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For Boomers & Their Aging Parents

Improving a Conventional Bathroom

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.   
  • The tub can be removed and in its place, a shower with preferably no curb or a small curb can be installed so it can easily be stepped into.  You can purchase a pre-fabricated acrylic or fiberglass shower that will nicely fit the space of the old tub, or have a tiled shower built in that space.  The important thing is that the shower floor be at the same height as the bathroom floor so there are no steps to maneuver.
  • Don’t forget to install grab bars in the shower. There are numerous choices of “designer” bars out there to complement your bathroom fixtures.
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:
  • In new shower installations, select tile with a high anti-slip rating which is good for small children as well as adults. You can coat your existing floor tile with an anti-slip agent very inexpensively.  Check your local tile supply stores for these anti-slip coatings. 
  • Get rid of your old toilet and install a comfort height one.  They are a couple of inches taller than a standard toilet and make getting on and off much easier for anyone who is tall, has back or joint pain, or has diminished physical abilities. 
  • Look for some new vanity designs where the cabinets are open underneath, or consider a wall mounted sink  
  • Change your faucets to those with lever handles.  Faucets that have a single lever to control the water flow are best for people who have problems with their hands.  There are also new “touchless” faucets where the water starts to flow when you place your hands in front of a sensor.  These faucets are now available with prices ranging from $40 – $500+.  
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.     
Susan Luxenberg
HomeSmart LLC

17 Comments to Improving a Conventional Bathroom:

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Bathtub Refinishing on Friday, July 29, 2011 12:05 PM
Just installed a grab bar for my grandparents. Wish I had read this post before I did. Great information!
Reply to comment
small bathroom designs on Monday, November 7, 2011 10:09 PM
I installed this on my guest room and it looks awesome :)

Bathroom Supplies Sydney on Wednesday, November 30, 2011 10:30 AM
With those small bathrooms, the remodeling works well because it doesn't look less space at all but actually everything fits in accordingly. Great information about these amazing transformation.
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Bathroom Supplies Sydney on Wednesday, November 30, 2011 10:36 AM
The remodeling style used on those small bathrooms were very effective because at its looks now, it seems like a spacious one now and everything seems to fit in. Very nice ideas for an effective transformation.
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Glass Everett WA on Friday, July 12, 2013 3:42 AM
I have been looking for such a "Bathroom ideas" post for a long time. This is an excellent post. I learned a lot about what you talking about. Not sure if I agree with you completely though. Thanks again. Some of the points are very useful. Do share some more material if you have.
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remodeling a bathroom on Saturday, March 29, 2014 3:25 AM
I really liked the way you highlighted some really important and significant points like Improving a Conventional Bathroom. Thanks so much, I appreciate your work.keep it up
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Linen Factory's bed sheets on Thursday, May 22, 2014 5:11 AM
Improving is really needed and also gives more spaces into new design. I am pretty impressed to see this also.
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Shower Cabins on Wednesday, June 18, 2014 5:48 AM
Some really good advise in this article Susan. Especially regarding the doors..Thanks
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walking canes for sale on Thursday, June 19, 2014 1:07 AM
I like the conclusions made on this topic which is really very informative.
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Shower Man on Monday, June 23, 2014 6:41 AM
Nice ideas if re designing the bathroom Susan
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Best Wedding Photographer in Jaipur, on Saturday, August 16, 2014 1:29 AM
This is impressive and also great information.
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Eduardo C. Gonzalez on Tuesday, November 11, 2014 12:10 PM
I like all of these ideas a lot. I always want to make my bathroom natural looking. This idea can help me with those. Bathroom is one my prime concern in my house.
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Star Ceramics on Wednesday, December 31, 2014 8:22 AM
No one wants a common or conventional bathroom. Budget is so important for our bathroom remodeling also.
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northernvalleyconstructioninc on Wednesday, May 6, 2015 2:22 AM
It can be very attractive
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superlooindia on Tuesday, September 15, 2015 12:53 AM
This is the most informative blog I ever read about bathroom remodeling. You clearly have much knowledge about this work.
Reply to comment

fake watches on Wednesday, November 11, 2015 10:39 PM
you often have the ability to enlarge the bathroom so as to make it more functional and accessible.
Reply to comment
Susan Luxenberg on Thursday, November 12, 2015 9:54 AM
Yes, enlarging the bath is often the best long term solution when trying to achieve accessibility. Bathrooms are most often set adjacent to bedrooms which, if large enough, can afford to lose a little space to enlarge a small bathroom. That's a win-win situation where, if well planned and executed, increasing the size of the bathroom not only makes it more functional and accessible but also increases home value. Keep in mind,however, that many seniors prefer to modify in ways that are less costly. Rather than expanding space, they want to adapt the space they have so that they can use it comfortably. Also, there are situations, eg. condo buildings, that will not allow the floor plan layout to be amended. This particular blog article addresses how accessibility can be achieved even within the confines of a small bath with traditional fixtures. We have previously posted a blog showing an example of a narrow bath that was expanded into an adjoining bedroom closet to give more room for accessibility. SEE UPDATING FOR ACCESSIBILITY IN THE PROJECT FILES CATEGORY. Thanks! Susan Luxenberg

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