RTA cabinets, also known as ready-to-assemble cabinets, are a popular cabinetry option for many homeowners and contractors. As the name implies, RTA cabinets come already manufactured but require assembly before installation. Understanding what RTA cabinets are, their pros and cons, and how to install them properly can help you determine if they are the right cabinetry choice for your kitchen or bathroom remodel.
What Does RTA Stand For?
RTA stands for “ready-to-assemble.” RTA cabinets come already constructed by the manufacturer but disassembled into individual sections for packaging and shipping. The cabinets are designed for convenient assembly at home using common household tools and basic instructions. Once assembled, they can be installed like any traditional cabinet.
RTA cabinets provide a more affordable alternative to fully custom cabinetry. They come mass-produced in standard sizes and configurations to keep costs down but can still be customized with different finishes, hardware, and accessories. Many home improvement stores now offer their own RTA cabinet lines as do online retailers and specialty brands.
Main Components of RTA Cabinets
RTA cabinets feature all the standard components of traditional cabinetry:
- Cabinet box – This forms the main structure of the cabinet and is typically made from wood or engineered wood like particle board or MDF.
- Doors – Cabinet doors attach to the front of the box and come in various styles like slab, shaker, or inset.
- Drawers – Drawers slide in and out of the cabinet box on tracks or glides.
- Shelves – Adjustable shelves sit inside the cabinet to hold contents.
- Toe kick – This piece attaches below the cabinet box as a recess for feet and toes.
- Hardware – Knobs, pulls, and hinges must be installed to complete the fully functional cabinet.
RTA cabinets ship with all these pieces separated but engineered to fit together seamlessly once assembled. Other accessories like roll-out trays, spice racks, or tip-out bins may also be included depending on the specific cabinet and configuration ordered.
Pros of Choosing RTA Cabinets
RTA cabinets have grown in popularity in recent years for several reasons:
The main advantage of RTA cabinets is their affordable price point. Because they are mass-produced and ship unassembled, RTA cabinetry is generally 20-50% less expensive than custom cabinetry. For budget-conscious homeowners, an RTA cabinet system can help save thousands on a kitchen or bath remodel.
RTA cabinets offer a convenient alternative to the lengthy process of designing, building, and installing traditional custom cabinets. With RTA cabinets, you simply order the style and size of cabinets needed, wait for delivery, assemble, and install. This speeds up timelines considerably.
While RTA cabinets themselves are pre-fabricated, many manufacturers offer ways to customize your order. You can often select from among door styles, finishes, hardware, and accessory components to personalize the look and function. This flexibility makes it possible to achieve a semi-custom aesthetic at the fraction of the cost.
The growing popularity of RTA cabinetry means most major home stores and online retailers now carry multiple RTA lines to choose from. The wide availability makes it easy to find options that suit your specific taste and budget. You’re not limited to one brand or look as you might be with local custom cabinet shops.
Cons to Consider About RTA Cabinets
Despite their many perks, RTA cabinets also come with a few disadvantages to keep in mind:
While the ready-to-assemble format helps reduce costs, it does mean the burden of cabinet construction falls on the homeowner. You’ll need to carefully unpack, sort, and assemble the cabinets, which can be time-consuming and frustrating if the instructions or hardware are unclear.
Potential Quality Issues
Mass-produced cabinets may lack some of the craftsmanship, durability, and quality control you’d find in custom cabinetry. Issues like chipped edges, warped boards, and hardware defects are not uncommon. Replacing damaged components can also be difficult.
RTA cabinets come in pre-set widths and heights that may not work as perfectly for your unique space. You’ll likely need to do some planning and adjusting to make stock cabinets fit. Limited size options also reduce the level of customization possibilities.
Can’t See Before You Buy
Ordering cabinets sight unseen can be concerning for some homeowners. With RTA cabinets, you select everything online without seeing the actual quality first. While many retailers have generous return policies, returns can be a headache.
What to Look for When Buying RTA Cabinets
To find quality ready-to-assemble cabinets for your project, keep the following tips in mind:
Look for plywood box construction at minimum, with dovetail joinery on the drawers. Avoid cabinets with particleboard sides, bottoms, or backs as these are more prone to moisture damage.
Solid wood doors and drawers will hold up better over time versus those made with veneers and laminates. Also inspect that cabinet frames are made from thick, sturdy wood.
Look for name brand drawer glides and hinges from manufacturers like Blum or Salice for smoother operation. Concealed hinges also give a more upscale, integrated look.
Seek cabinets with a furniture-grade stained, painted, or powder coated finish. These will better resist scratching, scuffing, and other wear over laminate finishes.
Read reviews and look for manufacturers that stand behind their products if any issues arise. Established cabinet brands tend to have better quality control.
Understand the return policy before purchasing so you can send back any damaged or defective cabinets for replacement.
How to Install RTA Cabinets in Your Home
Once you purchase quality RTA cabinets, proper installation is key to getting them fitted and functioning in your kitchen or bathroom. Here is an overview of the full installation process:
Step 1: Assemble the Cabinets
Lay out all the cabinet parts and hardware and follow the manufacturer’s instructions closely to assemble each cabinet. This step takes time and patience! Using power tools like an impact driver can help speed up assembly.
Step 2: Install Mounting Rails
Mount horizontal support rails along the wall studs where the upper cabinets will sit. These rails reinforce the structure to hold the weight of the cabinets. Install the rails level and square.
Step 3: Hang Wall Cabinets
Lift each wall cabinet into place, drilling pilot holes and driving screws through the cabinet back and into the support rails. Use shims under the cabinets to level them side-to-side and front-to-back.
Step 4: Install Base Cabinets
For base cabinets, it’s best to start in a corner and work outward. Place shims under the front and sides, then drive screws into the cabinet backs or rail mounts. Check for level frequently.
Step 5: Secure Cabinets Together
Once cabinets are positioned where needed, use angled braces, filler strips, and/or cabinet screws to join all units together into one cohesive row.
Step 6: Add Doors, Drawers, and Hardware
Attach hinges, slides, and pulls to hang doors and install functioning drawers. Adjust any hinges so doors align evenly.
Step 7: Create Countertop
Take countertop measurements and have your countertop material installed atop the base cabinets. Seal around the edges if needed.
Step 8: Add Trim and Accessories
Finish off your RTA cabinet installation by adding any trim, panels, or other accessories included to complete the built-in custom look.
Are RTA Cabinets a Good Choice for Your Project?
While the assembly and installation process involves considerable work, RTA cabinets offer a budget-friendly way to customize your space. If cost savings is your top priority and you don’t mind a DIY project, RTA cabinets can be a smart way to refresh your kitchen or bath on a budget.
On the other hand, if convenience or quality craftsmanship rank higher for your project, investing in custom cabinetry from a local cabinet shop may be worth the additional expense. There are pros and cons to both options that boil down to your project goals, budget, and skill level. Carefully weigh these factors when deciding between RTA and custom cabinetry.
Frequently Asked Questions About RTA Cabinets
What tools do I need to assemble RTA cabinets?
You’ll need basic household tools like a drill, screwdriver, level, tape measure, clamps, and pencil. Many find an impact driver makes driving screws easier. Specialty tools like cabinet jacks also come in handy for aligning and securing cabinets.
How long does it take to assemble and install RTA cabinets?
With some DIY experience, expect assembly and installation of an average 10 cabinet kitchen to take 2-5 days. The most time-consuming parts are assembling all the cabinet boxes and doors, and then adjusting each door so they all align properly.
Can I change the layout of RTA cabinets?
While designed to only assemble one way, RTA cabinets can be modified to an extent. Some retailers allow you to substitute cabinet sizes before shipping. You can also trim cabinet sides and move/add hardware to adjust spacing during installation.
How much do RTA cabinets cost?
Pricing varies by brand and quality level but expect to pay $80-250 per linear foot for RTA cabinets. For a 10×10 kitchen, total costs would likely range from $1600-$5000 just for RTA cabinetry.
Where can I buy quality RTA cabinets?
Popular retailers for RTA cabinets include IKEA, Home Depot, Wayfair, Cabinets.com, and Barker Cabinets. Quality brands to look for include Hampton Bay, Kemper, Diamond, and Aristokraft Ready-To-Assemble.
Are RTA cabinets as good as custom cabinets?
Custom cabinets are usually higher quality in terms of materials, construction, and durable finishes. But well-made RTA cabinets can still look quite high-end once installed, at a fraction of the price of full custom. It depends on your specific brand and style selected.
Can I paint or stain RTA cabinets?
Yes, you can paint, stain, re-paint, or re-stain RTA cabinets. Bare wood cabinets are often sold intended to be painted onsite. Make sure to properly prepare surfaces so new finishes adhere well. Spray painting typically works best for a smooth factory-like finish.
How long do RTA cabinets last?
With proper care and maintenance, you can expect RTA cabinets to last 10-15 years on average. More premium cabinets may last 20+ years. Factors like materials used, installation quality, and how cabinets are cleaned/handled impact longevity.
Are RTA cabinets bad quality?
Not necessarily. While lower cost RTA lines may cut corners, many mid-priced to premium RTA cabinet options feature solid wood materials and sturdy construction. Brand reputation and product reviews can help you avoid low quality products. Buying locally also allows you to inspect before purchasing.
Key Takeaways on RTA Cabinets
- RTA or ready-to-assemble cabinets provide a budget-friendly alternative to custom cabinetry, packaged unassembled to save on costs.
- While requiring homeowner assembly, RTA cabinets allow you to customize looks and storage. Wide availability makes finding options easier.
- Carefully inspecting materials and construction is key to finding durable RTA cabinets built to last.
- With proper assembly and installation, RTA cabinets can provide beautiful, functional storage at 20-50% less cost than custom.
- For best results, opt for solid wood RTA cabinets with precision joinery and quality hardware suited to your kitchen or bathroom space.
RTA cabinets offer homeowners an accessible path to acquiring stylish, customizable cabinetry for kitchen and bathroom projects. While requiring hands-on assembly and installation, quality RTA cabinetry can still provide long-lasting function and beauty without the premium price tag. Taking the time to understand what defines well-made RTA cabinets allows you to reap the affordability of this popular cabinetry option without sacrificing quality or longevity. With smart shopping and proper installation, RTA cabinets can be a budget savior for your next remodel.