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7 questions you need to ask your builder about cabinetry

Unlike a car, once your kitchen is installed you can’t take it back if you don’t like it. There is no service centre to give it a tune up. The builder or renovator has built to spec – your spec – so there’s no point crying over spilled melamine if something goes wrong.

What you can do, however, is educate yourself, and ensure you ask the right questions before work starts. Do you know what melamine is? Can you tell if your carcass, (and we’re not talking chicken here) is HMR? Do you even know what HMR stands for? *For those who don’t know, HMR means ‘highly moisture resistant’ and it means if it gets wet, it won’t swell up like a phone book in the rain.

Here are seven questions you should ask to ensure a quality end result:

1. Is the system custom-designed or modular?

This a great first question to kick the discussion off with. Both answers have their pros and cons. To explain it though, some high volume cheaper cabinet makers use a modular system to keep their costs down. They have a tight library of shapes and sizes for cabinets, eg, 600mm wide, 700, and 900. You cannot get 750, or 741 wide. The advantage in this is that it cuts down the cost. The disadvantage is that you may end up with cabinets that do not fit your space. It’s quite common to end up with an unsightly filler at one end that bridges the gap between the cabinets and the wall. On the other hand, custom cabinetry is purpose designed to fit your space with all the cabinets being equal width and filling the space from one wall to another. Although they cost a little more, there is no wasted space and they look like they are made to measure.

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2. Is the carcass HMR board?

We’ve touched on this briefly already; however it is an important facet of the cabinet making and installation process. As we’ve stated, HMR refers to highly moisture resistant particleboard (or chipboard). It is used in areas of high humidity or where occasional wetting may occur and is designed for interiors such as kitchen cupboards where moisture may be. Kitchen cabinetry must be HMR to meet Australian standards, so be sure to confirm this so that your cabinetry will last.

3. Will the cabinets be supplied flat-packed, or made up in the factory?

Again there are pros and cons for this. Flat-pack cabinetry is assembled on site. It’s good if you have difficult access, such as in a multi storey apartment block. Flat pack cabinetry does take extra time to assemble, so be prepared for your home to be invaded for a few extra days while the installer is making the cabinets up. The other disadvantage is that it relies on the skill of the installer, rather than going through the process at the factory where the relevant quality assessment and checks will take place before it rolls out the door on the truck. Beware of imported flat pack too – not only does it have the potential to avoid our HMR standards, but you are also not supporting the local economy.

4. Which drawer mechanisms are you using?

What you want is a soft closing door and drawer mechanism. This prevents drawers from slamming when they’re closed. Ask the builder what type of mechanism he or she is installing, and stick to well-known brands like Blum, Hettich and Hafele. They all come with lifetime warranties. Some other manufacturers are copying them, but our opinion is that they are nowhere near as good. Also, although box sided drawers have been popular in the past to keep costs down, metal sided drawers are easier to adjust, and have more room in them, so be sure to check this. There are varying levels of soft close drawer runners too, so be sure to ask which drawer mechanism has been quoted for, and test out an example in their showroom.

5. Can we see examples of your previous work?

This is one of the most important questions you can ask. Always source references, qualifications, registration and ask to see your builder’s previous work. You need to know that your builder is competent. If possible, go around and see a previous kitchen that has been installed and look to see if you would be happy with the finish achieved. Remember, the finished product is only as good as the installer who actually fits the cabinetry.

6. Qualified Designer or Smarmy Sales Person?

More recently the kitchen industry has received a bad name for itself with high pressure sales people who do not leave your home until you have signed on the dotted line. Sign tonight and we will throw in an appliance pack worth $X. Now we all know nothing is really ever for free. So don’t fall for it. Many of these “designers” are really just glorified sales people who have done a quick training course and work with a bunch of modular cabinets to fit their kitchen to your budget. Your cheap kitchen will end up being just that – a kitchen that may not suit the needs of you and your family.

It’s a significant investment, so ask about your designer’s experience, and make sure the person you are working with listens to your needs and then designs accordingly. Remember, a good designer will be able to work within your budget as well as meeting your design needs.

7. Is the cabinetry finish best suited to my needs?

There are so many finishes out there for kitchen cabinets ranging from melamine right through to high end wood veneers. More expensive does not necessarily mean better for your purpose. For example, laminates are quite cheap, but also hard wearing and great for families where the kids are riding scooters into the cabinets or the dog is scratching it. Wood veneer looks fantastic but needs to be cared for.

This is just a starter pack of questions to get you thinking about your renovation. Employing a reputable company with qualified designers and tradespeople will ensure you get the best result. The team at smarterKITCHENS+ would be happy to answer any further questions you may have on (03) 8681 5603

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