Why a ‘Cheap’ IKEA Kitchen Is Actually Expensive

Why a ‘Cheap’ IKEA Kitchen Is Actually Expensive
Photo: BestPhotoPlus, Shutterstock

The average kitchen reno costs about $25,000, with a high end closer to $40,000. The cost depends on a lot of factors, from your geographic location (it’s a lot cheaper in the South, for example) to your taste and the size of your kitchen. Still, no matter how you slice it, renovating a kitchen is an expensive project.

So it’s not surprising that buying your kitchen from IKEA is a tempting option. There’s absolutely no doubt that IKEA kitchens are a lot cheaper on paper — on average about half the cost, and possibly even lower depending on the options you choose. IKEA sells everything you need for your kitchen in one place, from appliances to flooring, cabinets, countertops, and finishes, so it’s also a fairly convenient way to remodel.

If that sounds too good to be true … it sort of is. While the bottom-line costs of an IKEA kitchen are low, there can be a lot of hidden costs that many homeowners don’t anticipate in terms of both cash and sweat equity. Here’s why a “cheap” IKEA kitchen is really expensive.

There are extra fees involved

IKEA keeps its kitchens affordable the same way it keeps its furniture affordable: A lack of customisation and a DIY approach to assembly and installation. If you’ve ever puzzled over the inscrutable assembly instructions for an IKEA bookshelf or desk, you have some small glimmer of an idea of what lies in store for you when the kitchen cabinetry arrives. There is a lot of DIY work — like, a lot of it. Those cabinets will arrive flat-packed, and each one has to be put together before you can install it.

For example, this person installed a brand-new IKEA kitchen for $US14,493.45 — which is a great price for a brand-new kitchen. Note the one $0 in her pricelist, though: Installation. If you’re reasonably handy and you have a lot of time on your hands, assembling your cabinets and then installing them will only cost you sweat equity. If you’re busy or not confident with tools, paying IKEA or an independent contractor to assemble and install your cabinets will run you an extra $2,000-4,000 depending on the size and complexity of your kitchen.

If you want an IKEA consultant to help you plan your kitchen, that will run you about $150. You probably want to do that because the lack of customisation means fitting everything you need into your kitchen using IKEA’s fixed cabinet sizes can be challenging. Using IKEA’s online planning software isn’t easy, either. It has a pretty steep learning curve and can become a “time suck” that ends in frustration. Of course, you can also find an interior designer who works with IKEA kitchens, but interior designers are expensive ($65-$250 an hour, typically, and the price can be as high as an extra $10,000 on top of your other costs).

Oh, and delivery will cost you anywhere from $50 to $100, which is incredibly cheap considering you’re getting an entire kitchen. Something to keep in mind is that IKEA will charge you that fee every single time you have something delivered, whether it’s the entire kitchen or a single drawer pull you forgot to include the first time. If you realise you need some extra things as you go along, you could wind up paying a few hundred dollars in extra shipping fees. Note that you can opt to pick up your kitchen yourself, but this probably requires renting a truck unless you’re installing a very compact kitchen.

If you don’t like the look of the stock cabinet fronts that IKEA offers — and a lot of people don’t — you’ll have the extra cost of ordering custom doors from a third-party (Semihandmade is extremely popular). In fact, many people want the affordable IKEA frames but opt to spend extra on the exterior bits (doors, trim, etc.) in order to make the rather basic IKEA kitchen look “luxe.”

Finally, if this is your first major reno project, you may need to invest in some high-quality tools in order to complete the work, especially if you’re planning to customise your cabinets yourself, which is just another cost you’ll need to consider.

Sweat equity is its own cost

If you decide to really lean into the DIY aspect of an IKEA kitchen in order to keep costs as low as possible, you should consider the fact that sweat equity is a form of cost. You will put in a lot of time in order to install your IKEA kitchen yourself. Your list of time considerations will include:

  • Planning time. You’ll have to map everything out online or in-store.
  • Travel time. You’ll travel to make the purchase and pick up if you choose not to have it delivered.
  • Delivery time. Delivery is scheduled by the day, with no specific time and no call beforehand, and IKEA won’t deliver if no one is home. You’ll have to block off the whole day.
  • Inventory time. Once delivery is made you have 48 hours to inventory everything and contact IKEA if anything is missing. That means you need to get to work opening boxes and checking against your order right away.
  • Assembly time. On average, reasonably smart adults should be able to assemble 10 cabinets in about eight hours.
  • Installation time. If you’ve never done a major renovation/remodel before, this will take you much, much longer than you think. If there’s no major plumbing or electrical work to be done, this is probably one to three days of work, barring disaster.

Those hours add up, and your time is valuable. Just something to consider.

Materials cost, too

Finally, although IKEA cabinets get good reviews in general and come with a limited 25-year warranty, the old adage that you get what you pay for comes into play here. The other reason IKEA cabinets are cheap is what they’re made of: Most custom or semi-custom cabinets are made from solid wood, which feels solid and substantial — and is incredibly durable. IKEA cabinets are made from medium-density fiberboard (MDF), which is not as durable, and is particularly vulnerable to swelling in damp areas, which isn’t ideal for kitchens.

Here’s the bottom line: These cabinets probably won’t wear as well as solid-wood cabinets. Many IKEA kitchen owners have noted that the paint chips pretty easily and the cabinets show wear and tear within just a year or two. Ultimately, you may need to replace your kitchen much sooner than one built using custom cabinetry, which means your “cheap” IKEA kitchen may not be so cheap after all.

In the end, an IKEA kitchen is a solid option for folks with smaller budgets. With careful planning, some sweat equity, and proper care, an IKEA kitchen can be a beautiful, functional way to upgrade your house, but it’s simply not going to be as cheap as you think it is.

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