Ready-to-assemble (RTA) cabinets, also known as flat pack or knockdown cabinets, have become an increasingly popular option for homeowners and renters looking to remodel their kitchens or bathrooms on a budget. As the name implies, RTA cabinets come packed flat in a box and require some assembly before installation. While traditional custom-built cabinets may offer more choices and customization options, RTA cabinets provide an affordable and convenient alternative without sacrificing too much on quality or looks.
In this comprehensive guide, we will explore everything you need to know about RTA cabinets, including:
- What are RTA cabinets and how are they different from other cabinet types?
- What are the pros and cons of choosing RTA cabinets?
- What do you need to know before buying RTA cabinets?
- How much do RTA cabinets cost compared to other options?
- What are the best places to buy quality RTA cabinets?
- How to prepare for installation and assemble RTA cabinets.
- RTA cabinet installation tips and considerations.
- Caring for and maintaining RTA cabinets.
Armed with this information, you’ll be able to decide if RTA cabinets are the right choice for your upcoming kitchen or bath remodel and select, purchase, assemble and install RTA cabinets with confidence.
What Exactly Are RTA Cabinets?
RTA, or ready-to-assemble, cabinets are flat pack cabinets that come packed in a box and require assembly before installation. RTA cabinets are typically made from medium density fiberboard (MDF) or plywood and come with unfinished exteriors, allowing you to pick a finish of your choice.
The RTA cabinet components are factory cut to size and pre-drilled. All you need to do is join the cabinet parts together with screws, bolts, or other simple hardware like cam locks or dowels. Compared to stock or semi-custom cabinets that come fully assembled, RTA cabinets ship compactly in flat boxes and take up less space.
RTA cabinets first emerged in the 1980s and grew in popularity through retailers like IKEA. Today, RTA cabinets are available from big box stores, online retailers, warehouse stores and RTA-focused cabinet brands. Unlike custom cabinets that are built to your specifications, RTA cabinets come in standard sizes though many manufacturers now offer more customized sizing and storage options.
While RTA cabinets used to have a reputation for being cheaply made, many brands today focus on offering affordable but quality cabinetry options made from durable materials that rival custom-built cabinets. Modern manufacturing techniques like computer-aided design and CNC machining allow for more consistency and precision in RTA cabinet construction.
How Do RTA Cabinets Differ from Other Cabinet Types?
There are a few key ways that RTA cabinets differ from custom-built cabinetry:
- Assembly: RTA cabinets require assembly whereas custom cabinets arrive fully assembled and ready to install. RTA cabinet assembly may require several hours to several days depending on the size of your order.
- Customization: Custom cabinets offer near endless customization from sizes, finishes, storage solutions and design details. RTA cabinets come in preset sizes and limited customization, though you can choose finishes.
- Quality: Custom cabinets are usually higher quality, made with solid wood doors and dovetail joinery. RTA cabinets offer good quality at lower price points but may not use premium materials and joinery.
- Cost: RTA cabinets cost a fraction of most custom cabinetry, making them an affordable cabinetry solution for most budgets. Custom cabinets come at a premium cost.
- Lead time: RTA cabinets ship quickly, usually within a few weeks because manufacturers keep them in stock ready to ship. Custom cabinets can take 6-8 weeks for delivery due to the custom production process.
While not as customizable as true custom cabinets, ready-to-assemble cabinets offer more size, style and finish options than stock cabinets for a reasonable price. They provide a happy medium between custom and stock cabinets.
Pros of Choosing RTA Cabinets
RTA cabinets have grown in popularity thanks to some key advantages:
More Affordable Than Custom Cabinets
The main appeal of RTA cabinets is their price point. Because they’re mass-produced, RTA cabinets cost significantly less than custom cabinetry which is built to order. RTA cabinets offer homeowners and renters quality cabinets at budget-friendly prices. Depending on the brand and features, you can expect to pay 30-50% less for RTA cabinets versus custom-built cabinets.
Faster Lead Times
Since they are manufactured in bulk and stored in warehouses ready to ship out, RTA cabinets can arrive at your home in as little as 2-3 weeks. This fast turnaround makes them ideal when flipping houses or completing renovations quickly. Custom cabinets often require 6-8 weeks from order to delivery – much longer!
Easier Delivery and Installation
RTA cabinets ship directly to your home rather than to the installer because they require assembly. This cuts out a middleman delivery step. The flat pack design also makes RTA cabinets easier to maneuver into place than bulky, pre-assembled cabinets. Less experienced DIYers can usually handle RTA cabinet installs.
More Size and Style Selections Than Stock
While RTA cabinets come in set sizes, most manufacturers offer a wide range of sizes including standard kitchen cabinets, oversized cabinets, and popular lazy susan and appliance garage sizes. Door styles also vary from shaker to inset to modern. Their catalog is more varied than basic stock cabinet offerings.
Good Quality and Durability
Technology improvements allow manufacturers to churn out RTA cabinets with reliable quality and durability. As long as you buy from a reputable brand, RTA cabinets should hold up well against daily wear and tear and last you more than 5 years with proper care. Their quality rivals custom cabinets.
Easier to Modify and Customize
The unfinished cabinet box and doors make RTA cabinets easy to paint, stain, distress or upgrade. Adding decorative trim pieces, new hardware or glass cabinet inserts can give RTA cabinets a custom look without the custom price tag. Due to their assembly-required nature, RTA cabinets are also easy to modify to meet specialized storage needs.
Potential Cons of Buying RTA Cabinets
While RTA cabinets have their perks, they aren’t perfect. Here are a few potential downsides to consider:
You or a carpenter will need to block off significant time (likely several days) to assemble the cabinets before installing them. RTA cabinet assembly requires carefully following instructions and properly constructing each cabinet from scratch.
RTA cabinets only offer size and design options from the manufacturer’s catalog choices. Custom cabinets can be modified endlessly to your precise specifications. RTA cabinets lack that full flexibility and customization.
Shorter Lifespan Than Custom
The less expensive materials and construction of RTA cabinets typically don’t hold up as long as solid wood custom cabinets. You may need to replace RTA cabinets after 10-15 years whereas custom can last a lifetime if cared for.
Can’t View In-Person Before Ordering
Since RTA cabinets ship to you direct, you can’t see them constructed in person first or inspect every detail closely. You have to trust the online images and samples when ordering. With custom cabinets, you can visit a showroom.
Potential Shipping Delays or Damage
Damaged or missing pieces can delay an RTA cabinet installation. It helps to unpack and inspect everything immediately so you can report issues and reorder parts right away if needed.
Overall, the pros of affordability, faster lead times and ease of install outweigh the limitations of RTA cabinets for most homeowners’ needs. Paying close attention to sizing, cabinet features, quality of construction and ordering from a supplier with good customer service can help minimize the risks.
What to Look for When Buying RTA Cabinets
Here are the key factors savvy buyers evaluate when choosing RTA cabinets:
Stick to well-known RTA cabinetry brands that manufacture their own products and have been around for years. Trusted brands like IKEA, KraftMaid, Hampton Bay, Barker Cabinets, and Ready-to-Assemble Kitchens offer the quality and reliability untested startups may lack.
Look for plywood rather than MDF cabinet boxes, which tolerate moisture better. Solid wood doors with veneers or thermofoils are preferable over laminates that can bubble over time. Dovetail joinery and full-extension drawer glides also stand up better.
Positive Online Reviews
Go beyond the product images and dig into customer reviews. Are people pleased with the quality, shipping, and ease of assembly? How helpful is the company’s customer service? Reviews reveal the real RTA cabinet buying experience.
Wide Range of Sizes
At minimum, the brand should offer standard kitchen cabinet sizes like 30-inch wall cabinets and multiple depths. Measure your space and ensure the RTA cabinet line carries sizes to fit. Odd sizes like 33-inch wide cabinets are harder to find.
Design Styles You Like
Shaker-style cabinets never go out of style and fit almost any decor. But if your tastes lean modern, traditional or farmhouse, make sure the company offers door styles aligning with your vision. More limited RTA lines may only carry one or two looks.
Look for at least a 1-year manufacturer’s warranty covering defects and replacements. Longer 5-year or limited lifetime warranties offer more protection. Short warranties signal potential quality issues. Register your purchase right away!
Good Customer Service
Buying cabinets sight-unseen increases the need for excellent customer support. Seek out brands that offer design assistance and have robust customer service departments prepared to troubleshoot any issues with your order or cabinets.
Does the company offer matching cabinet hardware, decorative trim, organizational accessories, and functional pull-outs to outfit your entire kitchen? The right accessories make the cabinets more usable and tie the whole room together.
Trustworthy brands provide detailed specs on cabinet materials, joinery, hardware, drawer construction and door details. Look for technical terms like dovetail joinery, full-extension glides, and plywood paneling as signs of quality.
By evaluating RTA cabinet brands against these criteria, you can feel confident you’ve found a manufacturer that truly offers quality cabinets that will stand the test of time and arrive hassle-free. Don’t settle for less!
How Much Do RTA Cabinets Cost?
The cost of RTA cabinets varies greatly based on factors like:
- Quality of materials
- Accessories and upgrades
- Number of cabinets needed
- Special sizes or custom modifications
That said, here are some general cost ranges for RTA cabinets to help budget for your kitchen or bath remodel:
- Stock RTA Cabinet Cost: $50 – $200 per cabinet
- Mid-Range RTA Cabinets: $150 – $350 per cabinet
- High-End RTA Cabinets: $250 – $500+ per cabinet
According to the National Kitchen and Bath Association’s Kitchen Budget Planning Guide, you should plan to spend 10-15% of your total kitchen or bath remodel budget on cabinetry.
For example, if your total remodel budget is $20,000, you may allocate $3,000-$4,000 for RTA cabinets. For a smaller bathroom remodel, you might spend $800-$1,200 or about 15-20% of a modest $5,000 budget.
These sample budgets would allow roughly 8-15 stock RTA cabinets or 4-6 higher end RTA cabinets for an average kitchen or vanity. Remember that specialty storage cabinets, pantry cabinets, and extras like drawer organizers will add cost. Get free quotes from several RTA brands to estimate pricing for your specific project.
While not the absolute cheapest cabinet option, RTA cabinets provide significant cost savings over custom cabinetry. And unlike low-end stock cabinets, they offer quality construction andlooks at their budget-friendly price point. With some smart shopping, RTA cabinets can fit into most remodeling budgets.
Where to Buy Quality RTA Cabinets
You can find RTA cabinets through several sources:
Big Box Stores
Major home improvement retailers like Home Depot and Lowe’s offer their own exclusive RTA cabinet lines from trusted brands like Hampton Bay and Style Selections. Their wide availability and ability to buy online and ship to store makes DIY convenient.
Kitchen and Bath Showrooms
Many local or online kitchen and bath retailers now sell RTA cabinet lines alongside their custom cabinet offerings, though selection is often more limited. A showroom can provide hands-on help designing a space with RTA cabinets.
Buying directly from RTA-focused cabinet brands online cuts out the middleman and opens up all the sizing, style and accessory options at your fingertips. Shopping online does lack the ability to see before you buy.
Costco, Sam’s Club and IKEA built their reputations around selling quality RTA furniture and cabinets at warehouse prices. Their RTA cabinet selection tends to be more limited but costs less.
Occasionally sellers list secondhand RTA cabinets in great condition on Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace or Habitat for Humanity ReStores if you hope to score cabinets on a super tight budget. Availability is not guaranteed.
Cabinet specialists that focus exclusively on manufacturing and selling RTA cabinets tend to offer the widest selection of sizes and styles. Purchasing RTA cabinets directly from the brand’s website or through a kitchen design retailer showcasing their cabinets assures you’re getting quality cabinets backed by a warranty.
How to Assemble RTA Cabinets Successfully
Assembling ready-to-assemble cabinets is a key part of the process before installing them. Follow these best practices for smoothly constructing your flat pack RTA cabinets:
Carefully Review Instructions
Before assembly, read through all of the documentation that comes with your RTA cabinets. This includes the product guides, step-by-step instructions with diagrams, and parts lists. Ask for clarification from the manufacturer if anything seems unclear. Being familiar with the process ahead of time makes assembly quicker.
Unpack and Organize Parts
Unpack all boxes and lay out the cabinet parts organized by drawer boxes, doors, cabinet sides, etc. Verify everything on your packing slip is present and intact. having organized components streamlines finding the correct pieces during each assembly step.
Gather Tools Needed
At minimum, you’ll need a drill, Phillips head screwdriver, tape measure, level, ladder and basic hardware like screws. A rubber mallet can help tap pieces into place gently. Ensure you have all tools on hand before starting.
Follow Instructions Precisely
Assembling cabinets is not the time for winging it! Carefully follow the step-by-step instructions in proper order. RTA cabinets interconnect and build off one another. Skipping ahead or assembling components incorrectly can prevent pieces from fitting right.
Work on Sturdy Surface
A large, flat workspace like a garage floor or subfloor allows you to lay out all the cabinet pieces without obstruction. Avoid assembling on carpet or uneven ground. You want cabinets to start off square and stable.
Take Your Time
Rushing through assembly can lead to mistakes that compromise cabinet stability and function. Set aside at least a few days for assembly. Take breaks if needed. Carefully construct each cabinet box, then hang doors and install drawers once bases are complete.
Double Check for Square
Use a carpenter’s square or tape measure to check cabinets are square after completing each box and again after joining them together. Diagonal measurements on square boxes should be equal. Adjust as needed while parts are still loose.
Follow Up with Manufacturer
If damage, defective doors or missing pieces hold up your assembly, immediately reach out to the manufacturer per the warranty terms. They can provide troubleshooting tips or send replacement parts so cabinet install isn’t delayed.
Thorough planning, a methodical process and patience lead to successfully assembled cabinets ready for installation. Take a breath and don’t force pieces that seem stuck. With focus, you can avoid amateur mistakes and enjoy the satisfaction of DIYing quality RTA cabinets.
Tips for Installing Your RTA Cabinets
Once RTA cabinet assembly is complete, it’s time to hang them in your kitchen or bathroom. Here are pro tips for proper installation:
Hire a Pro if Unsure
There’s no shame in hiring a carpenter if you lack the skills, time or physical ability to install cabinets level and secure. The initial cost savings of RTA cabinets can be lost if DIY installation goes poorly.
Start with Corner Cabinets
The most challenging part of cabinet installs is joining fronts and sides seamlessly, so pros start in corners and work outward to “build the box.” This allows you to hide uneven walls behind fixed side panels.
Use Spacers Under Cabinets
Inserting shims under cabinet bases before screwing them into studs lets you level and space them off the wall evenly. Attach spacer blocks behind cabinets to flush them out as needed before securing.
Drill pilot holes before driving screws into cabinets to prevent splitting the wood. Holes should be slightly narrower than the screw width. Secure cabinets into studs or use sturdy hollow wall anchors.
Check for Level Frequently
Use a 4-foot level to confirm cabinets remain level as you work across the wall. Tap shims in or out to adjust. Every cabinet must be level with the next for proper installation.
Allow Back Clearances
Leave expected clearance between cabinet backs and walls for countertops and appliances. Typical clearance needed is 1 inch along walls and 1 1⁄2 inches for islands. Insufficient clearance leads to gaps.
Connect Cabinets Securely
Long screws driven into adjacent cabinet sides form an unbreakable line. Consider adding glue or L-brackets where cabinet meets cabinet for maximum stability. Joined cabinets should not wiggle.
Address Uneven Floors
Floor imperfections telegraph through flimsy toe kicks leaving gaps. Use shims and angled cabinet brackets to account for dips and humps in the floor before securing bases.
Take the time to install ready-to-assemble cabinets correctly and your kitchen or bath will function