Q. Now that my daughters are getting older, I need to install a large medicine cabinet in their bathroom for their things. Is it better to install a surface or a recessed one, and how do I do it?
Installing a medicine cabinet is the best way to increase the amount of storage space in a bathroom. That spot on the wall is already being used for the mirror, so you might as well include a storage area behind it.
Installing a surface-mounted cabinet is definitely much easier than adding a recessed one, but either project is within the skill level of most homeowners. If you are adding a medicine cabinet with built-in lighting and there is an electric outlet nearby, it will be easier to run the wiring to a surface-mounted cabinet.
Before you make your decision about which type to get, visit a home improvement store to check out some of the designs. There will be at least 20 models on display, and you can find about 100 more in catalogs. Select one that complements your bathroom’s decor and provides adequate storage.
Steel cabinets are generally reasonably priced, durable and easy to install. You will see some with square corners and some with rounded corners. The styles with rounded corners are made from drawn steel, and the ones with square corners are welded together. Most people prefer the appearance of the square corners, but these are usually more expensive than the designs with rounded corners.
Medicine cabinets with lights positioned vertically down each side provide the best lighting for putting on makeup. Fluorescent tube lights use much less electricity and last 10 times longer than standard bulbs. Buy full-spectrum fluorescent tubes for these fixtures to get the most natural color light.
Also consider the shape of the mirror on the medicine cabinet. If your daughters are different heights or still growing, select a style that is taller rather than wider. This will accommodate different heights as your children grow.
The most difficult part about installing a surface-mounted medicine cabinet is finding the studs inside the wall. Use an electronic stud finder to help with this. Since you will want to have the cabinet centered over the sink, you might get the screws into only one stud. On the other side, use appropriate hollow-wall anchors with the screws.
You’ll need to cut a hole in the drywall for a recessed cabinet. Before you start cutting, make sure there is no electrical wiring, plumbing, etc. behind the wall. Some new stud sensors also sense electric wires. Another option is to carefully cut a small hole through the drywall and look inside.
Have a helper hold the cabinet against the wall while you draw a line around it. Cut out the drywall following that line. Most likely, there will be a stud in the area where you want to install the cabinet. Using a reciprocating saw, remove a section of the stud, being careful not to cut through the other side of the wall.
Measure the distance inside the wall from one stud to another and make two horizontal supports with 2-by-4-inch lumber. Secure these supports with 3-inch nails so the cabinet will fit snugly between them. Attach the cabinet to the supports with the hardware provided.