Installing Your New Bathroom: Recessed Cabinets

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There are two basic kinds of medicine cabinets: those that hang on the wall, called “surface-mounted” cabinets, and those that are recessed into the wall. The hanging kind comes with installation instructions; but even if it does not, installation is generally a matter of measuring where nails or screws should go, drilling a couple of pilot holes, and hanging the unit up. Recessed medicine cabinets are a bit trickier. When you cut the wallboard or plaster and lath, you may encounter wiring, water pipes, vents, structural framing for windows or pocket doors, or heat and air ducts. However, if you do not run into any of these obstacles, installing a recessed medicine cabinet is fairly simple. Studs are placed at 16- or 24-inch intervals, center to center. Thus, the actual space between the studs is 14½.inches or 22½ inches. And these are exactly the widths of many medicine cabinets. Ideally, you’ll be able to work between studs rather than having to cut through any. Larger cabinets that do not fit between the studs will require extra bracing.



Tools: drill; utility knife; circular, reciprocating, or handsaw; hammer; level; plumb line; screwdriver.

Supplies: common nails; screws; 2 by 4s to size.

1. To install a standard-size medicine cabinet, determine where you want to place it, and locate the nearest studs. Measure the unit, and mark the measurements on the wall. Turn off your electricity to avoid cutting hidden live wires, and cut out the section. Toenail two sections of 2 by 4 to fit horizontally between the studs and flush with the opening you’ve cut. These headers, along with the studs, form your frame. Plumb and screw the cabinet within its frame, hang the door, and install hardware.

2. To install a larger unit, start by determining where you want to place the cabinet, and locate the studs closest to its outside edges. Measure the unit. Add 1½ inches top and bottom to accommodate 2 by 4 headers. If you are installing your cabinet in a bearing wall, add 3½ inches on top, plus the 1½ inches at the bottom. The extra space at the top is to accommodate a double header (see Step 3). Mark these dimensions on the wall, turn off your electricity, and use a keyhole saw to cut the sections out between the studs. It’s easier to in stall the supporting frame when you cut the hole larger than the unit itself. But it also means you’ll have to patch the wall when you’re done. You may have an easier patching job if you remove all the wallboard above the cabinet in a 4-foot-wide strip. Be sure you make your cuts on studs so you’ll have something to which you can nail the patch.

3. Cut any obstructing studs. Then cut and install the top header. To provide maximum support for the cut stud in a bearing wall, use a double header. Two flat 2 by 4s are sufficient if there is no more than one cut stud. Otherwise, sandwich a piece of ½-inch plywood between two 2 by 4s and install the unit on edge. Toenail in place and check with a level.

4. Next, install cripples. Measure the distance from the header to the floor, cut two 2 by 4s to length, and nail them to the two outside studs.

5. Install the bottom support between the cripples. If you’re installing a mid-size cabinet, add a filler piece and blocking to create the correctly sized opening for your cabinet. If you’re centering the cabinet in the space, follow this procedure for both sides. Install the cabinet according to the manufacturer’s instructions, plumb and screw the cabinet within its frame, hang the doors, and install hardware. Then patch the wall.

71a Cripple; Manufacturers recommended rough opening

Installing Recessed Accessories:

Medicine cabinets are not the only accessories that may be recessed in the bathroom. It is fairly common to recess toilet tissue holders, soap dishes, and even cup holders. Typically, an accessory designed to be recessed is made in two pieces: a brace and a face. Installation for all such items is basically the same.



Tools: utility knife and/or keyhole saw; level; plumb line; screwdriver.

Supplies: screws.

1. Alter you cover the studs with wallboard, use a utility knife to cut a hole ½ to 1 inch smaller than the over all dimensions of the outside of the face plate. Be sure you are cutting between the studs, not into them. Insert the brace section into the hole. Hold it in place with your hand as you bring the face plate up to it. Screw the front piece into the brace with the hardware pro vided by the manufacturer. The screw is designed to draw the brace and the face together, securing your installation.

71b When accessory is in place, tape it to the wall until mortar or adhesive sets

2. If you want to install ceramic accessories in your tiled wall, simply open a space in the wallboard or mortar bed and set the accessory as if it were an ordinary tile. If you want to install a metal dish in a tile wall, complete your tiling first, but leave a gap slightly smaller than the accessory, and follow the procedure outlined in Step 1.

3. If your wall is already opened up for extensive patching or some other reason, you can toenail a 2 by 4 between two studs, and use it as a brace for screws.

Few accessories require such bracing, but it is useful for items like horizontal grab bars near the bathtub.

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Updated: Thursday, 2011-06-23 4:40