Find out how to update your drab old kitchen cabinets by refinishing, refacing or replacing them. Learn the difference between these options and how to decide which route is right for you.
LESLIE: Well, kitchens are one place in the house where most of us spend a lot of time. But if you ever feel like your kitchen cabinets are dated, drab or dull, it might not always be your favorite room.
TOM: Well, the good news is that there are options for getting a new look without breaking the bank. Kitchen cabinets can be replaced, refaced or just refinished. Here to help us sort it all out is This Old House  general contractor, Tom Silva .
TOM SILVA: Thanks. Nice to be here.
TOM: You know, let’s start by talking about refacing versus replacing. What’s the best way to determine whether refacing a cabinet will do or a full-blown replacement of a cabinet is really necessary?
TOM SILVA: Alright. First, let’s just review the difference. Replacing, of course, is just that: when you tear out and start all over again.
TOM SILVA: Replace is when you want to reconfigure the layout or if the existing boxes are just junky; they’re falling apart.
TOM SILVA: Refacing is when you resurface the surface of the cabinets: the part that you see.
TOM SILVA: Alright? As well as the doors, like the doors, the drawer fronts and the hardware.
TOM: So when you reface, you’re basically reattaching material to the old boxes?
TOM SILVA: Right. The structure’s sound so you’re just making it look good.
TOM SILVA: Alright? That can be a lot less expensive and a lot – difference without breaking the bank.
LESLIE: Now, how do you decide if your cabinets are good candidates for a refacing? Because I imagine if they’re not great cabinets, you don’t want to just jump in.
TOM SILVA: Well, no. If the cabinets aren’t good, like I said, you’re going to rip them out. But you want to look at the cabinets. Take the doors, look inside the cabinets, make sure there’s no rot on the floors, make sure the floors are nice and solid, make sure the sides of the cabinets are good and solid. Make sure you have something really good to work with. If they’re falling apart, it’s not worth refacing.
LESLIE: And refacing is not a project you can tackle on your own. I mean a project like that is better left to the pros, right?
TOM SILVA: Well, refacing is – basically, you have to have some skills, you have to have some tools. You have to be able to know how to put things together because cabinetry can be tricky and it’s pretty exacting. So you want to make sure everything lines up. You’ve got to put a drawer front on, you’ve got to make sure it lines up, you’ve got to know how to hang a door, you have to know how to make the door the right size.
TOM: We’re talking to Tom Silva, the general contractor from TV’s This Old House, about whether kitchen cabinets  should be refaced or replaced.
Now, Tom, if we are going to do a refacing project or hire a pro to have it done, what kinds of materials are used for the actual facing itself?
TOM SILVA: Well, there’s all kinds of materials. You can use laminate; basically cover the wood. You can use different types of wood to make your cabinets. You’ve got to think about whether or not you want to stain them or paint them.
TOM SILVA: All of those things have to come into play.
The other thing you have to think about is what kind of doors you want to make. You want raised panel, flat panel, recessed panel, flushed doors, inset doors? All of those things make a difference.
TOM: So a lot of decisions to be made.
Now, I guess replacing is probably the way to go if you do need to change something around, because if you reface, you’re pretty much accepting the layout the way it is, correct?
TOM SILVA: The layout’s not going to change, yep. So you’ve got to – if you are refacing, what you have is what you’re going to get. You’re just going to get a new look.
LESLIE: Alright. So replacing, excellent option if you want to change out the layout or you want to go with a completely different wood or you just want to do something totally different in your kitchen. Refacing, you like where things are; you just want a fresh look and an update on the space.
What about refinishing? New stain, new paint. Is that a good option?
TOM SILVA: Existing cabinet’s in good shape? Why not do something with them like paint them, repaint them or restain them? Refinishing a cabinet  is probably your most cost-effective move, since repainting or re-staining is a great DIY project that delivers good results.
TOM: Great advice. Tom Silva from TV’s This Old House, thanks so much for stopping by The Money Pit.
TOM SILVA: My pleasure.
TOM: And for more great tips just like that from Tom and the entire team, visit ThisOldHouse.com.
LESLIE: And don’t forget you can watch them on This Old House or Ask This Old House on your local PBS station.
TOM: And Ask This Old House and This Old House are both brought to you by The Home Depot. The Home Depot, more saving, more doing.