Demolition Dan

Hi, this is Dan filling in for the next basement bathroom renovation update.  It’s been some time since the last update, a lot of which can be attributed to lessons learned during the demolition process.  This post will be devoted to the removal of tile from concrete, or as I call it, the most deceptively difficult work shown on HGTV.  Have you ever seen a tiled bathroom on Property Brothers, a shot of Jonathan slamming the ground with a sledge hammer, commercial break, and “SHAZAM”, tile is removed and a pristine floor is revealed?

That depiction isn’t entirely fictional.  A sledge hammer was used.  Besides that, the process was slow and draining, and I finished each demo session with a layer of tile or concrete dust stuck to my sweat soaked clothes.

I’ll begin by telling you the easy way to remove tile: buy or rent a rotary hammer with a chisel bit and you’ll power through the tile in no time.  That would have been the best option for our small 4’x4’ bathroom.  For larger projects, the size and power of the rotary hammer can be scaled up, all the way to a jackhammer.  Unfortunately for me, I did not choose the easy route.  I started with a 1” cold chisel and a hammer.  The hammer was just what I had available and progress was going way too slow.

A common adage for working on cars, which applies here, is to strike with more mass, not more muscle.  I bought a 2.5lb club hammer and the work went much (relatively) faster.

With the right equipment, removing the tile still took several days, even with only a small area.  After about an hour of chiseling, my forearm would be on the verge of cramping up.  I’m sure someone who’s been to the gym more recently than 2012 could chisel for longer.

Before continuing, I want to throw in a word or two about safety, specifically regarding tile.  With every hammer blow against the chisel, the tile was exploded off the concrete in all directions, including right back into my face.

If I had no face protection, I could have been blinded in both eyes 20 times over.  If I just had goggles on, the rest of my face would now be a mess of scars.  The full face respirator wasn’t cheap (about $100) but if that’s out of your budget, I think a full face shield should be used as a minimum level of protection.  Those are more reasonably priced at $10-$25.  I also used knee pads which, like the face mask, I consider a necessity.

Once the tile was removed, I still had to get rid of all the thinset, which was used to attach the tile to the concrete.

I started with the hammer and chisel and found that not only was it excruciatingly slow, I was removing chunks of concrete from below it as well.

Being a sucker for new toys, I bought a carbide rasp attachment for my cheap Harbor Freight oscillating multitool.  The multitool is a small, handheld piece of equipment that can hold various attachments, such as sanding discs, cutting blades, or rasps.  The tool vibrates the attachment very quickly to allow it to do whatever it’s intended to do.  In this case, the carbide rasp eats through the thinset.  Since I already had the multitool, I didn’t feel too bad about the $14 price of the rasp.

I very quickly realized that the multitool and rasp was the wrong choice of equipment for this type of work.  Although it did remove the thinset, it was way too slow.  I could see it taking up to 20 hours to remove all the thinset with this method.

At this point I was ready to pay some real money and get results.  The professional method of thinset removal is with a wheeled floor buffer, but instead of a buffing pad, a special disk is used to break up the thinset.  A more amateur-friendly version of this is to use an angle grinder with a diamond cup wheel.  I ended up getting the Makita GA7021 7-inch grinder and a random cheap diamond cup wheel.

The diamond cup turns the concrete into powder, so if you’re using this method, you absolutely need dust collection.  Makita makes a dust extraction shroud for the grinder so I bought that as well.  The quick way of setting up the dust collection is to just attach a hose from a Shop-Vac to the dust shroud on the grinder.  The problem with this method is that the filter on the Shop-Vac gets clogged very quickly.  This means you have to stop working, remove the filter, and clean it out.  A better solution is to use a separator between the tool and the Shop-Vac.  I was already planning on buying the Dust Deputy Cyclone for my workshop, so I just went ahead and bought it for this project.

The final expense of this part of the project was flexible pipe fittings to hook up all the parts to the shop vac.  For some mysterious reason, getting shop vac hoses to attach to different tools is frustratingly unintuitive.  For parts to fit together they have to be about the same size.  However, some connectors will be labeled something like “2-inch inner diameter” and then actually measure 2-1/2 inches, while other parts might have the same label and be at or slightly under 2 inches.  It almost seems random how these things are labeled.  The best advice I can give for this is to measure everything and then bring a ruler when you go to a store to buy parts.

With everything bought and hooked up, the thinset removal went somewhat quickly.  I still had to take a lot of breaks because the grinder became very heavy very quickly.  Again, someone who works out more than a few times a year will probably do better.  Other than that, I only had trouble in corners and close to the wall.  I was able to go back to the oscillating multitool for those.

Here’s the cost breakdown of all this, for the curious:

Makita GA7021 7-inch Grinder (factory reconditioned): $90
Makita Dust Extracting 7-Inch Grinder Shroud: $50
7-Inch Concrete Turbo Diamond Grinding Cup Wheel: $30
Dust Deputy Cyclone: $57
Various fittings: $25
Total: $252

Although it was a lot of money, I was planning on buying the dust deputy anyway, and I know I’ll be getting a lot more use out of that.  Same with the fittings.  As for the grinder, it was $140 new but I was able to buy it factory reconditioned for $90.  I also went with a cheaper diamond cup wheel that would make the job take a little longer, instead of a better wheel which would cost at least twice as much.


Having gone through tile and thinset removal for a very small area, I recommend just buying or renting the right equipment right off the bat.  Between working, buying tools, working some more, etc, the whole process took several weeks, all for a 4’x4’ square of floor.  For something much larger, it’ll never get done with just a hammer and chisel.

Demo Day

I’m back!

It’s been a great February, with lots of time to relax, reflect, and get my focus together as we move into the spring.  I’ve been spending a lot of time on my own and learning to lighten up on myself.  Dare I say: it’s been working! I truly think that personal development is always a work in progress, but I’m definitely feeling more relaxed and more supportive of myself these days.  A wise friend recently told me that I’d do better if I remove “should” from my vocabulary (SO TRUE) because it’s a word ridden with guilt and unnecessary pressure.  I love the advice and I’m sticking to it.

Now let’s move on to more active and exciting updates… it’s DEMO DAY!!!!

Remember the basement bathroom project we put on hold a few weeks ago?  You know, with the cracked tile and outdated fixtures? Well, last weekend we got back to it and showed a sneak peek on Instagram and Facebook.  It was time to get our hands dirty (well, mostly Dan’s – I was playing photographer) and start tearing up the crumbling tile floor.

With any demolition project, it’s important to be safe first.  We both wore old clothes, goggles, and close-toed shoes.  Dan also wore gloves for the majority of this project.  Before we even did any demo, we made sure we had all of the tools we needed, garbage bags, and a plastic tarp to catch our debris.  Here’s the step by step process for demo-ing our bathroom.

First, Dan removed the trim pieces along the base of the bathroom floor.  We left the pieces behind the toilet and the sink, since we still had to remove both of those items before the trim could come out.

Next, we started the toilet removal process. We drained it first, which involved turning the water off, flushing as much water out of the tank as we could, and using an old rag to soak up as much water and squeeze out as much as possible. We did the same for the toilet bowl to empty out the bowl.  This was a bit of a process, but it was worth it in the end by lightening up the load to carry as well as being safe and water-free.

Dan removed the toilet tank first by unscrewing three bolts that were holding the tank to the base. Again, this made it lighter and easier to manage. Then, he removed the base of the toilet with two bolts.  We laid these pieces on a plastic tarp outside the bathroom.

Next, we removed the sink.  As always, we had to turn off the water before starting the process.  The sink bowl portion was caulked to the wall, so Dan pried it apart from the wall using a pry bar.  Next, he disconnected the drain plumbing from the wall.  Dan also had to break the grout away from the pedestal base, so he used a cold chisel to separate the two pieces.

We realized at this point that we had forgotten to disconnect the water line, so Dan did that carefully, so as not to knock over the pedestal (this should have been done before the pedestal was removed).  We removed the sink from the bathroom and took off the rest of the trim.

Then we finally started to remove the tile.  We started with the platform because there were a lot of tiles that were cracked and unattached, so they were easy to remove by hand.  Then we saw that the tile had been laid directly onto plywood, which was actually a serious construction mistake.

In bathrooms, the tile is supposed to be laid onto cement board or some other material that’s suitable for getting wet.  Since the tile was directly laid on top of wood, the wood was completely rotten as well as the framing beneath it, which also happened to be covered in a layer of mold (see below).

Once we saw the mold, we made sure to put our respirators on and turned on the bathroom fan before continuing to rip everything out.  For most of the tile removal, Dan was able to lift the pieces off by hand and use a hammer to get rid of some of the harder pieces.  Dan then disassembled the framing beneath the tiles, which were all moldy, rotten 2x6s of wood (he was able to break them in half easily with one hand).  This was the entire process for the platform on which the toilet was built.

We’re still in the process of finishing the demo completely, and we have to remove the rest of the tile from the main floor of the bathroom.  After that, it’s time to rebuild the wooden platform and make it safe for future use.  The wall repair will come next, and then the repainting and redecorating!  It looks like spring cleaning will take on a whole new meaning for us.  What have you been up to this winter?  Any indoor projects on the horizon?  I can’t wait to start working outside again… 70 degrees, here we come!