It’s been more than two months since the last time I blogged about the kitchen remodel. Well, guess what? The IKEA cabinets took us two months to install!! And we only got the frames attached to the walls. No doors, drawers, or shelves yet. But if we add up the total amount of hours we spent on hanging cabinets, it won’t add up to two months. We did the work in the weekends only. And recently, hubby has started training with the local Search and Rescue which has an overnight outing in the woods in the weekend once a month.
“I wish I know this earlier.”
We learned a lot along the way, especially a few things that IKEA does not mention in their cabinet installation instructions. If you want to save money by installing IKEA cabinets yourself, these are the important things to know:
- The IKEA instructions are designed for an L-shape kitchen at a corner of a room. If your kitchen has a U-shape design like ours, I hope your house is not so out of plumb and nowhere leveled like ours. The IKEA instructions said look for the highest point of your floor first and start from there to hang the wall cabinets. It’s sort of okay but if you are installing cabinets in other corners of the room, you will need to use that high spot as the reference point and extend leveled lines from that point throughout the room. Since we followed what was given to us, we looked for the highest point at one corner of the room and do the same again at the other corner. With an uneven floor, those two points don’t level with each other, i.e., the wall cabinets at one corner were hung higher than the ones at the opposite corner of the U-shape. Fortunately, the difference was about 1/2 inch or less for us. We were able to push up the wall cabinets along the suspension rail to level things. I hope the cabinets will still hold up at the same height once they get filled with dishes and all.
- If you are reading this with no prior knowledge of anything about the IKEA kitchen, you may be scratching your head by now about the suspension rail I just mentioned above. Basically, the wall cabinets are hung on the suspension rail so they are not directly attached to the wall as most traditional cabinets do. The rail is attached at the studs and this system can hold a lot of weight (I don’t know exactly how much). One flaw about the instructions for hanging the suspension rail is that the recommended height resulted in wall cabinets hung lower than the drawings I got from the IKEA Home Planner program I used to design the kitchen. Having the wall cabinets hung at the correct height is crucial for us because we have a serious of wall cabinets stretching from corner to corner and the refrigerator is at one of the corners. We realized the mistake early on and started completely over to make sure the cabinet above the fridge is hung high enough.
- Under the IKEA wall cabinets, the hardware and gaps are exposed. Those areas are usually way below the eye level. You have to bend down on purpose to look under the wall cabinets. However, we have a row of cabinets above the range and fridge. The under-cabinet areas are exposed at the above-the-head level. One solution I found online was installing long cover panels that are intended for high cabinets under the wall cabinets. We failed miserably at our first attempt as we tried to cut a piece of panel to follow the scribe of the uneven walls. Let just say it was the jig saw’s fault.
- Leveling the base cabinets are even more important than wall cabinets because of the countertop. We tried using a line level to get some leveled lines drawn on the walls. It didn’t work well since we have never used a line level before. I ended up buying a 96″ level. It costs a lot but it’s the only tool that can tell us for sure whether the base cabinets are leveled from one corner to the next.
- The base cabinets are supported by adjustable legs. The IKEA instructions suggested installing a wall strip (a strip of particle board provided with the toe kicks) on the wall and hanging the back edge of the cabinets on the wall strip so that only two legs (under the front edges) would be required for each cabinet. The instructions also mentioned installing four legs instead of using the wall strip. We asked an IKEA employee for her opinion. She said with old houses, installing four legs would be much easier to level. We went with what she said. Besides, I heard that for solid countertop, it would be best to install extra legs to ensure the cabinets can hold the weight of the countertop. Even though the IKEA instructions said legs can be shared by two cabinets, we installed four legs on each cabinet. Our floor is very uneven. It would have been a nightmare to share legs anyway.
Here’s a tip that is not related to IKEA:
- Recycled jeans insulation makes selecting hollow wall anchors a challenge. I am guessing this kind of insulation is much denser than typical fiber glass. I bought a kind of anchor that is supposed to make a 90 degree turn behind the drywall and the screw would tighten the moving part towards the drywall. The anchor could not make the turn as the insulation around it wouldn’t budge. We used the same anchor on an uninsulated interior wall with no problem.
The 12″X24″ Wall Cabinet Hack
During this time, I discovered the site IKEA Fans. I posted a few questions on their forum and got a few helpful feedback. After looking around IKEA Fans and a few blogs, I was inspired to take on an “IKEA hack” which is a rather popular thing to do. Our hack is mainly a challenge of fitting a full gang of wall cabinets from corner to corner without any filler strip.
We didn’t change the layout of the kitchen. We kept the range and fridge at the same locations as before along a 12-foot wall. The range location has to be exact because we will be replacing the old Jenn-Air downdraft with a new model and the vent location remains roughly the same to avoid any additional work on the outside of the house (our contractor added a plenum around the old vent opening to allow for a little bit of variations in the final location). Therefore, I had to plan the cabinets around the range. On the left of the range, there is room for a 48″ corner cabinet and one 18″ cabinet. On the wall above those base cabinets, I mimicked the dimensions with two 24″ cabinets and one 18″ cabinet (these are all 39″ tall).
Starting from above the range towards the fridge (about 77-78″ of space), I had to plan a row of wall cabinets that are 24″ tall to meet the vertical clearance requirement above the cooking surface. IKEA does not offer a full range of 24″ (height) wall cabinets as the ones at the regular heights (30″ or 39″). My initial plan was two 36″ cabinets plus a big filler (4-5″ wide). That didn’t sound pretty at all. Ideally, we should have a 30″ cabinet above the range, follow by one 12″ and one 36″ cabinets (that adds up to 78″) but I could not plan for this at the beginning because it did not seem to me there would be 78″ of space starting from the range towards the fridge. But the space problem was eventually solved. Our old walls were a plaster and drywall combo, i.e. the walls are 3/4″ or more thick. We gained a little bit of space after installing 1/2″ drywall.
Having enough space is not yet the end of the story. IKEA does not sell a 12″ wide cabinet at the 24″ height. I went back and forth with a variety of combination and nothing seemed to be make visual sense. And then out of nowhere, I came up with the idea of shortening a 30″ cabinet to 24″. Our first try of implement this idea was modifying a 9″ wide open shelf (no door) and it went pretty well. Prior to messing with the open shelf, I still thought we didn’t have 78″ of space. After we installed the “hacked” shelf on the wall, I then realized we have all the space we need.
One other realization of the 12″ cabinet solution is a 12″X24″ cabinet door. The IKEA catalog does not list the door sizes. Our itemized order list does. The list of items for the 30″ and 36″ cabinets contain doors with widths that are half of the cabinet widths (i.e. 15″ and 18″ doors). Another light bulb went on my head at that point. IKEA sells a 24″ wide cabinet at 24″ tall and this would have 12″X24″ doors! The ultimate solution for our problem is to modify a 12″X30″ wall cabinet to 12″X24″ and install a 12″X24″ door. Including all the other ideas I worked on paper, this is plan D, E or F. I lost count.
We haven’t install any trim on the window when we first started installing the cabinets. The window is above the sink. We delayed installing the sink cabinet to finish the trim. It was not easy (this is our first time installing trim of any kind). We messed up just one piece of trim during the process. Not bad but it cost us another trip to Home Depot.
Cut holes for plumbing & electrical
I think the only thing we were super successful (like we didn’t swear much) was cutting holes on the back of the sink cabinet for the water and sewer pipes and a power outlet. I planned a filler strip left of the cabinet. We drew a line on the wall to simulate the final location of the cabinet. We then placed the 96″ level spanning across the corner cabinets. Measuring from the bottom of the level and the line on the wall, we figured out the locations of the holes needed. I was kind of worried about cutting the holes because we had to be right the first time and we haven’t done so well in this department. As it turns out, this is THE thing we are good at. Go figure!
The IKEA cabinets are solid and all but moisture is their main enemy. I am going to caulk all the edges inside the cabinets. I also bought a small container of polycrylic to seal the exposed edges of the support beams at the top of the base cabinets. It is probably overkill but I would rather tough it out now than regret it in the future.