What Lies Beneath The Rubble (And Why I’m Thankful For A Rotting Subfloor)

I’ve officially passed the “this is fun and exciting” part of this bathroom demolition, and have entered the “is this ever going the end??” phase of the demolition.  I’m so tired of looking at rubble.  I’m exhausted from bagging up rubble.  I’m ready to get on to the pretty stuff.  But I have a feeling I’m still a few days away from being able to start rebuilding.

I got all of the tile and mortar broken up on the floor.

hallway bathroom - tiled walls demolition 8

I did start to get a bit concerned when the subfloor around the toilet area seemed very brittle and started breaking off.

hallway bathroom - tiled walls demolition 9

But I didn’t let myself panic.  Again, I kept reminding myself that as long as the floor joists were in good shape, the rest was just subfloor, which I’d probably want to replace anyway.  (Spoiler alert:  The joists are just fine!  Woohoo!!)

I honestly could not believe how much rubble came out of that small bathroom.  I still have quite a bit of demolition to go, but so far I’ve bagged up 33 contractor bags filled with nothing but tile and mortar.  Of course, they’re not filled all the way.  There’s no way I could lift a bag that full.  But still…33 bags!  It seems like the stuff is multiplying right before my eyes!

hallway bathroom - tiled walls demolition 10

When I got the majority of it bagged up, I asked my neighbor if he’d be willing to haul it off for me.  He’s retired, and is always willing to help, and always working on little jobs here and there for people.  This was a job I did not want to do, so I was more than happy to pay him to do it for me.

After I removed the toilet from the bathroom, I stuffed a wad of paper towels into the hole to keep sewer gases from coming into the room.  But as I was working around the toilet area cleaning up rubble, I kept noticing that I would get a whiff of a very unpleasant smell every once in a while.  Since I had plugged up the hole, I couldn’t imagine where it was coming from.  Finally, I cleared away the last of the tile and mortar rubble, and removed the rotten subfloor boards around the toilet area so that I could investigate.  This is what I found…

hallway bathroom - broken sewer pipe

Yep, that’s just a big ole hole eaten away through the side of the sewer pipe.  Let me just say I’ve never been so grateful for a rotten subfloor!  Had that subfloor been in good shape, I may have never found this issue.

So the good news was that my floor joists were in good shape.  (Note:  The board you see in the picture above next to the sewer pipe is not the floor joist, thank goodness!  I’ll explain more below.)  The bad news was that I had a pretty serious plumbing issue to deal with.

Thankfully my plumber was available to come out pretty quickly and get everything squared away.  I had to spend $300 that I wasn’t planning on spending, but at least now I have a brand new sewer pipe for the toilet.  No more rotten smells seeping into my bathroom.

hallway bathroom - tiled walls demolition 11

He also replaced the galvanized pipes for the faucet and toilet with updated materials.

hallway bathroom - tiled walls demolition 13

So at least now I have peace of mind that my plumbing is in good shape in this bathroom.

I continued the demolition by removing the linen closet that was behind the bathroom door.

hallway bathroom demolition 13

I’ll add back in some sort of storage here, but I just don’t like the way that linen closets have such wasted space in the top.

hallway bathroom demolition 14

I also removed the hardwood flooring from the bottom of the linen closet, and started to remove the subfloor as well, but stopped to take a few pictures first to show you how they built the subfloor in this bathroom.  I guess this was just standard building practices when this house was built (when they used 2-inch mortar beds for tiled floors), but this isn’t really how things are done today.

In the closet, you can see what is still pretty standard construction.  There are the floor joists, with the subfloor on top of the floor joists.  Then the hardwood flooring was nailed onto the subfloor.

hallway bathroom demolition 15

But in the main area where the floor was tiled, instead of putting the subfloor on top of the floor joists, they attached boards to the sides of the floor joists, sitting 3/4-inch from the top of the floor joists.  Then they attached the subfloor between the joists, sitting on and nailed to the boards attached to the sides of the joists, making the subfloor flush with the floor joists.

Here’s another view from a different area.

hallway bathroom demolition 16

I’ve never seen a subfloor done like this before.  I guess this is just what they had to do in order to make room for all of that mortar.  But generally, subfloor goes on top of the joists, and not between the joists.

Now I know that when I talked about having our house leveled last year, many of you were confused, and some of you had never heard of pier and beam construction.  So now that I have part of my subfloor ripped up, I can give you a clear view of pier and beam construction.

In the picture below, you can see a concrete pier sitting on the ground.  I don’t know how far apart these piers sit, but there are many of these underneath the house, sitting at specific intervals.  And then on top of the piers are the beams.  And then running perpendicular to the beams are the floor joists.  The beams are doubled up — two 2 x 8 (or maybe those are 2 x 6’s) sandwiched together.  The floor joists are just single 2 x 8 (or again, those might be 2 x 6) pieces of lumber.

hallway bathroom demolition 17

Here’s a somewhat clearer view without all of the extra wood attached to the floor joists.  This is where the linen closet was, and what it looks like now after I removed the subfloor.  You do still see some extra 2 x 6’s attached to two of the floor joists here.  That’s what they added to go underneath the tub to give extra strength to the floor joists since they’re carrying the weight of a 500 pound cast iron bathtub.

hallway bathroom demolition 18

Even though the subfloor was done the standard way in the linen closet, I still decided to remove it because I learned the hard way during my kitchen remodel that trying to marry new subfloor with old is tricky business.  The old subfloor was 3/4-inch thick, so that’s what I used to make my repairs in the kitchen.  But the new subfloor was a tiny bit thicker than the old.  I didn’t think it would make a big difference, but it did.  When I added the hardwood floor over the transition areas, there were very noticeable humps in the floor — not noticeable by looking, but you could definitely tell if you walked over them.  It took quite a bit of sanding with my belt sander to get things smoothed out.  So I decided to avoid that hassle altogether in here by  just adding all new subfloor to the whole room.

So anyway, on a pier and beam house, you have the piers sitting on the ground, beams running on top of the piers, and then floor joists running perpendicular to, and on top of, the beams.  Then the subfloor (generally plywood is used now, but then they used 1 x 10 or 1 x 8 lumber) goes on top of the floor joists.  And finally the flooring goes on top of the subfloor.

I’ll be adding new subfloor (3/4-inch plywood) and then on top of that I’ll put Hardibacker concrete board, and then tile on top of the Hardibacker.

But first, I have quite a bit more demolition to do.  I’m sooo ready to get to the pretty stuff.

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  1. Kristi – thanks for taking a minute to explain pier and beam construction. I had no idea. In my neck of the woods we have cement footings and foundation and then build on top of that which allows for great basements. We have a low water table in my part of the city. As you get farther out towards the lake area they build on cement slabs.

    1. Our house also has a concrete footing around the perimeter of the house, with the concrete piers spaced evenly within that perimeter. Not all pier and beam houses have the concrete footing around the perimeter though. Some just have the concrete piers spaced evenly around the perimeter as well. You’ll find that mostly on very old pier and beam homes…quite a bit older than my 1948 home.

      I have noticed on shows where they’re remodeling homes with basements, they have to add steel or wood posts at various intervals in the basement to give support to the floor above. Those posts seem to serve the same purpose as the concrete piers on a pier and beam house. I wish we had basements here, but they’re just not very common here in this part of Texas. I don’t think I’ve ever been in a house with a basement here. It’s so interesting how construction methods very from one part of the country to another!

      1. When I lived in Austin I was told we don’t have basements due to the extremely rocky soil. It would cost a fortune to dig out the rock then the cost of the concrete for the basement walls makes the cost prohibitive. I really missed my basement when I lived in Austin.

        1. It was the same when I lived in Arizona. Almost no one had basements. I remember seeingonly one house with basement andit was a huge deal and super cool to everyone. but now I am on the east coast and its almost weird not to have a basement here.

      2. Here is my corner of SW, MO we don’t have basements due to the water level. Basements would be flooded all the time 🙁

  2. Wow. I had no idea what pier and beam meant and am so impressed that you knew and could recognize what you found. Without your explanation and labeled pictures, it all just looked like a jumbled mess to me. I love that you take the time to explain and educate and thank you for that. So glad that the floor joists are good and you are making progress. Please take care to not overdo!

  3. Yikes! I’m so glad you found that leaking pipe! Did you notice any sewer odors before starting to take out the floor?
    When I renovated our hall bathroom, we had a linen closet behind the door, same as you had. I always hated how the doors hit each other, so I made open shelving there, with closed storage below a counter-height shelf. I really opens up the whole space.

    1. No, I never smelled a thing in here! I’m actually wondering if I may have caused, or at least greatly increased, the damage to this pipe during all of my hammer swinging. I know I didn’t hit the pipe directly, but there was a lot of rubble piled up around it that was taking a great deal of force from my hammer. But if I did cause it, it’s because the pipe was already greatly weakened and corroded from age, so I’m glad it’s out of there!! 🙂 I certainly don’t want any weak and corroded sewer pipes in my house! 😀

  4. Kristy, I know you wrote a whole post explaining why you’re waiting on the ‘dream bath’ remodel and just doing an update cosmetic update now. In looking through your photos today of the linen closet it got me thinking. What if you reversed the swing to the entry door (and possibly relocated it to be further to the left) relocated the sink to be in the niche where the linen closet is. (looking at the scale of the vanity in the photos it seems like it would be about the same width as the linen closet area) Relocating the vanity would allow more open floor space in the tub/toilet area for Matt to be able to turn around in the bathroom.

    If you removed the tub you could install a curbless shower pan using the same sub-floor technique you described the existing construction has. You’d install 2x attached to the floor joists to support the plywood subfloor and then install cement board on top of that, so that it flushes out with the tile in the rest of the space. (in this scenario the shower floor would unfortunately slope toward the entry door rather than away from it, but it wouldn’t require any structural gymnastics and modifying the floor joists) You can install a linear drain, to pickup the water along the new shower entry wall. California Faucets makes a bunch of great linear drain options (http://www.calfaucets.com/category/luxury-drains/ceraline#) This would require reworking the drain from the tub to the new shower drain location, and sadly moving the plumbing you just had redone for the sink. But it seems like in the long run, you could frankly get away without having to enlarge the bathroom in the future. If the money for the shower glass wasn’t in the cards now, you could always just install a shower curtain and rod and then upgrade to the glass when the funds become available.

  5. Bless your heart Kristi, you CAN do it!
    Thank you for the pier, beams and floor joists lesson. I think I actually understand.
    Are your arms doing better? Is your neighbor going transfer the bags from your entryway to his truck (I SO hope so for your sake)

  6. I am so glad you found that broken sewer pipe. What a disaster that could have been. Woohoo for solid floor joists! Thanks for explaining all the technicalities. I’m learning a lot from you and all the people who comment as well.

  7. Pier and beam construction should look familiar to anyone who lives near a coastal area. The difference, of course, is that the piers for beach houses are usually an entire story off the ground instead of a couple of feet.

    I wonder what it is about the soil in your area where they use Pier and Beam instead of concrete foundations. Or maybe it was just done out of thrift and became popular?

    1. It was just the standard construction until the 60’s. In the 60’s, builders started using slab foundations and moving away from pier and beam. But just about every single house in this area built before 1960 is pier and beam. From what I understand, they moved away from pier and beam and to slab foundations because slabs were quicker and cheaper.

  8. Great job – soon you will hit the pretty phase !! (Pier and beam – common Texas lingo – you hear people say “do you have foundation or pier & beam) – I too have always envied those that have basements. Hardly ever do you see in Texas.

    Cant wait to see how your bathroom progresses !

  9. Whew! I’m exhausted just reading about it! lol. Girl, you are a hoss. I’m so glad you were able to get that plumbing replaced quickly. And since you are going to this much trouble, why not do as a reader suggested above and go ahead and do your final remodel now? Is there a way to work things out so that could be done? it does seem like a shame to go to all this work and then have to redo it a few years later.

    You continue to amaze…

  10. (Please, please, please don’t shoot me, but) if you are making this bathroom accessible to Matt and removing all the floor, does that mean you’ll be removing the bathtub too???

  11. Hey, we’re in the middle of a hall bath overhaul in our 1969 ranch and homeowners insurance covered anything ruined by water damage. You may or may not have thought about filing a claim but we are glad we did!

    1. Thats a tricky one for a lot of people. Insurance companies can and will jack up your rates for every little claim you make, or, at the end of your term, drop you. Thats why its best to keep claims just to major things like new roof, natural disaster etc. A small one once in a rare blue moon may be okay, but generally speaking, insurance companies are known for being shady and jacking up rates when you start making claims.

  12. Thank you for making it a fun read to learn about the building process. I think this is how my house is built. You explained it so well. Now I will have a better understanding of the lingo when I do renovations. Your blog is wonderfully diverse which keeps it fresh. Everyday when I log on, I look forward to your adventures. You write beautifully.

  13. I’m glad I came across your website. We have embarked on our own home renovation. For starters, it isn’t pretty; and I dread to break into the bathrooms. We are getting two bathrooms redone, and I’m not looking forward to the surprises that may lay ahead. However, your website is quite informative. Thank you for sharing your experiences. I’ll be sure to bookmark your site and revisit often.
    Sandi Nagel

  14. Hi Kristi! Watching this closely as this project is also on my list here at home! You mentioned that Matt hasn’t been able to use this bathroom because of the difference of floor heights that he can’t get over in the wheelchair. Once you add the underlayment, the cement board and the tile, won’t you be facing the same problem? I’ve thought about this for my own bathroom and I’ll be watching to see how you address it there. Thanks for sharing!

    1. If my math is correct (and I think it is, because my brother was with me and he double-checked), this floor should end up exactly at the same height as the hallway floor. There might be a tiny difference, but it won’t be anywhere near the 3/4-inch lip that was there before.

  15. My goodness girl, your a power house! Good for you, with all this hard work and endless demo. It’s such a thankless job! You know the ole saying “someone has to do it”! Haha! I love everything DIY! It’s not always roses ( sniff sniff) or easy getting to the “PRETTY” stuff. Knowing what’s under and in your walls in the way of good joists and plumbing and wiring is all part of the “PRETTY” now. “PRETTY” glad I found this out, before applying lipstick and mascara! Haha!

  16. I remember those pictures, same ones we took when we gutted our bath, and all the trash cans that got dumped into the back of my truck. It is really hard to believe how much actually comes out of such a small space. Then we got to take it to the dump. I was never so sore my whole life. We actually had a contractor come in to do all the remodel/reconstruction work (4,500.00 later, which wasn’t too bad) We didn’t buy the best of the best, but what we did buy will last until whoever does another remodel up there and it is the kids bathroom, we did replaced the old pink cast tub with another cast iron one, white. There was some work up there that we knew we were not qualified to do and wanted it done right and we have an arched ceiling, I was not sure how to do that, but I did all the deconstruction of the bathroom. We also have a small closet behind the door that we left as it really didn’t make or break the bathroom and was much needed storage for all the kids “stuff” ! I am hoping our master bath remodel is a bit less complicated than that bathroom was, everything had to be replaced in there (original house was built in 1940), but our master bath was added on along with the master bedroom back in 1984. The things I found in there when removing the wallpaper where the man jotted down notes was fun to read and discover. He must have loved the song American Pie and a couple cars he must have thought about buying or liked, some measurements and notes on what wallpaper to use, sink, toilet, etc. I loved reading for the thirty or so minutes I took to read all the jotting and doodles. In the bathroom upstairs we found a couple old thin stinky tee-shirts in the floor joists. Must of been a warm day when this built this old house 🙂 Enjoy your remodel, you are making memories 🙂 Can’t wait to see it finished!

  17. You are the bravest women I know. I have wanted to say that for awhile so I finally did. Girl, you are so brave. Way to go!

  18. I was worried it would be rotted by the toilet. My house was a 60’s house with the same tile job as yours, just in harvest gold… good old harvest gold everything in this house. I was able to pull the tiles away from the mortar bed which was more like concrete than mortar. It was luckily in good shape everywhere except for around the toilet where the toilet had leaked back. I pulled out the rubble from around the toilet and it didnt make it all the way through the mortar bed yet to the floor joists luckily. The issue was they had siliconed around the toilet so when the seal had rusted through, the water was trapped. Luckily my mortar bed had wire mesh in it to provide strength so I was able to back fill around the toilet and level it and it was all bonded together nicely before I tiled over it with fresh tile. This bathroom sits over my basement so I checked the area underneath it for any signs of water damage to the ceiling and there was none, so I dodged a bullet there.

    I am not sure if you saw my post last time, but if you decide to tackle your other bathroom or another tile rip out project, give an air hammer a try. You can get a $20 one and hook it up to your air compressor and it will seriously save you days worth of work and keep you from hurting your arms.

    1. I did see that! The price is amazing. I might need to get it for the other bathroom. I think it has the same tile and mortar around the bathtub, but fortunately no tiles on the floor or walls.

  19. Kristi, you are so inspirational! Your knowledge and understanding is such a gift from God! As always, love to see all the progress! 🙂 btw… Would love to know how you and Matt are doing on your weightless journey.

  20. Yes, thank goodness for that rotting subfloor. I really like those kinds of “bummers” (pardon the pun, lol). BTW, I just have to say that you are amazing! I happened upon your blog and now I’m a die-hard fan. You are an inspiration to me, and it doesn’t hurt that you have great taste either. Keep up the great work, girl!

  21. I hope your arms get a chance to recover from the ‘beating’ they took taking out all those tiles and mortar. Yowza! Now that you are down to the basics, you can start to rebuild the bathroom the way you want it. Take care and make sure you’re getting plenty of rest.

  22. Good Morning from Australia Kirsti, well you never seen to suprise me. Such a dynamite of a woman. Hope you poor arms will get a rest. Now the whole bathroom area can start to happen for you and in particular Matt. Hope no more surprises will come you way. Thank you for sharing and explaining. Have a good day

  23. I really admire you and love your work. You really do amaze me. my question is what are you doing for the base of the shower? If your buying a floor pan where are you getting it from?

    1. I’m not doing a shower right now. But I do know that Home Depot has one-piece complete shower pans, and they also have shower pan liners. Both come in all different sizes.

  24. If this is you resting, I would hate to see what you could do when you were full force! I was thinking, you need not go to a gym while you are on your weight loss journey. Bagging and hauling 33 bags of rubble is the exercise equivalent of power lifting, and hammer swinging is very similar to an exercise on Bob Harper’s Biggest Loser Bootcamp tape. Your killing two birds with one stone, remodeling your bathroom and toning that new slimmer body. Carry on, and be sure to post updated photos of those new guns you’ll be sporting in your new pretty bathroom!

  25. Hi Kristi, good for you! Last time I looked there was still floor around the toilet. Looks like you are going to be good in this room re the floor. Thank goodness for reasonably priced plumbers. Can’t get over the hole in the sewer line, those old lines just rust right through. You rubbish in your front hall is about the neatest pile I have ever seen.. Yay for neighbors looking for some extra cash. That had to be a real save for you. You were explaining about your foundation and wondering about the lack of basements in your area. I am not sure but it could very possibly have something to do with sandy soil, or high water tables. That is usually why it is not done. When we move to FL we won’t have one. This will be a first for me. I always say they are just gigantic junk drawers, but I don’t know how I will feel without one. I saw on FB that you were asking about insulation. I think I mentioned to you that bathrooms can be noisy places. My first thought was Styrofoam sheets, and then I asked my husband who did not hesitate to say Styrofoam. It will keep the sound down, is cheap and won’t mold. About the linen closet. Do you need a full linen closet in the guest bath? Why not eliminate it and build something on the wall for storage. Open shelves with rolled towels, apothecary jars with extra bars of soap etc looks nice and does the job. I got so tired of having to get up from the john to get an new roll from under the sink, that I took a wire basket that I had and I just fill it with fresh rolls. It fits right next to the toilet and is far enough back as to not interfere with anything. You might want to consider other sources of storage. One of the things that my mom used to do with seven kids was to put the second set of sheets for each bed between the mattress and box spring. She would never have had enough room for all those extra sheets. Realistically, you only need two sets per bed and two towels per person. I keep a folded pile of face cloths folded on the edge of my tub and the in use towels hang from an over the door hook. Everything else can be kept on shelves on either side of the sink within Matts reach. I saw a cute idea a while back where someone took a drawer, painted it and turned it on it sideways and hung it. The drawer pull served a great hand towel holder and the “sides” of the drawer worked great as shelve. It was really cute. One was even lined with the same fabric as the shower curtain. Anyway best of luck on the bathroom, can’t wait to see what he future brings. Blessings.

  26. Hi Kristi, glad you found the bad pipe & not have problems when done. He updated your other piping so I guess he thought the tub/shower pipes are ok? My only concern is when you put down the new 3/4 inch subfloor & the hardibaker concrete board the floor will be too high & then Matt won’t be able to come in again. How thick is that board? Can it be used in place of the wood subfloor ?

  27. OMGOSHES!!!! Again….I am in ah!
    You’re doing a fabulous job….that is soooooooo much work!
    Holy moly Girl……take a break….have a Pepsie…?stand back and be ever so PROUD!!!!!
    Thanks for the post……love seeing and reading about it!

  28. Anxious to see what you end up doing with the bathroom closet. We have one just like it and I hate that wasted space at the top.

  29. Wow, you are amazing. My ex and I did this 13yrs ago and it took us wks. We were working after hours and on weekends. A d our concrete was a foot deep. It looked the same as yours does when empty though. Then we put in a new concrete floor including deeper footings around the outside. Our house was on piers like yours but with solid concrete under the bathroom. I’m looking forward to seeing yours come together now.