Before You Remodel Your Bathroom

Are you thinking about updating your bathroom? Bathroom remodels currently are one of the most popular and value-adding home improvement projects. Maybe you want a totally new look. Maybe something is leaking. Or maybe you want to stay in your home as long as possible and your bathroom may not be aging as well as you are! Because of its hard and slippery surfaces, almost 235,000 people visit the emergency room each year with injuries suffered while bathing, showering, or using the facilities. Despite that, many homeowners resist even small changes that would make the room safer because they fear their beautiful bathroom will end up looking institutional.

But that's now changing. The very things that make your bathroom safer and easier to navigate-large, walk-in showers; higher toilets; natural lighting-are also some of the latest design trends. The newest clever innovations disguise many safety upgrades that you may be considering. For example, grab bars used to be a real deal breaker. Now the grab bar is being called a "shower rail." Higher-seated toilets are "comfort height." And easy-to-use lever handles and handheld showerheads are "ergonomic." This type of adaptable design has come to be known as "aging in place" but some remodeling pros prefer the friendlier "visit-ability," which means making your home welcoming to people of all ages and abilities. The whole idea is safety, access, comfort, and convenience.

Consumer Reports recently published an analysis of bathroom remodels. Here are some of their findings on ways you can incorporate an "age in place" design in your bathroom.

~~Create the right lighting. Glare can be a problem in a bright bathroom. Sconces on both sides of the mirror are easier on the eyes than overhead lights. Introduce natural light from a window or skylight. Install a night-light in the bathroom and in the hallway outside it. Rocker-style light switches are easier to use.

~~Widen the doorway.  For easiest access, remove the threshold and widen the doorway to 36 inches. Switch the handle from a knob to a lever for easier opening. If possible, hang the door to open out, not in; if someone falls against it, the door won't be blocked.

~~Enlarge the shower. A curbless shower works for someone using crutches or a walker and also for parents bathing children or the family dog. Handheld shower­heads can be anchored to an integrated grab bar. The hose should be at least 6 feet long. Add a seat (some fold up when not in use). Make sure you have good light in the shower. And hang a shelf or install a cubby that keeps toiletries within easy reach.

~~~Keep items handy.  Open shelves can be attractive if they're tidy. Putting glass-front doors on your cabinets lets you see what's inside without opening them. Look for cabinets with easy-close doors and drawers with D-shaped pulls instead of knobs.

~~Install nonslip floors.  Water and slick tile are a bad combination. Look for slip-resistant tile or vinyl. The more textured the tile, the less slippery it is. The ceramic tile industry has adopted a slip-resistance test that measures the dynamic coefficient of friction. The higher the number, the better the slip resistance. Ideally, you're looking for 0.42 or higher. Smaller tiles embedded in grout also provide more friction.

~~Re-think the sink.  A countertop at two heights is good for every member of the family. Sinks should be wall-mounted, leaving space underneath for someone seated. Faucets with lever handles are best. A full-length mirror is better for someone seated, who may have trouble looking into a medicine cabinet mirror that's above the sink.

~~Grab bars that do double duty. You can find bars that match towel racks and other fixtures-even ones that function as shelves and toilet paper holders. Place them at the entrance to the shower or tub, inside the shower or tub, and near the toilet.

~~Consider tub options.  Getting in and out of the bathtub can be tricky for anyone with mobility problems. Some bathtubs are outfitted with a wider edge that you can sit down on first, then swing your legs into the tub. Another example is the hugely popular walk-in tub, which at first might seem like a brilliant idea. A tub with a door sounds like it would be much easier and safer to access than a conventional tub.

Unfortunately, what people fail to realize is that with most walk-in tubs, you have to maneuver very carefully through a narrow door and then get out of the way as the door swings shut. And you still have to climb over a low step. So if your walking or flexibility is compromised, this unit won't be effective.

Think about how you take a bath: You generally fill the tub with water before you climb in. But with a walk-in, you enter first and close the door - then you sit there waiting for the water to fill. When you're done, you have to drain out all the water before you can reopen the door to exit. Manufacturers recognize the issue because they list speedy drain times in their advertising. But not everyone is comfortable with this arrangement.

Beyond that, walk-in tubs are pricey - around $10,000 installed - so consider the difficulties and limitations before you shell out the money. The best solution is a curbless shower, with no hurdles to overcome when entering or exiting.

~~ Built-in shower seats These are an increasingly common feature yet are often not utilized the way they were intended because most seats are placed too far from the showerhead and controls. As a result, most are typically used to prop up your foot while shaving your legs or as a big shelf. A movable seat is a better (and less expensive) solution. You can adjust the placement to your needs or remove it to maximize maneuvering space. To optimize a seat, you also need a handheld shower head that you move instead of moving yourself back and forth. This should be mounted on an adjustable grab bar, not mounted on a slide bar that won't support you.

~~Glass shower doors. Many people think glass shower or tub doors are an upgrade, but sliding doors block half the opening, making entry/exit more challenging. It also makes helping a seated bather a near impossibility. Swinging doors may block your reach to a solid (i.e., mounted) grip on the wall. Your best bet may be a good old-fashioned $20 shower curtain.
Have more questions?  Come in and meet with an Enhance Floors Design Consultant and begin planning your new bathroom---one that is as functional as it is beautiful!