Last Monday I wrote a post about a little, unscientific experiment I conducted last week. I followed up on Thursday with my initial findings and here we are a week later with my final words on the subject. Maybe.
To reprise, I took two six-inch by six-inch samples made from a cabinet shelves. One was 3/4" particle board and the other was 3/4" fir plywood. They are entirely representative of the materials that go into contemporary, quality cabinetry in the US. I soaked these samples in bowls of water for 72 hours and fished them out to survey the damage.
The big surprise was how little damage there was to survey. Both were pretty much ruined but at the same time, neither had lost their essential shelf-ness. Frankly, I expected both of them to fall apart, but neither did. The particle board sample swelled and grew thicker by 1/16th of an inch. Though not exactly pretty, it would still work as a shelf.
The plywood's dimensions weren't affected at all and the veneer only bubbled and delaminated slightly. The finish got kind of funky but the underlying plywood didn't delaminate.
Final ruling? Don't have a flood where the water is allowed to stand for three days. I think either of those products will hold up to usual amounts of moisture encountered by cabinetry in a typical kitchen. Again, if there is standing water in your kitchen and it lasts for three days, you have much bigger problems than the condition of your cabinetry.
What I tested was an extreme. A more typical water exposure in real life is the slow drip from a plumbing leak. Left unaddressed, a plumbing leak will ruin either cabinetry construction. The plywood construction will probably last longer with that kind of exposure though.
With that said, I still think particle board cabinet boxes are a good option if you're looking to save a couple of bucks on a kitchen remodel. You just have to be smart about how to handle the sink base. Since the sink base is the cabinet most likely to experience a plumbing leak, there are two things you can do to lessen the impact of such a leak.
First, caulk the inside edges on the bottom of the sink base cabinet with clear silicone caulk. Water can only damage particle board by getting into the parts of it that aren't laminated, so seal all the open particle board. In most cabinets, that's in the areas where the cabinet floor meets the cabinet sides. Calk those joints and you'll preserve the life of your cabinetry.
The second helpful hint I have is to use a caterer's tray as a liner.
Slide a caterer's tray into your sink base and push it against the back of the cabinet. Be sure that the tray is directly under the P trap and water cut offs. Should they ever spring a leak, the drips will get caught by the caterer's tray and save your cabinet. Once the tray's been pushed into place, put back the all the stuff you normally keep under your sink.
So after all of that, I never get the destruction horror show I was hoping for when I dropped my samples in their water bowls a week ago.
One of my Twitter friends is Mike Hines and Mike's one of the founders of HomePath, makers of a conduit system called eXapath for wiring homes for cable, internet, sound and entertainment. Check out eXapath if you're looking for a great solution to wire your home. What makes it so great is that the eXapath system will allow you to change and upgrade your wiring in the future. It's pretty brilliant.
Mike, the good natured prankster, suggested that add some heat to my experiment. So I did.
Here's my samples in a bath of boiling water.
I boiled them for ten minutes and I got the destruction I was looking for.
The lesson here is don't install cabinetry next to a geyser or in the path of a pyroclastic flow. I was tempted to conduct tests on my samples involving throwing them from an airplane or under the wheels of a speeding train but I doubt "Don't throw cabinetry from high altitudes at high speeds" would have been a very meaningful finding.
So at the end of the day, my recommendation today is the same it was a week ago. Buy the best quality you can afford and particle board construction isn't automatically bad. I'm glad to know I haven't been giving people the wrong advice. Now I'm off to go perform some fire and acid tests on my samples.