Kitchen CountertopIn the case of a remodeling project, care must be exercised in the original surface removal. This is important in many ways. It is important to protect those surfaces not involved. This can be accomplished by the use of “Kraft” type paper or plastic type sheeting.

There are ways to remove existing surfaces that minimize collateral damage to non-involved surfaces. By simply looking at the item that needs removal and devising a plan. Please review the following dialog and photographs detailing various removal projects for ideas.

Tile Doctor Tip: Remember, to remove an existing surface or appliance, you need to know how it was installed or how it works.


Carpet, padding, and adhesives obviously must be removed. In the case of vinyl or other “soft” type flooring, it should also be removed. This is not necessarily mandatory. There are adhesive Manufacturers that will guarantee a bond to these materials. However, by installing tile over a finished surface, you are depending on the existing surfaces bond to the substrate for support.

Remember that some vinyl type flooring is installed with a “bonded edge” only. Meaning that the tile would be bonded to a non-bonded surface. This spells failure.

A note about asbestos is important here. Asbestos was a product used in the past to manufacture flooring tiles. It is a hazardous material and can not, by law, be removed by unqualified or unlicensed workers. It should only be present in very old linoleum type tiles. The saving grace in this situation is that it can legally be covered with another product. Unfortunately, if the old bond were not intact, it would have to be removed.

When removing stone or ceramic tile, a great deal of dust and flying debris can be generated. Proper protection of non-involved surfaces is important. Also, safety glasses and respiratory protection is a must. Some tile is very difficult to remove while other tile may be easy. The key here is to remove the old tile and bonding substance as thoroughly as possible.

Whether the old flooring is soft or hard, there are many tools available for their removal. Some existing installations may make a power tool necessary and others can be accomplished with manual tools. Carefully examine the flooring and pick the right tool for the job. Remember to follow the tool Manufacturers instructions on their use and use safety devices.


By examining the counter top to be removed, a plan can be developed. In the case of pre-fabricated counter tops like those made of wood or stone look-a-likes, there can glue joints, screws, bolts, or a combination of these fasteners. Look underneath the top to determine the best removal method. Wherever there is a joint filled with caulking at abutting surfaces, cut it prior to lifting off the top. This will prevent damage to abutting surfaces like paint, etc.

Existing tiled surfaces can generate the same dust and flying debris as floors. Careful protection of non-involved surfaces is important. Since tile on counters can be placed on mortar, backer board, or plywood. Each type installation needs to be treated differently.

In the case of mortar, you will note that it is thick, heavy, and reinforced with wire mesh. This makes it nearly impossible to remove in one piece. Once the sink and other appliances are removed, it is sometimes best to cut the mortar and tile with a diamond dry saw prior to prying the mortar and tile away from the supporting wood deck below. Again, cut the caulking joints at abutting surfaces prior to prying off the mortar and tile top. Remember safety, the dust and flying debris requires eye and respiration protection. The wire mesh can cut your hands easily. The use of good work gloves is especially important here.

Tiled Walls

Tiled walls are similar to floor tile removal. However, it is doubtful that the surface under the tile can be saved for the new tile. There are exceptions as in the case of heavy masonry walls. Nevertheless, pre-cutting the installation into manageable sizes is important. Also, cutting the outside perimeter is advisable to help prevent collateral damage to non-involved surfaces. Again the same dust, flying debris, and safety concerns should apply.

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Fiberglass Tubs and Showers

These units have some peculiar removal aspects. The plumbing must first be detached. This may involve simply removing handles and escutcheons, unscrewing the downspout and showerhead extension, removing shower or bath doors, and disconnecting the drain trap and hardware. Shower drains may be a little different. In the case of a rubber-locking ring, it can generally be pried or turned out by unscrewing. If the drain has been installed with a “lead and oakum” locking and water proofing mechanism it will need to be drilled out.

Once the plumbing is detached, I cut a perimeter around the unit outside the units flange or nailing plate. The width of this flange can be determined by cutting out the wall surface in increasing amounts until the edge is found. Then I remove the wall surface exposing the nailing plate and nails. Once I have removed the nails, I cut the shower or tub into manageable pieces using a reciprocating saw. Caution should be exercised in setting the blade depth. You only want to cut the unit. You do not want to cut framing, electrical, and plumbing lines behind the unit. Once the unit is cut up, it is removed.

Remember that the unit is made of fiberglass. You do not want to breathe fiberglass fibers or resin. Also, safety glasses and gloves are a good idea.

Plumbing Fixtures

Unbolt, disassemble and remove toilets and bidets, sinks, steel and cast iron tubs, and the like. Some are heavy while some are not. Cutting the caulking joints is almost always mandatory when dealing with self-rimming sinks as they are held in place by the caulking/adhesive.

If the goal is replacing the tub, the wall material above the tub will need to be removed prior to the tub. Tubs are installed prior to the finished wall construction. It is sometimes necessary to remove studs that prevent removal also. With cast iron tubs, it will take two workers to move the existing tub as they can weigh more than 100 pounds or more.

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