Whether you are first-time homeowners, empty nesters, or moving in an elderly parent, everyone in your household will benefit from the addition of a barrier-free shower. The size, shape, and style of these user-friendly showers are limited only by your imagination, budget, and available space. Envision airy and open wet rooms equipped with spa-like fittings, colorfully tiled walk-in showers for two, or prefabricated units dressed with a pretty shower curtain.
Universal design is based on the premise that design should be accessible and appealing to all users; a principle that smartly translates to creating timeless barrier-free shower designs that work for every person at every stage of life.
The Center for Universal Design at North Carolina State University offers publications (www.ncsu.edu/project/design-projects/udi/) for those interested in adding a barrier-free or curbless shower to their bath. Essentially, curbless shower floors are flush with floors in adjoining spaces, allowing users to safely walk or roll into the shower without getting tripped up by a raised threshold. Shower interiors need to be large enough so water doesn't splash outside its perimeters and, ideally, be sized to accommodate someone in a wheelchair as well as a helper, should the need for assistance arise down the road.
Barrier-free showers can be as small as 3x3 feet, but 3x4 feet is considered a better choice for easy movement. Showers measuring 5x5 feet or larger easily accommodate two people. Whether custom built or prefab, barrier-free showers work best if recessed into the floor and should be installed by professionals; barrier-free showers usually have no rims to contain water, so shower floors must be slanted to ensure proper drainage. Walls should be reinforced to support grab bars and built-in seats.
Prefabricated units, some of which are sized to replace an existing bathtub, are available as one- or multiple-piece stall and corner units. Generally, models range from 39x39 inches up to 72x36-inch units and are priced from $900 to $3,000. Some options can be installed atop existing floors, while others can be recessed so they're flush with adjacent floors. Barrier-free shower pans, which range from 3x3 feet upwards to 72x48 inches and from about $400 to $800 in price, provide foundations for semi-custom shower designs.
When designing a barrier-free shower, make sure risks are curtailed and workings are conveniently and comfortably situated for users. Select nonslip flooring materials and install doors that swing away from incoming traffic. Add a built-in stationary or fold-down bench for those who prefer showering while seated. Position showerheads, showerhead controls, wall-mount sprays, and storage niches so they serve (and can be reached by) both standing and seated users.
No matter your age or stage in life, equip your barrier-free shower with every amenity you can afford. Think of the versatile fixture as an investment that serves you well today, but will also enhance your future years.