Ready-to-assemble (RTA) cabinets, also known as flat pack or knockdown cabinets, are a popular choice for many homeowners and DIYers looking to renovate their kitchens or bathrooms on a budget. As the name suggests, RTA cabinets come packed flat in a box and require some assembly before installation.
RTA cabinets offer several benefits that make them an attractive option compared to pre-assembled cabinetry:
One of the biggest advantages of RTA cabinets is their price point. Because they ship flat, RTA cabinets cost significantly less than pre-assembled cabinets. RTA cabinets provide cost savings in a few ways:
- Cheaper shipping: Boxing cabinets flat allows more cabinets to fit on a truck, reducing shipping costs. This savings is passed onto the consumer.
- DIY assembly: With RTA cabinets, you take on the task of putting them together yourself. This saves on labor costs associated with pre-assembled cabinets.
- Minimal packaging: RTA cabinets do not require much packaging material, unlike pre-assembled cabinets which need protection for all sides. Less packaging equals less cost.
- Material efficiency: Shipping flat packed maximizes material usage and cuts down on waste. There is less need to compensate for protection during shipping.
While RTA cabinets are cheaper upfront, some additional tools and hardware may be required for assembly. However, overall they still cost significantly less than pre-assembled cabinets, with cost savings of 30% or more.
Another big benefit of RTA cabinets is the wide variety of options available. From standard kitchen cabinet sizes to bathroom vanities, full cabinet lines to accessories, major home retailers offer expansive RTA cabinet collections.
Here are some of the available options with RTA cabinets:
- Cabinet sizes, including standard 3′, 4′, and 5′ widths
- Door styles such as Shaker, contemporary, transitional, and traditional
- Colors and finishes like wood tones, white, black, and stained
- Accessories like pulls, knobs, shelves, drawers, and rollouts
- Cabinet heights and depths to fit any space
- Island cabinets, sink base cabinets, corner cabinets and more
Within a given RTA cabinet line, there are usually different quality and price levels available. This allows buyers to select the right balance of cost and quality for their needs and budget. From top-tier models made with plywood boxes and solid wood doors to more affordable options with particleboard construction, RTA cabinets offer extensive choices.
While RTA cabinets come pre-assembled for convenience, they can also be customized to suit unique storage needs and design tastes. Here are some of the customization options available with RTA cabinets:
Many RTA cabinet collections allow buyers to alter cabinet dimensions and configurations at little or no additional cost. This allows cabinets to be adapted for angled walls, soffits, higher ceilings and other unique installation situations. Modifications may include:
- Altering cabinet height
- Adjusting cabinet depth
- Changing cabinet width
RTA cabinet suppliers typically allow mixing and matching of door styles within a single cabinet line. This allows buyers to use different door profiles in different parts of the kitchen or home for an eclectic, customized look.
Stains, paints, glazes and other finishes can be added to RTA cabinets to change their look and color. Unfinished RTA cabinets are ideal for applying custom finishes.
Installing new knobs, pulls, hinges and other hardware is an easy upgrade for basic RTA cabinets. Decorative hardware transforms the look of cabinets and adds personality.
Take full advantage of every inch inside RTA cabinets by adding pull-out shelves, drawer partitions, lazy susans and other aftermarket organizational products. These smart storage solutions maximize usable space.
With some creativity and elbow grease, RTA cabinets can be transformed into truly one-of-a-kind designs perfect for each home.
Easier Transport and Handling
RTA cabinets make the logistics of getting cabinets to their final destination much simpler compared to pre-assembled models. Here are some of the transportation and handling benefits of RTA cabinets:
- Since RTA cabinets pack tightly and securely in flat boxes, they ship more efficiently.
- RTA cabinet boxes require fewer or smaller trucks/vehicles for delivery.
- The cabinets can fit into standard home elevators and service elevators that pre-assembled cabinets do not.
- Boxes are easier to move through hallways and doorways.
- Homeowners can often transport RTA cabinet boxes in their own SUV or truck.
- There is less potential for damage compared to bulky pre-assembled cabinets.
For DIYers or smaller remodeling jobs, the transportability of RTA cabinets in compact boxes is a major asset.
Another convenience factor is that RTA cabinets are widely available at major home improvement stores, online retailers and cabinet specialty shops.
Major brands of RTA cabinets carried at national retailers include:
- Hampton Bay at Home Depot
- Rev-A-Shelf at Lowe’s
- ClosetMaid at Lowe’s and Home Depot
- Allen + Roth at Lowe’s
- ZLine at Home Depot
Amazon, Wayfair, Overstock, IKEA and other major online retailers also offer a huge selection of RTA cabinet options that can be shipped directly.
For more variety, RTA cabinet specialists like Barker Cabinets, Cabinet Joint, and Ready to Assemble Cabinets offer a wide array of RTA cabinet lines and customization options online and through local dealers.
The extensive availability of RTA cabinet options both online and in-store makes the process of selecting and purchasing cabinets much more convenient.
One of the defining features of RTA cabinets is that they ship ready for assembly. This allows DIYers to take cabinet installation into their own hands. Here are some of the installation advantages:
With RTA cabinets, all assembly can be done on a level floor or work surface in a garage, basement, living area or wherever space permits. This is easier than assembling pre-hung cabinets directly on walls.
Reduced Labor Costs
Although some basic carpentry skills are required, most homeowners can tackle RTA cabinet assembly on their own over a weekend. This reduces the need to hire carpenters, saving significantly on installation labor costs.
RTA cabinets come with detailed instructions to walk DIYers through the assembly process in a logical order with tips and diagrams. Precut parts and predrilled holes also help streamline assembly.
The modular nature of RTA cabinets allows assembling just what is needed at the pace that works for your project timeline and skill level.
While RTA cabinet installation is more hands-on than pre-assembled models, the process is structured to be DIY-friendly. With some patience and basic skills, most homeowners can successfully assemble and install RTA cabinets. Costly professional installation is not a must.
High Quality Options
There is sometimes a misconception that RTA cabinets are cheaply made. However, while low-cost models exist, there are also RTA cabinets constructed with excellent materials and craftsmanship rivalling pre-assembled cabinets.
Here are some hallmarks of high-quality RTA cabinets:
- All-wood construction: Particleboard is prone to swelling and sagging overtime. Quality RTA cabinets use moisture-resistant plywood for cabinet boxes.
- Solid wood doors: Doors made with engineered or veneered wood can crack or warp. Solid wood offers durability. Popular species include oak, maple, cherry, and hickory.
- Full overlay doors: Doors that fully overlay the cabinet box have a seamless, upscale look. Partial overlay doors leave visible cabinet face frames.
- Soft-close hardware: Drawers and doors with self-closing hinges prevent slamming and provide a luxury feel.
- Dovetail joinery: Dovetails strongly join drawer boxes at corners for stability and strength. Lower-cost drawer joinery is prone to loosening over time.
- Upgraded finishes: Multi-step finishing processes like glazing, distressing, and rub-throughs give cabinets depth and dimension.
When shopping for RTA cabinets, look beyond bargain models to see the selection of high-end options made by reputable brands. Top manufacturers like Barker Cabinets, CliqStudios, and Cabinet Joint use quality materials and construction in their RTA lines. With some savvy shopping, RTA and pre-assembled cabinets can offer comparable quality.
RTA Cabinet Construction
Understanding how RTA cabinets go together helps clarify the assembly process required. Here is an overview of typical RTA cabinet components and construction:
The cabinet box forms the basic structure. Quality boxes are made from 5/8” or 3⁄4” plywood rather than particleboard. Pieces are cut precisely to interlock tightly when assembled.
Door styles vary widely depending on cabinet line. Doors usually feature a solid wood or veneered panel set into a hardwood frame. Hinges allow for easy attachment to cabinets.
Drawer boxes consist of four sides cut from plywood or solid wood and joined at the corners. A plywood bottom attaches into grooves. Drawer slides allow smooth movement.
Adjustable shelves are either plywood panels or metal bars with holes for shelf pin pegs. They provide horizontal storage space within cabinets.
Hardware includes hinges, drawer slides, shelf pins, and pulls or knobs. Many RTA lines offer optional upgrades to soft-closing and decorative hardware.
Nuts, bolts, screws, and fasteners are used to join cabinet components together. Some assembly hardware is pre-installed.
With all parts in hand, RTA cabinet assembly involves bringing together the components following instructions. This includes adding shelves, joining doors to boxes, and installing hardware.
How to Assemble RTA Cabinets
Assembling RTA cabinets helps save significantly on installation costs. While intimidating at first glance, the assembly process is straightforward when taken one step at a time. Here is an overview of the process:
Collect Tools & Hardware
Some assembly tools that are helpful include:
- Power drill & drill bits
- Screwdriver set
- Pliers & wrenches
- Tape measure & level
- Stud finder
- Safety equipment like glasses and gloves
Separate and organize provided hardware like screws, nuts, bolts, and fasteners. Refer to cabinet instructions for tips on hardware usage.
Prep Assembly Area
Find a large, clean area with room to spread out parts. A garage floor, basement, or empty room works well. Protect floors/walls from scratches. Ensure good lighting and ventilation.
Unpack boxes and verify all components listed in instructions or cabinet layout diagrams are present. Group like parts together and clear away packing materials.
Cabinet boxes are usually assembled first. Follow instructions to join sides, top, bottom and back panels using clamps, glue, and fasteners. Attach pre-drilled parts in order. Let glue dry fully before continuing.
Add Interior Parts
Insert precut plywood shelves at desired heights using shelf pins/holes. Attach drawer slides according to cutout locations. Screw drawer bottoms and sides together unless pre-assembled.
Attach Doors and Drawers
Doors mount directly to cabinet box fronts. Use hinges and predrilled holes to align properly. Insert assembled drawers and test operation. Make any needed adjustments.
Finally, drill on pulls, knobs or handles. Install Soft-close door dampers if included. Verify doors and drawers operate smoothly. Complete any finishing steps like touch up paint.
Take it slowly, follow instructions closely, and do not skip any safety precautions when assembling RTA cabinets. Ask for help lifting and joining extra bulky components.
Installing Assembled RTA Cabinets
Once RTA cabinets are assembled, the installation process is similar to pre-assembled cabinetry. Here are some tips for proper installation:
- Review cabinet layouts and measure/mark stud locations to pre-plan placement.
- Level and prep wall surfaces. Anchor wall studs with boards to attach cabinets securely.
- Set base cabinets first, starting in corner. Level and screw into wall studs. Connect with screws or nails through adjacent cabinet side walls.
- Use filler panels between cabinets and walls to close gaps.
- Set upper wall cabinets allowing for precise under-cabinet height.
- Join cabinets together and make sure fronts align evenly.
- Use specialty installation accessories like corner lazy susans, crown molding and light rails as desired.
- Attach countertops to installed cabinets. Make any final adjustments to doors/drawers.
- Add knobs, pulls, and other finishing touches. Caulk around cabinets for clean look.
The main difference in installing RTA versus pre-assembled cabinets is the initial assembly. The installation process itself is largely the same. With careful planning and patience, RTA cabinets can transform into a beautiful, functional kitchen or bathroom.
RTA Cabinet Costs
One of the biggest advantages of RTA cabinets is the cost savings versus pre-assembled models. Here is an overview of typical RTA cabinet pricing:
- Economy: $50 – $150 per cabinet. Particleboard construction with laminate doors.
- Mid-Range: $200 – $400 per cabinet. Plywood boxes with veneered doors.
- Premium: $500+ per cabinet. All plywood and solid wood doors. More customization.
- Average kitchen remodel: $3,000 – $7,000 just for RTA cabinets.
Costs vary based on cabinet quality, size, style and customization. RTA cabinets range from about 50% to 75% less than comparable pre-assembled cabinets.
Budget at least 10% – 20% extra for cabinet accessories like knobs, pulls, lighting, trim, and molding. Other kitchen remodel costs for countertops, sinks, appliances and labor will also factor in.
While not the cheapest option, RTA cabinets offer significant cost savings versus having cabinets custom built. Take advantage of specials around holidays for best pricing.
Pros and Cons of RTA Cabinets
RTA cabinets offer many benefits but also some downsides to consider when making cabinetry decisions:
- Less expensive upfront cost
- Wider selection of styles and sizes
- Customization capabilities
- Easier shipping and handling
- Convenience of DIY assembly
- Available through many local and online retailers
- Still requires some DIY assembly skills
- Not as sturdy as site-built cabinetry
- Limited quality control
- Particleboard prone to damage from moisture over time
- Difficult to modify after assembly and installation
For many homeowners, the pros heavily outweigh the cons when choosing between RTA and prefab cabinets. RTA cabinets are an ideal option for DIYers looking for significant cost savings and customization flexibility.
RTA Cabinet Brands
RTA cabinets are available through big box stores, online retailers, and manufacturers. Here are some top brands:
Big Box Stores
- Hampton Bay (Home Depot)
- Rev-a-Shelf (Lowe’s)
- Allen + Roth (Lowe’s)
- ClosetMaid (Home Depot & Lowe’s)
- ZLine (Home Depot)
- Barker Cabinets
- Ready to Assemble Cabinets
- Kitchen Cabinet Kings
- Affordable Cabinets
- Cabinet Joint
- Ready Made Cabinets
- Wellborn Cabinet
- Cabinetworks Group
- Cabinet Solutions
When exploring brands, look at product photos, reviews, quality of materials, and scope of customization options. Buy RTA cabinets that align with your budget, design tastes, and DIY skill level.
Should You Hire a Contractor?
RTA cabinets are designed for DIY installation, but hiring a professional contractor is still an option. Here are factors to consider:
Consider Hiring For:
- Complicated kitchen layouts
- Integrating significant new lighting or appliances
- Incorporating major structural changes
- Extensive customization needs
- Lacking time or physical ability for DIY
DIY Approach May Work If:
- Standard kitchen footprint and layout
- Simple cabinetry design
- Basic cabinet modifications only
- Physically able to handle installation
- Comfortable with minor carpentry work
- Wanting to save on labor costs
In the middle ground, some pros offer RTA cabinet installation while still providing cost savings versus hiring for a full kitchen remodel. Determine your confidence and skill level before deciding between DIY vs. contractor.
Are RTA Cabinets Right for You?
Here are a few final factors to help determine if RTA cabinets align with your kitchen or bathroom cabinet needs:
- Are you willing to take the time to assemble cabinets yourself? Do you have basic carpentry skills and tools?
- Does your project have any unusual design elements or complex layouts? RTA cabinets work best for straightforward spaces.
- What is your total budget? Can you afford a higher price point for the convenience of pre-assembled cabinets?
- Do you need to customize cabinets precisely to your space? Modifications are limited with RTA cabinets.
- Is your schedule flexible? RTA cabinet assembly and installation occurs at your own pace.
For many homeowners, the pros of affordability, transportability, and wide availability make RTA cabinets a perfect choice. Don’t let the assembly work intimidate you. With some planning and patience, RTA cabinets can transform your living space with beautiful, personalized results.