Pricing Cabinet Installation Work

Pros discuss their differing approaches to charging for kitchen and bath cabinet installation work. January 24, 2005

I am currently doing installs for a small, new cabinet shop. What is a reasonable time to complete a kitchen cabinet install? This is new construction, and includes everything... finished kicks, post-formed countertops, and crown. The allowance when scribing countertops and cabinets with finished end panels is 1/16". Usually the cabinets are out of square, causing door alignment problems. I am required to help the shipper unload the cabinets and take them in the house, unwrap them, and install them. The doors are already mounted, but the handles/pulls have to be marked, drilled and installed. There is usually at least one bathroom to do as well, including the top. I don't do any plumbing, and caulk is not allowed. I do quality installs. No callbacks due to my work. Is it reasonable to expect me to be in and out in one 8 hour day? By the way, I get no helper.

From contributor K:
I usually allow 2-3 days for an average size kitchen install in new houses. I am also a one-pony show. I have done several in one day, if everything goes in perfect with little scribing and adjusting. That's rare, though. I build the cabinets I install, so I can make sure things are adjusted before they leave my shop. Installing other people's work can be difficult and sometimes risky. Doing it right the first time is important. You also will get faster with practice.

From contributor R:
I've taken as little as 6 hours, including hanging doors and drawer fronts, and as long as 3 weeks. Depends on the level of workmanship, style of cabinets, size of kitchen, amount of detail, etc. Obviously, you're in the classic installer dilemma - they want it perfect, quick, cheap, and they want you to cover their mistakes. Work at a decent pace, do a good job, keep track of your hours, figure out a good rate of pay, and if they don't want to pay, move on. Contributor K's numbers seem about right.

From contributor T:
I am not a pro installer, but I have been through many, and I would say that 8 hours is not a realistic number. Maybe with experience and everything perfect and no built ins, this could be possible, but that is asking for a lot and with no helper, it is just too difficult. You are not getting a fair deal.

From the original questioner:

I am in Atlantic Canada. I was hired last July for $18/hour, to be looked at in 2-3 months. I had asked for $20. On Friday, the boss tells me install times are too long, and I can either take $15/hour or wave bye. This, after me working up to 70 hour weeks to stay on schedule, because someone measured wrong somewhere. I had big plans of growing with the (new) company and truly gave 110%. Just can't help feeling taken advantage of.

From contributor M:
I currently employ 14 full time installers. I have different skill levels I call A, B and C installers. All of them are capable of installing a 2500 ft home with 2 baths in an 8 to 10 hour day. Average kitchen would have 35 lineal ft of countertop, crowned uppers with staggered look. We manufacture frameless European, which are more difficult to hang. We work hard to build cabinets as perfect as possible in an effort to make the install as quick as possible, but one will never remove all the barriers. When an install takes longer, it simply takes longer.

Average pay rate here is $18.00 hour, and we supply larger tools, fuel expense, etc. Even the most detailed jobs become quicker with repetition. This guy needs to give you more time if you in fact are giving it your all. Team members of that caliber are very hard to come by.

From contributor A:
We are right now working on a pricing schedule for kitchen and bath installs for subs. There are too many variables and sizes of kitchens to figure out how long it should take. Paying by the hour is not fair for us or for the subs. We are using the formula of $50 per cabinet + $30 for sink base cutouts, $3 per ft of moulding + $10 per inside/outside corner, $3 per knob, $5 per handle, $25 per scribe. We don't do tops - they are done by others.

Piece work is the way to go. I don't care how long it takes the installer. I pay the same, and if he finishes faster than thought, then more money in his pocket. After a few installs, we will tweak the numbers if necessary so everyone is happy. Depending on your area per piece, amount will vary, but you get the idea. Finding a happy medium would be in both your best interests. This is for fully insured subs with all their own tools, including nails. We deliver, they help unload to room.

From the original questioner:
Wow... any of you hiring!? I pay for my own gas/vehicle. I use mostly all my own tools, except mitersaw and tablesaw. Spray lacquer is supplied, and spray contact cement is supplied. I often have to edgeband toekicks on site. I also often have to lacquer pieces on site because the sprayer forgot a piece or two.

To drop my wages 17% will hurt, bad. Just last week I paid out $120 in fuel. Not sure what the solution is.

From contributor J:
You need to find a shop that will pay by the piece... Installing hourly is a chump deal for you, not the shop.

From contributor R:
I get tired of hearing about guys that can install a whole house full of cabinets including 35 ft of counter for under 200 bucks! By themselves! No wonder I got out of installing. Just when you thought no one can possibly work harder for less, you're proven wrong.

From contributor M:
It really all boils down to one thing - what will the market you are in bear? We are in one of the fastest growing areas of the country and an installer looking for $50.00 a box will never even get an interview, not because I wouldn't pay it, but because the developers that came here from up north will not pay it. It all rolls downhill - the developers/builders set the scale. If you want more for your work, you need to locate yourself in an area that will pay what you want.

I interviewed a man this afternoon who just moved here from New Jersey because of not enough work in his area. He was looking to make $80,000 to $100,000 a year working 40 hour weeks. He has been here 6 months and he is still looking. He is learning that the market will not bear his cost, and he admitted to me that our hourly guys are doing as good as and sometimes better than he could or would.

From contributor J:
Who does better work (hourly or sub) is not the issue here. Getting the most money for your skills is the issue. Installing cabinets hourly to learn the trade is fine, but sooner or later you'll need to realize that you're leaving a lot of money on the table. I'm in Palm Beach County and $30 a box is common. Heck, I would even install for 15/bx before I'd do anything hourly.

From contributor N:
I installed Euro for ten years before I opened my own shop here in Greece. The going rate for installation is 5% of the cost of the kitchen. We put in the gas and tools. They supply all parts and screws and caulks, etc. It came to the point that everyone was tired of "by the box", "by the meter" plus this plus that, and extras and headaches. 5% is the formula that's been worked out here.

From contributor B:
I think you've got the right idea with 5% of job price.

Recently I have been looking at our install times, and 1 installer with an average helper can easily and consistently install about $8,000 worth of cabinets per day. We do take extra time in the office and the shop to make sure the job ships right the first time. That works out to $400 a day or $2,000 / week. If he pays a helper $400 a week, that leaves $1,600 for the installer. That's about $80,000 a year, assuming he is good enough to stay busy.

From contributor A:
Here's the only problem I see with the percentage method. Say you have two kitchens with exactly the same layout and trim details. One is 1/2 overlay frame style, clear maple, simple doors and no rollouts or goodies inside. The other is beaded inset with multi-step finish and all the bells and whistles inside. It's going to take the same exact amount of time and effort to install either one, but the selling price is dramatically different.

Over a long time it would all even out, but if I was the installer and saw how much the difference was that I was getting paid to install, I would be a little upset.

From contributor D:
Be careful with the percentage pay. I get paid that way and sometimes I work for nothing, especially at the end of the month when the salesman will lower his own commission just to get a sale.

From contributor J:
By the hour... percentage... per lineal foot (yes, I've heard of that one too). Why do shops have to reinvent the wheel? When it comes down to it, paying and getting paid per box is simple math and keeps everyone honest. Hourly installers are always looking for more money (while subs are always looking for more work). Percentage? Who am I supposed to believe with that number? Now I'm hearing lineal footage pricing down here... go figure.

From contributor R:
To make a real 80,000 a year, you would have to bill out around 50/hr if you factor lost time expenses, etc. At 5% of cabinet cost for installation, that works out to around 1.7 million dollars of cabinets by yourself! Throw in a helper and you would need to be around 2 million!

From contributor S:
Why is it so difficult? Car dealers quote repair out of a book, doctors fix ailments by insurance averages, etc. Bottom line, in my opinion, is the industry does not track cost. If everyone tracked things better, it would be likely the averages would be higher. Until that happens across the board, the smart shop (that actually tracks cost) loses bids to bad bids, etc.

I've been working on this as well and at the end of the day, it appears to be more of an issue of working with good people, communication, documentation, accurate planning, etc.

It is a tricky combination. If you do production work, it would likely be easier to job cost. With custom work there are so many variables, customers, contractors, schedules, etc. to optimize.

My typical situation is to quote the cabinets and outsource the installation. Since no one likes to waste time on free estimates, etc., I plug an install number around 10-12% and it appears to work. I would like to have my installation contractor quote the work, but that has variables as well.

In other businesses, clients see value in "turn key" solutions that put all the responsibility with one party. That party should be compensated for that increased level of risk, coordination, etc.

Here's what puzzles me. My installation contractor fills his schedule with interior finish work, decks in springtime, room additions, etc. Therefore, he is inherently inefficient at some trades. I tell him that I can book his time on my cabinet projects from time to time, pay him $50/hr and I take the risk. He accommodates me from time to time, but prefers to do projects that he can get his profit and overhead from. I know some of you installers are thinking $50/hr is plenty, but in CA the average Union carpenter is probably around $25/hr and loaded with normal burden around $48/hr if not more. That carpenter typically takes breaks, works at a pace and has limited tools. My guy has a new truck, lots of tools, and is able to solve problems in the field and talk to customers. This all has value. The big question is what is the value? If profit is normally 10% and overhead 15%, that would equate to $63.25/hr. I might try that with him and see if it works.

Sometimes, I would think rarely, my installation contractor bids jobs like decks and makes $100/hr for three weeks. He would likely not factor in the time it takes to draw the deck, see the customer on the weekend or at night, etc. He forgets about the ones he doesn't get, the time wasted on getting 1 out of 5 bids.

Everyone deserves to be paid fairly for great work and this is always an interesting area of discussion. There is a book called "Means Cost Guide" that takes industry averages and gives a linear foot price that professional estimators use, to get a feel for the going rate. According to Cabinet Making Magazine's annual price survey, even the price of specified cabinets are dramatically different. Until everyone learns to use a computer, estimates professionally and does accurate job costing, it will remain the wild, wild West of bidding and getting work for most.

I always thought it was interesting that 9 out of 10 most wanted were last seen working in construction.:)

From contributor T:
Don't let anybody kid you. Your skills are in demand around the country. Make a deal with someone else. 70 hour weeks are ridiculous.

From contributor N:
It basically boils down to mutual understanding between the installer and the showroom. Or the showroom and the installer. Hey, whatever works. I've done it by the meter, by the box, but the most money I made in installs was percentage. Some lesser expensive models might be more difficult installs than the ones with the bells and whistles, so it does average out. I installed with a percentage for six years. This company had several installers, and the only complaint between us was who was getting the high end jobs and who was getting the middle end ones. We were all making good money.

From contributor N:
I'd like to add something. In regard to the 80,000 a year, what's wrong with making 60 and taking a month off? It's all a matter of perspective. We don't make the money here that you guys make, and high end is in the 20,000 range and doing business here is like a Bagdhad bazaar most of the time, but then again I'm not shoveling my car out of snow at 5 am like I used to do back in Boston. I look at the month I'm going to take my family to Corfu or Samothraki or any of the other beautiful islands where we go every summer and I say, "I'll take Greece any day."

From contributor B:
What kind of cabinets, particularly for the high end market, are they doing in Greece, and Europe as a whole? Is it all frameless, or face frame? Beaded inset being done? What kind of drawer guides are you guys using - side mount or undermount, or is it metabox and tandembox? Drawer construction - what materials do you use, and do the customers go crazy for dovetail construction?

From contributor N:
The majority of small shops use glue and screw on all box construction. The high production shops use dowels. All drawers are side mount here. Blum is tops. Mostly white melamine. Lots of built in fridges, ranges, and dishwashers. The Italian styles are big here, but like I said before, this is the Med. Lots of nice designs for range hoods. Very seldom do you see the moulding to the ceiling. We usually end up at 225 or 235cm depending on the length of the wall cabs. Then moulding. No one does face frame, except some of the old timers. Dovetails for those who pay for them. Most other furniture construction is MDF veneer. Greece imports 90 percent of timber, so that drives the costs up. Basically, what's posted on these forums is the way it is.

From contributor M:
All this is good stuff, but it still boils down to one thing and one thing only - what the market in your area will bear. Second to Arizona, we are the fastest growing state in the union. Installers are a dime a dozen. Developers know this and simply will not pay the numbers people are posting here. There are really few people left with skills worth that type of money for hanging cabinets. Everyone likes to think they are worth those figures - it's the American way - but it's not reality. I hung cabinets from 1974 until 1996 and I know how hard it really is. There is a skill level to it, but I think there are some egos at work here. Everyone and his brother is in the cabinet business these days, and Home Depot will teach anybody "how to do it yourself" in one weekend.

Just a few months ago the latest pay scale averages for all types of careers was released by the IRS. Airline pilots= $90,000 a year, doctor= $110,000 a year, manufacturing manager=$45,000 a year. Less than 2% of the top CFO's and CEO's in the country bring home more than $150,000 a year. The average working American brings home a whopping $40,000 a year. Hey, you could go to ITT tech, get into the medical field and knock down a serious $35,000 a year. Better yet, become a law enforcement officer in your local sheriff department, and you could be seen on COPS making a national average of $28,000 a year. With those numbers, who can afford to pay a cabinet installer with no special skills and a set of those yellow cordless tools from Home Depot $80,000 a year?

From contributor J:
Skilled labor is in demand and always will be. Steer clear of cabinet shops that tell you installers are a dime a dozen. Cabinet shops are a dime a dozen, as well.

From contributor B:
The answer to the original question is simple, really: piecework - per foot, per cabinet, per job, whatever you want. If you can install twice as much product per day as the average handyman or so-called "installer" does, then you can make two times the money. If the average handyman makes $15 hr, that is $30,000 a year. 2 times 30,000 is 60,000. It costs the same to the employer and customer - and better for them, the costs are known up front. And it is really not that hard to do 3 times the average handyman's output, if you know how to work smart and efficiently - it is not about working harder. I think very few guys really pay much attention to being super efficient nowadays, but they might do well to learn.

From contributor N:
I agree. Efficiency is the key to install times. The more efficient an installer is, the faster he's done, out of there, and on to the next job. That's how he's going to make more money.

I don't know what kind of numbers are realistic in the States since it's been 15 years since I moved here, but I'll assume a realistic number for an efficient installer is 1000 bucks a week. That's 48 grand a year... plus some extras here and there, which everyone has - say 10 or 15 grand. So maybe between 50 and 60 grand is realistic for an efficient person. There are guys on their own making more than that, I'm sure. How else are they driving new trucks and having all those little toys, paying mortgages and raising families? The guys that are good make the money. We make half the money you guys make. I'm building a 300sq meter new home and driving a new Honda HRV on weekends. So I must be doing something right in this part of the world.

From contributor P:
Like everyone else, we've seen lean times and we've seen fat times, but no matter what time it is, you should insist on getting paid whatever you define as appropriate, be that $25k per year or $150k per year. But please, stop giving it all away! No one benefits from it; not you, your family, your peers, your employees, and believe it or not... your customers. Every time you devalue your services by giving discounts or more work for the same or less pay, you are giving your working capital away, and you will be dramatically and negatively affected by this, as you are going to have to make it up somewhere. Most likely, you will have to take it out of your family's pocket, as suppliers need to be paid, employees need to be paid, the government needs to be paid, etc.

We went through so much of this ridiculousness in the past - the disappointments and frustrations, the bills not getting paid, etc. - that one day we decided that was enough. Either we were going to get paid what we deserved as professionals, or it was time to face the reality that maybe we didn't belong in business (which is a hard pill to swallow), and close up shop until we did.

Keep it simple - start off with what you want to take home per year and work backwards from there, creating a roadmap from your destination to origination. This will dramatically assist you in defining whether or not you have realistic expectations. Many posts on many subjects in this forum state how important it is to know your costs, and this is true, but do not forget to include what you want to make as compensation as part of your costs. It is often overlooked, or left on the back burner, while the business is being built. It is much easier to build a business when you are getting paid for all the hard work and effort.

It is now very easy for me to look a potential customer in the eye and tell them point blank, "I'm sorry, but based upon what you want and what you are willing to invest, I'm disappointed to say that I don't think we have a match here.". Then say nothing. 40-50% of these people will either call you back to do the project or bring you back to the table to find out how they can work with you, as they will perceive that you are a professional and they are less likely to let someone like that leave.

From contributor T:
All of the really good installers that I know are in such demand that their side jobs add up to quite a bit of money. Even though they will not let this interfere with their big customers, they do a healthy business on the side and I know for a fact that they are not hocked up. These guys make some serious money. That is why I tell people who want to get into cabinet making to consider installing instead. I would do it but that is really not my thing. I'm thankful that I know competent installers and I don't mind paying because they are the last person to see the customer and I want the installer to leave a good impression.

I really feel for what contributor P has to say, but we have gotten into this cycle of "I can do it cheaper" and it is dragging us all down. I believe this is a result of the slow economy and people are just desperate to get work, any work. There used to be enough work for everyone and we rarely stepped on anyone else's toes, but things have changed and the consumer is not any better educated, so we are going to suffer. All I can do in this situation is concentrate on my standards and use my skill to beat them to the punch. I refuse to bring down my personal standards. I will do something else before I do that to my trade. I wish others were like that. But you must sleep in the bed that you made and I sleep very well and I can spend my money easily because I know how I got it.

From contributor O:
Since I changed my approach and started demanding the price for my work that I deserve, my income has grown and my customer base has improved (not necessarily grown). I now have more customers that value me for the quality of work we do and fewer bargain shoppers (which are a very unstable customer base, as they will be gone as soon as they find a cheaper dude to abuse).

From contributor G:
I live in Los Angeles. I have been installing cabinets and millwork for 15 years, and everyone I talk to desperately needs people like me. Contributor M may be telling the truth about his business and what he pays his installers, but he had better hope none of them read this forum. Day laborers on the street corner cost $10/hour. If $18/hour is the top of the pay scale at your shop and you get quality work out of these guys, I am truly surprised. Your shop couldn't be located in Southern California.

From contributor M:
As I stated earlier, it all comes down to what the market will bear in your area. In Southern Cal people may pay hundreds of thousands for a home that, if built elsewhere, would only bring one hundred thousand. I have a builder that builds only 5 models. In one county he gets $120,000 for a home, and for the very same home only two counties away, he easily gets $300,000!

I have received 7 e-mails since the start of this thread from installers interested in coming to this area to work because they can not make our kind of money where they are currently located. One from the Miami, FL area, 3 from the New York/New Jersey area, two from Colorado (brothers) and one from Arizona. A large part of our labor force is from south of the border. We are second to California for this honor. They are the very reason pay rates stay lower in the area - they can do quality work when trained and are more than willing to do so.

From contributor B:
In my little slice of heaven (North and South Carolina), I have successfully used a technique that might be of interest. I spend a lot of time pre-qualifying my new hires, as the labor force here is really a mix. The people I do hire are the cream of the crop. Absolutely nobody gets in the door unless they are the caliber we need. They are willing to learn, have good skills, and most important to us, they have good work and personal ethics.

Bottom line: these troops do not care about per square foot/per box/per lineal foot. What they really want is a decent wage (+-$18/hr). These guys have families to raise - the concept of piece-work/big money takes a back-seat to stability. The upside for the company is that we get excellent men without the hassle of constantly adjusting pay.

Spend a couple of weekends going to the races/backyard barbeque/fishing with these guys, and it's real clear: they want a decent living, they will work hard to get it, and want no headaches about the pay schedule.

From contributor B:
The original questioner's worth (nothing personal) is relative to geography, and supply and demand.

We don't build many houses in my area (Asheville, NC) and there are a lot of qualified trim carpenters and installers in the area. Hence the $18 per hour (tops).

I came from Phoenix, a city that generates 27,000 housing starts per year, almost all tract homes and apartments. Anybody that is even remotely competent can install cabinets in a housing tract that has, say, 1,500 identical units. This is usually Hispanic help, as was noted elsewhere, and it sure isn't $18 per hour - more like $12.

I agree - go to LA, Baltimore/DC, Boston, etc, and you may get big bucks. The term "worth" is dependant on a lot more factors than skill level. I'm sure the original questioner is an excellent craftsman, but like everyone else, he has to determine the tradeoff between geography and money.

From contributor J:
You will always do better as a sub-contractor, no matter where you are.

From contributor B:
If there was a large difference between the income of subs and hourly workers, it would quickly adjust itself: either by the hourly guys going independent, or vice-versa. Not too likely that the independent guys are going to make a lot more money than the hourly guys.

The shop owner writes the payroll checks; it's not going to escape his notice that, given his going piece rate, the subs are making much more money than his hourly guys, given the same installs. Subs don't add value to an install, therefore, they don't add to the bottom line. Why would a shop owner pay a sub more than an hourly guy? Equalization occurs again.

Reality check: general contractors/cabinet shops/trim contractors in the United States don't generally pay $40-$50 per hour for installers, at least, not for long. Installing cabinets is pleasant indoor work, doesn't require extensive skill levels, and pays around $16 to $26 per hour, depending on locale.

You can double or triple your money by doing full packages, i.e. do the whole kitchen, with the plumbing, Corian or granite tops, appliances, wallpaper, etc. Customers love the package deal, but it takes a lot of skill. You need subs you can count on, but now, you're talking real money. Any good craftsman can lay tile, install cabinets, put up wallpaper, tear out walls and re-frame... as individual subs. The real cash is in your capacity to pull all of these together into a finished product. Now that $50/hr is realistic.

From contributor P:
I understand where you are coming from, but believe me when I tell you there are plenty of subs who make a lot more than hourly. But they are the movers and shakers... get in, do it right the first time, get out.

I have people who work with me, and I also use subs. Where successful subs excel at making more money is their focus on completing the assigned task at hand in the shortest time possible (not the slackers). They are professionals (as are our hourly guys), and are compensated as such. For example, let's say they install 30lf of cabs at $45lf, which works out to $1350. If they are smart, they use three guys, hustle and finish in one day, and they make far and away more than three of the hourly guys, getting paid at your maximum of $26/hour, which works out to be about 54% more for the sub, and I would contend that is a lot. Even adding in business expenses, they will still be making approximately 40% more than the hourly guys. The other side is this: if the subs are not movers and shakers and it takes them three days, they are not making a lot of money, but it does not affect our bottom line, as they are a fixed cost. The hourly guys on the same three-day overrun would then cost the company 28% more for the same period.

It's been my experience that after sifting through the field, the hourly guys worth their salt are ones who have been in business before, but left it for security and a steady paycheck. There is no doubt that independents make more or they would not be doing it.

"Subs don't add value to an install, therefore, they don't add to the bottom line."

I couldn't disagree more with this statement. It's all in the presentation. As far as adding to the bottom line, they are a fixed-cost solution, and this will more times than not directly affect the bottom line in a positive manner. There was a recent thread regarding employee mistakes, and the consensus seemed to be that the company usually pays for it in the end. A sub's mistakes are his own, and they are not compensated for, as they are fixed cost solution to a project.

"Why would a shop owner pay a sub more than an hourly guy?"

The simple answer to this is turn-around. Also, a sub does not come with the associated costs (taxes, insurance, etc.) that an hourly guy does, and you can use them when you need them. Hourly guys are hourly and they get paid whether it is slow or not. So if you are busy all the time, this is not a concern, but if you have slow periods, this will then become an increased cost to your yearly reports.

What it comes down to is this…Hourly wages = security and steady paycheck. Sub-contracting = risk accompanied by increased opportunity for the movers and shakers.

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

Comment from contributor Y:
A good installer is a ticketed tradesman or has 5+ years of experience and should charge like any other trade ($35 p/h+). A sub is running a business just like the business he is working for. If you are a kitchen installer working as a sub, add up the expenses and the time not working through the year, and compare that to what you are making if you are only being paid hourly (especially if it is only $18 per hour). If you gross $80,000 p/a, you are probably only taking home $55-60 if you are smart and are paying all the needed insurance, tax, etc.

Good installers will help you, and you can make a good installer into a bad one by not paying enough and pushing to finish too quickly.

And as for finishing a kitchen and bathroom in one day... well, it is possible, but who cares? What kind of job got done? Is the customer happy? I ran a millwork shop doing custom kitchens for 10 years and I would happily pay my installers an extra day to have the job done so well (all caulking done, doors adjusted, cleaned, crown joints filled if needed, all caps on screws, pencil marks removed, touch up nail holes... the list goes on) that the customer just raved about it to everyone. The cost of that extra day is very cheap compared to what it gets me. That is the cheapest advertising you will ever do!

I work as a kitchen installer now (I sold my shop) because I always said the installers were the ones making the good money. Here in western Canada we make good money ($80,000 - $100,000) but we work hard and have to put up with a lot from other trades doing sloppy work. I think the lifespan of an installer is quite short due to stress, and the fact that we are usually in a no-win situation and it is frustrating. The trick is to get on with one or two good shops or designers in the high-end and build a relationship. Sometimes you will work hourly, sometimes %, and sometimes it will be piece work.

Comment from contributor E:
In Australia, installers are a dime a dozen as well, but it doesn't take long to work out who the cowboys are and who the good tradespeople are. Our hourly rate differs at different levels. If you work on a commerical site you get about $27 Aus an hour, which isn't too bad. If you work in domestic, you get about $18 Aus an hour, which isn't that good. A sub can only charge about $35 Aus an hour. You are always chasing money. I'm sure it's the same in the USA. Good tradesmen are hard to find, and once a boss gets one, he looks after him.

Comment from contributor X:
As president of a California general contracting company, pricing and competitive bidding can be a truly frustrating experience. What I have done in the past, bearing in mind the cabinet installation process, is to call around to several well-respected cabinet companies that offer installation or have an installers list of who they recommend. Then take the average hourly quotes from five well-respected companies, consider the cost of operation (insurance, workers comp, liability, etc.) in your area, factor in a percentage buffer for level of complication due to elaborate cabinet designs and come up with an hourly wage. Take that hourly as your bid value for each working installer and then add normal profit and expense values after calculating the total project cost, tax included. My top carpenters are billed at $85.00/hr and the lowest are billed out at $44.50/hr. My guys are highly skilled and have all graduated a 4 year trade school as journeyman level carpenters.

Comment from contributor U:
I'm a professional remodeling kitchen/bath installer.

The going rate in the mid-Atlantic region for cabinets is $50/box or piece (fillers included), including knobs, scribe, kick and everything else needed. Everything is on a piece-work basis, and you must carry your own license and insurance, and provide all tools and miscellaneous supplies.

If (and only if) you are fully skilled in the trade and have all your tools, you should only work by the piece. If your current employer can't deal with it, you need to start looking in the newspaper job listings.

I am a licensed Class A Builder/Contractor, and I do everything in the kitchen remodel from demo to touch up. I literally take each job from start to finish. This typically includes flooring, tile, wallwork, painting, plumbing and electric. In the end, I always make more from the "other" stuff than from the cabinets.

I gross over $200K every year, with a couple of weeks off here and there. My helper makes about $40K a year, but he is well worth it. Together, we are a well-oiled machine and we make our masters a lot of cash.

My advice would be to become very good at what you do, by finding the most efficient method for each task, and then repeat it every time. That way, you maintain quality and minimize mistakes. Once you reach a certain level of skill, you can ask full professional rates. You have to make your employer cash so he can pass some of it back to you.

How long should a new construction kitchen take? Alone, it generally takes me a day and a half for a large, modern kitchen in a $500K home, with two bathroom vanities included. But some have taken me as long as a week, for very intricate work.

Comment from contributor C:
Hour and box rates are out the window. I charge a day rate of $280 for myself and $560 if I need help, based on $35 an hour. If more than a few miles away, I add $50 for gas. It costs me $35 to fill the tank. Then I bounce it off what the local area, i.e. home centers, would charge and get a "what the market will bare" rate.

Comment from contributor I:
I am a sub/installer from the metro Colorado area, I agree with contributor U. I get 30-50 a box and do one every day or two. I have a helper I pay 20 an hour. I do high-end cabinetry, but clear 2500 a week myself just doing installs. It's all in how hard you work and how organized you are. I have only two years experience, as well.

Comment from contributor H:
I am a cabinet installer for both new construction and remodels in Minnesota as well as Wisconsin. A typical new home, 300 - 500k, full kitchen, 2 baths will take 1 to 1-1/2 days. No countertops included. I price each job out separately by the peice. New construction $15.00 per box, add for moldings, panels, hardware, etc. Remodels basically the same for the bells and whistles, but $25 per box. I would never consider working at an hourly wage, and do not suggest it for anybody. I believe it's better to concentrate on the job at hand, rather than watch the clock. I will work 3-4 days a week without a helper and make $2000 - $2500 a week. I know very skilled tradesmen who get caught up in the hourly wage, and strongly urge them to make the change. In my opinion, those that will only pay hourly know that they are getting a deal, and those who work hourly, unless in training, make it more difficult for the professionals who should be getting the higher buck.

Comment from contributor Q:
I am a cabinet installer in the Midwest. I have been a trim carpenter and cabinet installer for more than 12 years. I can easily install 35 feet of cabinets in an 8 hour day with crown. I expect the cabinets to come complete - doors and drawers and any other stuff inside the cabinets already installed. I put on the mouldings, toe kicks, knobs and hardware, adjust doors, fill nail holes (crown corners shouldn't need any putty - that's a sign of poor carpentry). I usually come back and install laminate tops. Solid surface tops are usually installed by the supplier.

I have all of my own tools and truck and I deal with customers and contractors. I have insurance and licensing and I don't use a helper. I expect to make about $600 for the average sized job. I only do work for quality cabinet shops, and they know that when the cabinets go out of the shop, everything is taken care of. I wouldn't install an unfinished cabinet or piece of a cabinet unless that was specified.

Toe kicks are usually 1/4" faced plywood, so I don't know why anyone would have to do edge banding. I use a top of the line 12" combo-miter box saw with an 80-tooth blade and a 10" table saw with an 80-tooth blade. That ensures that every cut is clean and smooth. I also clean up when I leave - no disorder or tools left overnight. That way, I can keep track of my tools and make a fresh start each morning. I'm not working that fast, just efficiently - no wasted moves. I don't think that cabinet installation is for just any warm body. It takes skill and patience. If you're just slapping up factory cabinets with no trim, you might get away with it, but I've seen holes all over the walls, scrapes and dings on cabinets and walls, plumbing pipes pierced, tiles broken, cabinets hung unlevel or at the wrong height, putty mismatched or not done at all, base cabinets not sitting flat on the floor or against the wall, face frames misaligned, etc. I consider myself just as skilled as any other professional, and I feel that making $80,000/yr for my hard work is perfectly acceptable.

Comment from contributor F:
I've been installing for 28 years. I average 55,000-65,000 per year by myself. I'm in the Southeast and have installed by percent, usually 5-10, and by the piece. I prefer by the box - 25.00 to 35.00 - including trim, crown, hardware, adjust, putty all holes and clean up. This does not include tops, which I charge 6.00-7.50 lf and 10.00 for sink cutouts. Some shops baulk at first, until I do the math, and then they see the light. If a job has 2, 3, 4 piece crown and light rail, then we add 5.00 to 10.00 a box. I do lots of high end work, communicate very well with shop and customer (that is worth a lot to some shops). They don't need to insure or provide worker's comp, so that is a plus for them. If they don't like that, then it's time to find someone else to sub from. I have one shop I've been working with for 6 years, and another for 3 years. Both are very pleased. Like I tell all the others, build all you want and sell all you want - it isn't doing any good if you can't get good installs.

Comment from contributor L:
I reside in Houston, TX. Our shop pays out $38.00 an hour for our installer and $25.00 an hour for the helper. These guys are true professionals and they can handle very complex projects. They pick up the cabinets/millwork and install. They have their own vehicle and tools and they provide screws, adhesive, etc.

Our guys make very good money. There are a lot of shops out there who desperately need an installer to take charge and get a job done. A shop just wants someone it can count on. We charge $60.00 per man hour on installation so we make plenty of money over what we pay our installers. We've been in business since 1978.

Comment from contributor O:
I live in south Texas and my chin is sore from hitting the floor when I read the prices a lot of people are expecting and getting. My partner and I run our own contracting company, in which we mainly do remodel. We do all the work ourselves and pay ourselves $17.50 to $20 an hour, and that is top wage down here. We build our cabinets on site and charge approximately $35 to $40 an hour depending on what other phases the remodel we have been contracted to do.

This usually works out to about $47 a lineal foot. That includes doors, drawers, hardware and finish. Material not included. Anything over 20 miles we charge $.31 a mile. I used to install commercial and residential cabinets in the past and was lucky to get $10 an hour. That is providing my own tools and the company providing all materials and transportation of cabinets with movers. I learned the trade working for a custom home builder and was eventually building all cabinetry and trim and maxed out at $10 an hour and was happy to get it.

Some shops down here have in house installers which have to work with the shops for years to get to $17.50 an hour. Of course one can rent a 2 bedroom apartment 2 blocks off the water down here for $400 a month, so $17.50 is pretty good. Wages are relative to location. We stay busy and take home about 25K a year working usually 3 weeks out of the month.

Comment from contributor V:
In the Carolinas I am having a difficult time locating truly skilled cabinet installers. I have been paying anywhere from $25 to $35 per hour for sub-contract work and then upon inspection have to find someone to redo that work due to lack of pride in workmanship. I normally expect an install to run two to three weeks for the homes we due for 100k to 200k in cabinetry.

The true craftsman is a vanishing breed. I would gladly pay $20 to $25 per hour, furnish all tools vehicle and medical if people took pride in their work. There should never be a punch list, one should punch as they go. Too many people just want to blow and go and accept substandard work. I don't think anyone that does quality work has a problem getting paid what they are worth.

Comment from contributor Y:
I install in Perth (WA) and get $30 per meter, $60 for tall units, and $25 for top joins, etc. There is definitely money to be made in fixing. I employ an off sider because we pickup and deliver. We average approximately 2 kits per day. Last year I netted $130,000. The key lays in being organized, having a system, and being quick.

Comment from contributor B:
I agree that subbing is the way to go. The fact is there is no job security in this industry so working as an hourly employee for less money in exchange for long term job security is a joke. You have to make the money while you can.

Regarding what the market will bear, installing boxes in new construction track homes is not really the same as installing 40+K worth of high end cabinets in an existing home under the scrutiny of a homeowner. I think that even in Arizona, there is more money for real craftspeople, but it is rarely found in new construction. New construction installers are installing what many of us will be tearing out in a few years. The workmanship is awful.

I recently started working for a high end kitchen dealer and they have an interesting pay system. The production manager looks over the job and figures how many days it should take and multiplies it by $400 and that is what the job pays. Here is where the big disincentive is and the reason why I am looking elsewhere. He does not base the number of days on the average installer, but since he knows his installers pretty well, he bases it on the installer who will be doing the job. I then lose the opportunity to get the job done quicker and make more money. If I hustle and get the job done a day or two sooner, he will just give me less time and less money on the next one.

Comment from contributor L:
I'm from north Virginia and I install kitchen cabinets, closets and any related work. What we charge is $30 for the box not including the doors and drawers, $10 per door, $10 per drawer, $5 per handle, $3 per knob and anything else is extra. Crown molding is $3 per foot.

Comment from contributor K:
I'm currently installing cabinets for a local cabinet shop at $40 per cabinet. That includes knobs and crown molding. A couple of problems are currently arising because they want me to drive all the way to their shop and pickup their trailer and tow it to the job site. One is to unload all the cabinets and return the trailer - all of this delivery without any compensation. Also, some of the cabinets are being made very large instead of separately to avoid having to pay more per cabinet. Instead of building three cabinets, they are building one large one so instead of getting $120 they only want to pay $40, plus the cabinet is very hard to handle by myself. I'm going to discuss this with the shop owner as well as the delivery charges. I have to be careful though because with this economy I can't afford to burn this bridge.

These cabinets are basic face frame cabinets and everything is prefinished. I've spent years building and installing many high end kitchens in custom homes and would be charging way more for that, but these cabinets are pretty easy to install - about one day for a full kitchen. I just did one kitchen with 15 cabinets and some extra work, and ended up making $700 for two days.