"a practical hands-on
   guide to bathroom


Shower Demolition Tips

Before you take a hammer and crowbar and start on the demolition of that old shower, let's talk about a few relevant items . . .

Have you made certain there are no pictures, mirrors, plates or other hangings on the walls that will fall down?

Do you know where the main water shut-off is located - is it in the basement, is it outside the house where the water meter is located, what if it is so old that it does not work, what if it controls water in an adjacent part of the building, condo, apartment, etc, what if you need to take a street key and shut off the water in the street?

Does the house have hot water radiant heat in the cement floor that your demolition work may damage?  This is difficult or impossible to repair and, if damaged, may require having to have a new heating system installed in the attic assuming the house is a concrete slab.  Attic furnaces are not the best choice since hot air rises and cold air falls - but it may be the only choice.

Are there any water lines, electric lines, security alarm wires or thermostat wires in walls that you may cut with your saw?  Are you possibly going to damage tile or surfaces outside the shower that could be saved?

Your demolition will create dust, but it helps to keep the heating and air conditioning systems off during the demolition phase and to keep tarps or plastic on walk areas.  It's also a good idea to replace the furnace filter after the demolition work is complete.

You may have a shower with significant water damage which could have a colony of ants or termites which will require extermination.  I recommend a professional extermination
service.  Discuss with them the period of time you need to stay out of their work area.  I
have actually seen showers that were home to carpenter ants and/or termites for years
without the owner's know
ledge - they lived behind the walls.  If you see any at all in your bathroom, it's a good idea to have a professional exterminator examine the area.

Water-damaged subfloors (the floor underneath the shower base or tub) may also be a problem.  They require extreme caution/replacement if there is a possibility of falling to a lower level.

When removing the walls, they should be removed carefully so no unnecessary damage is caused to the adjacent areas.  Sometimes this is not possible and repairs will need to be made as well as possible painting.  Walls that have tile on drywall are normally easy to remove and may require a drywall corner bead to be replaced. 
Fast-setting drywall
compound can speed up the rebuilding process.

Some older showers and bases are "mud" jobs (mortar behind the tile) and will require more
work in removal.  Fre
quently they have a wire mesh in the mortar (be certain to wear heavy gloves).  Mud job walls may present more of a challenge, especially if the tile work continues through the bathroom.  It is best to cut through the tile/mortar with a diamond circular saw or very very carefully remove the grout at a good stopping point and carefully chisel out the mortar with a carbide chisel before cutting with a saw (this is a nasty job so do it when you are fresh and in a good mood).  The walls may have electric wires, alarm wires, water lines, heat pipes or other surprises so work carefully.  If the base is a hand-made "mud" job base, a sledge hammer and bullpoint are one way to break and remove the old base.  Don't work when you're tired because things will go wrong - always try to do the hardest part of the job early in the day.

Shower bases (that are not mud-job bases) are frequently one piece
and can be removed
once the drain is disconnected.  If the drain is PVC, the pipe to the stack can easily be cut
or if the drain trap is in good shape, then cut the pipe above the trap.  If the drain is 2" cast
iron, you
may need a tungstin carbide blade in a reciprocating saw or a cast iron pipe
snapper or, as a last reso
rt, a fiber blade in a circle saw to cut the pipe (BE CERTAIN TO HAVE GOOD EYE PROTECTION).  Remember that the drain trap will have years of scum and when it comes down it will splatter on the floor and surrounding objects (your garments will need to be washed after this project).

Replacing a cast iron shower drain pipe to the stack is normally the best thing to do.  Replace it with new 2" PVC with a new rubber donut that will force-fit into the 2" cast iron hub (this fitting is available in plumbing supply houses).  If the drain pipe is cast iron and needs partial replacement, use a rubber coupling with a stainless steel band (also available in plumbing supply houses).

If you are removing a base in a slab house, the work may be more challenging.  Keep in mind that som
e slab houses have radiant heat and if you damage the heating system in the floor you will have a major expense.  Old galvanized pipes in concrete floors deteriorate much faster than copper heat lines.  Normally you will need to hire a good heating contractor with experience doing these types of repairs and . . . sometimes the system cannot be repaired and must be replaced!!!  And the replacement would involve installing a new forced air heating system in the attic (not very efficient since hot air rises and cold air falls - you'll have great air conditioning but poor heating).  Don't do any shortcut repairs in heat lines in concrete since it will come back to haunt you later.  Another challenge that also occurs frequently is with the drain - normally it's embedded in concrete and a demo hammer must be
used to carefully work around the drain.  Also, in most cases,the drain runs slowly
because of sludge, damaged pipes in the concrete/ground, tree roots, etc.  You may want

to get a good plumber to check it out and do any necessary drain cleaning first (don't cut corners on this either).
Tub/showers are removed in a similar manner.  Steel and fiberglass tubs are normally quite easy to remove.  They have 1-1/2" drains that should normally be replaced with PVC to the stack (many older houses have lead pipes that should b
e replaced - do not install a new tub without replacing any lead drains).  If you are replacing the old tub with a new tub, you should install a firestop (made with heavy gauge sheet metal around the drain).  This is needed in case of fire to reduce the chance of flames jumping from one floor to the next.  Do not use thin gauge sheet metal or aluminum for this step.  Cast iron tubs normally require a sledge hammer to break them into pieces so you can get it through the doors.  Remove an adjacent toilet when breaking up a cast iron tub since flying pieces may damage the toilet (which I have done before).  Fiberglass one-piece tub/shower or stall shower enclosures are usually installed by the builders before the walls are up - consequently, they won't fit through the doors.  The best way to remove them is to use a reciprocating saw and carefully cut it into pieces (make certain you are not cutting an electric wire, water line or anything else on the other side of the wall).  These one-piece enclosures almost always have a nailing flange so you need to carefully cut about 2" of drywall around the unit to get it completely out.

If you are doing a tub to stall shower
conversion, be certain to use a 2" drain as required.

Removing the old faucet:  Normally we remove the old faucet (the valve in the wall) when

we are ready to rebuild the shower.  For this purpose, we will assume the new faucet will be
placed in the same location as the existing faucet.  The trim from the faucet mixing valve,
shower arm and spout (if it is a tub) needs to be removed before the walls are removed.  If
a more complicated faucet system is installed (for example:  a multi-jet spa), it may be

 necessary to remove the faucet (the valve in the wall).  This site assumes that the reader
has basic pipe soldering knowledge. 

Keep in mind that if living quarters are below this work area, special precautions need to be taken to minimize damage or inconvenience.  If in the living quarters below is a resident of another "unit" (for example) I suggest you advise them that this work is going to take place.  Keep in mind that if you cause damage to their "unit" you may not be allowed to enter and make repairs or the occupant may be difficult or unreasonable.  An example would be that you have damaged irreplaceable wallpaper or a hand-painted mural (this has actually happened to me) and it will possibly be difficult to deal with the occupant.  If this happens,
be prepared to do almost anything reasonable to satisfy the owner/occupant.  Another

example of what has happened to me - we damaged an area on the basement ceiling the
 size of a quarter and we had to repaint the entire ceiling.