When renovating a kitchen, one question always arises, “do we install the flooring first?”
A pretty straight forward question, indeed, and one that should come with a relatively straight forward answer.
However, nothing in the home construction biz is conveniently simple. Basically, there are two trains of thought when it comes to kitchen flooring.
From the contractor, or installer’s point of view, you install the flooring first.
Why? Because it’s easier. Installing hardwood or ceramic in a rectangular room is definitely preferable to having to cut and custom fit tiles around cabinets.
And logistically, it makes sense. The kitchen cabinets sit on the floor. So, why not install the flooring first. Plus, it’s absolutely essential that the cabinets not be buried inside the expanse of flooring.
When this happens, the dishwasher becomes practically irremovable for servicing, or replacement. And, the counter top height shortens by as much as an inch.
If you’re 5 ft. tall, then a shorter counter top is of little consequence. For a tall person, whose home life duties include having to chop up the vegetables for the weekly batch of spaghetti sauce, a shorter counter top will be the kiss of death for the lower back.
Finally, we don’t want the kitchen cabinets to sit directly on the subfloor, in their own type of moat, so to speak, because a leaky sink valve or faulty dishwasher connection could go unnoticed until the water makes its way well under the flooring, or into the basement below, creating all types of new problems.
So, we install the flooring first, right? Well . . . not so fast.
Logically and logistically, installing the flooring first might make sense.
However, when you examine the flooring issue from a more practical point of view, there are two reasons why I like installing the floor afterwards.
One, there’s far less chance of damaging a floor when it’s installed as the last piece of the puzzle. With finishing carpenters, plumbers, and electricians, all vying for elbow room within a standard 12×16 kitchen space, the trade traffic over the 3-4 week installation period is going to be busier than the front of a goalie’s crease come playoff time.
As a result, the chances of somebody dropping something, be it a drill battery, copper coupling, or piece of crown molding, on the floor, is conservatively estimated at 100%.
So, with most floors getting covered by a scattering of painter’s drop cloths, will the floor suffer a dent or scratch? Maybe, maybe not.
Alternatively, if the kitchen flooring is safely acclimatizing in the adjoining living room, carefully stacked in perfect, pre-packaged form, the odds of it being dented or scratched drop somewhere close to Carey Price’s GAA. And, once the floor is scratched, that’s it.
With 6-8 possible culprits, it might be difficult to pinpoint the guilty party. Then comes the awkward conversation regarding payback for floor repair or replacement which, of course, means this tradesperson has just worked the week for no pay.
Two, kitchen cabinets usually outlast their floors. If the original flooring goes underneath the cabinets, and prematurely needs to be replaced due to water damage or several cracked tiles, the cost of replacement, due to having to move the lower cabinet units, has just doubled.
Plus, with granite and quartz counter tops becoming the norm, along with ceramic tile backsplashes, everything is connected, which means touching a lower cabinet will inevitably affect the whole system. When the flooring simply butts up against the cabinet’s kick-plate, all these variables become a non-issue.
Key to the practical floor strategy is cabinet height, whereby the cabinet bases must be of equal height, or higher, to the finished floor. This will require the homeowner installing a three/quarter-inch fir plywood, and sheet of 1/4 inch mahogany, if necessary, underneath all cabinetry and islands. Treating the cabinetry and flooring as separate entities, in my opinion, is just practical.