Form and Function: Installing Cabinets and Plumbing

By Andrea Julian, AAA Countertops – April 14, 2020

If you’re remodeling your kitchen, chances are you’re planning on updating the cabinets in some way. Cabinets are the backbone of a kitchen. These essential storage areas define the kitchen’s space, acting as the foundation of the design. There are several options for updating your cabinets, from simply refinishing them to completely changing up the style and placement of the cabinets.

Plumbing Considerations

An essential consideration when doing any type of cabinetry work is the plumbing. If you will be replacing or moving your cabinets into a new configuration, you’ll need to disconnect the plumbing before beginning. If you want to move the sink to a new location, you’ll also have to move plumbing.

Make sure that the water is turned completely off before disconnecting the plumbing or sink.  It is highly recommended that you seek the assistance of a licensed plumber to both disconnect and reconnect the plumbing. If you want to move your sink into a new area, you’ll need to redirect the plumbing before installing new cabinets.  Here are some tips on what to look for when hiring a plumber.

Refinishing Your Existing Cabinets

The simplest solution to updating your cabinets is to refinish or paint them. You won’t need to disconnect the plumbing for this step; you can leave both the water and sink as is for now.  You won’t have to remove the actual cabinets for this step either; you can simply refinish them in place. Make sure that you have plenty of drop cloths laid out where you’ll be working to protect your floor from damage.

Start by removing the cabinet doors from the cabinets. If you want to reuse the same hardware, make sure to carefully bag up the screws for reinstallation. If you plan on using new hardware and pulls, you can discard them.  

A Note On Cabinet Hardware

If the pulls and hardware are in good shape but just look a little worn, you can always clean and refinish it instead of replacing it. This can save you a good bit of money and it’s pretty easy. Check out this article for some simple ways to breathe new life into your old kitchen hardware.

At this point you have several options based on the condition of your cabinets and what you’d like to do to them. If you plan on stripping old paint off the cabinets and repainting them, we recommend using a chemical stripper. It’ll save you a lot of time. After you’ve removed the old paint, you’ll want to sand them thoroughly using 100 grit sandpaper or a handheld sander (recommended!)

Once the cabinets are free of old paint, you can either stain them, repaint them, or, if the wood is in good shape, simply apply a clear coat of varnish. Make sure to allow the coating to thoroughly dry before re-hanging the doors to the cabinetry with your old (or new!) hardware.

Replacing Your Cabinets

If you’re planning on replacing your kitchen cabinets, you’ll need to gather a few tools:

  • Standard Level
  • Stud finder, pencil
  • Screwdriver Set, Drywall Screws
  • Drill
  • Tape Measure

Replacing cabinets is considered a difficult project. Make sure you take your time and don’t be afraid to ask for help.

Remove the old cabinets by unscrewing them from the wall. Remove any screws holding the cabinets to each other as well and pull them out, careful not to damage the floor. We recommend having drop cloths or Ram Board over the floor to keep them from getting scratched.

When removing the top wall cabinets, be sure to have someone working with you who can support the cabinets from underneath while you remove the screws that secure them to the wall. 

To install the floor cabinets, you’ll want to start by locating the high spots on the floor. Older floors especially are not always perfectly level and flat. If you want your cabinets to be level, you’ll want to line them to the wall starting from the high point. To find the high spot on the floor:

  • Lay an 8” long 2” x 4” board on the floor against a wall and place your level on top of it
  • Shim the low end until you get a level reading
  • Use a pencil to mark the level line on the wall and extend the entire length of where cabinets will be installed
  • Every few feet, set your measuring tape to measure the distance between the floor and your line. The place where the distance is the shortest is the high point of your floor. Mark it.

Measure exactly 34 ½” from the high point and mark the wall and mark a level line across the walls where your cabinets will go. Dry fit the base cabinets by arranging them according to your kitchen design. 

Mark and label the location of each cabinet box along the wall. Check measurements for your appliances, such as the stove, dishwasher and fridge and make sure everything fits and is functional.

To install the wall cabinets, start by measuring 19 ½” from the top line of the base cabinets. Per code you need at least 18” between the countertops and the wall cabinet, plus you need to account for 1 ½” for the countertops themselves.  Mark and label the position of all the wall cabinets, double checking with a level and making sure everything matches your plans.

Before you start installing, use a stud finder to locate the wall studs. You’ll want to screw the cabinets into them for secure installation. Mark the center of the studs with a pencil. Extend the lines up and down the wall with carpenter’s level, making sure you keep the lines plumb.

Once you have everything mapped out and double checked, you’ll be ready to start installing the cabinets. Be sure and start with the wall cabinets first, this way the bottom cabinets won’t be in your way during installation.

Once your cabinets are in you will be ready for the final stages of a kitchen remodel – the countertops, backsplash and flooring. You won’t be able to hook back up your plumbing until after your new countertops and sink are installed so don’t call your plumber yet.  We’ll go over the final phases of a kitchen remodel in our next article.