Today I need to rant a bit. I just came from yet another home where the homeowners spent good money to replace their bathtub with a “walk-in” or “curb-less” shower. The problem is that the showers I saw were anything but walk-in, since to enter the shower one had to step over a curb or threshold - sometimes 4” high, sometimes 5” or more. This might not seem like a big deal when you have no physical ailments, but many, many of the seniors I see have difficulty maneuvering anything they have to step over, let alone a 5” shower curb. When I asked these homeowners how they came to this shower design, they each told me that that’s what the contractor built when they asked for a walk-in shower.
The homeowners themselves didn't have enough information to direct their contractors and consequently accepted whatever design was suggested. It seems that even though more consumers are requesting curb-less showers, contractors are reluctant to build a shower without some curb for fear that if built otherwise, water will flow onto the bathroom floor and their customers will find fault with the installation. Only after the jobs were finished did these homeowners realize that they still had some difficulty getting in and out of their new showers. At the stage that I met them, most of these people were mobile. It’s easy to imagine the difficulties ahead should any one of them require a walker or wheelchair as they age.
Replacing a conventional tub with a shower is a great bathroom renovation, but only if it’s done properly. The shower floor should be at the same level as the bathroom floor with nothing to step over when you walk from bathroom to shower. The question then is: How does the water stay in the shower if there is no barrier, like a curb, to stop it? Answer: The water can be contained when a trench drain is positioned at the shower’s entrance and the shower floor is sloped to the drain. A trench drain is a long, narrow trough, covered with a stainless steel, fiberglass or plastic grate. Water is directed into the trough and into a standard drain. Alternately, you could install a trench drain along the back wall of the shower and pitch the floor to that wall instead. One of the benefits of trench drains is that other barriers to a shower layout, such as half walls or curbs, can be eliminated since these drains become an in-floor water barrier all by themselves. You also can eliminate multiple slopes; a single slope to the drain is sufficient.
It’s easy to understand people’s reluctance to accept a true barrier free shower since it's not been the way we've built residential showers in the past. But then again, it's not until quite recently that we've thought about how we can adapt standard building and design elements to more universal design. As the aging population swells, architects, designers, and contractors are taking a much closer look at floor plans and features that will meet the needs of this consumer group. Trench drains have been used in the United States for a number of years in other applications (around swimming pools, patios and sidewalks, in commercial kitchens and labs) and they are commonly accepted in residential applications throughout Europe. And now that the trench drain is becoming more accepted for interior residential use here, manufacturers are becoming creative and offering choices in drain covers so that the floor drain itself can integrate into a bathroom’s design.
Who knew that something as boring as a shower drain could become such a style statement?
Here’s a picture of a sloping trench drain as barrier between the wet shower floor and the dry bathroom floor.
Here’s another trench drain, seamlessly integrated between the shower and bathroom so that a chair can easily roll over the drain.
Want to make a color statement? Not a problem.
There’s even a trench drain available, QuaRTZ, that has an option to include rechargeable, LED lights attached to the back side of the grate. When water is present, the lights go on in whatever color you choose. When the water stops running into the drain, the lights go off.
Regardless of the color or style you choose, trench drains are an important component of designing a true walk-in shower that you’ll be able to use comfortably for however long you remain in your home.