Remodeling Your Bathroom
for Safety

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Making cosmetic changes to a bathroom keeps you in style for a while, but safety upgrades can see you through a parade of trends and actually extend the number of years you spend in the home you love. That’s not an uncommon feat, as a recent AARP study found that nearly ninety percent of adults 50 and over want to stay in their current home and community as they age.
Updating your bathroom

Making cosmetic changes to a bathroom keeps you in style for a while, but safety upgrades can see you through a parade of trends and actually extend the number of years you spend in the home you love. That’s not an uncommon feat, as a recent AARP study found that nearly ninety percent of adults 50 and over want to stay in their current home and community as they age.

Updating your bathroom with a safety-first approach will not only benefit you at different stages in your own life, but also increase accessibility and comfort for family members and houseguests of all ages and abilities. Take a few moments with the AARP Bathroom Checklist to assess the haves and have-nots of your current setup, and then stroll through the following guidelines to form your safety upgrade plan.

Access & Everyday Safety

  • Start at the door, which should be at least 32 inches wide, have a lever-style handle for easy grasping, and open outward if at all possible. A pocket door is an even better option, being simple to operate and granting quick access for those with wheelchairs or walkers. Pocket doors require plenty of barrier-free adjacent wall space for installation, but can also be mounted on the wall surface if needed.
  • When it comes to the floor, choose a non-slip surface, and secure any small area rugs with double-stick tape. Also make sure there’s enough space for comfortable navigation by wheelchair.
  • Fill the space with plenty of bright lighting, and have a night light on duty at all times. Rocker light switches are handy for everyone, and even come in illuminated models.
  • At first it may sound like a five-star hotel luxury, but having a phone in the bathroom can actually end up being a lifesaver. Select a wall-mounted, nonportable model with the largest touch-tone keys you can find, and install it at a height that’s easy to reach even if you’re lying on the floor. Also be sure to program the phone with important numbers.
  • Outfit cabinets with easy-to-grasp hardware.
  • Baths & Showers

  • Install new fixtures or make simple upgrades to existing ones for safety and easy access. With tubs, look for models that have a built-in ledge or transfer bench allowing the user to be seated and swing their legs over the side and into the tub. Incorporated grab bars assist in lowering into the water, and available surface finishes range from traditional non-slip varieties to soft, flexible types that cushion muscles and joints. Accessible tubs are also an option, allowing you to walk into the tub via a door in its wall that seals behind you. If you prefer to work with the tub you already have, outfit it with a free-standing transfer bench, non-slip decals or mat, and grab bars.
  • Speaking of grab bars, only invest in models that can hold up to 250 pounds. Grab bars come in a range of shapes and textured finishes, but no matter what the style, they should be 1 ¼ to 1 ½ inches in diameter and mounted at a comfortable distance from the wall (usually 1 ½ inches from the wall; as a distance test, you should be able to fit your fist between the grab bar and the wall). You’ll find grab bars that attach to the wall at both ends and can be mounted horizontally or vertically, as well as hinged types that attach to the wall at one end and rest against the wall when not in use. Most importantly, be sure the grab bars are attached to the wall’s framing -- NOT just the dry wall or tile! To find the framing, use a stud finder and then attached the grab bar with screws long enough to reach deep into the stud.
  • Consider replacing an existing tub with a walk-in shower -- easily done with the newer models made to fit the existing tub footprint. Augment the new shower or an existing one with grab bars, a wall-mounted fold-away seat, a shelf for shampoo and soap, and a hand-held shower head.
  • Reduce the water heater temperature. It only takes a few seconds and about 130 degrees to get burned by tap water, so take precautions. Check your water heater’s temperature, and if needed, reduce it to 120 degrees. Then shop for anti-scalding devices, which can be added to sinks, tubs and showers, and set to kick in if your water gets hotter than 115 degrees.
  • Consider having a plumber install a “pressure balanced valve” that maintains the temperature of the water despite any loss in pressure. For example, Moen's popular Posi-Temp is a pressure-balancing cycling valve which maintains water pressure so effectively consumers will never feel “shower shock,” a hot or cold surge in water. Even when running a dishwasher or flushing a toilet, this valve ensures that the water remains a constant + 2° F to keep the shower temperature consistent, comfortable and safe.
  • Sinks & Vanities

  • Install sinks and vanities at a comfortable height that allows for standing or sitting while washing (usually 34 inches). When choosing a model, consider the need for free space immediately under the sink for wheelchair access, and install nearby amenities such as the medicine chest, towel rack, and electrical outlets within an easy-to-reach range. Also check out tiltable wall-mounted mirrors.

  • The AARP recommends keeping “one” in mind when choosing fixtures: Go for one faucet, not two, and a one-handled, lever-style tap. Motion-sensing faucets add ease by moving “one” to “none,” and also help to conserve water.
  • Toilets

  • Choose taller toilets (17 inches high versus the standard 14 inches) for less strain on legs, knees and back. Existing fixtures can be augmented either with a plumber-installed platform under the toilet or a seat that raises the toilet’s height; the latter should be secured with plastic screws to prevent the seat from moving or slipping.
  • For assistance in hygiene you may also add a bidet seat, which is installed underneath the main toilet seat.
  • Install grab bars nearby. Sheltering-arm grab bars provide the best support, as they come around both sides of the toilet, much like the armrests of a chair.
  • For the best access by wheelchair, allow at least 18 inches of free space at the front of the toilet, and 42 inches of space on the side.
  • Note: Tom Kraeutler is the Home Improvement Editor for AOL and host of The Money Pit, a nationally syndicated home improvement radio program. To find a local radio station, download the show’s podcast or sign-up for Tom’s free weekly e-newsletter, visit the program’s Web site.

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