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Pre-Assembled or RTA – Which Cabinet to Choose and Why?

When it comes to cabinets, the build quality triumphs every other consideration quite easily.  For something which is as frequently used as a kitchen cabinet, no one can afford to make a decision merely based on the cosmetics of a product.

Before you buy one, you need to understand how different cabinets are built and what they are suitable for. Based upon construction, cabinets can be broadly divided into RTA (Ready To Assemble) and Pre-Assembled cabinets.

Although the choice between assembled and RTA cabinets appears to be straightforward, it is anything but that. There are plenty of factors you should account for before zeroing in on the type of cabinet you want to buy.

Here is a quick guide for choosing between RTA and Pre-assembled cabinets.

What Are RTA Cabinets?

Aptly named, ‘Ready To Assemble’ cabinets are ‘flat-packed’ and shipped as unassembled parts.  These parts are supposed to be assembled at the site of installation.

Speaking from an installation point of view, the complexity of the assembly depends upon the complexity of the design. Suppliers generally label all the pieces for ease of joining. In most designs, even the holes are pre-drilled — all you need to do is gather stuff from a hardware shop and get to work.

These RTA cabinets are available at all big box stores like IKEA, Lowe’s, Home Depot, Costco, etc.  But just like everything else, the wide scope of choices available online is unparalleled.

Advantages of RTA Cabinets

  • Ready-to-assemble cabinets are cheaper than their assembled counterparts since the cost of assembly is not factored in by the seller.
  • You have the option of buying all parts separately to save cost.
  • Essentially, you can buy a higher-quality cabinet if you choose the RTA style.
  • Since the cabinets are mass-produced, the shipping time is considerably less if you are shopping online.
  • In most cases, the assembly is a rudimentary process and doesn’t really require prior experience with hardware.
  • Assembling the cabinets yourself affords you flexibility in design. You can take off a shelf to have more standing space, adjust the cabinet according to the kitchen layout, and do a lot more.

Disadvantages of RTA Cabinets

  • RTA cabinets have to be assembled on-site and no matter how good you are at following instructions — there’s always a chance of something going wrong.
  • If the assembly work is too complicated, you might have to hire a professional.  The added expense might actually end up negating the cost benefits.
  • Most of these types of cabinets do not come with guarantees, since they aren’t assembled by the company that built them.
  • There might be too many moving pieces for a single cabinet– a lot of which will be small items that are easy to lose.
  • There aren’t too many options available in terms of design and style when it comes to this kind of cabinetry.
  • Since these are mass-produced overseas in most cases, getting a replacement part is really hard.
  • RTA cabinets are usually purchased through a “middle-man” or retail company with no direct ties to the manufacturer or factory.
  • As they have to be assembled on-site using rudimentary joints, they tend to be weaker than pre-assembled cabinets. They are unable to take advantage of industrial-level adhesives and other complex equipment for durability.

What are Pre-Assembled Cabinets?

The opposite of RTA, pre-assembled cabinets are delivered fully built and functional to the installation site.

Pre-Assembled cabinets need not be worked upon by the homeowner, and everything is ready to go including drawers and hardware components.

Just like RTA cabinets, pre-assembled cabinets have their own pros and cons — some of which are mentioned below.

Advantages of Pre-Assembled Cabinet

  • No assembly effort is needed by the homeowner, and the installation can be done straight away.
  • Designs are more abundant and more complex. These designs allow for things like Lazy Susans, Pull Outs, etc. which can considerably improve user experience.
  • Customizability is an amazing feature of pre-assembled cabinets. You can find various measurements and versions of the same product depending on your needs.
  • They carry a guarantee and last considerably longer than ready-to-assemble cabinets as they have been built up with industrial tools.
  • Since there is no assembly on-site, they are safe from any accidental damage which may stem from the assembler’s inexperience.
  • Considering that the assembly is supervised by trained professionals with hi-tech equipment, they are considerably stronger than RTA cabinets that have been put together with a screwdriver.

Disadvantages of Pre-Assembled Cabinets

  • The pre-assembled cabinets are put together at the manufacturing site, which requires expertise and ends up increasing the price of the product.
  • Since pre-assembled cabinets cannot be shipped in flat boxes, they are very expensive to ship around the world — which increases the cost of the product. However, this only applies to cabinets that are shipped from overseas.
  • Pre-Assembled cabinets are sometimes manufactured after an order has been received based on specific instructions. This can increase shipping time considerably. If you don’t have enough time, RTA cabinets are a better choice.

Final Word

The choice between a pre-assembled and ready-to-assemble cabinet depends largely upon your budget and the amount of time you can dedicate during installation.

If you have to be frugal, choose an RTA cabinet. They can provide you with the same quality material at much cheaper prices compared to pre-assembled cabinets.

However, it is important to note that the trade-off would be structural integrity and build quality.  Pre-assembled cabinets are much more durable compared to RTA cabinets. They also offer more complex designs and customizable options.

Related: How to Paint Your Kitchen Cabinets