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Are My Cabinets “Paint Worthy”? Q&A with a Pro

Are my ugly, old kitchen cabinets worth painting?

The answer to that question is most often definitely yes, but exactly how they are painted is key. On one hand there's the refinishing process that has a “straight from the factory” look, giving you the durability, stain resistance and longevity of brand new kitchen cabinets. On the other hand, traditional trim paint, like latex paint, doesn't offer all those benefits over the long haul.

So, how long does cabinet painting with regular latex paint last?

According to manufacturers, cabinet painting with regular trim paint can last anywhere from 5 to 10 years before you need to touch up, basically it is an ongoing maintenance type thing.

How long does cabinet refinishing last?

Well, refinishing can last anywhere from 10 to 30 years, depending on how well you care for and maintain your cabinets, because it is an industrial coating, basically a polyurethane.

What I mean to say is, not just how well you maintain them, but how rough you are on your cabinets. Refinishing will definitely stand up to more abuse than standard house paint.

There are so many terms, what is the difference between refinishing and refacing?

Refacing is an involved process where they basically take a wood or vinyl veneer and put it over your existing base cabinetry. Plus, brand new doors that are prefinished to match that skin replace your old doors…If that makes sense.

Big question-do you think it's better to paint, refinish or reface your kitchen cabinets?

Aside from a completely new set kitchen cabinets, refinishing is definitely the best option. With refinishing you can enhance and increase value, use the doors and drawers you have or have them replaced, as well as modify or retrofit your current situation. There are so many possibilities. The durability, the ability to stand up to cooking grease and hand oils and most importantly resistance to scratching and marring. We like to say, “No drips, no chips”. This is all what you can expect from a factory finish and that's what you get with the actual refinishing process. While on the other hand basic painting can last a fair amount of time, especially with a diligent approach, house paint or trim paint just cannot hold up like a polyurethane industrial coating. Refacing is very expensive and can cover up problems on the base cabinet and have nasty seams and edges.

If you're looking to have your cabinets refinished, what are the products that you need to look for or to ask your painter about?

Well, if you're refinishing then you want to use a really durable finish, that's either a polyurethane based product (we use 2k polyurethane) which is two components mixed together, much like an epoxy floor. We personally do not use them but, there’s also lacquer or solvent based finishes. We try to stick to water based products to avoid the toxicity, smell and the negative environmental impact. Aside from the products, the process is key-there is a gold standard or industry expectation that needs to be followed, like cleaning, sanding, testing for adherence, etc.

So what's the cost of cabinet painting near me? We're in New England.

So for cabinet painting, when they're using trim paint, you're probably looking at anywhere from $2 to $5,000 for a mid-sized kitchen. If you're talking about refinishing you're usually in the $5 to $7,000 range for a mid-sized kitchen in our area. The reason behind that higher cost is two fold in that refinishing is labor intensive and the products are pricey. With extra steps, including spraying in-home cabinet bases, you're making sure that the wood is properly prepared,proper home prep including fresh air replacement, etc. Brushing and rolling with house paint would be more along the lines of a low cost paint job.

How many doors or drawers would you say there are in a mid sized kitchen?

You're probably looking at a 40 piece kitchen, on average 25 doors and 10 drawers.

You have really strong opinions about the difference between painting and refinishing. Can you tell me a little bit about your experience?

Wow-Yes, I do have strong opinions because it is so personal to me. Historically, when we started painting kitchen cabinets, we were brushing and rolling on primer that we could get at our local hardware store and then brushing and rolling on top coats on the doors, drawers and bases. Ultimately we started spraying and that was an awesome step forward. I own a small family business, it is serious work for us. I wanted products that would last so I was always looking for the best products. So, we tried a couple of different off the shelf cabinet paints but in the back of my mind I was always stuck wondering if “is this the best I can do?” Right? “Is this the best possible finish?” and “Am I doing the right thing by these beautiful cabinets by painting them with something that's only going to last five years or 10 years?” Is that morally correct? And so I was always on the search for better products. I joined DIY and professional cabinet paint and refinishing groups across the country, and started reaching out to talented experts who were willing to share their time and knowledge… I came upon these industrial water based products that I can use to actually revive an older $50,000 kitchen and increase the value. Refinishing with an industrial coating that's going to not only make it beautiful but make it last as long as the original factory coating. Honestly, I am forever grateful to the people in these groups.

Jim Yvon is the co-owner of Crane-Yvon Interiors, his finishing company C.Y. Cabinet Painters is based in Western Massachusetts, U.S.A.


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