Ready-to-assemble (RTA) cabinets have become an increasingly popular option for homeowners looking to remodel their kitchens on a budget. RTA cabinets come shipped as a flat pack with all the parts and hardware needed for assembly. They allow you to save on installation costs by putting them together yourself. But how good of an option are RTA cabinets really? Let’s take an in-depth look at the pros and cons of RTA cabinets to find out if they live up to their affordable reputation.
What are RTA Cabinets?
RTA stands for “ready-to-assemble.” RTA cabinets come packaged with all the cabinet parts pre-cut and pre-drilled. All the hardware needed for assembly is also included. RTA cabinets ship flat-packed or partially assembled. This allows them to be transported more efficiently and cost-effectively directly from the factory.
The main advantage of RTA cabinets is their reasonable price point. By cutting out some of the supply chain and labor costs, RTA cabinet manufacturers can offer a more budget-friendly solution compared to custom cabinetry. RTA cabinets are aimed at DIYers and cost-conscious consumers. They allow you to save on installation fees by putting them together yourself.
RTA cabinets are available from big box home improvement stores, online retailers, or directly from RTA specialty brands. As their popularity has grown, the quality and selection of RTA cabinets has improved. However, there is still a perception that RTA means lower quality. So how do they really stack up?
Pros of RTA Cabinets
The main advantage of RTA cabinets is their affordability. RTA cabinets can cost 50-75% less than custom cabinetry. Opting for RTA over custom cabinets can save you thousands on a kitchen remodel.
For example, a typical 10×10 kitchen with 30 linear feet of cabinets could cost:
- Custom cabinets – $15,000-$30,000
- RTA cabinets – $5,000-$10,000
The cost difference is substantial. RTA allows you to remodel your kitchen at a fraction of the price.
With RTA cabinets, everything is packed and shipped together – the cabinet boxes, doors, drawers, shelves, and all hardware needed for assembly. This saves you multiple trips to the hardware store for supplies.
Most retailers also offer affordable or free shipping. RTA cabinets will arrive neatly packaged at your doorstep, ready for you to assemble at your own pace.
RTA cabinets are typically easier to assemble than custom cabinets. The parts are pre-cut and pre-drilled. Detailed instructions with numbered steps are included. Useful tips like using nails to align doors or soft closing dampers to prevent slamming make installation straightforward.
The quality of RTA cabinets runs the gamut from budget to premium options. Particle board construction with laminate finishes is common at the lowest price points. However, melamine, solid wood, and plywood construction with higher-end finishes is also available from many brands.
Higher-end RTA cabinets rival custom cabinetry in durability and aesthetics. Soft-close doors and drawers, adjustable shelving, pull out trays, and organizational accessories are all available. You can find numerous styles from traditional to modern. RTA cabinets are no longer just a budget compromise.
Home improvement stores like IKEA and Home Depot offer a wide selection of RTA cabinet sizes and configurations. Specialty RTA brands have an even greater range of customizable options. You can likely find RTA cabinets to match the layout and storage needs of your unique kitchen.
Standard cabinet widths like 12”, 15”, 18”, 24”, 30”, and 36” can be combined with a variety of heights and depths. Base cabinets, wall cabinets, pantries, islands, and accessories allow full customization. Door styles and finishes range from simple to ornate. Choosing RTA does not mean limiting your design options.
While RTA cabinets come pre-manufactured, many allow some level of customization. Most retailers allow you to customize door styles and finishes. Being able to mix and match provides more unique design possibilities.
Some RTA manufacturers also let you modify cabinet heights, widths, and depths. Semi-custom solutions give you the affordability of RTA with a more tailored fit. If standard sizes don’t work for your space, customization can help.
You may also be able to purchase additional accessories like drawers, pull-outs, and organizers. This allows you to really personalize your storage. Custom modifications paired with smart storage accessories are a great perk of higher-end RTA cabinets.
Cons of RTA Cabinets
The trade-off for the low cost of RTA cabinets is that they come unassembled. You either need to put them together yourself or pay someone to do it for you.
Assembling cabinets requires some basic carpentry skills and tools. A helper makes the process easier. Expect assembly to be time consuming, taking 20 hours or more for an entire kitchen.
Watching tutorial videos can help prepare you for the process. But assembly is undeniably going to take time, effort, and patience. If you don’t feel up for DIY, factor in labor costs for assembly and installation.
Potential for Damage
Shipping fully assembled cabinets long distances is costly and risks damage. RTA cabinets avoid this by shipping flat-packed. However, the packaging process can still lead to scratched doors, cracked parts, missing pieces, or hardware issues.
Always fully inspect RTA cabinets upon delivery. Look inside the boxes and check for defects right away. It’s important to address any damage or missing components before starting assembly.
Use care when unpacking and assembling cabinets to avoid introducing any dents or scratches yourself. Have replacements shipped for any problem parts. Take your time and be thorough at each step to limit damage.
Poor assembly can lead to both cosmetic and structural issues over time. For example, doors that are slightly misaligned or hang crooked. Or sagging shelves from inadequate support. Joints may loosen and separation or cracking can occur.
Using nails to keep everything square and doors/drawers aligned as instructed is important. Reinforcing backings, properly securing to walls, and anchoring tall units helps prevent tipping. Take time to get assembly right, so cabinets maintain structural integrity.
Regular checks and maintenance can catch and prevent worsening problems. But in some cases, poorly constructed RTA cabinets simply don’t hold up well.
Limited Selection In-Store
While you can browse thousands of RTA cabinet options online, selection at home improvement stores is more limited. The options on display tend to be entry-level quality and neutral finishes.
If you prefer to see cabinets in person before purchasing, be prepared for a narrower selection. Stores simply don’t have room to showcase every potential style and configuration. Browsing online catalogs gives a better idea of what’s available.
Can’t Test Fit Before Purchase
With custom cabinets, units are built individually for your kitchen so you know everything will fit properly. With RTA cabinets, you have to work within standard sizes and hope for the best.
Carefully measuring and planning your layout is crucial for good fit. But there is less flexibility if unexpected size issues come up. Some retailers accept returns, but returning large cabinets is a big hassle. Being able to test fit pieces before finalizing your order makes custom cabinets lower risk.
Potential Resale Value
Many buyers assume custom equals better quality compared to RTA. So professionally installed custom cabinets generally add more value than DIY RTA cabinets when selling a home.
However, well-constructed RTA cabinets that still look great after years of use can also boost home value. Use durable, attractive options and take good care of them to maximize resale value. But in general, custom cabinets are regarded as the superior investment.
Are RTA Cabinets Right for You?
RTA cabinets offer an affordable DIY solution, but also come with their share of trade-offs. Here are some things to consider when deciding if RTA is the right choice:
- Budget – Cost savings is the biggest advantage of RTA cabinets. If keeping your remodel costs down is the priority, RTA offers significant value.
- Skill level – Assembling cabinets takes 2+ days and requires basic skills like drilling and sawing. Consider how confident you feel taking on this large DIY project.
- Quality needs – Lower-priced RTA options sacrifice some quality and durability. Choose higher-end RTA or custom if you want them to last decades.
- Design tastes – RTA offers plenty of style options. But if you want exotic woods or completely unique details, custom may better meet your design vision.
- Space limitations – RTA cabinets come in standard sizes that may not work in every layout. Custom offers more flexibility for unconventional spaces.
For the right homeowner, RTA cabinets offer the perfect balance of affordability and function. They make kitchen remodeling achievable at a reasonable price point. Just weigh your needs and skills to decide if building your own cabinets fits your next remodel.
Are RTA Cabinets Difficult to Assemble?
Putting together RTA cabinets takes time and some DIY skills, but the assembly process is designed to be user-friendly. Here are some tips for smooth assembly:
- Follow instructions exactly, keeping hardware organized and steps in order
- Watch manufacturer videos for guidance before starting
- Use nails, clamps, and squaring tools to align pieces during assembly
- Work on a soft, clean surface to avoid scratches
- Get a helper for large cabinets and access tricky spots
- Tighten joints firmly but not excessively to avoid cracking
- Complete one cabinet fully before moving onto the next
- Install cabinets level and secure to studs for stability
- Take your time – rushing increases the chance of mistakes
The most important things are carefully following directions and not getting in over your head. Break assembly down into manageable sessions instead of rushing. Use available help resources if you get stuck. Patience and care make the process totally doable.
Many homeowners assemble RTA cabinets successfully on their own. While intimidating at first, the sense of accomplishment after completing your kitchen is worth it!
What Quality Can I Expect from RTA Cabinets?
RTA cabinets vary widely in quality from basic to very high-end. Here’s an overview of what to expect:
Entry-level – Thin plywood boxes, laminate fronts. Prone to wear, sagging, and damage over time. A budget option with an affordable upfront cost but shorter lifespan.
Mid-range – Thicker plywood construction, solid wood doors and drawers. Durable hinges and slides. Provides good value at moderate cost. Finish and hardware upgrades available. A balanced choice that can last 15+ years with care.
Premium – All plywood construction, full overlay doors, soft-close hardware. Exterior finishes like wood veneer and durable paints. Highly customizable storage accessories. Provides excellent quality with premium features. A long-lasting investment if cared for properly.
Semi-custom – Allows modifications like sizing adjustments and material upgrades. Combination of customization flexibility and RTA affordability. Best quality and lifespan for the price.
Go with entry-level only if cost is the sole factor. Otherwise, mid-range to premium RTA provides a better balance of quality and affordability. Investigate brands thoroughly since wide variation exists.
Are There Any Downsides to Assembling RTA Cabinets Myself?
While self-assembly saves money upfront, doing it yourself has some potential downsides:
- Assembly mistakes that affect durability or require redoing work
- Not having a professional to spot and correct any fit or structural issues
- Increased risk of damaging cabinets while unpacking and assembling
- No warranty or accountability for flaws – you own the results
- Juggling the project around work or family commitments
- Physical toll of installation labor on your body
- Stress if the project scope gets overwhelming
- Lack of specialized tools and materials professionals have access to
The trade-off for massive cost savings is assuming full responsibility for the quality of the finished product. Doing it right takes time and diligence. Know your DIY skills and consider paying for assembly or installation if the scope seems daunting.
Can I Upgrade RTA Cabinets with Custom Features?
One of the best aspects of RTA cabinets is that many allow you to modify and upgrade their products to add custom elements. Some ways you can upgrade include:
- Adding crown molding, trim, and other decorative details
- Choosing premium hardware like soft-close hinges and slides
- Opting for solid wood doors and drawer fronts
- Custom painting or staining for unique finishes
- Adding interior organizational products like pull-out shelves
- Incorporating glass cabinet doors, side panels, or open shelving
- Changing door styles – slab, shaker, inset, etc.
- Adding cabinet lighting, electrical outlets, or lit glass cabinet accents
Personalizing RTA cabinets makes them feel higher-end and custom. Shop brands that offer upgrade options to get the best quality, features, and design.
Are RTA Cabinets Difficult to Install?
While RTA cabinets themselves are ready for assembly right out of the box, proper installation in your home is also key for functionality and lasting quality. Here are some tips for smooth installation:
- Review manufacturer guidelines for spacing, clearance, and installation order
- Arrange cabinets first before securing to ensure good fit
- Shim cabinets to adjust for uneven floors and walls
- Secure cabinets to wall studs using anchors rated for the weight
- Use levels, straight edges, spacers for accurate installation
- Seal around cabinets to reduce moisture damage and dust
- Connect cabinets together through pre-drilled holes and clips
- Double check measurements at each step
- Hire a contractor if your layout has complicated angles or plumbing
Installation is tedious but very doable for most DIYers. Allow plenty of time to get cabinet placement exactly right before permanently fastening. Focus on creating a stable base and take care not to damage cabinets or walls in the process.
What Are the Best Places to Purchase RTA Cabinets From?
Three great places to purchase RTA cabinets are:
Big box stores – Home Depot, Lowe’s, Costco and IKEA offer major convenience. Browse and purchase cabinets along with other remodeling supplies in one trip. Limited selection but affordable prices.
Online retailers – Available at Wayfair, The Home Depot, Amazon, and specialty sites. Wider selection with detailed sizing, ratings, and reviews. Competitive pricing with bulk ordering discounts. Delivered to your door.
Direct from manufacturers – Buying directly provides greater customization options. Leads to higher-end quality since you deal directly with the producer. Customer service available for guidance. May require longer lead times.
If you need cabinets quickly, start local. Ordering online gives more selection and customization freedom. Mix and match retailers to get all the materials and features you want within your budget!
Do RTA Cabinets Limit My Design Options?
RTA cabinets are available in a tremendous range of sizes, configurations, finishes and accessories. Here are some of the design options possible:
Door Styles – slab, shaker, inset, overhead, arched, glass front, decorative overlays, etc.
Wood Types – oak, maple, hickory, cherry, thermofoil laminate, and more
Colors – range of wood stains, painted finishes, glazes, and distressing
Storage solutions – drawers, roll outs, pull downs, pantries, angled cabinets, blind corner access, and more.
Sizes – adjustable heights, widths, and depths to fit your space
Hardware – knobs, pulls, soft-close hinges, undermount slides, and lighting
With any door style and color imaginable combined with a wide range of sizes and organizing accessories, RTA cabinets offer almost endless possibilities to create your dream kitchen!
What are Some Well-Known Brands of RTA Cabinets?
Some of the most popular and reputable RTA cabinet brands include:
- IKEA – affordable, widely available cabinets in contemporary styles
- QualityCabinets – huge selection of RTA cabinets with free customization
- Barker Cabinets – specialty traditional-styled RTA cabinets
- Kabinet King – mid-priced cabinets available at Home Depot
- Hampton Bay – low-cost RTA cabinets carried by Home Depot
- Cabinet Joint – premium plywood cabinets with excellent warranties
- Ready To Assemble – broad range of competitively priced RTA cabinets
- Shenandoah Cabinetry – quality wood veneer and solid wood cabinets
Look for brands that offer the features, quality, and customization options you want within your budget. Check reviews, warranties, and guidance from the manufacturer before purchase.
Do RTA Cabinets Hold Up Over Time?
It depends on the quality of the RTA cabinets purchased, how well you assemble and install them, and the care you take maintaining them.
Lower-end RTA cabinets have a lifespan of only 5-10 years before showing significant wear. Their lighter duty hardware also fails quicker.
Mid-range cabinets last 10-15 years or more if assembled correctly and well cared for. Premium RTA cabinets approach a 20+ year lifespan of properly installed custom cabinets.
No matter what quality is chosen, use care when cleaning, loading cabinets, and opening/closing doors and drawers. Periodically inspect for damage or wear and address it quickly. Invest in organizers and liners to protect interiors. With the right care, even entry-level RTA cabinets can provide many years of service.
How Much Do RTA Cabinets Cost Compared to Custom Cabinets?
RTA cabinets provide significant cost savings over custom cabinetry. Here is a typical per linear foot cost comparison:
- Custom cabinets – $200-$1000+ per linear foot
- RTA cabinets – $50-$200 per linear foot
For a 10×10 kitchen with 30 linear