Should tile go under your cabinets?

I was asked that question recently on a DIY site – Should tile go under cabinets?

My immediate response was yes. I have a strong background with new construction and without exception, we have always put the tile down and then install the cabinets on top- whether finished or unfinished.

But I started to think about it a bit more and I thought of several examples where putting the tile down after makes sense.

I recently remodeled a bathroom in St. Paul, MN. The existing floor of the bathroom pitched down about 3/4 inch in 8 feet. I could have leveled the floor, but then it would have been impossible to open the door from the hallway. The cabinets needed to go in first so that the tile and the base shoe could hide the difference in floor height. (The cabinets were on the floor on one side and shimmed up 3/4 inch on the other side.)

I considered some other times where it makes sense to have the tile installed after the cabinets:

  • If you are really not sure of your flooring selection and you may want to change it some day.
  • If you are finishing your cabinets from raw wood, not having tile down saves you from protecting the tile from overspray.
  • If you are concerned about damage to the tile before all of your work is done.

Here are some things to keep in mind  when you plan your project:

If the tile goes in first:

  • The total height of the cabinet will be raised by the thickness of your tile and your underlayment
  • If you have floor to ceiling cabinets (double oven or pantry for example), make sure to shorten the height of your cabinets so that you can still install the cabinets without damaging the ceiling

If the tile goes in last:

  • The toekick height will be shortened unless you set your cabinets on strips of wood that equal the thickness of your tile and underlayment.
  • More cutting will be needed to go around the cabinets.
  • Be careful not to damage your cabinet when installing the tile or when grouting. It is much easier to spend a little time to protect the cabinets in the area you will be working then it is to refinish your cabinets.

Good Luck!



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