Your Place: Replacing cabinets vs. refacing old ones

Posted: April 29, 2011

Question: You recently wrote about reglazing instead of replacing ceramic tile. My oak kitchen cabinets are about 23 years old and are structurally sound, but are outdated and showing wear.

I am wondering if the idea of reglazing rather than replacing might apply to cabinets, too. I would also add new doors and handles.

Answer: I'd first go to a couple of showrooms for ideas to spruce up the cabinets or even, perhaps, look at replacements. I realize that times are tough, but sometimes you have to let go.

If you are shopping, look for ads from outlets that offer deals or closeouts on cabinets. People I've talked to have found bargains on brand-name cabinets at half their retail price.

Builders may have stocked cabinets for houses they haven't been able to build and might be willing to sell you some at a discount to get the expense off their books.

Are the boxes and frames in good shape? New doors and hardware may be all you really need. Look at refacing by a professional.

Refacing uses veneer to cover the exposed faces of frames, and new plywood or door panels to cover end panels. New doors, drawer fronts, and moldings are added, as well as new hardware.

The cost of refacing tends to be all over the map, depending on the job, although some consumers have been complaining lately that refacing can cost as much as buying new cabinets. As with any project, the price for a cabinet refacing will be determined, in part, by the quality of materials selected.

Q: For years, I've had trouble with the paint adhering to the plaster walls in my bathroom. I've tried acrylic, and that's not good at all, so I've tried to stick with oil-based products, which are getting more difficult to find.

The walls in the bathroom are half tile, half plaster over lath. The ceiling is plaster over diamond mesh. The area beyond the ceiling is attic with some insulation. And, because it's a bathroom, there is moisture, but there's also an exhaust fan. It still is moist.

A fresh coat of paint with an oil primer may last six to eight months but then begins to peel. I've done this repeatedly, but I'm starting to believe that's crazy. Maybe a marine paint would be better?

A: I wouldn't use marine paint in a bathroom. From my own experience, making sure those plaster walls are free of grease, soap scum, and hair-spray residue and using a top-quality paint are the keys to keeping the paint from peeling off bathroom walls - with or without exhaust fans.

The experts to whom I've talked say high gloss holds up better the closer you are to the source of a lot of moisture, but I've never found it to matter much. Speaking of paint, I finally had the opportunity to use a no-VOC (volatile organic compounds) primer and paint in our dining room to accommodate a change in furniture styles.

I've never had a problem with VOCs, but a family member is sensitive to the paint odor related to them, so rather than delay the work until the next long business trip, we decided to go with water-based Zinsser's Bulls Eye Zero primer and Benjamin Moore's Natura no-VOC brand in New London Burgundy.

I had been wary of the performance of both primer and topcoat, only because I remember that the first generation of low-flow toilets never flushed properly and wasted more water than what they were replacing. Would no-VOC products cover as well as their less environmentally friendly predecessors? Would they live up to their claims to seal tannin and graffiti?

The primer did indeed seal tannin and covered the walls well, especially a bright red under the chair rail. The Natura went on easily, and two coats did the trick. (We used slightly less than a gallon on perhaps 300 square feet.)

Price was a shocker. Zinsser's Zero cost $24. The Natura was $49 a gallon. But it did the job to my satisfaction.


Questions? E-mail Alan J. Heavens at aheavens@phillynews.com or write him at The Inquirer, Box 8263, Philadelphia 19101. Volume prohibits individual replies. He is the author of "Remodeling on the Money" (Kaplan Publishing).

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