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We are renovating our kitchen. We are ripping up the existing tiled floor. We are going to be installing IKEA cabinets.

Should I install the cabinets on top of the subfloor? Or should I install the cabinets on top of a finished floor (wood, tile, linoleum, etc.)

Why? Pros/Cons?

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Always an interesting choice. Most new construction puts cabinets on the subfloor. One of the reasons for doing this is to avoid damaging the new floors during construction. Floors are one of the last items to complete so it is much easier to install cabinets first. The downside is that when a future remodeling is done, the footprint of the old cabinets rarely matches the new plan. Now you are faced with stitching gaps in the floor, matching color, materialt etc. The other consideration is that if the flooring is thick, like hardwood or ceramic tile, it locks the base cabinets in place and they can be very hard to remove if for some reason one needs repair or replacement. This method is most common however.
The second option is to lay the floor first and install the base cabinets on top of the finished floor. I personally like this method if using a very long lasting durable floor like hardwood or upscale tile. I would not do this over vinyl or cheap flooring that will not outlast the cabinets. For a DIYer, this method can be much easier. There is much less detailed cutting and fitting around cabinets, the fit to the walls does not need to be perfect where it is hidden by the cabinets, and less trim may be required along kick panels. If the footprint of the cabinet layout is complicated with lots of different depths, or if islands are involved, this method is popular.

So, there is really no right or wrong. The decision depends on the kind of flooring you select, grade of cabinets, and long range expectations. Side note: Kitchen cabinets are one of the most important fixtures in your home. They get a lot of use and abuse. A good investment is to purchase the best quality your budget can handle. I am not a fan of IKEA products. They do offer lots of bells and whistles for budget minded consumers, but the intrinsic quality does not compare to even mid grade cabinets constructed with hardwood frames, five piece boxes etc, fastened together with glue and screws and have quality drawer slides and door hinges etc.

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    Great answer... though I have a slightly different view on Ikea cabs. To me, they offer decent bang for the buck, as long as you understand they've got a finite lifespan. I'd say they're head and shoulders above some of the Big Box and imported RTA trash. Just pay attention to the cost of things like decorative end panels and be sure you need those in your kitchen design. (Ikea can sometimes design them in without them being strictly necessary.) Jul 16 '16 at 14:32
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Think there is basic points missing on a good question:

  1. If cabinet has legs, it goes on finished floor. IKEA makes a lot of base cabinets on legs, although they sell most base cabinets in the USA with toe-kicks this is not the norm around the world.

  2. If the cabinet has toekick (can't see under it), it goes on subfloor.

    • If you install on finished floor you may have issues securing cabinet (tile is an example)
    • If you want to change your finished floor you should not have to disassemble all of your base cabinets
    • If you have water issues you would rather contain that at the subfloor level. (not a fix for water issues, just a small barrier)
    • Also underneath cabinet fronts is the perfect place to hide expansion gaps
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  • What's the logic intended here in switching from ordered list items to unordered list items? Was that intentional?
    – TylerH
    Feb 12 at 21:03
  • @TylerH - just bullets for point number 2. Please edit if there is a better way to display.
    – DMoore
    Feb 13 at 5:49
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Both options are possible with IKEA cabinets, since they come with adjustable legs with a finished look. The toe kick is easy to install, and removable without tools for cleaning or inspection. You can have a toe-kick with either lay of the flooring.

It may be useful to note that Europeans often move with their kitchen cabinets and kitchen appliances, whereas in North America the cabinets are rarely ever moved.

Hence a European kitchen would often have flooring laid entirely, and then have the cabinets installed on top. This is the design starting point for IKEA kitchens.

Reasons for placing cabinets ON flooring:

  • toe-kick optional, providing a deeper/more spacious look (subjective)
  • easy to clean under cabinets
  • air ventilates under cabinets, so less accumulation of mold and odours
  • flooring protects sub-floor and back walls against any water/liquids under cabinets, from leaks and spills. This applies mostly to the sink cabinet, as usually flooring is provided under the other critical areas such as fridge, stove and dishwasher.
  • easier to lay tiles or other flooring independent from layout of kitchen.
  • cabinets can be exchanged without patching the flooring (as mentioned by others)

Reasons for fitting flooring AROUND cabinets:

  • allows for flooring to float. Cabinets will not rest on flooring and block it from movement. This is critical if some of the flooring is exposed to the heat of sun-light. This point is also about enabling movement. Expansion gaps can be concealed at the toe-kick or at the wall (behind/under cabinet).
  • cost saving on flooring material. In a small kitchen, more than half the floor space can be under cabinets.
  • easier to lay if plumbing from the floor rather than from the wall
  • toe-kick required, preferably with a water seal

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