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Yesterday I was walking in the room above the one in the picture, and I heard a booming type noise. I eventually realized the tops of these cupboards are starting to come away from the wall.

(I apologize in advance - I know it is difficult to see what is going on from these photos).

Current image, with arrows pointing to new gaps: enter image description here

Here is an old photo from when we were originally looking at the house: enter image description here

Here is a final photo, showing the inside of the cabinet - looking above the top shelf, behind which should be the 90° angle between wall and ceiling: enter image description here

You can see that the back of the cabinet is just a very thin sheet, nothing that looks structural. I assume that the screw attaching the back of the cabinet to the wall here was just done to stop the back from rattling or something.

Can you wager a guess how these cabinets are attached to the wall, and how I might fix this situation?

More photos, with the cabinet open and empty: https://i.sstatic.net/dDMxO.jpg

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    It looks to me like the cabinets were not attached to the wall properly, like the screw through the thin back wall was doing more of the work than it should have been doing, the cabinet came away from its backing, and is now leaning on the ceiling which is why it isn't falling. Doesn't answer your question about how to get it off the wall but might help a little.
    – jay613
    Commented Apr 3, 2023 at 13:38
  • The only way I know to determine this is by direct inspection looking for hardware alternated with trying to move the cabinet to get an idea where it's fastened, possiblyplus trying to slide a piece of cardboard behind them to feel what's going on. There are multiple possibilities not resolvable from a distance.
    – keshlam
    Commented Apr 3, 2023 at 14:25

4 Answers 4

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Wall cabinets are usually screwed to each other through the face frame, or the side of the cabinet if frameless. Good cabinets also have a mounting strip on the inside of the back, top and bottom. Bottom is a little bit less important, but top is very important if your cabinet backs are thin MDF or ply (≤1/4"). The mounting strip provides strength against the top of the cabinet being pulled from the wall, which is what is happening with your cabinets. Since your cabinets are up against the ceiling, the installer could have shot some screws into the joists too (the top of the cabinet is likely thicker than the back).

But you are where you are. It looks like the backs of your cabinets are just stapled to the carcass, and that the staples are pulling out. It may not be too late to put some screws into the joists. You'd want to empty the cabinets and wedge the bottoms up back into the expected position. Hopefully the joists run perpendicular to this wall. Locate their positions, and run 2-3 screws along that line inside the cabinet ceiling.

It might also be worth cutting some 2x2 or 2x3 lumber and retrofitting some mounting strips to the top of the cabinet. You could screw the strip to the cabinet sides using pocket screws. Then screw through the strip to the stud behind.

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    This is exactly what I am thinking at the moment - the cabinet is secured to the wall only by the visible screws, and the rest of the cabinet is pulling away from the back due to the staples.
    – negacao
    Commented Apr 3, 2023 at 13:13
  • What do you think about getting two metal L brackets, to secure the (interior) top of the cabinet to the screws going into the studs?
    – negacao
    Commented Apr 3, 2023 at 14:08
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    @negacao that could be an option, if you can secure the top leg of the bracket to the top of the cabinet. YMMV if it's particle board construction. If it's plywood it should work OK.
    – Huesmann
    Commented Apr 3, 2023 at 14:55
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I'm not a professional cabinet installer, but all the ones I've seen are screwed through the back and into the wall, just like yours. Some might be hung with a French cleat, but might still be screwed through the cleat for a "belt and suspenders" approach.

Generally, there would be a band of wood (might be plywood, particle board, MDF or similar) attached to the carcass, just under the top, and the screws would go through the finished back (the part you see from in your last pic), through this band, and into a stud.

It appears that this is probably how your cabinets are constructed, but that the cabinet carcass is pulling away from the back, allowing the tops to pull down from the walls.

I'd suggest that you unload all the cabinets of anything that might break, or anything that would increase the load on the cabinet itself. i.e. completely unload the cabinets!

If you're comfortable with DIY, look at the faces of the cabinets for screws that hold the faces together (these screws might be hidden behind the door hinges). Pick one cabinet as a test and remove any screws that are holding the front of it to its neighbors/the wall. Then, with assistance from someone holding the cabinet up for you (or build a temporary support to take the weight of the cabinet), unscrew it from the wall behind.

Note that you're looking for screws that attach the frames to each other at the front of the cabinet. It will be something like this drawing (pretend the red is a screw):

enter image description here

If you don't see an obvious screw head in this portion of the frame, look for a plug of wood or some wood filler or a sticker. These would be ways of hiding the screw head. When I installed my cabinets, I put the screws behind the hinges, though I used a different style of hinge. Try removing the portion of the hing pointed at by the green arrow to see if there's a screw behind that.

Once you've got it off the wall, you can look at the back of the cabinet and the wall to see what's going on and how or even if you could go about repairing them.

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  • Cabinets are unloaded :) What I can't see is any way to remove the faces - this image shows it a bit, but it looks like there are pieces of sharp metal connecting the cabinet to the face, and that the whole thing might have been hammered in.
    – negacao
    Commented Apr 3, 2023 at 12:19
  • This image shows a close up of the top rear of cabinet where it is pulling away from the wall - it looks like that thin board at back might be stapled in.
    – negacao
    Commented Apr 3, 2023 at 12:20
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    You do not want to remove the faces! That will deconstruct the cabinets. Usually there will be a screw or two through the edge of the face of the cabinet shown in the first pic to the face of the cabinet next to it. You want to remove the screws, but that will not remove the faces - it will simply detach one from the other so you can remove a single cabinet and not have to take down the entire wall at once.
    – FreeMan
    Commented Apr 3, 2023 at 12:33
  • Thank you - I removed the doors, and I understand what you mean now. I think the those screws in what I assumed was decorative wood at the back of the cabinet are actually fastening the cabinet to the wall. The problem seems to be that this piece of wood is secured to the cabinet with staples, and those staples are pulling out. At least, with the doors and trim removed I can see no other method of attaching them to the wall.
    – negacao
    Commented Apr 3, 2023 at 12:48
  • I know that the former owner of this house did these cabinets himself. I wonder what the chances are that there is no French cleat or anything else - that the four screws visible at the top and bottom are the only thing securing the cabinet to the wall, and my problem is now that the rest of cabinet is pulling away from this stapled on back.
    – negacao
    Commented Apr 3, 2023 at 13:03
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There are usually brackets with "hooks" that catch on plates that are fixed to the wall. Fixing methods vary by country and region so check what you have.

These are fitted on the insides of the cupboards up close to the top corners.

They have two functions:

  1. to secure the cabinet to the wall,

  2. to provide a height adjustment to level the cabinets.

If cabinets are joined together, then often there is only one bracket at that point so two cupboards can be fixed with 3 brackets instead of 4.

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  • Is there any chance such brackets might be concealed somewhere? I am updating my question with more photos as soon as they upload, but I can't see anything like that for the life of me.
    – negacao
    Commented Apr 3, 2023 at 11:49
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    I would say, "there are occasionally...". In many years of building and remodeling I never encountered what you describe here.
    – isherwood
    Commented Apr 3, 2023 at 12:42
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    @isherwood in every kitchen I have worked on those brackets have always been there... And that is in 3 different countries... Makes it easy to adjust heights etc
    – Solar Mike
    Commented Apr 3, 2023 at 12:43
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    I would say that this is probably a pretty common solution where [Country] <> 'USA', but that it's a pretty rare solution for a US installation. OP hasn't specified, but the pictures do seem to indicate a large, American style kitchen.
    – FreeMan
    Commented Apr 3, 2023 at 13:26
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    @FreeMan perhaps it comes back to the (false) idea that for StackExchange [Country] = 'USA' ...
    – Solar Mike
    Commented Apr 3, 2023 at 13:28
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Other than some rare specialty cabinets that may have a hanging rail, all cabinets are screwed to the wall or ceiling and can be screwed to each other.

That screw you are showing is most likely an anchoring screw. Look in the other cabinets for screws.

The 3rd pic shows separation between the back of the cabinet and the box. However for upper cabinets there is a reinforcing "bar" of thicker wood at the top and bottom used for mounting. This is under the thin backing material. I would be concerned about that gap and explore more.

You can try to tighten any screws by hand to see if there is an issue of screws becoming loose. Also see if the cabinet box is coming apart by applying a bit of force to the sides and seeing if there is any movement. If there is I would remove all the cabinets and look into reassembly. If not and the screws are all tight the gaps are expansion and contraction differential of the cabinets and the walls

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  • They are definitely screwed into each other. I do not see any reinforcing bar like you mention - I wonder if there is some possibility it is above the (interior) top of the cabinet - there is an inch or two of space between the interior top of the cabinet, and the ceiling. It seems to be covered by this decorative wood.
    – negacao
    Commented Apr 3, 2023 at 12:23
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    @negacao this "reinforcing bar" is what I referred to as the "band of wood" and is often between the finished back of the cabinet and the wall precisely so you don't see it from the inside.
    – FreeMan
    Commented Apr 3, 2023 at 12:38

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