Ready-to-assemble (RTA) cabinets have become an increasingly popular option for homeowners looking to remodel their kitchens on a budget. RTA cabinets come flat-packed with all the parts and hardware needed for assembly. While the convenience and affordability of RTA cabinets are hard to beat, some homeowners wonder if these ready-to-assemble cabinets are as sturdy and long-lasting as traditional cabinetry. In this comprehensive guide, we’ll examine if RTA cabinets are strong and how their durability compares to custom cabinetry.
What are RTA Cabinets?
RTA cabinets, also known as ready-to-assemble or flat-pack cabinets, come packed in a flat box with all the cabinet parts, hardware, and instructions needed for assembly. RTA cabinets provide a budget-friendly alternative to custom cabinetry, allowing homeowners to install new kitchen cabinets without the high cost of professional installation.
With RTA cabinets, homeowners can assemble the cabinets themselves over a weekend. RTA cabinets come with pre-drilled holes and hardware like screws and cam locks for easy DIY assembly. Since RTA cabinets ship disassembled, they are more affordable to produce and can ship directly to your home. You don’t have to pay for shipping pre-assembled cabinets or professional installation fees.
While most major cabinet brands offer RTA cabinet lines, Ikea is perhaps the most well-known for popularizing flat-pack furniture. Other leading RTA cabinet manufacturers include Home Depot, Lowe’s, Wayfair, Costco, and Walmart.
Are RTA Cabinets as Strong as Custom Cabinets?
When it comes to durability, RTA cabinets can be just as sturdy as custom cabinetry. RTA cabinets are typically constructed using the same materials and manufacturing methods as pre-assembled cabinets. Durability depends more on the quality of materials and workmanship rather than how cabinets are packaged.
However, there are some variances:
- Joints: RTA cabinets rely on cam locks, screws, and dowels to interlock cabinet parts during assembly. This differs from custom cabinets where joints are factory made. If RTA cabinets are improperly assembled, joints may loosen over time. Proper assembly is key.
- Assembly: RTA cabinet strength depends on meticulous assembly. All holes should be pre-drilled prior to inserting screws to prevent splitting. Taking the time to carefully assemble cabinets makes a big difference in durability.
- Quality: RTA cabinets are available at varying price points, which affects materials and build quality. Budget RTA cabinets typically won’t be as sturdy as premium cabinet lines. Plywood construction is optimal while particleboard is more prone to moisture damage.
- Wear and tear: Any cabinet can eventually show wear after years of use. Custom cabinets often allow for easier replacement or repair of individual damaged components. With RTA cabinets, full cabinet replacements may be required over time.
So while an RTA cabinet won’t be identical to a custom cabinet, it can be similarly durable if you invest in a quality product and take care in assembly.
Choosing Durable RTA Cabinets
Focus on these factors when selecting RTA cabinets to ensure your kitchen gets long-lasting cabinets:
Solid wood or plywood construction provides maximum strength. Avoid cabinets made with particleboard, which is prone to damage from moisture and impact.
Dovetail joinery is the most durable for drawers. Avoid stapled or hot glued drawer boxes which can pull apart over time.
Look for full wrap-around hinges. Partial hinges attached to the cabinet face can loosen over time.
Full cabinet backs provide sturdiness versus open frame designs. Closed cabinet backs also prevent dust and debris from collecting inside cabinets.
Opt for thermofused melamine rather than laminate finishes which can peel. Veneer and solid wood stain better but require more upkeep.
Sturdy soft-close glides allow drawers and doors to slide smoothly. Integrated dampeners ensure gentle closing without slamming.
Cam locks, wood dowels, and metal corner braces reinforce joints once assembled. Machined wood screws provide a stronger hold than nails.
Are RTA Cabinets Difficult to Assemble?
Assembling RTA cabinets is a relatively straightforward process, though having some DIY experience is helpful. The most important thing is carefully following the included instructions. Rushing through assembly or skipping steps can lead to improper installation and impact the structural integrity.
Here are some tips for smooth assembly and optimal durability:
- Clear sufficient time and space to unpack and organize all cabinet components. RTA cabinets only require basic hand tools for assembly.
- Carefully study the instructions provided before beginning. Some steps may not be intuitive. Don’t force pieces that don’t fit.
- Pre-drill shallow pilot holes before driving in screws to prevent splitting wood. Take care not to overtighten screws.
- Confirm all cam locks and dowels are fully seated. Drawers should slide in and out smoothly once assembled.
- Follow any special instructions for installing corner cabinets, base cabinets, and appliances. Poor alignment can impact function.
- Don’t install cabinets on uneven floors or walls. Shims may be needed to level cabinets for a uniform finish.
While assembling RTA cabinets takes some work, the cost savings versus custom cabinetry make it worthwhile for many homeowners. Taking your time ensures cabinets maintain structural rigidity for the long haul.
How Long do RTA Cabinets Last?
With proper assembly and care, RTA cabinets are designed to last. The expected lifespan of RTA cabinets is 10 to 20 years on average for the original purchaser when used in a residential environment. Several factors impact longevity:
Quality of Materials
Higher grade plywood and solid wood construction outlast lower quality particleboard. Thermofused melamine also better resists scratching than laminate. Opt for soft-close hardware and full-extension drawer glides for smoother operation.
Quality of Manufacturing
Reputable brands design cabinets to withstand years of regular use. Precision computer-controlled equipment yields cabinets of consistent quality. Look for companies that stand behind products with warranties.
Any cabinetry performs best when installed in a temperature and humidity controlled indoor environment. RTA cabinets are intended for residential settings only. Commercial or outdoor use requires cabinetry designed for those conditions.
Wiping spills promptly, avoiding excess moisture near cabinets, and keeping cabinets free of dirt and grease enables them to better stand the test of time.
The amount of daily usage impacts longevity. Occasional water from a kitchen faucet likely won’t harm cabinets, but constant exposure under a leaky pipe will cause damage faster.
Properly assembled RTA cabinets aren’t inherently prone to falling apart prematurely. With reasonable care, RTA cabinetry should last through several cycles of changing home design trends.
Maintaining RTA Cabinets
A key factor in enjoying long-lasting RTA cabinets is proper care and maintenance. Here are tips for keeping ready-to-assemble cabinets in peak condition:
- Inspect cabinets annually for any loose joints, sagging doors, or dysfunctional glides. Tighten hardware promptly to avoid further issues.
- Clean cabinet exteriors using a soft lint-free cloth and mild soap and water. Avoid harsh cleansers or abrasive sponges which can damage finishes.
- Use cabinetry wax on exposed wood cabinet boxes and doors to protect and maintain the wood’s natural luster.
- Check under sink areas frequently for any water leaks that could lead to swelling and warping of cabinet materials.
- Open doors and drawers regularly to ventilate interior cabinet air and prevent humidity buildup.
- Avoid overloading shelves, placing excess strain on hinges, or allowing children to hang from cabinet doors.
- Consider adding reinforcement brackets if anchoring cabinets to walls for increased stability.
With periodic checks and careful cleaning, your budget-friendly RTA cabinets can stay beautiful and structurally sound for years before needing replacement.
Signs Your RTA Cabinets are Failing
Even with quality materials and proper care, RTA cabinets will eventually show signs of wear. Be on the lookout for these clues that your ready-to-assemble cabinets may need reinforcement or replacement:
- Loose joints: If cam locks loosen, joints can wobble or fall apart entirely. Confirm all locking hardware is snug.
- Warping panels: Exposure to leaks or high humidity can warp flat cabinet sides and cause doors/drawers to not align.
- Split panels: Particleboard is prone to splitting if screws are not pre-drilled or overtightened during assembly.
- Peeling finishes: Low quality laminate finishes can bubble and peel exposing raw particleboard underneath.
- Sagging doors: Heavy doors on inadequate hinges will start to droop over time and may fall off completely.
- Sliding shelves: Improperly installed shelf pins allow shelves to slide out when loaded. Make sure pins are fully seated.
- Noisy glides: Worn glides or obstructed tracks make opening and closing drawers noisy and difficult.
- Falling hardware: Weak cam locks, hinges, or broken drawer glides cause doors and drawers to fall off unexpectedly.
Minor issues can often be repaired without full cabinet replacement. But multiple recurring problems likely indicate poor quality cabinets that won’t withstand long-term use.
Are Custom Cabinets Better Than RTA?
Custom or semi-custom cabinets are still the gold standard in cabinetry. Fully assembled in a workshop, they offer advantages that make them worth the higher price for some homeowners:
Factory made joints like dove tails and wood welds craft extremely sturdy units. Professionally glued joints are stronger than cam locks.
Cabinets can be built to seamlessly integrate appliances, utilities, windows, and other design elements. RTA cabinets include standard sizes only.
Wider selection of solid woods, exotic veneers, glass doors, and custom finishes to fit any decor. RTA lines offer fewer selections.
Each cabinet is closely inspected to meet exacting quality and precision standards. RTA cabinets are mass produced.
Experienced woodworkers properly construct cabinets for optimal performance. DIY RTA assembly risks improper installation.
Damaged custom cabinets can be repaired or replaced individually as needed. Entire RTA sections may need replacement.
Keep in mind that custom cabinets do not inherently guarantee quality.Poor materials or shoddy construction could yield lower durability than some RTA options. But for homeowners wanting the highest quality cabinetry to match unique kitchen designs, custom cabinetry remains hard to match.
The Bottom Line
RTA cabinets offer an affordable way for homeowners to undertake major kitchen overhauls while staying within budget. If properly assembled using quality materials, RTA cabinets can provide years of reliable service comparable to pricier custom cabinetry. However, corners may be cut by some brands resulting in lower durability.
Doing your homework on cabinet construction, choosing reputable RTA brands, and taking care during assembly are the best ways to ensure ready-to-assemble cabinets withstand everyday use. With reasonable maintenance and care, RTA cabinetry can deliver style and function sure to impress.
FAQs About RTA Cabinet Durability
Is plywood or particleboard better for cabinets?
Plywood is more durable for cabinet construction. The cross-layered wood veneers create strong resistance to warping from moisture. Particleboard is more prone to chipping and peeling from water damage.
How do you reinforce RTA cabinets?
Use angled metal corner braces on the cabinet interior for added joint strength. Cabinet filler strips also strengthen flat panel areas. Alternatively add wood glue during assembly for tighter bonds between cabinet components.
Do RTA cabinets hold up?
Yes, RTA cabinets are designed to be long-lasting if you choose quality materials and assemble carefully. Like any cabinetry, proper installation and maintenance will determine the useful lifetime.
Why are RTA cabinets so cheap?
Lower costs due to ship-flat packaging, lack of professional installation, mass manufacturing, and cheaper hardware help make RTA very affordable. Some brands also compromise on materials and construction to lower prices further.
Should I get custom cabinets?
Custom cabinets are preferable if you want unique designs and premium materials to match your exact kitchen layout. But RTA delivers comparable quality at a fraction of the investment so offers excellent value.
Is IKEA known for quality?
While some IKEA products have a reputation for flimsiness, their cabinetry is highly rated for being sturdy and well made for the reasonable price point. Opt for thicker cabinet sides and solid wood doors for best results.
Do ready to assemble cabinets need professionals?
RTA cabinets are intentionally designed for DIY home installation. But for large or complex projects, a carpentry professional can ensure proper assembly, a quality finish, and full functionality.
Are assembled cabinets better than RTA?
For convenience and ease of installation, pre-assembled cabinets win. But well-constructed RTA options offer similar quality and longevity when properly assembled. Durability has more to do with materials and workmanship than packaging.
How long should semi-custom cabinets last?
With a quality manufacturer and proper care, expect around 20-25 years of life from semi-custom cabinetry. The customization allows designing for optimal durability for your needs.
Is HDF or MDF better for cabinets?
Both provide smooth, consistent surfaces but HDF (high-density fiberboard) has increased resistance to moisture damage making it the better material for humidity-prone kitchens. Use MDF only in the driest areas of the home.
While custom cabinetry remains the “gold standard”, today’s RTA cabinet offerings provide impressive durability for a fraction of the investment. From a quality manufacturer, RTA cabinets can be confidently expected to last through years of regular kitchen use when properly assembled and maintained. Focus on plywood construction, soft-close hardware, and taking care during installation for cabinets that will withstand busy family life. With a thoughtful design and careful assembly, RTA cabinets offer homeowners beautiful, brawny kitchen storage on a budget.