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The long journey of the cabinet installation

We knew the kitchen renovation would be a huge undertaking but man, it has been a looooong journey. And at the time of writing this blog post on the last day of 2017, we're still not completely finished. 

After shopping around for cabinets and several places, we ended up placing our order at Lowe's in early September. We got quotes from Cabinets To Go, Ikea, and a local place called Parr Cabinet Design Center, before Lowe's. We decided on the allen + roth line from Lowe's because Cabinets To Go and Ikea both would have required us to assemble the units before installation and Parr Cabinets was quite pricey. The Lowe's allen + roth line (which came preassembled) was on the lower end budget-wise from the options that Lowe's offered, but the person we talked to had great things to say about it and didn't try to up-sell us so we were optimistic, and we decided that we'd get the "luxury" all-plywood construction package to ensure better quality. So... would we recommend allen + roth to anyone? Only our worst enemies! For all the units you can see in the 'after' photo, we paid a little under $9000 during a 20% off kitchen cabinet sale at Lowe's, and also got a 10% mail-in rebate gift card, so we thought we were getting a great deal. Almost 4 months later, we STILL have unresolved issues with a couple units and it's been a very frustrating process working with the Lowe's rep to get all the issues fixed.

Issues we encountered with the Lowe's allen + roth cabinets:

- Crooked drawers (one of them didn't even pull out all the way because it was so crooked)

- Drawer faces that weren't flush with the rest of the unit

- Misalignment of drawer faces (spacing between the drawers were off)

- Cracks, pen mark, divot

- Doors not opening properly

- Super Susan turntable scratching against the back of the unit

- Drawers making scraping noises when being closed

- Rough edges on the shelves

It took several days and multiple calls to Lowe's before anyone got back to us, and they told us to go ahead and install all the units and then allen + roth could come out and fix the issues we had. So we went ahead and started installing the upper units, and installed EZ-Level Cabinet Levelers for the base units (more on the EZ Levels below). We then had further delays because we found rot in the subfloor under the sink area and had to get a framing contractor out to the house to check it. Side note - this contractor was supposed to have fixed this rot LAST summer, then it took them several days to come out to check the issue only to tell us that they were booked out for 3 weeks but they thought the rot wasn't bad enough that we absolutely HAD to fix it. WTF? We didn't want to leave rot in a newly remodeled kitchen and then risk the cabinets slowly sinking which might then cause the quartz countertops to crack later down the road so Kevin and his dad spent a few days fixing it. Then as we continued working through the rest of the base units and moved over the dishwasher, we found another soft spot in the floor - MORE ROT! At this point, Kevin and his dad were pros and were able to fix the second area in a day, but man, that was a bummer to find another spot that needed attention and took time away from the cabinet installation. 

So after finally installing all the EZ levels in the base units, putting each one in place and ensuring they were level, and screwing the units into the walls, we called Lowe's to tell them we were ready for someone to come out and fix the defects. An allen + roth sales rep and the Lowe's rep we had been in touch with regarding the defects both came out to the house and we pointed out all the areas that we were unhappy with. The allen + roth sales rep told us that these types of issues are always present in any cabinets and are usually fixed by the cabinet installers so if Lowe's had done the install, we would never have even known that these issues existed. A) That is absolutely no excuse for manufacturing crappy products in the first place and B) this is not true - Kevin's parents had recently done a kitchen renovation and installed their own cabinets as well with NONE of the issues that we had because their cabinets were manufactured properly in the first place! The sales rep took note of the items that needed to be replaced (like drawers, doors, and drawer gliders) and then said they would ship them to us. I told him that I wanted them to come back and actually do the fixes themselves and they basically said no, they couldn't do that because Lowe's wasn't the original installer. I noted that if we only had a one or two issues, then of course we'd understand and do the fixes ourselves but when there are problems with pretty much half of the units (7 out of 15), this was clearly the responsibility of the manufacturer. Unfortunately, I had to run to a work meeting and couldn't keep arguing with him so Kevin finished up the discussions and they agreed to ship us all the replacement parts which were supposed to arrive in 2-3 weeks, and the Lowe's rep said he would be in touch with the tracking details once the replacement parts shipped. About 4 weeks later, we still hadn't heard from him so we had to follow up yet again, and finally received the shipment after another week or so. 

You would think that at this point, we'd have all the necessary replacement parts and everything would be fixed, right? Nope! They didn't send us the proper replacement parts and we're still waiting for an update from the Lowe's rep.

Long story short - it has been a nightmare working with Lowe's and we absolutely do NOT recommend them.

Now, on to the EZ Levels...

EZ Levels

To give a quick summary of how these work and why they're beneficial: this system provides a much easier and faster way to level lower cabinets, compared to base supports and shims. The units are screwed on to each side of the bottom of the cabinet, the cabinet is set in place, the EZ Levels are adjusted to make the cabinet level (which usually takes just a few minutes) and then the cabinet can be screwed into the wall studs.

Here's a summary of how they're installed and what we think are the pros/cons (check out the link below to the manufacturer's website for their super helpful instructional videos). These do take more work initially compared to shims; but once installed they make adjusting the cabinets much easier, and that's the main benefit. To install them, each lower cabinet must be flipped over, and you have to put 10 screws in for each EZ level; you also have to drill a hole in the cabinet base (it'll get covered by the toe kick that's installed later) because that hole will give you access to adjust each EZ Level once the cabinets are set in place. For each lower cabinet it took us about 20 minutes to install the EZ Levels and drill holes in the base (once we got our process figured out); once the cabinet unit is set in place adjusting the EZ Levels tends to take just a few minutes, though the corner units took a bit longer.

One last pointer: the manufacturer instructs you to screw together all the cabinets in each run (installing one EZ Level at each end of the cabinet run, and where each cabinet unit meets another). So the number of EZ Levels required for each cabinet run is the number of cabinets + 1. We decided however, to put 2 EZ Levels on every lower cabinet so that we could adjust each lower cabinet individually (the EZ Levels are $15 each, so we spent $30 per lower cabinet). We did this to eliminate the risk of making a mistake while screwing together all the cabinets, and because it's easier for the two of us to move and adjust one cabinet at a time, rather than a sets of 2-3 lower cabinets. We did buy more EZ Levels than the manufacturer recommended, but after installing we felt it was well worth the $ and we'd do it the same way again.

Instructional videos on the EZ Level website: http://www.ez-level.com/Videos.html

Kevin's demo and review: https://youtu.be/UXZzPUz_B_s

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Marble Subway Tile Backsplash

Tiling. It will be fun, they said. It will be easy, they said.

Famous last words.

For anyone wanting to DIY tiling, I encourage you to research it a bit more. We watched a few YouTube videos and read some blog posts and thought it would be easy peasy. But try tiling while 8 months pregnant - not so great. Don't get me wrong - we love how everything finally turned out! But it is a LOT of time commitment, so don't underestimate it if you've never done it before, and if you've never used a tile saw. Especially marble, which is very delicate. 

The most helpful blog post we read was from the Craft Patch. You can read it here. We ended up getting a lot of the same materials that are mentioned in that blog post from Lowe's (we had a gift card from a mail-in rebate from the cabinets), including the same marble tiles. I believe we bought somewhere around 50 boxes (there are 8 in a box). We opened up almost every single box at the store to make sure none of the tiles were broken, and picked out the ones that had more of the darker gray tiles rather than the white tiles that had brown spots or streaks. 

Once we covered the countertops, we took out the tiles from a few boxes at a time and sorted them in stacks of similar tones/patterns so that it would be easier to choose the next tile to stick on the wall. We wanted variance in colors and patterns and didn't want multiple tiles of the same color or pattern all in a row. Then the thinset/mortar was mixed, and we began back buttering the tiles and attaching them to the wall, with tile spacers in between. We didn't want to smear a ton of thinset on the wall and rush to get the tiles up, especially since we knew cutting pieces would take some time. We started in a corner that we knew would be covered with small appliances and also wouldn't be seen much, just in case we made mistakes at the beginning. Once we got a few tiles up for the first row, we started the second row with a tile cut in half (see timelapse video), and kept going. For the tiles that needed cuts, sometimes we measured it out, but the lazy way that we used more often was to just hold up the tile up to the outlet or trim and mark it with a tile pencil.

Note: Marble is delicate and we had a lot of cuts to make, especially with the herringbone accent over the stove. The corners crumbled depending on how the tile was fed through the tile saw. But, don't fret - you can see how the imperfection in cuts and the resulting gaps between tiles almost disappears once grout of a similar color is added in the below two pictures. There were definitely times when cuts had to be redone twice or even three times, but that's why you buy extra tiles! 

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Once all the tiles were put up, we let it sit for 24 hours, then started grouting. We go into it in more detail in the below video, but we just put some grout on a float, smeared it on to the tile and worked it into the gaps at 45 degree angles from all different directions to really get it in there, then waited 15 minutes and started wiping it off with a damp sponge.

When the grout was dry, we caulked where the tile met the counters, and also in each corner where the walls met.

Notes:

If you are tiling over drywall for the first time, you will want to install electrical box extenders for your outlets so that the outlets sit flush with the cover once the cover is installed over the new tile.

Caulking was another thing that took us by surprise. The pros make caulking look SO easy! We took the advice of the blog post to "use painters tape on either side of the space you want to fill with caulk. Squirt the caulk in, smooth it out with your finger, then peel the tape away while the caulk is still wet." The painters tape tip definitely worked, but it was a pain to make sure the tape was applied just right with the same consistent amount of gap between the tiles and the countertop. Also, it might be helpful to caulk before the sink faucet is installed... And lastly, we ran across an issue with the caulk shrinking into the gap when it dried, and had to do another pass on a different day so be sure to use plenty of caulk!

Time lapse video of the full process