Is an Ikea Kitchen Cheap Enough to Be Worth the Hassle?

DESIGN ON A BUDGET

The average kitchen remodel costs about $20,000, according to HomeAdvisor, although costs vary considerably based on location, square footage, extent of the project, quality of materials, and who does the work. One way many homeowners try to save is by shopping at Ikea, the Swedish retail giant known for build-it-yourself furniture. Ikea's flat-pack cabinetry is cheaper than other lines of cabinets precisely because it needs to be assembled. It may seem like a great deal, but for those who get frustrated assembling an Ikea dresser, building an entire room of cabinets could prove to be a disagreeable amount of work. In a recent price comparison, Cheapism.com found that preassembled Shaker-style cabinets from Home Depot cost less than nearly identical cabinets from Ikea that require assembly. Sinks with pre-drilled holes for fixtures are cheaper at Home Depot and Lowe's than a smaller sink from Ikea with no holes for fixtures. Ikea customers must buy a two-piece tool set for $12.99 and punch the holes themselves. Cheapism compared prices on similar products from Ikea, Home Depot, and Lowe's for a DIY facelift of one of the most important workspaces in a kitchen. The total for a stainless steel sink, base cabinet, and 8 feet of laminate countertop came to $358.98 at Ikea, $362.18 at Home Depot, and $376.93 at Lowe's (prices vary slightly by store). Although the total was a bit lower at Ikea, homeowners must account for the additional labor and a host of other considerations.

SHOPPING EXPERIENCE

Ikea's main advantage lies in its streamlined product line. All Ikea cabinets, no matter which door style is selected, are the same. That makes measuring and ordering easy, and all the options can be seen in the catalog or an Ikea showroom -- should one be close by. Ikea has just 42 U.S. locations while Lowe's has about 1,770 stores nationwide and Home Depot has about 2,250. At the home improvement chains, viewing all the options is a bit trickier. Most stores have model kitchens on display, but the myriad offerings from several different suppliers may leave some shoppers feeling overwhelmed.

CABINET OPTIONS

Ikea offers many cabinet configurations, making it possible to create a practically custom kitchen to suit most requirements. At Home Depot and Lowe's, the choices range from builder grade (average quality, pre-built, and mass-produced) to high-end semi-custom cabinetry. With stock cabinets, variety is somewhat limited to base cabinets with shelves or drawers, wall cabinets with shelves, and pantries. Customers must opt for mid-range semi-custom cabinetry -- for a bit more money -- to increase the selection. For homeowners with awkwardly shaped kitchens or need to accommodate disabilities, a semi-custom kitchen might be a necessity, along with a much higher price tag.

CABINET PRICES

We priced 30-inch sink base cabinets with white or off-white Shaker-style doors at all three retailers. Cabinet prices at Ikea vary by size, internal configuration, and door selection. The Sektion base cabinet is $171, including the box, hinges, and soft-close Grimslöv doors but no legs, plinth, or toe kick for the bottom. At Home Depot, a Hampton Bay sink base cabinet is $151.20 and the Kitchen Classics Arcadia base cabinet from Lowe's is $190. The preassembled Home Depot and Lowe's cabinets already have plinths but no toe kicks. (Hardware and trim are always sold separately.)

CABINET MATERIALS

The cabinet doors at Ikea and Lowe's are foil-finished fiberboard. The Hampton Bay line at Home Depot has doors made of medium-density fiberboard, commonly known as MDF. In each of these lines, the cabinet boxes are constructed of composite board made from wood fibers. This material is suitable for most furniture, although it has a tendency to swell and warp when exposed to moisture, according to the Cabinet Store. In addition, the National Kitchen Bath Association says both particleboard and MDF can emit formaldehyde, so consumers who are sensitive to formaldehyde emissions may want to consider more expensive boxes made from plywood available at Lowe's and Home Depot. For cabinets with drawers, Ikea features extending runners and soft-close drawers, although some Apartment Therapy readers complain about the metal sides, which reach only partway up. Hampton Bay cabinets from Home Depot have drawer boxes made of hardwood.

CABINET REVIEWS

Although the Lowe's and Home Depot cabinets arrive already constructed, a handful of reviews suggest poor quality control. In a detailed review, one Lowe's customer expresses disappointment in the construction of the Kitchen Classics Arcadia cabinets. Although the base cabinet looks nice from afar, the reviewer says, there's a gap between the doors, which sit lower than the doors and drawers on the other base cabinets, and the finish seems to chip and peel easily. Likewise, reviews posted on the Home Depot site complain of staples sticking out, cockeyed screws, and paint drips on the doors. While there are no reviews on the Ikea site, renovators posting on Apartment Therapy and Houzz say Ikea cabinets look good and hold up well, provided they are assembled correctly and installed properly.
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SINK PRICES

Although undermount sinks are a popular choice among consumers wanting an up-to-date look, top-mount sinks are cheaper and easier for do-it-yourselfers to install. For comparison, we looked at single-bowl stainless steel drop-in sinks from each retailer (fixtures are sold separately). At Home Depot, an Elkay Dayton sink with four holes for a faucet and sprayer or soap dispenser costs $89. Lowe's charges $89.95 for a similar Project Source sink. Ikea's Boholmen single-bowl inset sink, with no pre-drilled holes, is $105.99 and slightly smaller. All three measure 22 inches front to back and 7 inches deep, but the Ikea sink is roughly square and the others are 25 inches across.

SINK MATERIALS AND COMPONENTS

The Home Depot and Ikea sinks are made from 22-gauge stainless steel, while the Lowe's model is made of slightly thicker 21-gauge steel. But the thickness of the steel doesn't imply a sturdier or quieter product, according to Consumer Reports. While there are no reviews of the Ikea and Lowe's sinks, the Home Depot sink received solid reviews from buyers who say it's basic but good quality and easy to install. Ikea sinks come with a strainer, but adding the tool set for punching holes ($12.99) brings the bill to $118.98. The sinks at Home Depot and Lowe's do not include a strainer ($7.98), which bumps the total prices to $96.98 at Home Depot and $97.93 at Lowe's for a comparable setup.

COUNTERTOP OPTION

At Home Depot, laminate countertops can be purchased in several lengths from 4 feet to 10 feet and Lowe's offers up to 12 feet. Customers can also buy countertops that are already mitered for installing in corners. All come with a built-in backsplash and an ogee edge. Ikea countertops come in a few different styles but only two lengths: 74 inches (just over 6 feet) and 98 inches (just over 8 feet). They have no integrated backsplash.

COUNTERTOP PRICES

A 6-foot white laminate countertop is a bit cheaper at Ikea than at Home Depot: $59 vs. $65. A greater price difference emerges when comparing laminates with the look of a solid stone surface, available from all three stores. At Ikea, a 98-inch Säljan countertop with a white stone effect costs $69. A similar 8-foot surface (VT Dimensions Wilsonart in Kalahari Topaz) is $89 at Lowe's. The closest match at Home Depot, a Valencia countertop in Typhoon Ice, costs $114.

DESIGNING AND MEASURING

All three retailers have an online 3-D kitchen planner that homeowners can use for free and in-store kitchen designers who can help with planning. Designers at Home Depot and Lowe's are often certified by the National Kitchen Bath Association, meaning they've been trained in the latest building codes, and their assistance is free. At Ikea, the option to use an in-home kitchen planner starts at $199. Do-it-yourselfers unsure of their ability to measure accurately can use in-home measuring services offered by all three retailers, and the cost is reimbursed with the order of a kitchen. Ikea's measuring service costs about $49 and is free when using a personal kitchen planner. Home Depot charges $49 to $99, depending on the kitchen size, and Lowe's charges $75.

INSTALLATION

Ikea's buying guide quotes a price of $1,799 for a 10-by-10 kitchen outfitted with Sektion cabinets and off-white Grimslöv fronts, including drawers with dampers, interior shelving, hinges, toe kicks, legs, and cover panels. But that assumes that homeowners do the installation themselves, without any additional work that requires a professional, such as ripping out walls, rewiring, or rerouting plumbing lines. Homeowners who need a hand or simply are overwhelmed by the installation process can hire professionals through all three retailers. These installers are local contractors who work with the stores, which guarantee the work. Costs vary considerably, depending on factors including geography and the size of the project. Some do-it-yourselfers may opt to do the cabinet installation themselves and hire contactors to handle any modifications to plumbing, electrical, ventilation, or countertops.
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WARRANTIES

The Ikea kitchen components are guaranteed for 25 years. At Lowe's and Home Depot, the warranty length varies. The cabinets and the Lowe's sink have limited lifetime warranties, but the countertops have one-year limited warranties. Installation services are guaranteed for at least a year, while Ikea's installation comes with a five-year guarantee.