How to Install a Recessed Medicine Cabinet
The often looked at, and more often overlooked, bathroom medicine cabinet and mirror is an easy way to improve the look of a bathroom or powder room. Installing a new medicine cabinet can help you eliminate the clutter around the sink and make a space for items stored on top of the toilet tank. While some people opt for a surface mounted model you may want to look for a recessed cabinet that will fit into the wall cavity. This will create more space above the sink and prevent any early morning headaches when you lean over the sink to brush your teeth.
A recessed medicine cabinet can be installed in an afternoon, or less, depending on what you already have. Most medicine cabinets come pre-assembled so all that is required is a hole in the wall for the cabinet to slide into. Remember that the medicine cabinet does not need to be placed over the sink; it can be located on a side wall near the sink if that location has fewer obstructions or is preferable.
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Recessed Medicine Cabinet: Check the size that is appropriate for your room. There are also models that fit inside a standard stud bay, but the stud bay may not be centered above your sink.
2x4 Studs: You can use scraps if you have them, or one 8- to 10-foot piece should be enough depending on the size of the opening.
2 1/2-inch Decking Screws: They are stronger than drywall screws and won’t break when fastening the framing together.
1 5/8-inch Drywall Screws: To hold the cut drywall edges to the blocking and to mount the cabinet.
Recessed medicine cabinets need to be secured inside the wall to framing. The most common reason people don’t install recessed cabinets is that they need to cut away a stud located in front of the sink or vanity. You need to make sure that the wall is clear of obstructions before you even purchase a recessed medicine cabinet. Electrical wires, studs in a non-load-bearing wall, and plumbing supply lines and small vent stacks can be rerouted, but a large vent pipe or any load-bearing framing would be more difficult to relocate. If you encounter either of the latter while inspecting the wall, you should skip this project and instead buy a surface-mounted cabinet.
A general rule of thumb is that the top of the cabinet box (not the door trim) should be 72 inches off the floor, but you can adjust it to make sure you can see your face and some of your body in the mirror. You will likely have to cut away part of a stud to make room, as most wall framing is set on 16-inch centers but many medicine cabinets are more than 18 inches wide. This requires not only cutting through the stud but disconnecting it from the wall behind it by cutting through the nails or screws. With the stud out of the way, you can install 2x4 blocking to create a frame for the cabinet. The cabinet has a lip to overlap the edges of the cut wall, so once it is secured to the framing there should only be a limited amount of touch up to finish the job.
1. Inspecting the wall
Mark the wall to show the approximate outline of the cabinet. Use a stud finder to locate any studs inside the outline.
Use a keyhole saw to cut 4-inch-square holes on either side of those studs inside the outline. Make sure that the saw blade goes just deep enough through the drywall to avoid hitting wires or pipes.
Use a flashlight to look inside the openings for possible obstructions. Contact an electrician and/or plumber to move wires or pipes if necessary.
2. Cutting the wall
Have a helper hold the cabinet against the wall at the desired height and verify that it is level and plumb. Trace the cabinet's outline onto the wall in pencil once you are satisfied with the position.
Use a keyhole saw to cut along the pencil line and remove the drywall. Be careful not to damage the drywall outside the outline.
3. Cutting away the drywall fasteners
Remove any debris or insulation from inside the opening. To cut off the nails or screws on the back side of the stud, slide a hacksaw blade, wrapped with electrical tape for a handle, behind the exposed stud and cut through any drywall screws holding the wallboard to its back edge. If available you may also use a reciprocating saw, but you may damage the drywall or cause the nails to pop on the other side of the opening.
4. Cutting out the stud
Use a handsaw to cut the stud off flush with the opening at the top and bottom. Be careful not to cut through the drywall attached to its back edge. Dry fit the medicine cabinet in the opening to check that it fits well. You may need to trim away excess drywall or wood with a utility knife of wood rasp.
5. Installing wood blocking
Insert a 2x4 into the opening at the bottom and hold it level and butted against the next wall stud on the other side of the opening. Mark where it meets the end of the cut stud and then cut the blocking to length. Repeat for the remaining blocking at the top and bottom. To attach the blocking screw it to the drywall first and then add a diagonal screw into the cut stud. You may want to add a small amount of construction adhesive to the end of the blocking that is inside the wall and is not screwed to the intact stud.
Tip: You should attach a screw to the face of the blocking to help hold it in place while securing it to the drywall.
6. Mounting the cabinet
Fit the cabinet inside the blocking, and press all the edges of its face frame flush against the wall. Drive drywall screws through the holes in the side of the cabinet and into the blocking. You may want to caulk around the edges of the cabinet to hide any irregularities in the wall.
7. Assembling the cabinet
Reattach the cabinet door making sure not to bend the hinges. Attach any hardware and install the shelves.
Hopefully this project will not be too challenging for you. As long as you prepare properly and make sure that the wall is clear, it should be a straightforward project for almost any do-it-yourselfer.