Giovanni Valle is a licensed architect and LEED-accredited professional and is certified by the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB). He is the author and managing editor of various digital publications, including BuilderSpace, Your Own Architect, and Interiors Place.
Hardwood flooring is a timeless and luxurious choice for both look and feel. Whether you’re doing some renovations or a new build, you may wonder if you should bother installing wood floors where it’s likely that no one will see them, such as underneath cabinets.
Hardwood flooring should go underneath cabinets, particularly if you’re building a new home, as there are many benefits to having wall-to-wall finished flooring. Cabinets may not be movable in remodels or for floor replacements, in which case, it’s possible for flooring to stop at the cabinet.
The rest of this article will explain why you should install hardwood flooring underneath your cabinets and the few exceptions for when it might not be a good idea to put flooring underneath cabinets.
Benefits of Hardwood Flooring Installed Underneath Cabinets
If you ask a group of contractors if they should install finished flooring underneath cabinets, you might get a mix of responses. However, most would tell you that it’s a good idea to install flooring from wall to wall.
The other camp may claim that it’s a waste of time and money to install hardwood floors in areas where they will never be seen, but there are reasons for taking this extra step. Let’s take a look at some of those reasons in detail.
Hardwood Floors Last a Very Long Time
Hardwood flooring is built to last, and it will long outlive many of the other components of the home, including the cabinets. That means that eventually, your appliances and cabinets will need to be replaced, and your wood floor will still be in good shape (as long as it’s cared for properly).
The last thing you want as a homeowner is to pull out an appliance or replace a cabinet only to find that the new one is smaller and leaves a section of unfinished floor exposed. It will be much more difficult to properly match the existing hardwood and install a seamless addition to it than it would be to just put the flooring in completely, to begin with.
Your wood flooring will outlast many of the styles and trends that are popular today. So, even if your cabinets last for a very long time, the chances are that someone will (at some point) want to make some changes to the home.
If the wood floors are not installed wall-to-wall, you will run into the same issue unless every new item is the same size as the existing one, which will significantly limit your options.
Even if you just want the flexibility to rearrange your kitchen or bathroom, it’s a good idea to make sure the flooring underneath your cabinets matches the rest of your floor.
Hardwood Flooring Protects From Water Damage
Cabinets are typically installed in rooms where there’s the highest potential for leaks or appliance overflows. Whether it’s a dishwasher that’s leaking from underneath, a refrigerator hose connection, or a plumbing issue behind a wall, it can be disastrous for a wood floor that isn’t sealed correctly.
Wood flooring installed across the entire space and sealed along the walls will be better protected against water than floors that are cut off at the edges of cabinets. Floors that aren’t installed wall-to-wall leave the potential for water to make its way underneath the wood planks and between the floor and subfloor.
This can be catastrophic and extremely costly to repair. In some cases, a leak of this nature might not even be immediately visible, making the potential for extensive water damage even greater.
Installation Is Easier
To avoid installing wood floors underneath cabinets, you’ll have to take additional measurements and make several cuts to fit around edges and corners. In most cases, it’s much easier (and faster) to lay the wood planks across the entire room in a standard square or rectangle shape rather than working around cabinets.
Putting your wood floors underneath the bottom cabinets will also save you from having to spend time and money installing quarter rounds around each cabinet’s base.
It’s also easier to install the cabinets when the entire floor surface is level. Using another material type to make the floor level in the space where the cabinets are installed requires measuring and cutting for that area and the increased cost associated with purchasing the alternative flooring material.
For such a small space, it usually doesn’t make sense to go to such trouble because it won’t end up saving very much money.
Not to mention, installing cabinets directly over the wood flooring will save you from measuring the space underneath and reduces the risk that the items don’t fit correctly.
Today, many appliances and features come built-in to cabinet systems, or they fit the cutout just right without much wiggle room to spare. Installing flooring around these areas can cause significant problems later.
For example, many people who install their flooring after the cabinetry find that they have to tear up the floor when their dishwasher breaks down.
Installing the new floors underneath the cabinets (or before installing cabinets) eliminates the potential for this issue.
When Not To Install Hardwood Floor Underneath Cabinets
Given that it’s usually a good idea to install finished flooring from wall to wall, there are still a few exceptions to this.
You Have Floating Floors: If you install a floating floor, you may not want to put the new flooring underneath cabinets. Floating floors need room to expand and contract, which they do over time and with changes in temperature, humidity, and general wear.
If something very heavy (like cabinets) is placed on top of the flooring, it may not be able to move properly, which can cause damage like bulges or buckling.
The Cabinets Cannot Be Removed: If you’re installing new flooring during a remodel, it means you’ll have to remove the cabinets, lay the flooring, and then reinstall or replace the cabinets. In some cases, it’s extremely difficult (or impossible) to do this safely, or the task is so difficult that it doesn’t make sense to bother with it.
If your cabinets are built-in and can’t be removed, or if they contain electrical work or plumbing components, you may decide not to lay flooring underneath them. In this case, you can run the flooring up to the edge, and it will still look neat and clean. This is especially true if you have the flooring professionally installed, as they will make the transition look seamless.
It’s Too Costly To Install: Sometimes, the expense of removing the cabinetry just to have it reinstalled after the flooring is laid is an added cost that does not make sense or exceeds the project’s budget. In this case, it may be a better idea to skip this process and just run the flooring to the edge of the cabinets.
Many builders and contractors believe that it’s pointless to install flooring in areas that will never be seen. Still, typically it comes down to personal preference and budget.
If budget is the issue, there’s nothing inherently wrong with not installing the new floors underneath cabinets; just remember that if the cabinets are ever changed, it may be an added expense to change the flooring at that point.
Most people choose to install hardwood floor underneath cabinets for three main reasons:
- Wood floors usually last longer than cabinets, meaning someone may want to replace them at some point before installing new floors.
- It’s easier to install hardwood floors in a whole room instead of cutting around cabinets, and you may block access to built-in appliances otherwise.
- Leaks and water overflows can get in between layers of flooring that aren’t sealed up.
However, it comes down to your preference, budget, and your builder’s recommendation.
- Urban Floor: The great flooring debate
- Architectural Digest: How to choose & install hardwood floors: A complete guide
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