Flooring First, or Cabinets?

Cabinet installers discuss whether they'd rather set base cabs before or after the tile flooring is laid. October 25, 2006

Should cabinets be installed over ceramic tile, or should they be put directly on the cement floor?

Forum Responses
(Cabinet and Millwork Installation Forum)
From contributor P:
Preferably, neither. My preference in this situation would be to install some type of moisture barrier (poly, roofing felt, etc.) directly on the concrete as a first line of defense against moisture, then set the cabinets on pieces of roofing shingles. Use the shingles as shims to level the cabinet. They won't absorb moisture and will keep the cabinet off the concrete. Tile would then be cut up to the cabinet, virtually locking it in place. Finally, add the toe kick set down on the tile. No shoe molding.

Of course, others will advocate tiling under the cabinet, then installing cabinet on top. That's fine too, except I would still use shingles to set the cabinet on. But why pay for tile under the cabinet you will never see?

From contributor D:
I prefer having the finished floor under the cabinets, but this is a point that everyone has their own way of doing. At the least, you should have tile under the ref, stove and dishwasher locations. I would not put cabinetry on raw cement, though, as moisture will be wicked out of the cement into the cabinet bottoms. As said above, you need some sort of moisture barrier.

From contributor V:
As an installer, it doesn't matter to me, although if they're installing particularly thick tiles or have to level the floor, it could make a difference to the height. Most builders and owners want the tile in first because it means less cutting for the tile guy, less chance of damage to cabinets and future changes don't require changes to the floor tile. In my experience, moisture protection is only an issue in some below-grade applications. Cured concrete above grade won't pose a moisture problem, although a moisture barrier certainly won't hurt.

From contributor E:
I love installing cabinets on a tiled floor! I use leg levelers, which are plastic anyway, and then use a thermoplastic toekick which is scribed to the floor, so you don't have any movement or moisture when completed.

From contributor J:
If cabinets go in first and the tile laid up to them is thick enough, the undercounter appliances may not fit beneath the counter to slide in.

From contributor B:
Thing is, flooring will likely be replaced before the cabinets. Contributor P, great input with shingles! When tile is laid up to the cabinets, it needs to go into the dishwasher space too. The cabinetmaker/installer must know beforehand to insure no surprises when installing appliances. If flooring has already been laid, just make sure the finished countertop height jives with the range, dishwasher, etc.

From contributor R:
Tile it first, then there isn't any guessing about finish floor height, i.e. dishwasher. Also, depending on the cabinet manufacturers' toe-kick design, you may be better off with a caulked kick to tile detail than a grout to kick detail, which will always crack.

The comments below were added after this Forum discussion was archived as a Knowledge Base article (add your comment).

Comment from contributor S:
At some point, the customer will want to change the flooring or the cabinetry. He/she should be able to change one without damaging the other. If you don't leave that option, you will have done the customer a professional disservice. If you are still in the same business ten years from now, your name might be attached to the story that arises over a problem of this sort.

Comment from contributor T:
As a contractor I would never install the ceramic flooring first. We put down Durock subfloor first under everything so there is no height issue. The tile is only 1/4" high. If you put down the tile first it can be damaged when installing the kitchen or if a tile gets damaged later and it is partially under a cabinet it is a pain to change. Also, you may want to change the floor later and would not want to have to cut the tile out around the cabinets. The tile goes under the stove and fridge, about 1/2 tile width under the dishwasher.