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A Bathroom for All

If you're in the process of redoing a bathroom, consider these adaptability guidelines that will let your room age gracefully and work for you.

This bath has room to maneuver.
  • Make doorways accessible. An opening of at least 32 inches will accommodate wheelchairs and walkers. The door should swing out rather than in, with clearance on both sides. This allows easy access in case someone falls in the bathroom. Alternatively, pocket doors are easy to open and close, and they don't take up much room.
  • Keep the door threshold level with the flooring surface.
  • Provide a 5-foot-diameter circle in which wheelchairs can turn. In the bathroom, this may mean installing a barrier-free shower. Some units are conveniently designed with a drain at one end, so connecting the plumbing is fairly simple when replacing a shower stall.
  • Add knee space under the sink. Remove one or two vanity cabinets below the sink, or install a sink at wheelchair-accessible height.
  • Incorporate accessible storage. Baskets and trays that slide out from a central location work well. Avoid hard-to-open latches or doors with difficult knobs, and make sure shelves are placed at an accessible height.
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A seat in the shower adds a measure of safety.
  • Offset the bathtub controls toward the entry side so they're easier to reach.
  • Add accessible faucets. Consider single-handle or lever faucets that can be operated with closed fists.
  • Add a wall-mount, handheld showerhead. Or better yet, install a shower glide, a rod mounted to the wall that allows the showerhead to change height for each user.
  • Build a seat at the head of the tub or a bench in a shower stall, or purchase a removable tub seat.
  • Equip the shower faucet with a pressure-balancing valve to prevent surges of hot or cold water.
  • Install preprogrammed faucets that limit water temperature. Alternatively, set your water heater so the household water is no hotter than 120 degrees.
  • Provide bright lighting, but include a secondary, low-light option to make those presunrise visits more tolerable.
  • Install electrical outlets with ground-fault circuit interrupters (breaker switches) that cut power in emergencies.
  • Position electrical switches at least 60 inches away from water sources.
  • Install grab bars near the faucets in the tub and shower enclosure and at the entrances to these wet areas. They're available in all colors and finishes, and can be helpful support for small children as well. Or, install wood-reinforced blocking or plywood behind the wood surface so that grab bars can be added later if needed.
  • Grab bars should generally be mounted at a 45-degree angle to provide the best help should you fall and need to grab hold to pull yourself up.
  • Choose impact-resistant shower and bathtub enclosures.
  • Lay nonslip flooring throughout the bathroom, and make sure that all throw rugs have nonslip backings.
  • Use door locks that can be unlocked from both sides, for easier access inside in an emergency.

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