Flooring First, or Cabinets?
Q: Can I install a kitchen floor before the kitchen cabinets?
Can I install new kitchen cabinets on top of a floating floor? It seems like it would be easier to lay the flooring first and not have to cut it to fit against the toekick or to cover up the gap with shoe moldings.
—Thomas Bourquin, Spring Valley, Ohio
Tom Silva replies: It might be easier, but it wouldn't be better. A floating wood floor has to be free to expand and contract with seasonal changes in humidity, and it can't do that with heavy cabinets resting on top of it. That's not the only problem: You'd have a tough time cutting out the strips that extend under the cabinets if you ever wanted to replace the flooring; you'll be spending money on a surface you'll never see; and you run the risk of scratching your new floor if you install the cabinets after it's in place. Those are all good reasons to lay a kitchen floor after the cabinets are in.
But if you have to install the flooring first, here's a method that will avoid some of the problems I just described. Put all the base cabinets in place, then mark a line on the subfloor corresponding to the front edge of the toekick. Remove the cabinets and screw a plywood filler piece to the subfloor about ½ inch inside the line, where it will be under the cabinets. This piece should be at least 2 inches wide and about ⅛ inch thicker than the total thickness of the flooring, including any vapor barrier or cushion. Screw a strip of the same thickness to the floor next to the wall. Now install the new flooring, but keep it about a ¼ inch from the first filler strip. Finally, install the cabinets on both strips and attach the toekicks. The flooring will be able to expand and contract beneath the toekick without revealing a gap.