U.S. He co-founded to help people save money and time creating their dream home.

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