Who's Responsible For Protecting Cabinets After Installation?

Cabinetmakers discuss the measures they take to protect cabinets while construction continues, and the risks involved. June 11, 2014

I have never protected, nor been asked to protect, cabinets after installation, until this job. Typically, who's responsibility is it to protect the cabinets, the contractor, or the cabinet installer?

Forum Responses
(Cabinet and Millwork Installation Forum)
From contributor S:
My standard operating procedure is to leave a job with the tops of the base cabs covered with fitted cardboard folded down over the fronts at least 8". No extra care for the uppers. This is the least I do. Sometimes I will leave 1/4" luan covers with cardboard faces that cover the entire fronts to the floor. The cardboard taped to the top of the frames and the luan screwed down. The degree of care is based on the type of construction site, who the lead is, how many more subs are coming through. Usually the clients are walking friends and family through and want to be able to show off their new cabs, so covering is kept to a minimum. I do include a disclaimer in my contracts that the care and protection of the installed cabinetry is to be limited to one of the above options and that otherwise it is beyond my control and not my responsibility. After the client (contractor or home owner) signs off on the install and the cleaned out cabinetry, they own it.

From contributor J:
In commercial work this is a clause we always cross off and have signed off by the GC and the AE
until they want to pay for an armed guard to stand watch.

From contributor M:
I've learned the hard way on this one. I generally work as above with basic cardboard covers on top of the lowers. Every once in a while we come across a contractor who doesn't give a damn. If we decide to work for him, all deliveries need to be signed at installation. We charge for repairs. With this particular type of contractor, getting these change orders paid out can be difficult. Another way to do it is to charge the neglectful contractors more up front. If they don't like the price, you're probably better off.

From contributor J:
The digital cameras I purchased have been worth their weight in gold. Last month a tile setting employee (like he cared) set his saw up in a lobby drenched in cherry columns and walls along with a door cart full of panels for a ceiling application. He sprayed the panels with the caustic dust (misty) directly onto the panels, then later tried to wipe it off and move his saw once he realized it! Thank god for security cameras.

The sad part is the tile company supervisor walks into the scene and is shown looking at the problem, then helping the employee try to wipe the dust off. When they tried to lie about what happened, the entire tile company was kicked off the job. We had to install the ceiling in place (no time) and set up, resand and do two sprays in place to correct. This ceiling is 20' x 40' and cost 4100.00 to correct.

From contributor I:
What happens when a subcontractor does damage and you get brought into the lawsuit because the sub's attorney decides to accuse you of negligence for failure to provide adequate protection? Once you have agreed to put proactive materials in place, you are likely accepting some liability, for the performance of that protection. The court probably would side with you but you would have to convince the judge that the protection provided was reasonable, and adequate at your expense.

However, all the cardboard and plastic sheeting in the world will not protect architectural millwork from those who do not care. I will often leave packing material meant to protect millwork during installation/transport at the job site if they feel they will need it. Otherwise I would prefer they put up plastic or cardboard. I don't want to take on any liability for protecting cabinetry that is no longer in my possession.

You really don't want to have to answer to the claim that the protection you provided was somehow inadequate. This hypothetical situation is fictitious, and represents the opinion of a woodworker, and not legal advice.

From contributor S:
You can't protect yourself from all contingencies or all idiots, or all litigators. In your hypothetical scenario (which is likely not such a hypothetical) I hope your client (GC, homeowner, architect etc.) have in fact signed off in real writing on having accepted your cabinetry as installed, and that you have a better attorney than the other guys. My 2¢ as a woodworker/non attorney too.

From contributor D:
You need a definition or form of clarification or an idea of what they are expecting. Do you just need to cover with cardboard or…? Once the cabinets are out of our possession we have little control. On larger jobs with loads of subs coming through damage happens here and there. Typically when we do damage we own it. Usually it is drywall or paint and not a huge deal, but you never know. I leave the doors off if I know there will be a lot of dust. A good tile guy will cover the fronts with protective sheeting. So on this job, since they are asking, you should get your installation signed off, received in new condition.

From contributor K:
If we were replacing cabinetry, where the flooring was installed before we installed the cabinetry, we would not be expecting the flooring company to put down protection in anticipation of our installation. Nor would we expect whoever installed the sheetrock or painted the walls to put up corner protectors, or the carpet guy to put down rolled plastic in anticipation of us traipsing through the house to bring in our product.

The same would be true of painters and our installed cabinets. Are we supposed to provide protection for the cabinets and floors and surrounding area for the painter? Is the top guy or the cabinet guy supposed to protect the surfaces for the tile guy installing a backsplash?

If you bring unfinished materials to a job (i.e. - requires fabrication and/or finishing for installation), it is your job to protect the surrounding finished materials, not the other way around.