Ready-to-assemble (RTA) is a term used to describe furniture that is shipped unassembled to customers. RTA cabinets are a popular option for many homeowners and professionals looking for affordable and customizable cabinetry. But what exactly does RTA stand for, and what are the pros and cons of choosing RTA cabinets?
What Does RTA Mean?
RTA stands for “ready-to-assemble.” RTA cabinets come packaged in boxes with all the individual pieces, hardware, and instructions needed for assembly. The parts are pre-cut, sanded, and finished so all the consumer has to do is join everything together using either pre-drilled holes, cams and dowels, or other simple hardware.
This is different from stock or custom cabinetry that comes pre-assembled from the manufacturer. With RTA cabinets, the assembly work is left to the purchaser. This allows manufacturers to ship more cabinetry in a smaller space, passing the labor savings directly to the consumer.
So in summary:
- RTA: Ready-to-assemble. Shipped unassembled. Must be put together by the purchaser.
- Stock: Pre-assembled cabinetry shipped as completed units.
- Custom: Cabinetry built to exact specifications, shipped assembled.
Pros of RTA Cabinets
There are many benefits that make RTA cabinets an attractive option for many homeowners and remodelers:
One of the biggest advantages of choosing RTA cabinets is that they are very affordable, especially compared to custom cabinetry. Since you take on the assembly, manufacturers can keep labor costs low and pass on the savings. RTA cabinets can cost 25-50% less than custom cabinetry.
Because RTA cabinets ship flat-packed, they take up much less space than pre-assembled cabinets. This makes them easier to transport and gets rid of the need for costly delivery. Most RTA cabinets will fit inside a minivan or SUV.
While not as customizable as true custom cabinets, RTA cabinets offer plenty of options for personalization. From door style to color to storage configuration, you can find RTA cabinets to meet your needs and style.
Don’t let the lower price fool you. Many RTA cabinet brands use high-quality materials like solid wood doors and drawers, plywood construction, and soft-close hinges. Durability doesn’t have to be sacrificed for affordability.
Ease of Assembly
Assembly of RTA cabinets is designed to be simple, even for those with minimal DIY experience. Using careful instructions, cam locks, and dowels for alignment, the average kitchen can be assembled in a few days.
Cons of RTA Cabinets
While RTA cabinets have their perks, they also come with some downsides to consider:
Need for Assembly
The do-it-yourself nature of RTA cabinets can be a pro or a con, depending on your skill level. Those who don’t feel comfortable tackling cabinet assembly may need to hire a carpenter, eating into the cost savings.
Potential for Damage
Any time you take on your own cabinet assembly, you accept a level of risk for damage, mistakes, or injuries. While RTA cabinets are designed to be DIY-friendly, problems can still occur.
No RTA cabinet manufacturer will offer the sheer number of options available from a custom cabinet shop. If you have very specific needs, RTA may not be able to accommodate.
Can’t See Final Product
Since you assemble RTA cabinets yourself, you can’t see the fully constructed final product before purchase. You have to trust that your assembly job will result in the product you want.
In some markets, DIY RTA cabinets may not add as much resale value to a home as contractor-installed cabinetry. But this depends on your area.
What to Look for with RTA Cabinets
Focus on these factors when selecting RTA cabinets:
Look for plywood boxes, solid wood doors and drawers, and sturdy joining methods like dowels, cams, and corner blocks. Avoid cabinets with particleboard construction or plastic joinery.
Consider which door styles suit your kitchen’s look – slab, shaker, inset, etc. Also pick soft-closing drawer guides for convenience.
Quality hardware like soft-close hinges and full extension drawers will improve usability. Opt for durable, corrosion-resistant metal.
Make sure the stain, paint, or laminate finish will hold up to kitchen wear and tear. Also pick a color suited for your decor.
Maximize kitchen storage with interior organizing solutions like wine racks, spice pull outs, cookie sheet dividers, and other specialized storage.
A solid warranty provides peace of mind. Look for at least a 1-year warranty, with 3-5 years being ideal for maximum protection.
Top 8 RTA Cabinet Brands
These leading brands offer exceptional RTA cabinetry:
1. Cabinet Joint
- Highly customizable line of RTA cabinets
- Maple, oak, hickory, or thermofoil door options
- Lifetime warranty on cabinet boxes
2. Barker Cabinets
- Offer modern, transitional, and traditional styles
- Constructed from 3⁄4” solid wood and plywood
- Limited lifetime warranty
- Contemporary, eco-friendly designs
- Bamboo and recycled glass construction options
- Free design software to visualize options
4. Ready To Assemble Kitchens
- One of the first RTA cabinet brands, since 1999
- Wide range of quality kitchen and bathroom cabinets
- Ships 99% assembled with just doors to attach
5. Shaker Cabinet Doors
- Specialize in customizable shaker-style cabinets
- Choose from 5 wood species and 12 stain colors
- Environmentally-responsible practices
6. Creative Woodworking
- Known for handcrafted quality and unique styles
- Customization includes 20+ wood, paint, and glaze options
- Laser cut parts ensure tight joints
7. Kitchen Cabinet Kings
- Affordable cabinets without compromising quality
- Easy assembly with cam locks and dowels
- Satisfaction guaranteed
8. Cabinets to Go
- Streamlined ordering and fast shipping
- Use online kitchen planner to design
- Price match guarantee
RTA vs. Stock vs. Custom Cabinets
How do the three main cabinetry options stack up?
- Assembled by owner
- Medium to low cost
- Medium quality to low quality materials
- Pre-configured sizing
- Medium to high customization
- Medium to high cost
- Medium to high quality materials
- Pre-configured sizing
- Low customization
- Highest cost
- Highest quality materials
- Fully customized sizing
- Fully customized options
While stock and custom cabinets have their places, RTA cabinetry strikes an impressive balance between affordability, quality, and personalization. For homeowners on a budget who still want flexibility in their kitchen design, RTA cabinets provide an optimal solution.
Purchasing RTA Cabinets
Ready to purchase RTA cabinets? Here is a step-by-step guide:
1. Set Your Budget
Having a budget in mind will help guide your RTA cabinet selection. RTA cabinets range from about $75 – $350 per linear cabinet foot. Measure your space to determine the scope of your project.
2. Choose a Style
Consider the door style you want. Most brands offer solid slab, inset, shaker, and recessed panel designs. Door material is also key – wood, thermofoil, and bamboo are common.
3. Select a Finish
Think about your ideal finish. Will you stain, paint, or laminate your cabinets? Choosing a finish is important for achieving your dream style.
4. Pick Your Cabinets
With budget, style, and finish in mind, start picking your specific cabinets. Look at each cabinet section – base, uppers, island, etc.
5. Add Storage Solutions
Maximize efficiency with smart organizational products like pull out spice racks, cabinet cutlery organizers, pull out trash/recycling bins, and more.
6. Order Samples
If possible, order finish and door samples to view choices in person in your space before purchasing.
7. Place Your Order
After finalizing your cabinet selection, order through the manufacturer or retailer. Make sure to double check your order for accuracy.
8. Prepare for Delivery
Clear space, gather tools, and get ready for cabinet arrival. Review assembly instructions so you’re ready to get to work immediately.
With the right RTA cabinets for your needs, you can get beautiful, functional, affordable kitchen cabinetry that suits your style.
Frequently Asked Questions about RTA Cabinets
Many homeowners have additional questions about RTA cabinetry. Here are answers to some of the most common queries:
What is the cost per linear foot?
RTA cabinet prices range from $75-$350 per linear foot, with most quality cabinets falling between $100-$250 per linear foot.
What tools are needed for assembly?
A drill, Phillips head screwdriver, hammer, wood glue, and silicone caulk or wood filler are generally sufficient for most RTA cabinet assembly. Always consult manufacturer instructions.
How long does assembly take?
With 2+ people, allow 15-30 minutes per base cabinet and 10-15 minutes per wall cabinet for assembly. A 10-15 cabinet kitchen can usually be assembled in 1-3 days.
Can the instructions be downloaded in advance?
Yes, most brands allow users to access the instructions as a PDF on their website prior to receiving the cabinets. Reviewing instructions ahead of time is wise.
What if cabinets get damaged during shipping?
Reputable RTA brands thoroughly pack cabinets for shipment. But if damage does occur, take photos right away and contact the company for replacement parts.
Can cabinets be returned if unsatisfied?
Depending on brand and retailer, you may have a short window for returns if the product is truly defective or the wrong item shipped.
Is professional installation available?
Some manufacturers offer assembly services for an added fee. Or, you can hire a local carpenter to put together your RTA cabinets.
How long do RTA cabinets last?
With quality construction and materials, properly assembled and maintained RTA cabinets can last 15-20 years or longer – similar to custom cabinetry lifespan.
RTA or ready-to-assemble cabinets provide a budget-friendly option for homeowners looking to save on their kitchen remodeling project without sacrificing style. While requiring a bit more sweat equity, RTA cabinets allow for plenty of customization at a fraction of the cost of custom cabinetry.
With some smart shopping based on cabinet construction, materials, and organizational features as well as proper assembly, RTA cabinets can provide beautiful, functional storage for a kitchen for years to come. Taking the time to understand the RTA cabinet process, from comparing brands and styles to rolling up your sleeves for the assembly job, can pay off with stylish, personalized results achieved on a limited budget.