Replacing A Medicine Cabinet
A medicine cabinet can serve several purposes. It provides a location to store medicines in a central location out of the reach of little ones. When placed over a lavatory it can act as the primary mirror in a bathroom. And a medicine cabinet with integral lighting can brighten a space making it safer and more user-friendly.
Most homes have a medicine cabinet and most medicine cabinets are recessed into a wall to prevent them from protruding into the space and enhance decorating flair. Older homes contain medicine cabinets that are constructed of wood; wood frame, wood shelving and wood door. In many cases a mirror is glued to the wood door. Older models have a single door and are about a foot by two feet.
The medicine cabinet has come a long way. One of the most obvious changes is size. Although the single door cabinet remains the most widely used, a modern medicine cabinet can be two to four times larger. That phenomenon may have something to do with the unconscionable growth of prescription and over-the-counter drugs. And there are other changes too.
Today’s basic medicine cabinet is generally constructed of a factory finished metal case with a fully mirrored integral door. That’s only the beginning. Some upper end medicine cabinets contain everything but windshield wipers. Actually, windshield wipers aren’t needed with the model we have in mind. It has its own built-in mirror defogger. Other “to die for” accessories include fully mirrored interiors (shelving included), integral electrical outlets, cosmetic-friendly lighting and telescoping magnifying mirrors (great for shaving or cosmetics application).
And a medicine cabinet doesn’t have to be a rectangle anymore. Choose from various shapes, sizes and finishes. Ovals, octagons, radius tops, beveled edges and decorative etching are features that can add significantly to the appearance and, unfortunately, the cost of your medicine cabinet. The price for a builder’s basic medicine cabinet will start at about $35. while models that contain all of the “bells and whistles” can run in the thousands.
Replacing an existing medicine cabinet can be a simple and rewarding project. The first step in the replacement process is to remove the existing cabinet. This can usually be done by removing screws or nails located at either side of the interior of the cabinet. A screwdriver, hammer and pry bar are the only tools necessary.
With the cabinet removed, the rough framing and unfinished edges of plaster or drywall will be exposed. Any shims or small strips of wood attached to the framing (used to take up space between the cabinet and the framing) should also be removed. Next, measure the height and width of the rough opening. This will determine the maximum size of the new cabinet that can be used in the existing opening. If the size of the desired cabinet is larger than the opening, it will need to be altered. This will increase the complexity of the installation. More on this later.
For the simplest installation, the new cabinet should be slightly smaller than the rough opening. Install wood shims or plywood strips between the new cabinet and the framing, if needed. We suggest that the new cabinet be attached using screws for easy adjustment in the opening. Use a level to ensure that the cabinet is plumb and level. A small bead of caulk at the joint between the cabinet frame and the wall will conceal any irregularities in the wall finish.
If the size of the new cabinet is smaller than the existing rough opening, there are a couple of options which can be used. The opening can be made smaller by installing lumber or strips of plywood. Add wallboard over the new framing and finish it to match the existing wall texture. If the gap between the new cabinet and the existing wall isn’t too large (less than a couple of inches) it can be trimmed with a decorative wood molding.
If the size of the new medicine cabinet is larger than the existing opening, the opening can likely be altered. Existing wall studs can be cut and blocked to accommodate the new cabinet provided that the wall isn’t load bearing (supporting a floor or roof above). If the wall is load bearing, a structural header can possibly be installed to support the load. Prior to attempting this project it is advisable to consult a structural engineer. Another caveat to increasing the size of an opening for a medicine cabinet is altering or relocating any existing plumbing, electrical or mechanical that may be concealed within the wall.
In either case, it is highly probable that some framing, wallboard and painting will need to be done to effect a professional result. If the prospect of extensive construction work isn’t appealing, there are alternatives. Many medicine cabinets are designed to be surface mounted rather than recessed into the wall. The advantage is that no framing work is required, the disadvantage is that the cabinet protrudes from the wall. This isn’t necessarily a problem if installed over a vanity.
Another alternative is to install a system wherein the cabinets, mirrors and tracks are separate components. The cabinets are installed between existing wall studs. The tracks are attached to the wall and one or more sliding mirrored doors rest in the tracks. In many cases this configuration can be made to look like a wall-to-wall mirror over a vanity cabinet. The only difference is that instead of a fixed mirror, there is a plethora of storage hidden behind the sliding mirrors.
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