Blue Kitchen Cabinets / YinYang

Over the last 20 years, ready-to-assemble (RTA) cabinets have been gaining popularity among DIYers looking to stretch their budget. These cabinets might have started as a low-end alternative, but today some rival custom models in terms of overall benefits. Reduced labor and shipping costs let you get high-quality material and distinctive designs for less as long as you don’t mind doing some of the work yourself.

Pros: Better Quality for Less

Man Installing Cabinet Door Hinge / DragonImages

Lower Indirect Costs

RTA cabinets cost less than pre-fabricated stock cabinets and custom cabinets for two reasons. The first is lower labor costs. Manufacturers don’t have to include the cost of assembly in the price because you’ll be doing that work yourself.

The other reason is lower shipping cost. RTA cabinets are shipped in a flat pack, so they take up much less space than pre-assembled cabinets, making them cheaper to ship. As an added benefit, they’ll get to you faster because you won’t have to wait for them to be assembled. Often, there’s no lead time between ordering and shipping because the parts are already in stock.

Easy Installation

RTA cabinet manufactures know their customers might be wading into unfamiliar waters, so they’re often well prepared to make the assembly process as easy as possible. The packs come with all required hardware included. The pieces are cut to size, labeled, and any necessary hardware holes are pre-drilled.

All you’ll need to do is fit the pieces together, then nail or glue them in place. Detailed, illustrated printed instructions and online step-by-step video tutorials will walk you through the whole process. If you get stuck, most manufacturers offer a customer service phone line that connects you to an agent that can help you out. Not all manufacturers offer such good customer service, though, so choose carefully.

Quality Construction

In the past, few reliable manufacturers offered RTA cabinets, and those that did rarely invested much into them. Because of this, the cabinets gained an unfortunate reputation for low quality. Now that more highly reputed manufacturers have gotten into the game, it’s easy to find a wide range of quality, from minimalist particle board and pressed wood options to ornate designs in solid oak and cherry. You choose what works for your budget and preferences.

Even with top quality materials and production methods, the cabinets will cost less than stock cabinets of the same quality. To find top quality cabinets, look for solid wood frames, dovetail joints, full-extension drawer glides, and hand-wiped stains or glazes.

More Options for Customization

Some manufacturers offer custom RTA cabinets that are tailor-made to your specifications. They’re just like other custom cabinets, but shipped unassembled. Others offer a selection of pre-set sizes, wood types, styles, trims, colors, and finishes to give you some room to choose the look and functionality you want. You might also have options for added features such as a wine rack, pull-out spice rack, appliance lift, or wood range hood.

Lower shipping costs make it more affordable to order from a manufacturer outside your local area, giving you an even broader selection. If the manufacturer you choose doesn’t offer all the features you want, you might be able to find add-ons elsewhere. This makes RTA cabinets ideal if you’re on a budget, but still want some flexibility.

Cons: Time Consuming and a Little Unpredictable

Man Installing Cabinet Drawer Handle / photovs

Greater Time Commitment

What you save in upfront costs, you pay for in the time required to put the cabinets together. You’ll first need to invest some time in reading the instructions and watching videos. Some manufactures claim their cabinets take just 15 minutes each to assemble, but that’s usually based on an expert doing the work.

If you’ve assembled RTA cabinets or worked with cabinetry before, you might be able to get your first cabinet together done that fast. If you’re not experienced, expect the first cabinet to take over an hour and the rest to take at least 30 minutes each. Multiply that by the number of cabinets you need, and you’ll have the amount of time you’ll spend if everything goes perfectly. If you make any mistakes, you’ll also spend time undoing and redoing your work. While you could hire a professional to get the job done faster, that adds to the total cost.

No Guarantees

Most RTA cabinets don’t come with a guarantee because the manufacturer has no assurance that you’ll assemble them correctly. Incorrect assembly can damage your cabinets and cause parts to fail early. With no manufacturer’s guarantee, if you make a mistake or damage the cabinets, the cost of repair or replacement is all on you.

Issues like this can mean your RTA cabinets will end up costing you more than pre-assembled stock cabinets would have. You can reduce the risk by assembling the cabinets without gluing or nailing to make sure you have everything in the right place before you continue.

While assembling these cabinets isn’t a major challenge for an experienced DIYer, it’s a little too complex for a beginner’s project. If you think there’s a chance you’ll end up hiring someone to assemble them, it might be more cost-effective to go with pre-assembled cabinets and save yourself the hassle.

Limited Selection

The selection of RTA cabinets on the market is constantly expanding, but it’s not as broad as the range of choices you’ll get by ordering custom cabinets. With RTA models, you might have to compromise on color, style, or features to find a model that will work well in your home. This is particularly true if you’re looking for smaller sizes, an unusual color, such as pink or turquoise, or you need something to fit an awkwardly shaped space.

Ready-to-assemble cabinets make high-quality cabinetry more affordable by letting you save on upfront costs in exchange for a little extra effort. While you’ll have to spend some time and energy, and you might not find your dream cabinets, choosing RTA cabinets can get you better materials and design for the same money.  

Editorial Contributors
Henry Parker

Henry Parker

Henry Parker is a home improvement enthusiast who loves to share his passion and expertise with others. He writes on a variety of topics, such as painting, flooring, windows, and lawn care, to help homeowners make informed decisions and achieve their desired results. Henry strives to write high quality guides and reviews that are easy to understand and practical to follow. Whether you are looking for the best electric riding lawn mower, the easiest way to remove paint from flooring, or the signs of a bad tile job, Henry has you covered with his insightful and honest articles. Henry lives in Florida with his wife and two kids, and enjoys spending his free time on DIY projects around the house. You can find some of his work on Today’s Homeowner, where he is a regular contributor.

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