Home Adaptations for Independent Living


Recent Questions: Grab bars

Posted on July 17, 2011 at 12:40 PM

Question: We have a guest bathroom that our parents use when they visit.  We’d like to install grab bars in the bathtub and shower area. How do we decide what size grab bars to use and where to place them? 
Answer: Many older adults prefer a grab bar that is 1” – 1 ¼” in diameter as it’s easier to grip, especially for those with a reduced hand grip. And while grab bars come in smooth or textured finishes, those that are textured help prevent soapy hands from slipping.  Some grab bars even have specialty slip resistant designs, like finger grips on the underside of the bar, to aid in maintaining a firm grip.  

While the placement of wall mounted grab bars depends on the wall structure, plumbing layout, whether bathing or showering, and the user’s height and range of reach, there are general guidelines you can follow.  

1.    On the shorter side wall opposite the showerhead – Locating a bar here will aid in balance when stepping in or out of a tub or shower.  You can either install a bar vertically or horizontally on this wall.  I prefer a vertical bar at this location, 18” in length, installed no more than 9” from the outside edge of the tub wall.  The bottom of the grab bar should be approximately 32”-36” above the floor.  If you prefer to place the bar horizontally, install a 24” bar, approximately 33”-36” above the floor.  
2. On the longer wall – Locating a bar here offers support while standing in the bath or shower.  If placing the bar horizontally, use a 24” – 48” bar (depending on the length of the shower area), 33”-36” above the floor.  The horizontal placement assists a user when facing in either direction but is limited to a fixed height.  Alternately, you can install the bar at a 45 degree angle which allows individuals of different heights to access the bar comfortably and will help when getting up from a shower chair or from the bathtub floor.  A diagonal bar also allows for a more natural and functional hand placement with less stress on the wrist. The lowest end of the bar should sit approximately 9” above the tub rim and slope upwards towards the showerhead. 
The safest way to install a grab bar is either directly into the studs, into plywood blocking that has been installed behind the wall, or with special fasteners that meet the requirement of sustaining 250 lbs. of dead load force. Grab bars should never be installed with only plastic anchors and screws directly into tile and wall board since they may not hold up if pulled on during a fall.   
Question: We’ve seen suction style grab bars and grab bars that mount on the tub.  Are these safe to use?
Answer: There are companies that offer grab bars that suction, clamp, or screw onto the side of the tub wall.  I would not recommend using these style bars as I have witnessed how easily they can shift or completely detach when being used to get in and out of a tub.  Maybe, when used properly, these bars can help to stabilize balance BUT one has to be extremely careful not to pull on them.  Installing a grab bar is not a place to skimp and what appears to be an easy, inexpensive solution could wind up being quite costly.  With the new fasteners available today, there is little reason not to securely mount a standard grab bar on the wall, or to use a flip down bar or floor to ceiling pole instead. 

  Susan Luxenberg
  HomeSmart LLC

Categories: Questions & Answers

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