Demolition of the ensuite bathroom

The ensuite bathroom is interesting, to say the least.  Taking up much of space is a sunken 5 foot by 5 foot corner whirlpool tub that is supported by a platform in the basement.  The toilet resides in a space too narrow to meet the minimum building code and is very uncomfortable to use.  The large tub takes forever to fill and we have only used it on a couple of occasions.  Basically, the bathroom is not very functional and the tub platform presents an obstacle for plumbing for the heating system.  This is why I set about doing a little demolition.

The toilet: a tight squeeze.

toilet removed
The toilet removed.

sunken corner tub
The corner tub.

sunken tub support
Support for the dropped floor in the basement.

Removing the tub, the easy way

May 27:  I have removed the whirlpool tub and the toilet from the ensuite.  As much as I would have liked to have salvaged the tub (similar models sell for more than a thousand dollars), I instead fired up the reciprocating saw. It would have been impossible to get the tub out of the bathroom without tearing a wall down first. And once again, 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 Takers

I had put the word out among my co-workers that I had a corner whirlpool tub that I no longer wanted. The price: free. Just come and get it. Nobody else wanted it for the same reason we didn’t want it: it was simply too big. No one seemed to have the five foot square area that the tub required.  I had considered donating it to the Habitat ReStore, but, as it turned out, removing it without damaging it would have been extremely difficult. Besides, it would have been virtually impossible to get the tub out of the bathroom anyway. I guess it’s a good thing that nobody wanted it after all.

Nothing that a reciprocating saw can’t handle

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….

corner tub after removal
The corner tub: some assembly required.

Workmanship? What workmanship?

No surprise, given everything else wrong with the house, but the installation of the tub was less than perfect. I was already aware of some of the problems.

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 had to be re-configured around the lowered section, and it 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.  In the future I will be installing new floor joists, to bring the floor back up level. I will completely remove the hardwood floor and tile, so we will have an even sub floor when we remodel.   At least with the funky structure removed from the basement, we can clean up the plumbing. This is a priority since we will be having new plumbing for the hydronic heat installed within the next couple of months.

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, appeared to be strong enough, however.

sunken tub platform

After the removal of the corner tub revealing the dropped floor.

sunken floor support removed
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.

hole in floor
Watch that first step!

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 outside block wall, while the other end stops just before the top plate of the inside block wall.

sistered joists

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.

The other joist we had to cut into two pieces to get around plumbing. We could 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.

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. The debris from the deck, strapping from the workroom, the bathroom fixtures from the ensuite, and the lumber that was 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.

A decent start   

It took me about 2 hours to transfer one pile of rubbish to the bin which is some indication how much garbage was there to begin with. I still have 2 other piles of scrap lumber to take care of. I figure that cleaning up the piles outside will be a nice diversion when I need a break from whatever I’m doing inside.

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

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.

thick wall
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

Iwas 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, likely due to the fact that this bathroom did not have adequate ventilation. There was also a fair amount of mold behind the vanity. 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 does it ever seem to be a good idea to mess with a supporting wall? I’ve seen it before with the windows in the back dormer. This guy just thought he could cut holes in walls wherever he wanted without having to modify the structure.

cut top plate
Top plate cut for vent stack.

The 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, here is no structural support for the second floor.

no structure
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.

    1. 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!

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