Isobel King June 18, 2012
Flatpack kitchen from Strata Kitchens.
Kitchens can be frighteningly expensive to update. Flatpacks can be a great money-saver but only if you get it all exactly right from start to finish.
If you had a flair for meccano, can master a Rubik’s cube or understand the instruction manual for any new gizmo, then you’ve probably got a good shot at installing a flatpack kitchen.
Plunge in blind, and you’ll undoubtedly end up with a kitchen that looks like it’s been caught in a landslide. The secret to success, as always, lies in painstaking preparation, exacting measurements and devotion to detail.
You generally have a choice of two types of flatpack kitchens: those that come in standard sizes (generally available from large hardware stores or retailers like IKEA) and flatpacks with made-to-measure components.
The latter, can be more expensive, but obviously leave more scope for precisely tailoring the kitchen to your needs.
Your flatpack kitchen should arrive with numbered components and pre-drilled holes and screws.
You will get step-by-step assembly instructions for the cabinets and installation instructions for fitting the cabinets into your kitchen.
So if you’ve done your prep work, are handy with a drill, can read a spirit level and have a burly helper, you should be okay.
Draw up a plan
Before you start to get quotes, you’ll need to draw up the measurements of your kitchen plan.
Many suppliers have online tools you can use to create a detailed plan, including where windows, doors, electricals and plumbing are located.
Decide on your appliances first, so you know exactly the dimensions that need to be accommodated. The process then differs depending on which supplier you go with.
Think about lighting and electrical too. Are you moving power points? Are you going to have lighting installed in the cabinets to illuminate benches?
Some require you provide the exact measurements of your kitchen and they supply the cabinets to fit (no pressure). Others will come out to measure up for you once a deposit is taken.
Think about spending a little more on cupboards that have moisture resistance appropriate for the rigours of a kitchen.
Prepare the kitchen
Make sure your old kitchen is stripped out, rough walls are patched and sanded, and that preparatory plumbing and electricals have been done.
You’ll generally need your plumber and electrician for disconnection as well as reconnection, which will entail two separate visits.
If you have stud walls, you’ll need to locate where the studs are so you can screw components into them.
Using a spirit level, tape measure and pencil, mark a horizontal line on the wall where the top of your base cabinets will line up.
Always begin at the highest point after checking your floor level. As a rough guide, the recommended distance between the floor and the top of the benchtop is 900 +/- 20mm, so allow for the thickness of your benchtop.
If you stray from these standard measurements, you can run into problems fitting your appliances.
Generally leave between 600 to 650mm minimum between the top of the work surface and the underside of the overhead cupboards.
Allow a minimum of 650mm between a gas cooktop and rangehood, and 600mm for an electric cooktop. If you have a pantry, take your top measurement from the top of the pantry and line up your overhead cupboards with this.
Never assume your walls and floors are square, take careful measurements and be prepared for making adjustments.
Work from the top down
Clear a large area to work in, with a table top (covered with blanket for protection) or work bench.
Unpack all the components of the module you’re starting with, have all your tools to hand and carefully read the assembly instructions.
You need to have your head around the big picture for it all to make sense. Start with your overhead cabinets first, carefully following the assembly instructions, leaving the doors off.
Take time to make sure all edges are flush. When all your carcasses (the bare bones of the cupboards etc) are assembled, start from the corner of the kitchen and carefully line up your first cabinet with your wall marking. This is where you need your helper.
Some people find it useful to screw a "ledger board" into the wall that the cabinets can rest on while you line them up. Use a spirit level to make sure it’s all square.
Now mark where the screw holes need to go, both in the wall and the back of the cabinet.
When you’re doubly sure it’s lined up and plumb, screw the cabinet securely to the wall. Check each cabinet as you install it to make sure it's plumb.
Fit the remaining units in the same way. Secure cabinets to each other as well as the wall.
Cabinets can be very heavy when filled, it's essential that you take this into account when preparing the kitchen and during the installation.
Walls must be structurally sound and of a material that will successfully hold the fittings used to secure cupboards. They must also be sturdy enough to then take the weight of filled cabinets.
Consult an expert on the suitability of your walls and how to reinforce them if necessary.
Installing the base cabinets
Now assemble your base cabinets in the same way, attaching the adjustable leg supports. Start from the corner again.
Use a long spirit level to very carefully and precisely level the corner or end cabinet horizontally and vertically, using packing if necessary, and adjusting the legs to get it level with your horizontal wall mark.
In corners you may need a filler strip to allow clearance for doors and drawers.
Spend as much time as you need to get these first cabinets exactly right, as a wonky start will throw out the entire run, doors wont hang properly, you’ll have trouble fitting the appliances and your kitchen will look like a tragic DIY project.
When all the base cabinets are in place, and level, plumb and flush with each other, screw them together so there are no gaps between. As the cabinets rest on the floor, you only need to secure them to the wall to hold them in position.
Benchtops, doors and appliances
Since you require the services of your plumber and electrician to connect your appliances, you may want to wait until they’re around to fit your appliances.
You’ll need to make the necessary holes around components like your sink unit to allow for plumbing connections.
It’s recommended to install your base cabinets first before ordering your benchtops, to ensure they exactly fit.
Finally, clip on your kickboards (you may need to trim some of these to fit), and fit your drawers and doors, making the necessary adjustments to have them sitting perfectly straight.
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