When it’s time to make your bathroom more stylish and functional, make it safer and more accessible, too. Tight quarters, slick surfaces, hard objects, and hot water can make a bath difficult and even dangerous to navigate, especially for people with physical limitations. Fortunately, there are ways to make your bath easier to use and reduce the risk of accidents or injury.
Buy a Taller Toilet
Replacing a standard-height toilet (the seat is 14-in to 15-in from the floor) with a chair-height model (the seat is 16-in to 18-in from the floor) makes the bath easier to use for people of all ages, heights and mobility levels.
- Locate toilets 18-in from side walls, both for freedom of access from chair or walker and/or to allow room for grab bars.
- Use an offset flange to move the toilet forward up to 3-in without having to relocate the waste pipe.
- Choose a toilet with an easy-to-use flush handle and an extended seat. Add reinforcement for bars (now or later) in the wall.
- Add wood blocking or solid plywood backing behind the surface wall. The wood provides the support necessary to support the weight of an adult.
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Lavatory and Vanity Accessibility
- Provide knee space for seated users. To allow access, an open roll-under vanity needs to be 34-in high from the countertop to the floor and 29-in from the bottom of the sink to the floor.
- A vanity or wall-hung sink needs to have at least a 17-in depth to allow space for knees.
- Place the sink as close as possible to the front of a vanity cabinet to allow the user easier reach to the sink basin and faucet.
- Removable cabinets allow conversion from regular vanity to an accessible lavatory. Simply mount the sink to the reinforced wall. Add a vanity case below that can be easily removed when needed.
- Install lever handle, touchless or touch-activated faucets.
- Exposed hot water pipes should be insulated and/or covered.
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Burns from hot water pose a bath hazard, especially for children. You can lower the risk by lowering the temperature on your water heater to 120°F. Check the actual temperature at the faucet by turning on the hot water and letting it run over a candy thermometer for a few minutes.
Ease Tub Entry
When it comes to bathing, a raised tub with a deck or platform is easier to enter than a tub with a side you have to step over. You can sit on the tub deck, swing your legs over, and lower yourself into the water. For people with mobility issues, a walk-in tub with a watertight door on the side is even easier.
- Walk-in tubs offer the safety of a low step-in height and the comfort of showering or bathing in a seated position. Plus, some units include additional luxury features such as hydrotherapy spa jets to help soothe aches and pains.
- Shower door tracks restrict movement in and out of the tub. Replace with a trackless door system.
- Provide 30-in of open floor space in front of the tub when approaching from the end (head) and 48-in if the tub is approached straight-on (side).
- Use lever handle (preferably single lever) faucets rather than hard to handle knobs.
- Locate water control near the entry to the allow bather to turn on water while outside the tub.
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When someone flushes the toilet while you’re in the shower, does the water get suddenly hotter? If so, you could use a pressure-balancing valve. This fitting detects changes in water pressure coming to the faucet and adjusts the hot and cold mix to maintain an even temperature and prevent scalding. Thermostatic valves also prevent scalding, and they offer greater control over water temperature. They treat water temperature and volume separately, allowing you to set the exact temperature even before you turn on the water (and making it difficult to set the temperature higher than a preset limit).
In addition to installing grab bars and anti-scald devices, you can make your shower safer and more accessible by the design you choose. A walk-in shower with a low threshold (or none at all) eases entry for everyone. Controls and showerheads should be positioned so users can turn on the water and set the temperature before the spray hits them. And the shower controls should be easy to operate -- a single lever handle is ideal. For the showerhead, consider an adjustable-height handheld model. It accommodates different statures and postures. If you have the space, a shower bench is nice for people who have trouble standing. There are also special shower chairs available for those with mobility issues.
- Shower dimension should be 36-in x 36-in with seat; 30-in x 60-in without a seat.
- Locate water control near the entry to allow the bather to turn on water while outside the tub.
- Curbless or roll-in showers are available for those who are unable to move from a wheelchair or have difficulty lifting their feet.
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Install Grab Bars
Grab bars offer another way to prevent bath falls and improve accessibility for those with mobility issues. Resembling towel bars but capable of supporting much more weight, grab bars help bathroom users keep their balance and help themselves up or down in tub and shower areas and by the toilet. To work properly, grab bars must be securely anchored to wall studs -- and that may require beefing up the framing behind the wall. So if you’re opening up a bath wall to do other remodeling work, it’s a great time to add a grab bar.
- Install grab bars instead of towel bars. Diameters should be 1-1/4-in - 1-1/2-in.
- Leave a space between the grab bar and wall of 1-1/2-in. An opening that is too wide could allow a hand to get stuck and in effect, trap the user.
- Look for replacement surrounds with built-in reinforced panels capable of accepting grab bars.
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Other Tips for an Accessible Bathroom
Many other Better Living Design principals apply in the bath as well as the rest of the home:
- Install full-length mirrors or regular mirrors mounted low enough for people of all heights to use.
- Thresholds should be no higher than 1/2-in. No threshold is best.
- To prevent accidental electrocution -- and meet building codes -- all electrical outlets in a bathroom should be ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs). When these outlets sense current fluctuations that can cause shocks, they immediately shut off power to any devices plugged into them. If your bathroom does not have GFCI outlets, add them as soon as possible. If you do have GFCIs, test them to make sure they work properly.
- Make the bath easier to find and safer to use for middle-of-the-night visits by installing an inexpensive night light near the entry. Night lights come in a variety of shapes and styles, including models with LED bulbs, motion sensors, and auto on / off features.
- For someone who uses a wheelchair or walker, getting into the bathroom is often the biggest obstacle. Bath doorways are typically only 24-in to 30-in wide. To allow wheelchair access, a bath doorway needs to be at least 32-in wide. An opening of 34-in or 36-in is even better, especially if the wheelchair has to turn sharply from a narrow hallway. Though it may not be an issue now, you never know when a family member or guest might require wheelchair or walker access, even temporarily. It’s easier to widen the doorway when you’re making other changes to your bath.
- Swing-away hinges allow full use of door frame.
- Easy to grasp cabinet hardware and door handles fit all hands.
- Allow for room to turn a wheelchair (approximately 5-ft x 5-ft).
- Falls are a common cause of bath injuries. Tile covers most bath floors, and when it gets wet, you can easily lose your footing, especially in bare feet. Mats and rugs help, but even those can slide around. When choosing tile, look for products that offer an anti-slip finish and meet requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). In general, avoid glossy finishes and look for a grittier surface. Also, stick to smaller tiles -- smaller tiles mean more grout lines, and grout lines create a texture that aids traction. Tiny 1-in x 1-in mosaic tiles are a good choice.
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