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I'm house shopping and some homes have built-ins or kitchen cabinets that I'd like to remove. I was wondering, first, is it possible to determine without taking the cabinets apart whether there are hardwood floors underneath?

Also, if there are not hardwoods underneath, how feasible/costly is it to patch a section of hardwood flooring to get a decent match to the existing? Would the whole floor need refinishing?

  • First question would be, how old is the house? Secondly, do you have laminate floor in place? A close-up picture of the flooring, and a picture of the general room, highlighting the floor would help on both questions. – Jack Apr 7 '15 at 15:03
  • @Jack Not for a specific house necessarily. We've seen many houses where we'd want to remove built-ins. I'm looking for techniques to detect--or at least find evidence for or against what's under the cabinetry. – glenviewjeff Apr 7 '15 at 15:05
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If it is an older house with existing hardwood floors, there is a terrific chance of the floor going under the cabs, If there is laminate flooring, The chances are nil it goes under.

On older homes, with hardwood floors if the cabinets are removed, they may need to be refinished anyway since the floors usually are never sanded and stained under the cabinets, but it beats a tie in and refinish. On newer homes, I have seen cabinets placed on the subfloor or on plywood to raise them up, and the flooring run to the cabinets.

With laminate floors, if you can find the flooring still, you will need to pull a piece to match it up by. This will have to be done anyway to some degree to tie in the new with the old, if that is what you have. You could try to patch the immediate area, which I do not recommend. I would pull up the flooring to the affected area and relay the new to recover the cabinet's foot print.

  • To expand a little on this answer, if the home was built after 1950, the chances of having existing hardwood under the cabinets is very small. Typically homes built before the end of WWII were built with higher quality materials and would have hardwood floors throughout. After the war, there was a housing boom and to compensate, builders started to use cheaper materials and cut corners. Today, virtually no builder would put a finished product under a built in cabinet because of cost. – Jason Hutchinson Aug 19 '15 at 16:22
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3 choices

  1. Measure toe kick height. These are usually right at 4 or 4.5 inches. I might assume that if toe kick was 3 3/4" then there was probably no hardwoods under. This is not the best way though because toe kicks can be non-standard.

  2. Remove a piece of trim and see if you see the bottom of the cabinets. This might just be pulling back some quarter round.

  3. This suggestion is pretty dubious. You can always drill a hole in the cabinet to see. If the hole is off to the side in the very front corner no one would ever see unless they were in the cabinet.

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    I'd say just the existence of quarter round, would point to the flooring not going under the cabinets. The quarter round is likely there to hide the expansion gap, since almost nobody actually likes the appearance of quarter round. – Tester101 Apr 7 '15 at 15:50
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    @Tester101 Hey now, quarter round looks great in a fire. – Adam Davis Apr 7 '15 at 17:31
  • @Tester101, not necessarily. We have shoe-molding (admittedly, not quarter round, but the same concept) all around our kitchen and bath cabinets, and kitchen island, all of which have been installed directly on vinyl floors. Shoe molding here is just a design element that breaks up sharp inside corners, period. – alt Apr 7 '15 at 17:36
  • @alt Decorative moldings are design elements, quarter round is a cheap methods to cover expansion gaps. – Tester101 Apr 7 '15 at 18:15
  • @Tester101 - quarter round was trendy in the late 60s to early 80s. Just because it frowned upon now doesn't mean it doesn't exist from decoration. There is LOTS of quarter round that I pull from houses for really no reason at all. Would people install it now? Probably not. Would they pull up something from their house unless doing a major renovation? Probably not. – DMoore Apr 7 '15 at 19:51
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I think the easiest way to tell, look for a quarter round trim between the cabinet and the floor. If it has a quarter round, then two options: floor does not go under the cabinet, or the owner likes the look of the quarter round. If it doesn't have a quarter round, floor goes under the cabinets, and if it doesn't it is pretty easy to see it doesn't (hence the need for the quarter round). But if you see the quarter round, just assume it doesn't go under.

If the kitchen has tile, look at the grout lines. If the tiles are cut to fit next to the cabinets with a grout line between, then the tile does not go under.

  • Another possibility is that the cabinets may have a kickplate that's 1/2" or so in front of the joint between the cabinet and the floor. – supercat Apr 7 '15 at 17:04
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Sometimes you can tell by looking under the dishwasher. Most have a plate that either moves or can be unscrewed. Then, you can sometimes look at the edges.

Also, you can sometimes tell my walking on floors...if it's a floating floor, no it should only go up to cabinets (or if it's underneath it's done improperly and you may have other issues.

If you are going to replace cabinets and use same footprint, this is not a big deal at all. If you will change footprint and there is a section missing, you often can weave in new wood and refinish the room. It' very easy to do if it's oak.

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Easiest way is to look under stove- bottom drawer typically pulls right out and the bottom panel is most often a skeleton type. Also pull the trim panel at bottom of dishwasher and check there too.

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