Accessible bathroom design
These popular bathroom designs feature a universal bathroom design — attractive, functional and profitable bathroom renovations that works for everyone, including people with disabilities or physical limitations.
Here are seven guidelines for building accessible bathrooms that work for people of all ages and abilities.
The accessible bathroom design budget
Universal bathroom design can add cost, so prioritize specific homeowner needs and compare options. Juan Herrera, president and co-owner of Pyramid Drywall in The Colony, Texas, has participated in charitable efforts to remodel spaces for elderly and disabled persons, so he knows how to budget carefully.
To start, he recommends inexpensive and effective strategies: Install extra lighting, rocker switches and slip-proof surfaces. If your budget is more liberal, Herrera suggests, “You might create a stall or separate room for the toilet. That way the occupant can use grab bars on both sides, if needed.”
Consider all users
Accessible bathroom design is best when the environment works for all the home’s occupants, young or old, mobility-challenged or not. Gray Uhl, director of design for American Standard, explains that the philosophy of universal bathroom design is that everyone should benefit from building spaces and products.
“Lever handles, which are easier to operate than doorknobs for people with impaired grips, are an improvement in accessible bathroom that benefits every occupant,” he says. People of all ages, particularly children, often have trouble with knobs.
Make sure designs are easy to understand, regardless of the language or experience of the users. Also, check that information regarding the use of designed fixtures (such as the hot and cold labels on a faucet) should be readily understood by everyone, regardless of their sensory abilities.
Make the best use of space
Follow one simple guideline for accessible bathroom design: The more room, the better. Consider the entrance to the bathroom: a wider door, at least 32 inches, will serve all occupants better, including those in wheelchairs. Experts also recommend installing the accessible bathroom door threshold as flush as possible — ideally no more than ½ inch high, so a wheelchair can roll over it with ease.
Inside, there should be enough room for a wheelchair to maneuver around easily. Wheelchairs require a 60-inch diameter of turning space. Carefully evaluate the design. It will help you evaluate how to open up the space as much as possible.
Elevate sink and toilet bowl
To comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), toilet seats in accessible bathroom design should be 16.5 to 17 inches above the floor, depending on the local code, which requires that the basin be at 16.25 inches instead of the standard 14.5 inches.
Many manufacturers, including American Standard and Kohler, sell toilets that stand at about this height. Kohler calls it “Comfort Height” and American Standard calls it “Right Height.”
Similarly, the top of the basins of sinks and vanities should be raised from a standard height of 31 inches to a finished height of about 36 inches to provide roll-under access.
Universal accessible bathroom design should minimize hazards and possible accidents. Adolfo Castellanos, owner of BBY Construction in Chicago, has done his share of universal design work on baths, and he advises, “Little things can become big things.”
That’s why he recommends grab bars — with appropriate framing in the wall — at the toilet, shower, tub, and even at the lavatory, because a slip or fall can occur anywhere. Non-slip surfaces are essential for both the floor and bathing fixtures. Rugs in the bathroom should be secured to the floor with double-sided tape.
Castellanos also recommends enclosing exposed plumbing with a plastic cover to prevent unintended contact by children and people in wheelchairs. “It is much harder for an elderly person or a wheelchair occupant to fix a problem when it arises,” he adds. “Better to use a little prevention to avoid a big crisis.”
Make bathing easier
“Easier is better” is a general rule of universal bathroom design — look for efficient and comfortable solutions that won’t tire anyone out. That’s especially true for the bath. Several manufacturers offer walk-in tubs and fixtures with cutaways for easy access. Another option is to use shower receptors with very low threshold heights (down to 2.3 inches from the subfloor – potentially just 1.3 inches above the finished surface).
This is “ideal for those who are interested in bathroom design that helps them live independently within their homes for a longer period of time,” says Mike Chandler, vice president of marketing for Kohler fixtures.
Other wise choices for tub access and safety include using removable transfer seats to help people with disabilities transition from wheelchairs to showers; installing extra framing for grab-bars; a 36-inch wide access door; and a built-in shower seat. Also, consider pressure-balanced faucets, which help prevent scalding. Another useful add-on is a humidity-sensing fan that shuts off automatically.
“You can install the fan right in the shower in a GFCI (ground fault circuit interrupter)-protected branch circuit. The fan senses a rapid change in humidity, starts, and shuts off 20 minutes after the shower is turned off,” says Karen Collins, marketing communications manager for Broan-NuTone. “This is ideal for everyone, including seniors who might forget to turn the fan on, the mobility-challenged who may not easily be able to access the fan control and the hearing-impaired, who may not hear it running beyond what is needed.”
Don’t forget style. An accessible bathroom design doesn’t have to look institutional. Products are becoming more residential – in look and styling. Accessibility and universal bathroom design don’t have to come at the expense of visual appeal; there are millions of baby boomers out there who expect both.