Bathrooms, because of wet floors, tight quarters, and numerous hard surfaces and corners, can be quite the injurious location for a senior citizen. With decreased balance and mobility comes increased risk for slips and falls; fortunately, we can counter this risk and install some peace of mind by strategically placing grab bars in the bathroom. If properly mounted in key locations, these grab bars are ideal for providing rock-solid support, leverage, and balance.
Installing a grab bar can be simple even if you want to do it yourself, however there are many services who install grab bars and other types of senior safety products for the home as well. Below we will look at the steps required to install grab bars safely and securely in the bathroom.
Choosing The Right Grab Bar
Grab bars are all very similar; however, the most notable delineation between types are the manners in which they're mounted to the walls: suction cup vs. screws. Suction cup mounts are convenient in temporary situations or where the primary user doesn't need a great deal of support. If these grab bars are not installed on a perfectly flat, dry, and film-free surface, though, they can easily shift and let loose. I highly recommend using a permanent screw-mounted bar, which guarantees safety and reliability. One other design consideration is the diameter of the bar. If one of the primary users has poor grip strength, it may behoove you to install a smaller diameter bar. Typically, bars range from 1 1/4" to 1 1/2" in diameter.
Grab Bar Placement
This can be tricky to determine, but the two greatest influences to bar placement should be the bathroom and tub configuration and the specific needs of the user. Here are some general guidelines when deciding the most appropriate locations to perform an installation.
- Toilet: The toilet is a prime location for these bars as they assist individuals in the sitting or standing process. Usually, the toilet calls for a horizontal bar placed between 32" and 38" on either side of the unit. Two walls don't always exist, though, so one wall will suffice. Horizontal bars are most beneficial in this situation because they allow one to gradually lean forward or backward while providing the greatest amount of leverage, as opposed to a vertical or angled mount.
- Standalone shower: Standalone showers have the benefit of a low threshold when entering, but a vertically-mounted grab bar should always be mounted at the shower's entrance so that the bottom is 32" to 36" above the floor; this generally translates to being at the height of or slightly below the person's waist. A horizontally-mounted bar should then be mounted on the wall opposite the shower's entrance at a height of 32" to 36" above the floor.
- Shower/tub unit: Combined shower and tub units require additional support than that of the standalone shower since users typically maneuver a great deal more. This situation still calls for a vertically-mounted bar at the unit's entrance, just as with a standalone shower, but an angularly-mounted bar should be installed on the wall opposite the shower's entrance. The bottom of this bar should be mounted 5" to 10" above the tub's ledge and should be at a 45 degree angle (approximately). Also, the bar should be angled so that it slopes to the rear of the tub. This is done so an individual can lower himself or herself into the tub or a bathing chair.
Grab Bar Mounting
- Mounting is best executed when the grab bars can be attached directly to a wooden stud. To do this, use a stud finder to locate studs behind the wall. Make sure to use the stud finder on a portion of wall not covered by tile or fiberglass. If studs are not available, you can utilize toggle bolt anchors.
- Mark hole locations and begin drilling. If you'll be going through fiberglass or ceramic, it's best to penetrate these materials with a 1/4" glass/tile or masonry bit (or 1/2" if using toggle bolt anchors). Then, use a 5/32" bit to drill a pilot hole in the stud; this makes securing the grab bar easier. For fiberglass tub/shower enclosures, you'll need to utilize special anchors that include standoffs so the walls don't flex as you tighten the screws.
Once you finish anchoring the bar, tug on it to ensure that it's secured properly.