Ready-to-assemble (RTA) cabinets have become an increasingly popular option for homeowners and contractors looking to save on costs without sacrificing quality. But how do they really compare to preassembled cabinetry? Here we’ll take an in-depth look at the pros and cons of RTA cabinets versus preassembled to help you make the best choice for your project.
What are RTA Cabinets?
RTA cabinets, sometimes also called flat pack or knockdown cabinets, are shipped as individual pieces that require assembly. The cabinets arrive in a flat box with all the hardware and instructions needed to put them together yourself.
Benefits of RTA Cabinets:
- Cost savings – Since you assemble them yourself, RTA cabinets are priced lower than preassembled options. You save on labor costs.
- Convenience – RTA cabinets ship nationwide and are readily available at home improvement stores. You can also order customized configurations online and have them shipped directly.
- Quality materials – Many RTA brands use the same high-quality materials and hardware as preassembled cabinets. Popular options include solid wood doors and drawers, soft-close hinges, and durable finishes.
Potential Downsides of RTA:
- Assembly required – You or a hired professional will need to put in the time and effort to assemble the cabinets. The complexity varies by brand.
- Potential for flaws – Mistakes made during self-assembly or damage during shipping could affect the final quality. Preassembled cabinets have more quality control.
- Limited customization – RTA cabinets allow you to choose sizes and finishes but not make as many structural customizations as preassembled cabinetry.
What are Preassembled Cabinets?
Preassembled cabinets come ready to install right out of the box. They are constructed offsite by the manufacturer and arrive fully built with doors, drawers, and hardware pre-installed.
Benefits of Preassembled Cabinets:
- No assembly required – Preassembled cabinets can be installed as soon as they arrive, saving time and hassle.
- Consistent quality – Since they are assembled in a controlled factory environment, the finished quality may be more consistent.
- Customization – Structural elements like cabinet configurations and modifications can be customized to your exact specifications.
Potential Downsides of Preassembled Cabinets:
- Added cost – The convenience of preassembly comes at a premium. Preassembled cabinets tend to cost significantly more than RTA.
- Limited sizing – Because they must ship fully constructed, sizing options may be more limited than RTA that ships flat.
- Lead times – More customization means a longer wait from order to delivery. RTA cabinets ship faster.
Are RTA Cabinets as Good as Preassembled in Terms of Quality?
When it comes to materials and construction quality, there is little inherent difference between RTA and preassembled cabinets. Many leading RTA brands use the same solid wood materials, durable finishes, and quality hardware as preassembled. The main distinction is in the assembly.
With proper assembly, most RTA cabinets can meet or exceed the quality levels of preassembled cabinetry. However, human error during assembly or damage during shipping does open RTA cabinets to more potential quality issues. Preassembled cabinets benefit from controlled in-factory construction and quality checks before shipping out.
In summary, when assembled correctly, RTA cabinets can match preassembled in quality and durability. But the DIY assembly factor does present some added quality variability.
Are RTA Cabinets More Affordable Than Preassembled?
Without question, RTA cabinets represent a significant cost savings over preassembled. RTA cabinets from quality brands typically run 25-50% less than comparable preassembled options. There are a few key reasons for this price difference:
- Labor savings – With RTA cabinets, you take on the assembly rather than paying for in-factory construction. This reduces manufacturing costs that get passed to the consumer.
- Shipping efficiency – RTA cabinets ship disassembled in flat boxes, reducing shipping footprint and costs. Preassembled cabinets ship fully constructed at greater expense.
- Accessibility – The wider availability of RTA cabinets at home stores cuts out distribution costs associated with specialized preassembled cabinetry.
While preassembled cabinets may contain more premium features and finishes, an RTA design of similar materials is almost always notably cheaper. For budget-conscious projects, RTA represents a great value.
Which Is More Convenient: RTA or Preassembled Cabinets?
Convenience depends on your project needs and installer situation:
- For DIYers or general contractors, RTA cabinets offer more convenience. Their availability at local home centers and shipping direct to your door can’t be beat. You also save time outsourcing installation labor.
- For renovation projects on a short timeline, preassembled cabinets require less hands-on work and can be installed faster. The pre-assembly makes them ideal if you want cabinets built and installed in days rather than weeks.
- Customized projects are easier with preassembled cabinets. Rather than assembling highly customized configurations onsite, have them built to your specs offsite by the manufacturer.
- If you plan to hire cabinet installers, they may prefer preassembled cabinets that require less time and coordination on their end. But an experienced installer can work efficiently with most RTA systems.
Which Offers More Customization Options?
Preassembled cabinets are better suited for structural customization like unique storage configurations, cabinet dimensions, and design details. With full control over the construction process, manufacturers can accommodate more custom requests.
RTA cabinets offer more flexibility with finishes, materials, and sizing options within the brand’s available range. But significant layout or dimensional changes are more feasible with preassembled cabinets built fully custom from scratch.
If you want a highly customized kitchen design, preassembled cabinetry is best able to accommodate unconventional floorplans and storage needs.
Are RTA Cabinets Harder to Install Than Preassembled?
Installing RTA cabinets takes more hands-on effort because of the assembly, but it can absolutely be managed by an experienced DIYer or competent contractor. Here are a few installation considerations:
- Assembly – Leave adequate time for assembly before installation day. Follow instructions closely and carefully. Confirm alignments and test functions before permanently joining cabinet pieces.
- Lifting and positioning – Unassembled RTA cabinets are heavy and awkward to maneuver. Lifting fully assembled sections is best. Get help moving them into place.
- Fastening – Use provided hardware and reinforce walls and floors for sturdy mounting. Join cabinet sections securely according to guide. Check for level and plumb.
- Finishing touches – Take care with drawer adjustments and hardware installation. Check doors and test appliances for fit and function. Touch up damage before finalizing installation.
Proper planning and care makes RTA cabinet installation very doable either as a DIY project or for a professional. The assembly aspect adds time but the overall process is comparable to preassembled cabinet installation.
Are RTA Cabinets a Good Option for Kitchen Remodeling?
RTA cabinets offer a compelling blend of affordability, convenience, and quality that makes them excellent for most kitchen remodeling projects. Key advantages as a kitchen remodeling choice:
- Wide selection of styles and finishes to match your desired design aesthetic
- Lower cost enables you to afford quality materials while staying on budget
- Convenient home delivery allows you to self-manage the remodel on your schedule
- Good durability and warranties ensure long-lasting performance
- Simplified installations for easy kitchen upgrades down the road
As long as you or your contractor can handle the assembly, RTA cabinets give you tremendous flexibility to cost-effectively remodel your kitchen exactly how you want. They are suitable for major remodels and simple upgrades alike.
RTA vs. Preassembled Cabinets: Which is the Better Choice?
There is no universally “better” option. Choose based on these factors:
Consider RTA cabinets if you:
- Are on a tight budget
- Are comfortable with DIY installation
- Value convenience and accessibility
- Want a wider selection of design options
- Need to customize finishes but not layouts
Preassembled cabinets may be the better choice if you:
- Have ample room in your cabinetry budget
- Need a fast turnaround professional install
- Want maximum design flexibility and customization
- Seek specialty storage solutions and custom configurations
- Need intricate built-ins and integrated elements
For striking the best balance of quality, cost, convenience, and customization for your kitchen, RTA cabinets are the optimal choice for most homeowners and contractors. But for truly bespoke projects, preassembled cabinetry holds advantages. Evaluate your priorities to decide what works best.
Frequently Asked Questions About RTA vs Preassembled Cabinets
Is the quality of RTA cabinets inferior to preassembled?
Not necessarily. Many leading RTA brands use premium materials and high-end hardware that rival preassembled cabinetry. When properly assembled, RTA cabinets can definitely match preassembled in durability, function, and appearance. But human assembly does open more room for potential flaws.
Do RTA cabinets take longer to install than preassembled cabinets?
The assembly of the RTA cabinets must factor into total installation time. Once constructed, the installation process is similar for RTA vs preassembled. Experienced installers can work efficiently with either. But preassembled cabinets may have a slight time advantage by arriving ready to mount immediately.
Can RTA cabinets be customized?
RTA cabinets can be customized to an extent – typically with a wide selection finishes, materials, storage accessories, and sizing options based on the manufacturer’s range. But RTA allows for less structural customization to the cabinet boxes and layouts compared to preassembled cabinetry.
Is professional installation recommended for RTA cabinets?
While DIY installation is definitely feasible for RTA cabinets, professional installation is recommended if you want to ensure proper assembly, fastening, leveling, and finishing. Unless you’re an experienced DIYer, consider hiring a contractor – just make sure they have worked with RTA systems before.
How much cheaper are RTA cabinets compared to preassembled?
You can expect to pay 25-50% less for RTA cabinets over comparable preassembled options. The cost difference stems from the labor savings of consumer assembly and the efficiencies of shipping cabinets flat and unfinished. RTA represents one of the most budget-friendly cabinetry options.
While preassembled cabinets hold some advantages for customized projects on a fast timeline, RTA cabinets offer the best combination of price, convenience, and quality for most kitchen cabinet projects.
Paying less for RTA cabinets does not have to mean sacrificing on duriness or appearance. As long as you take care in assembly and installation, RTA cabinetry performs exceptionally well and gives you the biggest bang for your buck.
For your next kitchen upgrade or remodel, strongly consider quality RTA cabinets to get high-end features and design without breaking the bank. Just be sure to enlist help if taking on the assembly and installation as a DIYer. With smart planning and skilled execution, you can achieve beautiful, functional results.