Hardwood floors under cabinets and 8' ceilings

becks333February 21, 2013

I have hardwood unfinished flooring coming soon and I am unsure if we should have the cabinets put in after or before. I would like 42 inch to the ceiling cabinets and if we put the cabinets on hardwood over plywood the cabinets are going to start 1.25" above subfloor. This would decrease the space between uppers and countertop and i would like a light rail decreasing space some more. If cabinets were installed on plywood over subfloor it would only take away 1/2 inch from my 96 inch floor to ceiling total. Would appliance installation or removal be a problem with the height of the hardwood floor being 3/4 of an inch higher than base cabinets. The flooring would have to go under the appliances, correct? Would that be a problem with countertop installation? Any helpful thoughts will be appreciated.

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Typically, we install cabinets prior to finish flooring, and then add fillers under the appliance openings to bring the surface level for install and removal. You can run flooring first, but then you are paying for material (and labor) to have flooring under the cabinets where no one will see it...

    Bookmark   February 22, 2013 at 12:03AM
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I would recommend finished flooring under cabinets as it gives you flexibility for future space use and remodeling and you definitely don't want appliances to be installed lower than the floor. You will have to build up to floor height anyways.

    Bookmark   February 22, 2013 at 1:08AM
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With stone flooring, I would install flooring first, but with hardwood, it's not as cut and dried. I'd still recommend flooring first, just protect the wood under the appliances.

    Bookmark   February 22, 2013 at 2:54AM
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Hi Becks. Since this subject comes up fairly often, I found an old thread for you that might help in your research. The general consensus is that hardwood floors should go down first. If you're having them site finished, install the floors, have them sanded, and put the first coat or two of poly on top. Make sure you put protective covering over your floors like masonite sheets or RAM board, which is what we used to great effect. Your cabs will go in next. One of the very last steps of your whole kitchen reno will be to have the final coat put on your floor. We followed this order had no trouble with damage to our floors at all, and they were covered for more than six months.

You are lucky to have 8' ceilings. Mine are only about 7.5' tall. Consider yourself lucky!

There's great advice on this linked thread, including comments from at least two professional kitchen designers. Good luck!

Here is a link that might be useful: Recent thread on wood or cabs first

    Bookmark   February 22, 2013 at 2:57AM
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Here's a thread I started myself about two years ago on whether to put down my wood floor or cabs first.

Here is a link that might be useful: My old thread

    Bookmark   February 22, 2013 at 3:00AM
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I think you'd be hard pressed to find anyone who would recommend having your appliances be installed on the plywood subfloor rather than at the same level as the flooring underneath. It would make removing them incredibly difficult.

Are you getting custom cabinets or a semicustom line that is very accomodating of adjustments? Decreasing the size of your uppers by an inch or so would solve the problem.

    Bookmark   February 22, 2013 at 6:26AM
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Sophie Wheeler

Floors FIRST. And do shorter than 42" cabinets so you can have molding. Even modern style cabinets look unfinished without some type of molding at the top. Use 39" cabinets and keep the bottom alignment height 54" from the floor. That will give you room for a modest molding at the top. Partner with your KD to figure out which one will work.

    Bookmark   February 22, 2013 at 7:50AM
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Flooring first. Otherwise, you will not be able to swap out the dishwasher in the future - it will be jammed between the countertop and the finished floor.

Of course, you can always add plywood under the cabinets, install cabinets, then install the finished flooring. You'd maybe save a few bucks - there's a materials savings, but labor will be more intensive and thus more expensive due to having to measure correctly, extra cuts, etc. However, as others have said this locks you into the current layout if you ever remodel again, or you will need to thread in new hardwood planks which is, again, labor intensive.

    Bookmark   February 22, 2013 at 9:57AM
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I think you are missing the point that regardless if the flooring goes in before or after, the height of the base cabinets above the finished floor will be the same. The cabinets are set to a height above the finished floor. If the cabinets go in first, they will be shimmed up to accommodate the thickness of the hardwood flooring. So either way, you end up with the same amount of space between the countertop and the ceiling. And you shouldn't do 42" cabinets anyway, since it's almost guaranteed that your ceiling isn't level. You'll have gaps above some of the cabinets. Even if the ceiling is level, the cabinets will look better with some sort of molding at the top.

    Bookmark   February 22, 2013 at 10:15AM
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This is all true if you are using solid hardwood.

* As an FYI to anyone who may be reading this later and is not using solid hardwood . . . . . if you are using engineered hardwood that you are floating (and may be true for other floating installations), you do NOT install the flooring under the cabinets. A floating floor must float freely; You do not want to anchor, bind, or restrict its natural movement under cabinets (or baseboards that are so tight to allow no movement).

By the way, engineered hardwood is not to be confused with laminate hardwood look-a-likes like Pergo. Engineered hardwood can be compared to plywood (which is almost universally loved around the TKO's of GW kitchens : ). What you see and walk on is real hardwood. Think of the hardwood as being the top layer on a piece of plywood and that is basically what it is.

This layer of hardwood can come in many different thicknesses and most engineered hardwoods can be sanded and refinished from 1-5 times over their life which gives them a lifespan of 40-80 years, or at the very least screened and recoated which gives them a lifespan of 20-30 years (although we have had our engineered floors in our primary residence for over 8 years with nothing more than occasional cleaning and they still look brand new). Solid hardwood can usually be sanded and refinished 5-7 times which gives them a lifespan of 100 years.

We chose the same engineered hardwood in both our primary residence and our vacation rental home. In our primary, it was mostly to save money, but also because we were covering 3 different surfaces (prior owners had hardwood in the foyer, vinyl in the kitchen, and carpet in the dining-which we removed to expose the subfloor). And because we loved the look of this beautiful exotic Brazilian Timborana hardwood.

In our beach house the engineered floor was chosen for Function !!! Engineered hardwood offers MUCH better dimensional stability in a high humidity environment. Also, it has a far more durable finish (prefinished) with 7-10 coats of urethane and aluminum oxide finish and UV curing - which is needed in this environment of renters and lots of scratchy sand being tracked into the home. The other reason for engineered installed floating at our beach house is that floating floor boards are connected to one another becoming a single unit so that when expansion and contraction happens, it happens as a whole. This minimizes gaps and cupping that you would see in a traditional installation, where each board is expanding and contracting independently of the other boards. That is why it is important to leave an expansion gap around the walls of the room and around any other immovable objects, and not bind the movement by installing the cabinets on top of the floor. Our expansion gap is hidden under the baseboard molding.

Another reason for engineered hardwood ... Purchasing engineered wood flooring helps conserve expensive prized wood. For every 1 sq foot of 3/4 inch thick solid wood flooring manufactured you can manufacturer approx 4 times that amount into engineered wood flooring. Engineered wood flooring is the best flooring to provide people with to conserve our forests. (I copied that text online)

We installed our hardwood with Floor Muffler, a sound deadening underlayment.

    Bookmark   February 22, 2013 at 11:31AM
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Two practical examples:

Our 1970 house originally had asphalt tile throughout. At some point we laid vinyl over the top in the kitchen/dining area and did wall to wall elsewhere. So far, so good. Later we pulled up most of the vinyl and laid engineered wood flooring.

1. Dishwashers need replacing more often than floors, so we had to deal with the 3/4" drop to the subfloor from the wood floor, and that was a major pain - wouldn't recommend it.

2. When we finally replaced the cabinetry last year, the footprint of the new cabinetry was smaller than the original - we had a 1.5" gap in front of all our cabinet runs. Who knew that cabinetry doesn't have a "standard" footprint over a 40 year lifespan?

In the kitchen, we installed 3/4" plywood under the new footprint and bamboo flooring up to it afterwards. In the dining room where we have the same cabinet line used as china cabinets, we installed them over the flooring. Note that our flooring is nailed down to the subfloor, not floated over a concrete floor.

If you think you might replace your cabinets again before you replace your flooring, then it might be a good idea to run the flooring under the cabinets. Who knows if footprint size will change again? If that seems unlikely or not applicable (someone else's problem), then you might prefer to use plywood under them and run the good floor up to them.

    Bookmark   February 22, 2013 at 12:36PM
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Thank you all so much for your responses. I now know that regardless of which goes in first I will still be starting at 1.25 inches above subfloor. With a light rail, and a most likely uneven ceiling that would require even a minimal trim, I think I will be making the uppers too close to the counters. We are doing RTA cabinets so my next option down from 42" uppers are 36's. Going to try to bring crown moulding to the ceiling with a filler?

    Bookmark   February 22, 2013 at 3:25PM
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Also going to put hardwood floors down completely before cabinets. That was the original plan, but I got 42's stuck in my head and was trying to make it work, but laying all of the floor first and going with 36's and crown is probably the best for us. Thanks for helping me see this

    Bookmark   February 22, 2013 at 3:35PM
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We did hardwood (strand woven bamboo) before and it is floating! oh no!

    Bookmark   February 22, 2013 at 3:43PM
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amanda - we bought our bamboo flooring from a high-end shop from people who know their stuff and actually care. Even though we didn't plan to float the flooring, the topic came up. The flooring guys didn't think it was an issue. Pretty sure you're fine, which is a good thing as it's a done deal.

    Bookmark   February 22, 2013 at 8:02PM
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