Adding Accessibility to Your Custom Bathroom Renovation

 In Bathrooms, Renovations

It’s probably not a surprise to hear that most injuries in the home happen in the bathroom. It’s an often cramped, slippery space, and making full use of it can require a lot of maneuvering – so it’s worth thinking about incorporating accessibility into your custom bathroom renovation. Some of these elements might seem obvious, but there are quite a few subtle adjustments that can make a huge difference to your loved ones, whether they’re dealing with injury, arthritis, ALS, multiple sclerosis, or any other challenge that makes mobility more difficult than normal.

Providing an Easy Entrance

First of all, if you’re designing for someone who uses a wheelchair or may need one in the future, it’s important to open up a wide doorway between the hall and the bathroom – 32 inches to be exact. You’ll also want to make sure that the room can accommodate a 60-inch turning space diameter.

You can make the bathroom more open and navigable by using a pocket door or an outward swinging door. That way, an inward swinging door isn’t occupying one of the corners. The door handles should be easy to operate as well; lever-style handles can minimize wrist rotation and make it much easier to open and close the door.

Flipping the lights on is usually the first thing you do when you enter a bathroom. Make this easier by opting for motion-activated lights or easy-to-operate push button switches. You can also have the panel installed lower so they’re easier to reach.

Floor tiles can be slippery. When choosing your flooring, consider a non-slip material. Since this is typically made of vinyl, some opt for materials that are more natural-looking but still provide a good amount of traction. These include certain stones, bamboo, and even cork.

Letting It Sink In

When it comes to the bathroom sink, it’s much easier for those with limited dexterity to work with a single-handle faucet. Not only do they not require twisting, but they also control both the hot and cold water in one, which can help in avoiding scalds and make it easier to manipulate.

Be sure to choose a sink that has a decent amount of counter space; it’s best to have room for soap dispensers, as bar soap can be difficult to pick up and steadily hold. At the same time, it’s best to choose a vanity with a shallow depth, making it easier to reach the faucet. You can also position the sink lower – and minimize any cabinetry below – to make it more accessible to wheelchair users.

Raising the Bar

Grab bars are one of the most helpful elements in adding accessibility to your bathroom. There are a few configurations to consider when installing them by the toilet. You can affix one to the wall, but you may want to consider a stand-up grab bar on the opposite side. This can come in handy if the wall grab bar is to the right of the toilet and the user is left-handed, or vice versa. It’s also helpful if the user feels more comfortable using both hands to regain a standing position.

Another element that makes it easier to sit down and stand up – or transfer from a wheelchair – is a raised toilet. You can buy a raised toilet seat that matches your new toilet, but some prefer a more integrated look. The best way to achieve this is to choose a “comfort height” or ADA toilet, which looks like a normal toilet, but is simply a bit taller. Or, since a wall-hung toilet can be positioned at any height, you could choose a standard-proportion toilet bowl and simply hang it higher than you otherwise would.

Since part of the accessibility equation is maximizing space, it can be worth considering using a concealed tank, also known as a back-to-wall toilet. This means the toilet bowl is up against the wall, but the tank is concealed in the wall, giving you several extra inches of space.

Cleaning up can be a challenge for those with limited flexibility, so choosing a toilet with a built in bidet is a good idea. This helps minimize any twisting and turning. Similar to the raised toilet seat, these can be installed easily with aftermarket kits, but most folks enjoy the less obtrusive built-in solutions.

Keeping It Clean

The bathtub and shower area is, of course, the slipperiest part of the bathroom. A dedicated shower – as opposed to a bath and shower combo – is usually the best option for an accessible bathroom. That way, you can have a curbless entry into the shower stall, which is much easier to deal with for wheelchair users or those who can’t lift their feet easily. You might wonder how a curbless shower entry could mean anything but a bathroom floor flooded with water, but a combination of ingenious engineering and material choices will keep the area outside the shower stall dry.

To make bathing easier and more comfortable, position the shower controls to the side of the shower head – that way the user won’t be splashed with cold water as they turn it on. And again, strategically position grab bars throughout the shower area. To minimize standing, you can choose a built-in bench seat – which can be more aesthetically pleasing – a folding seat, or a waterproof chair. A bench is also ideal for placing body wash and shampoo right next to the user. A handheld shower head can be a great way to get full coverage without having to navigate a slippery floor.

If you do prefer having a bath tub, there are two ways to incorporate accessibility. One is a walk-in tub. These tall, hot-tub style installations only require the user to step over a curb and sit on a bench to be fully immersed in water. There are some drawbacks, though. First, they use a lot of water. Second, and more importantly, the user has to sit in the empty tub and wait for it to fill with water. Once they’re done, they have to wait until it’s fully drained before exiting. This not only takes a long time, but it also can lead to chills, which, for people with certain conditions, can be dangerous, if not plain old uncomfortable.

A better option may be what’s called a transfer bench. The bench protrudes from the bath tub’s wall so the user simply has to sit and then slide over to be positioned above the water. The drawback with these is that the user is only immersed about shin-deep in water, meaning they’ll have to use a washcloth or handheld shower head to bathe.

As you can see, there’s quite a lot to think about if you’re incorporating accessibility into your custom bathroom reno. But the ease of use can be worth it, not only for keeping your loved ones clean and safe, but also for your own peace of mind. Contact us if you have special requirements that you’d like integrated into your new bathroom.

For more accessibility and universal design ideas for the whole house, read From Grandma to Grandbabies: Universal Home Design Features That Work.

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