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Demolition of the ensuite bathroom

The ensuite bathroom was interesting, to say the least. The corner tub took up too much space, making it a tripping hazard. “Sinking” it into the floor may have seemed like a good idea on paper, but getting in and out was very awkward. And the supporting structure in the basement was in the way. Besides, it took forever to fill the large tub so we had only used it on a couple of occasions.

sunken corner tub
The corner tub.

structure for sunken corner tub
Support for the dropped floor in the basement.

The toilet resides in a space that is too narrow to meet the minimum building code and is very uncomfortable to use.

tight squeeze for toilet
Tight squeeze

Basically, the bathroom is not very functional and the tub platform presents an obstacle for the plumbing of the hot water heating system that we are planning to re-do. This is why I set about doing a little demolition.

Removing the tub, the easy way

May 27:  I removed the whirlpool tub and the toilet from the ensuite.  

toilet removed
Toilet removed

I would have liked to have salvaged the tub as similar models sell for more than a thousand dollars so I put the word out among my co-workers. The price: free. Just come and get it. However nobody else wanted it for the same reason we didn’t want it: it was simply too big.

I also considered donating it to the Habitat ReStore, but that would have been a logistical nightmare, again because of the size of the tub.

So I did the only reasonable thing: I fired up the reciprocating saw.

Nothing that a reciprocating saw can’t handle

debris from tub removal
The corner tub: some assembly required.

Okay…I admit it. It was rather fun hacking up the tub into more manageable chunks to get it out the door. Fun but messy.  I resisted the urge to pay tribute to Red Green and duct tape it back together once it was in the yard….

Workmanship? What workmanship?

As I undid some of the work of the previous owner (or the people he hired to renovate the bathroom), poor planning and poor workmanship became glaringly obvious. No surprise, really, given everything else that was wrong with the house.

Issues I knew about:

  • The tub was sunken. The previous owner had cut the floor joists and lowered the floor. The tub was a tripping hazard.  The plumbing in the basement that had to be re-configured around the lowered section was just plain ugly.

New Surprises:

  • The pump motor was completely inaccessible. It would have likely been impossible to repair or replace should it have failed at some point down the road, if we had kept the tub.
  • Whoever installed the floor tiles installed them directly over top of a hardwood floor without any underlayment. I will admit that they had not cracked or moved and the grout was still intact. But it’s just another example of someone who did not know what they were doing.

Removing the tub platform

June 10  Two weeks after I removed the tub, I set about removing the structure that supported it. The previous owner thought a “sunken” tub was a good idea. It wasn’t. Basically, he had cut the 2×10 floor joists dropped the floor under the tub about a foot or so, supporting it with a structure he built in the basement comprised of 4x4s.  The structure, while not pretty, did appear to be strong enough, however.

platform for sunken corner tub
After the removal of the corner tub revealing the dropped floor.

removing support for sunken tub
Removing the support structure in the basement.

Getting rid of the tub platform was not as easy as you might think. The flooring on top of the 2×10 joists was hardwood (about 3/4″ thick) over the old 1 inch thick tongue in groove floor boards. It took a while for the reciprocating saw to eat through all this material. Plus I had to be careful not to damage the plumbing that was directly underneath the structure.

shortcut to basement
Shortcut to the basement. As my dad would say, the first step is a “doozy.”

Replacing the floor structure

June 19   I enlisted a friend to help me sister the joists and remove the remaining structure. The span was just over 12 feet, so I bought three 14 foot 2×10′s and we went to work.

No room to maneuver

Given the size of the 2×10′s, and the spacing of the floor joists, and the location of plumbing, we were unable to maneuver the two of the three joists into place, and still span the entire width in one piece.

The first comes up just short. One end rests on the top plate of the foundation while the other end stops just before the top plate of the inside block supporting wall. I will be building a stud wall around the perimeter of the room which will support the end of this joist . The old and new joists are unitized with carriage bolts and screws.

sistered joists
Sistered joists

The other joist we had to cut into two pieces to get around plumbing. We should have cut the plumbing out of the way and hooked it back up again later. However, we decided that cutting the new joist would be a lot easier. Like the other joist, it is unitized with carriage bolts. Furthermore, the joint will be reinforced using a Simpson Strong-Tie mending plate. [2009: The architect and other members of his team, as well as the contractors all confirmed that my work was sufficient when I suggested they overhaul it.

Bring in the garbage bin

June 30:  With the next order of business being to gut the bathroom to the studs as well as gut the basement to give us a blank slate downstairs, it was time to order a garbage container from a local disposal company.

And she’s a beaut…30 yards in all her behemoth glory, dominating our driveway and just waiting for me to fill it.. With a holiday weekend upon us, and with the kid staying at Grandma’s for a few days, I planned to spend the weekend gutting the basement and the ensuite bathroom without any other distractions.   Thirty yards is huge…about 8 feet wide by 20 feet long by 5 and a half feet high, and I am pretty sure that it will be full by the time I call to have them haul it away.

Last year’s debris and then some….

Last year was the first year since we moved into this house that we did not rent a bin. Debris from the deck repair, along with strapping from the workroom, the bathroom fixtures from the ensuite, and the lumber used to support the “sunken” tub have all been piled up around the side of the house for much too long. No doubt that our neighbors saw our house as an eyesore. Certainly, they must be thrilled that we are finally doing something about the mess.

Gutting the bathroom

July 1-6  Demolition is basically grunt work.  Using a hammer and pry bar to separate the drywall from the studs, I managed to gut about 50% of the bathroom on Saturday (July 1) and after working several hours a day for the next few days, the final pieces of drywall came down on the 6th (Thursday).  There was a lot of debris, and it was heavy, and I was working alone.  Grunt work doesn’t necessarily mean “easy.”

bathroom demolition
Bathroom demolition

Thick walls

You can see the 2×4 stud to the right. All that material to the left is the wall consisting of the original button board and plaster, covered by another layer of drywall.   And this picture doesn’t even show the tiled portion of the wall.

layers of drywall
A helluva thick wall.

Awkward demolition

The area where the toilet sat is only about 2 feet wide. Turns out that it is very awkward to use a pry bar to remove drywall in such tight quarters. My shoulder hurts.

Ceramic tile on drywall is heavy

I was able to pry off sections of drywall in fairly large pieces, with the ceramic tile intact. Those were heavy enough. Broken ceramic tiles and chunks of drywall debris filling a garbage pails are even heavier. My shoulder hurts.

Working alone is a pain in the butt 

(or in my case, shoulder) Making multiple trips through the house to transport debris to the dumpster is not only time consuming, but also fairly fatiguing. My shoulder hurts.  I think it’s just a muscle strain.

Uncovering hidden problems

As a general rule, when you open up walls in a house, you are opening up a can of worms.  You never know what you are going to find.  And this demolition certainly revealed some gems:

There were inaccessible junction boxes, and wiring sandwiched between the studs and the drywall. One of the studs had some significant rot, and there was a fair amount of mold behind the vanity, likely due to inadequate ventilation. The visible electrical work was bad enough: plugs and switches that were easily reached from the tub– a big no-no in the electrical code. The hidden stuff was downright scary. Frankly, the more I find, the more I am surprised that the previous owners didn’t suffer serious injury or death.

More bad wiring revealed

bad wiring
Yet more bad wiring.

It appears that at one time, the previous owner might have had lights on either side of the mirror in the main bathroom (which is on the other side of this wall). From the main bathroom, there is absolutely no evidence of these two junctions. The junction box in the middle (up higher) is for the light in the main bath. You can also see the wall anchor for the mirror. And if you look closely, you can see the wire that comes out of the left junction to go to the light does not actually go through the stud, but around the other side of it. A piece of the drywall was cut out, and the wire was covered over with compound. Pretty scary stuff.

Hmmm….this looks like a good place for a door….

“So why not just move the vent stack over? Might have to cut the top plate of a supporting wall, but that’s okay…..a door frame is strong enough to support the ceiling joists.”

What the %$#@ was he thinking? When is it ever a good idea to mess with a supporting wall if you don’t know what you’re doing? I’ve seen it before with the window in the back dormer. This guy just thought he could cut holes in walls wherever he wanted without having to modify the structure.

top plate cut for vent stack
Top plate cut for vent stack.

The cripple stud to the right of the vent stack is just sitting on top the door frame. The top plate was cut away for the vent stack. You can clearly see the ceiling joists above.  So from the stud just before the stack to the wall, there is no structural support for the second floor.

no structure around doorway
No structure around doorway.

As a general rule, when joists overlap over top of a wall, odds are that wall is a supporting wall.

Now in addition to the other renovations and expenses I already knew about, I need to find a remedy for this situation.

At this point, there is still the floor tile and hardwood flooring to remove, but my attention will now turn to the basement.

This post has been modified.  It has been edited from the content of 8 blog posts that were originally posted between 5/27 and 8/16 of 2006.



  1. LLC

    This post is 12 years old and doubtful anyone still follows up but, man, I am impressed. I have seen some awful stuff but this one wins by sheer magnitude of work. Kudos to you for both the demolition and reconstruction! I was considering buying a house with a (40 yr old) tiled garden tub and trying to find out info on converting to walk in shower.

    • Thumb and Hammer

      What makes you think no one still follows up? 😉

      It still amazes me how many issues this bathroom had. The previous owner had some ideas that looked good on paper, but once you get past the “cool factor” of having a sunken tub, you realize what a colossal mess his renovation really was. Wish we’d got past the “cool factor” before we bought the house.

      If you continued reading the blog, you no doubt found out that the space occupied by this bathroom and the main bathroom was transformed into a new master bedroom. I can’t take credit for that. We had an architect work on that design and contractors who actually completed the work.

      Thank-you for your comment. Cheers!

  2. Charlotte Bathroom Remodel

    Great post! The demolition of an ensuite bathroom can be a daunting task, but it can also be a necessary one if you’re looking to renovate or update your bathroom. Before starting the demolition process, it’s important to have a clear plan in place, including a timeline and budget. Additionally, it’s essential to ensure that any necessary permits have been obtained and that safety precautions are taken during the demolition. While it may be tempting to tackle the demolition yourself, it’s often best to hire a professional to ensure that the job is done safely and efficiently. Overall, while the demolition process can be disruptive, it’s an essential step in creating a beautiful and functional bathroom space.

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