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How to Judge Kitchen Quality

It sounds obvious, but alongside price, layout and design, quality is a key factor when it comes to choosing a brand new kitchen.

However, the fact of the matter is that, here in the UK, we buy a kitchen on average only once every 15 years. So, how do consumers keep up with all the changing features and specifications and, even more importantly, how should kitchen quality be judged?

As we have already established, the kitchen market is a complex and ever-changing one. Kitchens come in all different shapes and sizes and it’s often really difficult to reach a clear view on the differences in quality between the ranges available from different retailers. To date there has been no universally industry accepted method to compare and measure kitchen quality – but it is possible.

Working together with the major kitchen retailers and manufacturers, we have drawn up a list of 21 criteria that we believe are crucial when comparing and rating kitchens in terms of quality. Each range that we feature on Kitchen-compare.com is measured against each of the criteria set and that range is then awarded a quality rating scorehelping consumers make a more informed choice.

Examples include: Supply format (flat packed or semi assembled) Cabinet construction (materials used and physical construction methods),Cabinet wall and back panel thickness, wall unit depth, door hinge type, fully extendable drawers and pan drawer weight limits to name a few – for a full detailed list of all 21 quality criteria, see below

When it comes to judging quality, the materials that are used in the construction of the kitchen cabinets and doors themselves are vitally important. This is a topic that can also cause some confusion and misunderstanding as it is not always clear.

Ideally, the cabinet itself should be constructed from solid wood or a quality furniture grade of plywood. The best quality cabinet doors have solid wood frames which surround solid wood or plywood centre panels. Less expensive cabinets and doors are made from MDF or particle board.

In our opinion, doors and drawers are almost entirely responsible for the look of the kitchen, as the cabinet is always hidden away behind. Over time, if something is going to go wrong with the kitchen, it's probably going to go wrong with the door or the drawer as opposed to the cabinet itself. Therefore, investing in the best quality doors and drawers possible is advisable.

As the saying goes, “Knowledge is Power” so for further information visit the Quality pages on Kitchen-compare.com and have a read through of our easy-to-understand guide to the materials most commonly used for constructing the cabinets and doors.

We hope that this will give you more confidence when it comes to comparing the quality of kitchens and investing in your new chosen range.

Quality Criteria Explained

It’s definitely worth knowing what to look out for when selecting your new kitchen. We hope that the detailed explanations behind each of the 21criteria that are measured in our quality rating score will help you make a more informed choice.

1. Supply Format: This refers to how the cabinet is supplied to you in your home. Kitchen units come in either a flat pack, semi constructed or fully constructed format. The flat pack units will arrive on a pallet and will take longer for either you or your kitchen installer to put together, whereas the constructed units will arrive already put together, including the door on the front, which makes installation quicker and easier. Out of interest, don’t assume that just because the units are constructed that they are better quality than those that come flat packed, it’s just been put together at the factory.

2. Cabinet Construction: Cabinets are usually the centrepiece of any kitchen. Not only do they determine how the kitchen looks, but they also control the layout of the kitchen, and they control and organise the cooking and serving process. Kitchen cabinets, both base and wall, can be constructed in different ways which result in some cabinets being more robust than others and this quality will be reflected in the pricing.

The cabinet itself should be constructed from solid wood or a quality furniture grade of plywood. Strange though it may seem, not all cabinets have a back which can affect the cabinet’s structural strength. The best quality cabinet doors have solid wood frames which surround solid wood or plywood centre panels. Less expensive cabinets and doors are made from MDF or particle board.

You should also be aware of how the cabinet carcass is physically constructed. Cam and dowel constructed carcasses are often used for flat-pack ranges. Glue and dowel is a more precise technique that is favoured by most leading European manufacturers. A sturdier unit is achieved as there is no movement of joints by screws moving loose and there are no visible fixings on the outside of the carcass.

3. Range of cabinets available: A good indication of the quality of a kitchen range is the number of cabinet options that are available. That may sound a bit odd, if you think you only need 8 floor and 5 wall cabinets, but in actual fact, depending upon the dimensions of your room, you may need a broad range of cabinet sizes and specifications to ensure that you will achieve a perfect fit. To keep costs down, some retailers will offer only a limited range of cabinet options on their price entry ranges. In some cases the limited range of sizes available may mean that the range won’t fit the space available and you may have to opt for a better quality range. A more limited range will generally offer less than 30 different types of cabinet whilst other ranges can offer more than 60 different types of cabinet!

4. Cabinet Wall Thickness: This is simply the thickness of the cabinet wall, top, sides and bottom and is normally either 15mm, 16mm or 18mm. A 3mm difference between the highest and lowest specification is not a huge amount, but an 18mm cabinet will ultimately be more robust than a 15mm. Again, this is one area where retailers will choose to lower the kitchen specification to be more competitive on price.

5. Cabinet Back Panel Thickness: This is the thickness of the piece of wood covering the back of the base and wall cabinets, ranging from as little as 4mm thick up to a maximum of 15mm. This can be quite important, as the 4mm option is simply a piece of hardboard which is tacked to the back of the cabinet, whereas a 15mm back panel will be solid wood, which would both look and feel better quality.

6. Cabinet Colour & Finish: The colour and finish is what really brings out the beauty of the cabinets. There are many different finishes to choose from, so it is easy to find the perfect finish to complement almost any style and design, but as with so many other elements, the materials used and the complexity involved in the application of the colour and finish have an impact on quality and hence final price.

Wood tone finishes are available in many different shades ranging from natural to very dark. A wood tone finish usually helps enhance the natural beauty of the wood which the cabinets are made from, and it emphasises individual characteristics.

Buying kitchen cabinets with a coloured finish is a great way to create a unique look. Coloured finishes are available in many different shades including yellows, reds, greens, and blues. Colour finishes are usually opaque instead of translucent.

As the most visible element, it is best to chose door style first and then look for a cabinet colour that best matches or goes with your chosen door. A cabinet colour match gives a much better effect when opening the cabinet doors on the interior but can also save on the cost of end panels where an exposed side of the cabinet is visible.

7. Cabinet Guarantee: A guarantee is a good indication of a retailer’s confidence in the quality of the products that they are selling and ranges between a 1 year guarantee to a 25 year guarantee. However, it’s important that you don’t just take the guarantee on face value. Ensure that you read the terms and conditions provided by each of the retailers as often the guarantees have a large number of exclusions and sometimes require you to clean the kitchen with a specific type of cleaner to honour the guarantee. The guarantees offered by the various retailers that feature on our website are detailed in our Compare Retailers page.

8. Wall Unit Depth: Often described as the ‘Dinner Plate’ test, this relates to the depth of the wall cabinets, basically, how far they come out of the wall. The reason for this being referred to as the ‘dinner plate’ test is because some kitchen wall units are deep enough to accommodate a full size dinner plate and some surprisingly aren’t. As a guide, any wall unit with a depth less than 310mm, won’t be able to accommodate a standard dinner plate. Again, this is a way in which retailers can reduce the cost of their kitchens to be more competitive.

9. Wall hanging brackets: These are the brackets used to attach the wall cabinets to the wall. Better quality kitchens have brackets that not only are adjustable (making hanging the wall units easier) but are also concealed. This means that they’re not visible when you open the cupboard and look inside. A lower quality kitchen will have a non-adjustable bracket and will be permanently on show.

10. Number of shelf adjustments: This is the number of pre-drilled holes in the side of the base and wall cabinets. These enable you to re-position your shelves at different heights. Some units have less than three positions and some have four or more. The more pre-drilled holes, the more flexibility you have for storing everything you need in your kitchen.

11. Door Hinges: Soft close hinges - probably the factor that we all recognize as being an indication of kitchen quality! We all love soft close doors and cupboards and wonder how we ever lived without them. The majority of kitchen ranges now include soft close hinges as standard, but some of these are imported soft close buffers and some are the genuine branded article. The later are by far the best quality and any kitchen that doesn’t have any form of soft close hinge or buffer as standard is lower in quality forming part of a retailer’s price entry range.

12. Drawer Closures: As point 11 above.

13. Service Void Depth: A service void can only apply to a base unit. Check carefully whether or not your base unit has a service void – this is a gap at the back of the unit that enables the installer to have enough space to work with and fit the pipes and cables. Some base units don’t. These units are generally cheaper, but it makes installing the services more difficult and therefore the installation can become more costly. A lack of service void will also mean that the pipe work will be visible unless your installer is creative in finding ways to hide it, which will probably also result in higher installation costs.

14. Anti-tilt shelf fixings: Most kitchen unit shelves are moveable and can be adjusted, see point 10. However, once in situ, shelves can have a tendency to rock a little if heavier items are placed on them and they become unbalanced. This can be an issue if trying to store heavier ceramic or glass items such as plates, casserole dishes, or jugs. A better quality kitchen range will ensure that the shelves have anti-tilt fixings which are usually made of plastic or metal. The shelf is designed to sit comfortably on these and shouldn’t tip.

15. Metal Door Hinges: Even hinges vary! In order to be able to access everything within a kitchen cabinet it is important that the hinge used allows the door to open as far as possible. The difference between hinges can be as much as 30 degrees which may not sound a lot but could mean the difference between getting your bread maker or mixer out of the cabinet or not.

16. Height Adjusting Legs: No two kitchens floors are the same and for this reason base units nearly always come with adjustable legs so that the correct height can be obtained for each unit to compensate for uneven floors. Once your base units are the correct height then the matching plinths are attached to the unit legs. Just double check that your base unit legs are fully adjustable.

17. Fully extendable drawers: All quality drawers should have solid sides and bottoms. There is nothing more frustrating than not being able to reach to the back of a drawer to get hold of something you need, so look carefully at how far the drawers extend. Drawers which extend to three quarters or more are recommended because they offer easy access.

18. Pan Drawer weight limit: The weight that a base unit pan drawer can take is a good indication of the quality of the kitchen drawers and the runners. If you intend to store your Le Creuset pans in your bottom drawer, you may want to ensure that the drawer can support more than 25kg in weight.

19. FIRA Gold Product Certification: FIRA stands for the Furniture Industry  Research Association and the FIRA Gold Product Certification scheme is the independent third party product validation scheme for the furniture industry. The FIRA Gold Product Certification scheme covers all types of furniture and components and is the mark for product excellence. FIRA Gold Product Certification has rigorous test requirements for the products covered, backed by an ongoing audit and re-test programme to ensure that a particular product having achieved the FIRA Gold certification maintains the standard.

20. Door Guarantee: As with cabinet guarantees, it’s important that you don’t just take the guarantee on face value. Ensure that you read the terms and conditions provided by each of the retailers, after all, the doors are being opened and shut on a regular basis and receive the most amount of wear and tear. Door guarantees in general vary from 5 – 15yrs.

21. FSC Rated: TheForest Stewardship Council (FSC) is an international not for-profit, organisation established in 1993 to promote responsible management of the world’s forests. Its main tools for achieving this are standard setting, certification and labelling of forest products. Some kitchen units receive accredited ratings by the Forest Stewardship Council which demonstrates that quality materials, FSC sourced, are used in the manufacture of the units. Other ranges have no rating and are manufactured using non-FSC sourced materials.

12 April 2016