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Getting Ready To Install Cabinets

MATERIALS: Cabinets, wood for ledgers, screws

TOOLS: Screwdriver, flat pry bar, hammer, tape measure, chalk line, line level, 4-foot level, stud finder

UPGRADE WIRING AND PLUMBING NOW - Like it or not, toasters, blenders, and coffeemakers come with 4-foot cords. Put GFCI outlets every 8 feet along the counter, and you'll always be able to reach one. Replace any old or faulty plumbing. There’ll never be a better time because you're making a mess anyway.

It’s the little things that make a house a home and the little things can ruin a cabinet installation too. Doors that won’t close, drawers that won’t stay closed, countertops that run uphill— they’re all signs of a hasty installation. Unless you want to spend the rest of your life looking at a bad job that saved you a little time, prepare properly. First, avoid installing a kitchen the week before the holidays or any major events. This job will take time. Second, realize that the expected delivery date may change. Wait until the new cabinets arrive before tearing out the old ones.

Once your cabinets arrive, have a place where you can assemble them. Line them up as they’ll go in the kitchen. Inspect the finish; look for dings, dents, and broken pieces. Be sure the color and patterns of adjacent cabinets look good together. If necessary, order replacements; you’ll probably wait as long as you did for the first shipment. Once everything has arrived and is assembled, working, and damage-free, move everything out of the kitchen: appliances, tables, chairs, sinks, rugs, pots, pans, dishes, and pictures. Then, and only then, should you start to remove the old cabinets. Installing cabinets involves making a proper plan, applying basic and intermediate carpentry skills, and being flexible about delivery schedules.

REMEMBER THE DISHWASHER - If you're putting in a new floor, build up the floor underneath the cabinets to the height of the finished floor. If you don't, you may discover that you need more room to slip the dishwasher underneath the counter. The thicker the new floor, of course, the greater the problem. Ask your flooring dealer how thick the finished floor will be. Include the thickness of the flooring material itself, plus any subfloor, mortar, underlayment, or other material that you'll put down. Once you have the answer, ask your cabinet dealer how far the cabinet toe-kick will be from the wall.

You'll probably need to apply a couple layers of plywood to get the right thickness. Combine various thicknesses to get what you need. Stack the sheets up and measure them— plywood is often a bit thinner than it claims to be. Once you have the right thickness, cut the plywood to width on a table saw (or have the store do it for you). Give yourself a margin of error and cut each layer about Vc inch narrower than the distance from toe-kick to wall. The floor will hide the gap. Nail the plywood to the floor so that you have a sturdy surface. Resist the obvious shortcut of simply installing the floor first. Vinyl will compress under the weight of the cabinets. Ceramic tile grout lines will fall in the wrong place. Wood is guaranteed to get damaged, as is carpet.

Removing old cabinets

1 PREPARE THE SPACE. Before you begin removing the old units, clear out the shelves, drawers, and underneath the sink. If you are saving the floor, protect it with 1/4-inch plywood or kraft paper. Start with the base cabinets.

2 REMOVE THE SINK. Shut off the electricity and the water. Loosen the sink and remove it from the counter. Disconnect any electrical connections beneath the sink or in the cabinets.

3 BEGIN REMOVING THE COUNTERTOP. This is real demolition, but resist the impulse to just rip things out. Determine how the countertop is attached; remove screws or nails you can reach. Use a heavy hammer to begin loosening the countertop.

4 PRY UP THE COUNTERTOP using a flat pry bar. Start in a corner and work your way along the length until the top is free. Cut the top into manageable pieces and remove debris as you work.

5 REMOVE DOORS AND DRAWERS. Pull the drawers out of their slots and remove the doors from the base frames. If you're going to reface, start at an open end and begin removing the base cabinets. First determine how they are attached to the wall and to each other. Remove debris as you work.

6 REMOVE THE WALL CABINETS. Remove the cabinet doors, then strip the cabinets from the walls. Once the area is clear, perform any wiring or plumbing upgrades, such as adding outlets and switches, drains and supply risers, or dishwasher hookups. Repair wall or ceiling damage and paint before you begin installing new cabinetry and fixtures.

Removing countertops

Removing an old countertop is easiest if you’re removing the cabinets too. It’s usually a matter of taking out a couple of screws and perhaps doing some work with a pry bar. If you want to keep the cabinets, however, work carefully. Cabinets that you’ve just destroyed while removing the counter will be unusable. The labor you’ll have to do depends on what you find. And what you find depends on when the kitchen was put in and how inventive the installer was. Almost any cabinet could have anything holding it in place; but fortunately, a look at the surface tells you what’s usually underneath.

LINOLEUM COUNTERTOPS - In the 1930s and 1940s, linoleum, which often contained asbestos, was used for countertops. Quite a few are still around, most of them in need of replacement. The countertops were usually built in place, a layer at a time. First the installer topped a cabinet by nailing (or perhaps screwing) on a plywood counter. The plywood was covered with linoleum and then trimmed with a metal edge. Taking the countertop off usually results in breaking it, thus releasing cancer-causing asbestos fibers into the air. If you have a linoleum countertop, contact your state health department for information on removing it.

Resist the impulse to whack away with that sledgehammer and pry bar when you’re taking out old countertops. You just want to remove the material, not destroy the kitchen. Work carefully and learn as much as you can about what you’re getting into before you start.

Countertop removal procedures:

Laminate countertops are made of a thin layer of material glued to a piece of plywood or chipboard. They're usually screwed to a corner block on the end cabinets. Remove the screws and try lifting. If the countertop doesn’t budge, look for screws recessed into the bottom of the top front cabinet rail. If the cabinet has a top [most don't) or rails that run along the top (many do), look for screws that run through and into the counter. If the counter goes around a corner, a cleat spans the seam or, more likely, miter clamps. Unscrew and pry off any cleats. Loosen the heads of boltlike clamps until the clamps fall out. Once you've removed all the screws, the counter should lift easily off the cabinets.

"Solid surface” countertops are made of a single, thick layer of plastic resin. They're heavy and are usually supported by three top rails that run the length of the cabinets. The counter is usually attached to the rails with dabs of silicone caulk, and the backsplash is usually silicone-caulked to the wall. Miters are either chemically "welded" or held together by miter clamps, which you should remove. Run a utility knife along the top of the backsplash to score the wall and prevent it from tearing when you remove the counter. It's almost impossible to remove the counter by prying it off the rails without damaging the cabinet. Pry gently—and if it looks, sounds, or feels like trouble, crawl inside the cabinet and cut through the support rails with a small backsaw.

Tile countertops sit on a cement backerboard, which is attached to a plywood substrate. If the cabinet is built to modern standards, 1x6 supports at the top of the cabinet run the length of the counter. The plywood is screwed to the 1x6 from below; remove the screws. Recruit as much help as you can to slide the countertop off—it will be heavy. If the countertop wasn’t installed to modern standards, the nails or screws attaching it may be covered by the tiles. The only way to remove such a countertop is to break it. Nothing works well, but try a 3-lb. sledgehammer with a short handle.

Butcher-block countertops work well on islands and as cutting blocks, but water will damage them elsewhere in the kitchen. If you have one you want to remove, it’s probably bolted to the cabinet, usually into supports at the top of the cabinet. Some supports have slots in them for the bolts, allowing the bolt to travel back and forth as the countertop expands and contracts with changes in weather. Other supports have an oversized hole instead of a slot. In either case, you should find a bolt every couple of feet along the length and every foot across the width. Remove the bolts and lift or slide the countertop to remove it.

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