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$6000 House: Demolishing Built-ins

renosteinke's picture

As I continue to gut this house, I've formed an opinion on a hotly debated topic: When do you install cabinets and tubs?

In my house, both were installed directly on the subfloor;  the finished floor went only to the edges of these 'built-ins.' I believe this is the wrong way to do things.

In both cases, this complicated the demolition, as things had to be lifted over the underlayment and finished floor to be removed. That's a lot harder than simply sliding things out. When the item is a 500#  cast iron tub with nothing to grab ahold of, that's a real problem.

The break in the finished floor also, in both cases, directed water to the subfloor. This allowed leaks to be undetected, and the floor to rot through. The same had happened at the toilet - where the leak proved to be at the bowl/tank juncture, rather than at the base of the bowl.

A similar issue arose around the tub flange. The opening had been framed to accept the tub; both the wall sheathing and tile were placed over the flange. This resulted in a tub you could not remove - or a replacement you could not install- without first demolishing a large section of wall.

I'm going out on a limb here and say that the design of the typical tub is seriously flawed for this reason. They're simply not intended to ever be replaced.

Related to the water damage issue is: how do you make the walls? I found quite a bit of evidence the drywall had been soaked several times behind the cabinets and toilet. Drywall concealed by the upper cabinets also had quite a bit of surface mold. Oddly enough, the walls around the tub / shower were in good shape, except for the area around the faucet.

The wall behind the toilet was water damaged, yet was protected by tile. So far, it looks like the tile guy knew his trade; it's not clear to me where the water came from. 

The wall behind the lavatory was water damaged, despite the tile job. The worst of the damage was at baseboard level.

So ... what will I do?

Well, I'm persuaded to finish the floors before I instal any cabinets or appliances. I might even notch the bottom edges of the cabinets, or make other provisions to let any water that might get in there drain. Maybe even slightly raise the cabinets by setting them atop a sheet of Formica placed over the finished floor.

(As a side note, the sheet of Formica used as a backsplash in the kitchen worked exceptionally well fo 56 years- though some fool painted it!)

It might be a good detail to face the wall behind the cabinets with FRP, and to replace drywall with Durock in the areas where plumbing penetrates.  

Say what you will about expanding foam insulation .... but it won't hold water the way rockwool does.

I'm forming a bias in favor of a wall-mounted toilet - or, at least, a tankless one (to eliminate one source of leaks).

Likewise, there's something to be said for the old claw-foot tub, with a small 'free' space all around it. I've already decided to separate the tub from the shower.

Still, bathrooms and kitchens both get water on the floor. Maybe - just maybe - we ought to install floor drains as a matter of course; give the water a place to go! I'm also in favor of continuing the flooring up the walls, at least 4". Make it 'self molding,' so to speak., with nice radiuses to keep dirt and water from being drawn to the corners.

water damage in the walls (post #207329, reply #1 of 5)

I believe that most water damage in bathroom/kitchen walls results from condensation on the cpold water lines. Warm, moist air leaks into the wall cavities and condenses on the cold water lines. The resultant drips cause the sill rot that you experienced when the tile and wall appeared sound. I think that bathroom walls should be insulated with foam or tight fitting foam pipe insulation should be used on all pipes (not just hot). Toilet tanks and other cold fixtures can also cause condensation. I always seal under and behind the toilet and caulk or foam the toilet flange to the finished floor. Running cold water in an iron or porcelain tub after a hot shower can cause condensation under the tub.

Most of what you've discussed (post #207329, reply #2 of 5)

Most of what you've discussed are issues of maintenance.

And it's "traditional", if nothing else, to install the bathtub early.  This is a practical matter in that the tub is large and heavy and goes in a lot easier before the walls are finished.

But I'm a fan of putting the cabinets on top of the finished floor, or a near approximation thereof.

Of all the preposterous assumptions of humanity over humanity, nothing exceeds most of the criticisms made on the habits of the poor by the well-housed, well-warmed, and well-fed.  --Herman Melville

Someone will soon be along to suggest white glue. (post #207329, reply #3 of 5)

Someone will soon be along to suggest you use white glue to seal it all off.  LOL.


I think you're right: "ease (post #207329, reply #4 of 5)

I think you're right: "ease of construction" and cost probably were major influences back when the house was built. I really can't blame them. Actually, continuing to perform well for over half a century is quite an accomplishment.

My point is: OK, that was then, this is now. Maybe we can do it better this time.

Maintenance issues? Sure are. Let's look farther down the road, as everything will have to be worked on down the road.

The point about condensation is a good one - and another reason to hang the toilet from the wall.

I am actively looking for water sources for the damage I find. Here's some of what I've found:

- The vent pipe to the kitchen sink drain was never properly connected. So, it's possible that water enterd the wall cavity every time the sink was drained;

- A "laundry room" had been added to the house, and leaks were found whereever the house sheathing was disturbed. DIY  time!;

- There may have been some leakage around the main vent stack.

Compounding the problems is that once water entered a space - like under the cabinets- it had no where to go. At least, not intil it completely rotted through the subfloor.

So far, the 'improvements' I see needed are:

1) Finish walls and floors all the way, and not just where they are visible;

2) Install cabinets and appliances so that they can be readily removed, without need to damage the walls and floors; and,

3) Give water a place to go. For example, perhaps 1/8" "weep holes" in a varnish-sealed subfloor would have prevented rot from getting started. There's no reason we can't do this in those places where we have seen problems before: under cabinets and toilets.

I'm not completely sure about how to change tub installs. Perhaps a free-standing tub, with the walls having a sloped ledge just over the rim, to direct water into the tub. I don't like the results of actually making the tub part of the wall.

Afterthought: Heaven alone knows what sins are hidden by those shower / tub inserts!

Afterthought #2: DIY, or hiring the local handyman, seems a sure path to troubles.

reno (post #207329, reply #5 of 5)


Sure, IF problems should happen it would be great for an automatic fix.


your weep holes let the water out.  Where does it go?  What further damage will go unnoticed?

wall hung toilets?  Sure a good idea for both helping to silence the fill (so it's claimed) and floor cleaning, but there are water connections in the wall now that you cannot see.

The tub up at lease above or pretty damn close to finish floor ht is smart-but consider the specific flooring you are going to use-you wouldn't put a tub's weight on tile for instance.  Sheet goods (lino) under the apron front-real good idea at least on the first install. Many baths with the vinyl laid up to the apron welcome water.  Caulk helps, but is not forever.

But (again),

The proper installation of all plumbing, electric, cabinetry, flooring etc, done in a well framed (or corrected) house is the real way to do it.

Trying to expect defeat and then build to it is not.  You end up making potentially more work for yourself, add cost, and oftentimes screw something else up that needn't have had a problem in the first place.

Build it right, keep your eyes and ears open and make sure that damn crawl is deep enough.


I've read your opinion on basements.  While secondary draining is a good idea, the best is to keep it out of the living area in the first place.


Best of luck on this project and take some pictures and post them-I'm more than just a bit interested in this.


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