The bathroom is the biggest safety hazard in our home. It also presents the greatest challenge when designing access for those with limited mobility. If you are building a new home or completely redesigning an existing bath, you often have the ability to enlarge the bathroom so as to make it more functional and accessible. In an existing home, however, enlarging your bath might not be possible or might mean sacrificing an adjoining room. So how can you improve a conventional bathroom so that it becomes safer and easier to negotiate for all?
Below is a picture of a fairly standard bathroom – where all fixtures are lined up next to each other.
Looking at the picture above, let’s identify those items that could be changed to update the bathroom and improve safety, accessibility and style.
Check out the picture below. These homeowners started off with the right idea by removing the tub and replacing it with a shower. But not only is there a curb to step over but also the shower floor is slightly lower than the bath floor – not by much but enough to cause a problem for someone with a knee injury or a mobility issue. And while there are the correct number of grab bars (one placed at the entrance to the shower and one along the long wall), the diagonal bar is slanting in the wrong direction to be of any assistance when needed for help in getting up from the shower chair.
While grab bar placement depends on a number of factors including wall structure, plumbing layout, and each user’s physical characteristics, there are general guidelines you can follow:
On the short wall where you enter the tub/shower – install an 18”-36” vertical bar no more than 9" from the edge of the outside tub wall, with the bottom of the grab bar approximately 32" to 36" above the floor.
On the long wall – either a 24” angled bar (helpful in getting up from a bath chair or tub floor) installed at a 45 degree angle, sloping up towards the shower head, with the lowest point approximately 9” above the rim of the tub OR a 24" - 48" long grab bar, installed horizontally 33" - 36" above the floor.
Just don’t assume your installer knows the right height for you. The best thing to do is to walk in and out of your tub or shower a few times to find a comfortable height before the bars are installed.
Here are some more ways to update a conventional bathroom:
The pictures below are all of small bathrooms that started with conventional layouts but have been stylishly renovated for comfort, safety and accessibility.
And one last thing. While none of these pictures show entrances to the baths, bathroom doors - particularly in older homes - are often narrower than the other doors in the house. Pocket doors, which slide into the wall rather than swinging open, can be used to increase doorway access but they are not inexpensive to install and involve construction. They also are difficult for some people to physically open and close. If you only need a couple more inches to make your doorway more accessible, a simpler, less expensive option is to use offset hinges. Offset hinges will provide an additional 2” of clearance and are installed as a replacement to the existing door hinges.