Dismantling the Old Bathroom: Introduction and Utility Lines

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Before you can turn your new design into reality, you need to take out the old. Use the illustrated instructions in this section to remove the old fixtures, fittings, and surface materials—preparing your bathroom for its great new look.

There are basically five construction phases of bath room remodeling: demolition, rough-in, installation, trim-out, and finishing. Depending on the extent of your remodeling, you may emphasize one phase more than the others. But unless you are doing purely cosmetic work, which requires no installation or trim-out, you will engage in all five phases to some degree.

Demolition. During demolition your bathroom is stripped of fixtures, hardware, accessories, and any other items that will be replaced. If you are remodeling your entire bathroom, you will strip the room bare. In some places you may even open up the walls to repair or divert plumbing and wiring, or to repair the wall itself.

Rough-in. Rough-In includes preparing your demolished space for the installation of new fixtures. This is the time to replace sections of the wall that are suffering from dry rot, relocate any pipes or electrical wires, or in stall new lines, and build frames for partitions, closets, or medicine cabinets. If you want assistance with specific jobs, this is the best time to use professionals.

Installation. During installation you set all your bath room’s principal pieces in place except the toilet. Because the toilet is set on top of the finished floor hook up the plumbing for your fixtures and connect your electrical outlets, switches, and lights. It is best to have all your fittings and related hardware in hand before beginning trim-out. What you saw in the store two months ago may not be there any longer. During trim-out you also install your medicine cabinet, glass shower door, and other units that are part of the bathroom’s functional structure.

It is one of the last jobs you do. During the installation phase you should also replace old flexible supply lines and old or broken shutoff valves.

Trim-out. When all your fixtures are in place except the toilet, and all the basic wiring has been done.

Remodeling does not necessarily mean removing everything old. Here, the antique shower fining be comes a central feature in this otherwise modern bathroom. The clear shower curtain avoids obscuring the fitting’s intricate lines.

Finishing. The finishing phase is made up of mini- phases. First, you complete work on your wall surfaces, including tiling, painting, and papering. Then you move on to the floor. It is important to have your subfloor properly nailed down. A smooth subfloor will eliminate squeaks, bumps, and wells in your finished floor. If it seems like too much of a bother to rip out your old floor, it is often possible to place a new subfloor over the old surface. The quality of your subfloor is particularly important if you plan to use vinyl tiles or some other flooring that allows water to seep underneath. As with the walls around your shower, you must take precautions to keep the framework free from water, and hence free from rot. When your floor is finished, you install the toilet, which is one of the easier jobs in bathroom remodeling. Finally, bring in your accessories, light some candles, bring in a good book, and relax for a long, hot soak.

Utility Lines

Before you start the demolition phase locate your plumbing shutoff valves and electrical service panel. In the event of an emergency, you will want to shut off all the power and/or water to your building.


The main plumbing valve is generally located outside, next to the building. Look for pipes to help you locate it. If you cannot find this valve, the city’s shutoff valve for your house is usually located in front of your building, either in the sidewalk or in the grass nearby. It is covered by a metal or concrete plate that says WATER. Remove the plate by inserting a screwdriver and prying it up. Shut off the water by turning the valve counterclockwise with a wrench. To turn the water back on, turn the valve clockwise.

Capping pipes. In some older houses where the plumbing has not been modernized, it may be necessary to turn off the main water valve to change a fixture. If this is the case in your house, you need not leave the water turned off completely while you work. After you have turned off the main valve, disconnect the fixture as instructed later in this section. Then cap the supply pipes and turn the main water supply back on, so you have water in the rest of the house while you work. Three kinds of caps are in general use: threaded, unthreaded, and plastic. All three kinds should be available at your hardware store or home improvement center.

Threaded caps fit threaded pipes. Some short iron pipes and connectors are threaded on the inside rather than the outside; these pipes require threaded plugs that screw into them. Make sure you buy a cap of the right size—measured by the pipe’s inside diameter— and of the same material as the pipe. If you have iron pipes, stay with iron; if you have copper, stay with copper. Unless you have a special connection, joining two dissimilar metals will cause corrosion.

Some copper pipes are unthreaded and caps must be soldered on. This task requires a 14 oz. propane torch and a solder flux. Both the fitting and the pipe must be thoroughly clean. If you have little experience soldering, this may be one of several plumbing tasks you will want to hire out.

Plastic is increasingly common for drainpipes, but it is rarely used for supply lines. If you have any plastic pipe, it will probably be unthreaded. Glue the cap on with a PVC joining adhesive specifically manufactured for this purpose and sold wherever you buy your plastic cap or pipe. Be sure you get the correct adhesive. “ABS”

P pipe and “PVC” pipe require different types of adhesives that cannot be interchanged. Your salesperson will direct you to the correct one.

In newer American homes capping the pipes will not be necessary because most modern plumbing fixtures have their own local shutoff valves (also known as angle stops); those with both hot and cold water faucets have two valves.

Angle stops are located under your washbasin on either side of the large drainpipe. When you turn the faucet-like handle to the right (clockwise), you close off the water supply to the washbasin. When you turn it to the left, you open the supply again. The toilet’s single supply valve (cold water only) is located in a similar Spot. Before working on any fixture, close all the valves.


Your electrical service panel is usually located in your garage or basement; if you have neither, it is probably in the small utility closet that also houses your hot water tank, well-pump, and other major supply fixtures. If power lines in your community are still strung outside on poles, follow the lines to your building. The service panel will be nearby.


In the unlikely event that you should inadvertently strike a gas line—in a common wall between your bathroom and kitchen, for instance—you should be able to turn off the gas immediately. In most houses the main gas switch will be located right near the gas meter, usually in the basement, garage, or utility room.

Incoming gas

Removing Fixtures

As you move through the first half of this section, you’ll discover that removing bathroom fixtures is largely a matter of unscrewing the bolts that hold them in place. However, taking fixtures out can be a damp nuisance, so keep a bucket and some old towels handy. Other wise, you should be able to handle removing your fixtures with a few screwdrivers and wrenches. A basin wrench, or plumber’s wrench, will allow you to reach those hard-to-get-at places beneath the washbasin. Particularly if you’re working in an older building where the pipes have been in place for many years, use two wrenches when unbolting pipes: one to hold the pipe steady and the other to release the connection.

You will also need help to remove some bathroom fixtures. A cast-iron tub, for example, can weigh 500 lbs. and is awkward to move around as well. Even a fiber glass tub can weigh more than 100 lbs., and its shape and size demand four or more hands to maneuver it, no matter how strong you are.

Start your demolition by taking out all the little accessories you have attached here and there; then re move any obstacles that will hinder you as you take out your fixtures, such as the bathroom door. If the vanity and washbasin will be in your way when you try to take out the tub, remove them first. Lay a complete trail of drop cloths from your bathroom to the outdoors and to any other parts of the house you may be going. Things will get quite dusty and dirty very soon.

Next: Dismantling Toilets

Prev.: Schedules & Contracts

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Updated: Tuesday, 2011-06-21 2:31