Standard Height for Base Cabinets

Cabinetmakers discuss the standard height of cabinets, and reasons to make an exception. November 13, 2009

I've been building cabinets 36" high for 15 years, and was thinking of going to 35 1/2" high. Can anyone give me reasons why this would be a good thing or a bad thing?

Forum Responses
(Cabinetmaking Forum)
From contributor J:
I build to 34-1/2"... as far as I know the industry standard. You can build whatever works for you, but seems a bit high to me.

From contributor M:
If I am setting them on a finished floor, I build them 34 1/2" high. If I am setting them on a sub-floor, I add whatever thickness of the floor to my 34 1/2" standard height. For example, if they are going to be laying 3/4" hardwood around my cabinets, I will make the bases 35 1/4", and add the extra 3/4" to the bottom, so I still have a 4" high toe kick once it's all said and done.

From contributor X:
36 inches is the standard height the finished product should come to. That is from the top of the countertop to the floor. There are some exceptions. Your countertop may vary in thickness, changing the height of your cabinets.

From contributor K:
We've always built them at 34 1/2", but we've had taller customers have us build them taller and deeper... That's what custom is all about. That said, a quicker way to deal with it is to use leftover cuts as straight-run shims... Then again, we pre-cut our sides in advance. The ladder system works great and gives you better material yield.

From contributor A:
Base cabinets have been built 34.5" aff but before countertop height since the early 60's as an industry standard for two reasons: 1) ergonomic working height for a 5.5 - 6' tall human, and 2) dishwashers were set as an industry standard for reason 1. New ADA standards call for 34" at counter level in commercial standards and there are only a few dishwashers available for this height. We have had requests for all kinds of heights and have built some at 40" for tall people, but it can be a bit embarrassing if the dishwasher doesn't fit!

From contributor S:
To decide whether to measure up from subfloor or whatever, ask the question: on what will the dishwasher sit? Measure up 34-1/2" from there - that is the bottom of the counter, which in turn is 1-1/2" high. That gives a total of 36" from the bottom of the dishwasher to the top of the counter. Note that the DW should be on a floor close to the height of the finished floor. Otherwise if there were a problem they'd never be able to pull it out.

Now if you are doing a custom kitchen for someone who likes to bake, you might suggest one area that is only 30" high (obviously not in the vicinity of the DW). It is much easier to knead bread and roll out dough if you can push straight down.

From contributor N:
For material calculations I would always use 30" as my basic box size. I build a frame on site as the base. This frame is perfectly level and square in respect to my plan layout and cabinet package. This means more material savings for the shop.

From contributor B:
Yes, you have a good point. I like your method, and the use of materials. However, if you read the points mentioned above, you should really be building the base boxes at 30 1/2". Two reasons why are: the standard 34 1/2 finished height, and the toe kick which has also become a standard at 4". That said, more often than not, common counter thicknesses have evolved to 1 1/4", especially with granite countertops. Here, shimming the ladders up a 1/4" to level might bring the toe kick to 4 1/4", which would be better than 4 3/4".

From contributor A:
Toekick height was determined to match dishwashers long ago at 4", or was it the other way around? One old coot told me long ago the depth at 3" plus 1" counter overhang was to prevent belt buckles from scratching the face of the drawers. Can you just imagine?

From contributor U:
Regular (kitchen) appliance height builds to fit 34 1/2" opening, except European and some new under-counter refrigerators and dishwashers to fit ADA requirement. ADA requirement: maximum 34" to the top of countertop.

You said 36" high, I assumed from finished floor to the top of countertop. This is correct. Then you said you would like to build 35 1/2" - again I assumed to the top of countertop. This will create problems with regular appliances unless they are willing to buy expensive European appliances. ADA appliances are shorter than 34". If you meant 35 1/2" cabinet only, you will have a big gap between appliances and countertop.

From contributor O:
Industry standard has been 34 1/2" for decades. Stay with that. As far as adjusting the height of the cabinet to match the subfloor, why? Why change your sizes for them? Use the material they are using to lift your cabinets up.