Cabinets should be one of the heaviest design considerations when building or remodeling a home. While finding the perfect option involves many decisions, one of the most important is custom vs. prefab cabinets.
These pieces take up a considerable amount of real estate, so they can dramatically alter the look of a kitchen or bathroom. Appearances aside, the wrong choice can have substantial cost and schedule consequences. Here’s a closer look at custom vs. prefab cabinets and how to decide between them.
Many companies today offer fully custom cabinets, giving designers or homeowners total control over design, materials and functionality. However, fully personalizable options aren’t the only category that falls under the custom umbrella. You can also find an abundance of semi-custom cabinets that offer freedom over many choices but not every factor.
These semi-custom cabinets can be 15%-30% cheaper than fully custom alternatives. Consequently, it’s important to keep these more budget-friendly options in mind as you consider the pros and cons of custom cabinets.
Custom cabinets have many advantages, some of the most significant of which are aesthetic. Instead of shopping around for a prefabricated option that you like, you can create one to fit your exact tastes. Now that 3D printers can print in wood filament, you can even opt for designs that would be impossible with the traditional, large-scale means used to make stock cabinets.
This control has benefits outside of how a cabinet looks, too. Custom options mean you don’t have to choose between stock shapes and sizes, creating cabinets that fit perfectly. Similarly, you can equip them with any desired features, such as soft-close drawers, so they function more comfortably in your home.
Choosing from more materials can help improve your cabinets’ longevity and sustainability. You can opt for more durable wood or an eco-friendly alternative that would be too expensive for companies to offer in prefabricated versions.
Despite these considerable advantages, custom cabinets carry some substantial downsides, too. Most notably, they typically cost far more. High-end carpentry tools can be difficult to afford and master, and nonstandardized workflows come with higher operating costs, so companies must charge more to make up for it.
Custom cabinets cost $500 and $1,200 per linear foot on average. That’s up to 12 times as much as the expensive end of prefabricated cabinets. Semi-custom alternatives are cheaper, but they’ll still cost $100 to $650 per linear foot.
There’s also the issue of time to consider. Businesses can’t rely on standardized, large-scale processes to produce custom cabinets, so making these features takes longer. The same goes for the designing and installation phases, and they will require more leeway in your schedule.
The far more popular option is to use prefabricated cabinets. These readily available features often come out of factory-scale, standardized workflows, which is advantageous in some ways but creates obstacles in others.
One thing to remember when deciding between custom vs. prefab cabinets is that stock doesn’t necessarily imply a lack of choice. With so many companies serving different markets, there’s a fair amount of variety in prefab options.
The benefits of prefabricated cabinets are inverse to those of custom alternatives. What matters to most people with these options is the cost. As you would expect, prefab cabinets are significantly cheaper than custom ones, costing $100 per linear foot on average.
Prefab cabinets come with significant time savings, too. No customization means there’s no design phase on the buyer’s side, and you won’t have to wait for manufacturers to build them, either. In many cases, you can walk into a store and walk out with your cabinets.
Installing prefabricated cabinets is also typically faster and more straightforward. Since they rely on standardized parts, you may be able to install them yourself, saving time and reducing labor costs. Even if you do need professional installation, standardization will ensure this doesn’t take as long, minimizing the cost.
Just as with prefab cabinets’ benefits, their disadvantages are the opposite of custom alternatives. What you save in time and money, you may lose in choice. Stock cabinets may also have lower quality than custom ones, thanks to cheaper materials and faster processes.
Today’s markets host abundant options, but you may not be able to find a prefab cabinet that fits your specific needs. Even if you find a design you want, it may not be available in the materials, color or size you need it in. That can be an issue if you have a specific vision for your home or have unique size and shape restraints.
Limited availability might further hinder your options and counteract time savings, too. This isn’t always an issue, but widespread supply chain disruptions make it more likely.
Which Type of Cabinet Is Right for You?
Given these considerations, which style wins between custom vs. prefab cabinets? That depends on your specific needs. You can find the optimal choice by analyzing your goals and restrictions.
Generally speaking, custom cabinets offer higher quality and have more aesthetic appeal, but prefab alternatives offer affordability and time savings. Compare your budget and schedule to your desires and goals, leaving some room for unexpected costs and disruptions.
Remember to check local availability before making a decision, too. You may find that getting your ideal custom cabinets won’t be as expensive as you thought or that a prefab offering meets your aesthetic and size goals.
Regardless of which option you choose, make sure you get your cabinets from a trustworthy source. If you want a custom job, review their previous work and look at user reviews to ensure they can deliver on their higher costs. If you’re buying prefab cabinets, make sure they come from a reputable manufacturer and will hold up over time.
Find the Right Cabinets for Your Home Project
Like many building and remodeling decisions, the custom vs. prefab cabinet debate comes down to the task at hand. The answer varies between situations, so it’s important to know the strengths and weaknesses.
You can make the most informed decisions about your cabinets when you know what to expect. You can then find the best solution for your goals, budget and schedule.