Install Floors Before Cabinets, or After?

Cabinetmakers and installers discuss the sequence of the job. Which should you install first, the flooring or the cabinets? June 16, 2014

When the homeowner is putting in new wood floors (kitchen) should the floors go down before or after the cabinets? I've never really had a good answer for this. My only thoughts were that if the flooring goes down first, then the flooring guy doesn't have to scribe everything to the cabinets, less labor. If the floors go in after the cabinet install, more labor, less material. Does anyone have a better train of thought on this one?

Forum Responses
(Cabinetmaking Forum)
From contributor F:
Floors first, for the reasons you already spoke of. Floors after means a 3/4" shorter cabinet.

From contributor H:
Floors first would make the cabinet installer (me) have to scribe the toe kick. As long as I don't have a hard bid, fine. I can charge for it. Otherwise the floor installer can scribe to my cabinets. I'd raise my cabinets the thickness of the finish floor. Then there is the issue of damage to a finished floor installed before the cabinets, whom is responsible? I don't mind taking the risk if I am paid for it. Not doing it for free.

From contributor K:
So when they have a floor issue and want to replace it are they prepared to remove the counters and cabinets to put in a new floor?

From Contributor E:
Floor first.

From contributor U:
Floor first.

From contributor X:
I always leave that decision up to who is running the job. I give them the pro's and con's of both and let them decide. If they want the cabinets in first then I make the base cabinets taller so it doesn't affect the finished countertop height, plus it will eliminate problems with appliances sliding under the countertop.

From Contributor K:
Most of the time the floor is already down. The only times in the past where the floor had gone down after cabinets were when tile was going down. The only two reasons were because the tile guy was going to be a while before he could get to it and the clients admitting they are impulsive and want to be able to change the tile just like they would change the drapes in the kitchen.

We typically have extended stiles on our faceframes to create a foot detail, plus our base end panels also go to the floor. This is a lot of scribing, so we are more than cool with the cabinets going in first. Our scribes can be quick and dirty as the tile will cover all sins. Everyone signs off on the fact that it's the tile guys fault if the cabinets get dinged up, etc. We use 2x4 ladder frames so it's just a matter of adding strips of plywood to the ladders to bring the cabinets up and extending our feet and end panels accordingly.

From contributor V:
I use adjustable leg levelers (one size does it all) so it doesn't matter to me, but I do need to know the thickness of the finished floor.

From contributor D:
I'm closest to Contributor X. I leave it to the clients but advise them what I think is right for their application. For hardwood floors I recommend installing the wood first. It's easier and cleaner that way and the extra cost is minimal. Every job I install I plan on scribing so a kitchen is no different. I'm not worried about that extra hour. It would take longer to have to shim everything up 3/4" to meet a floor that's not there! It's also much easier for me to install with the floor in place. I would think it's significantly easier for the floor guys as well since there are no obstructions for them to work around.

I'm also not overly worried about damaging the hardwood floors. I take care to make sure I wouldn't scratch a new floor, any more than I'd scratch an old one. I protect the floors regardless of if it's a bookcase or a kitchen or a vanity or whatever. It's part of an installation to protect the area youíre working in. For tile it's slightly different as sometimes the size of the tiles dictate they should end at the baseboard of the cabinets. I still generally prefer having a complete floor under the cabinetry, but I leave wiggle room with tile.

From contributor L:
In most commercial work the hard floors go down first. If carpet it usually goes in last.

From contributor D:
Floors Ė itís easiest for both. Having them done after doesn't make my job installing cabinets the least bit easier.

From contributor M:
Floors in, sheetrock primed. This is my line about where I fit on the schedule. It's worked well.

From contributor F:
Why as a cabinetmaker would you want the cabinets in first? Is it just to keep from damaging the floors? It either makes your job more difficult by having to raise them or building them taller to reach standard heights. I would much rather set my cabs on a finished floor which is most of the time much more flat that a subfloor. If you do any kind of furniture base, that would be a nightmare for the floor guy to cut around.

From contributor B:
What I find interesting is that there is even a debate on which goes first! Floors always, if down the road changes are made like a new dishwasher and itís smaller, suddenly you donít have a floor under the washer - now what? Procedures that are done only for the self-interests of installers (you pick which profession) have little regard to the customer, which by the way pays the bills.

From contributor R:
Ninety percent of the time the general contractors choose to put the cabinets in first. Keeps the job moving as you can template for granite then and not wait on the floor. Finished kick (3/4"), ogee base around islands and end panels that go all the way to the floor go on after the floors covering any gaps. It is only the homeowners around here, and one small contractor that put floors in first. I never complain when they do as it gains us a little more time!

From Contributor I:
Have you ever seen a flooring mallet ding a cabinet - not pretty. With that said floor first.