We need to install grab bars in our shower. What do we need to be aware of?
Art P., Elk River, Minn.
Before beginning a grab bar installation, it is important to know what type of shower you have. The type of shower determines the installation method and products needed to have successful results.
Grab bars need to be sturdy enough to support your weight. State building codes and federal accessibility guidelines for public buildings require grab bars be installed to support a minimum of 250 pounds. In most cases, additional wood or structural material needs to be added to the shower walls. You could install plywood between the shower unit and wall studs, or solid wood blocking between the wall studs. If you install a grab bar onto an existing wall without providing the adequate support, the grab bar will not hold properly. You could suffer great harm in the event you are relying on the grab bar for support and it pulls out of the wall.
The easiest way to install proper support for the bar is to open the wall, either from the shower side of the wall or, if possible, through the back side of the shower from the adjacent room. This approach will require some patch and repair work to the wall after the support has been installed.
If you have a molded fiberglass shower, installation of grab bars is more of a challenge. Most prefabricated units use a thin fiberglass wall material that is not strong enough to support a grab bar. The issue of concern is the space between the fiberglass shower wall and stud wall. There is a product we have used called “The Solid Mount” that attaches to the wall stud, filling the hollow space, sealing the hole and leaving a mounting surface to which a standard grab bar can be safely attached. If this is your situation, it is best to rely on a professional installer who has previous experience working with fiberglass. It is important to have the proper tools to ensure the shower wall does not “crack” or become damaged.
There are a variety of grab bars on the market, with various diameters, clearances to the wall, lengths, shapes and finishes. Choose a 1¼ inch to 1½ inch diameter bar (whichever fits your hand size best) that when mounted on the wall provides a clearance no greater than 1½ inches. If the clearance to the wall is greater than 1½ inches, there is a safety concern; if you loose your balance, your arm could slide between the wall and grab bar, getting “wedged” and possibly breaking.
Grab bars don’t have to look “institutional.” There are a variety of finishes, decorative flanges and screw cover plates available. Grab bars also come in various colors to match your décor, as well as brass, antique brass, chrome and bronze. Some of the higher-end plumbing showrooms carry these more decorative finishes and cover plates. In addition, some manufacturers offer a “non-slip” grip surface, which is preferred.
Though at first glance grab bars by different manufacturers appear to be comparable, the quality varies. Here are some questions to ask yourself when choosing between a less expensive grab bar and a higher quality grab bar:
• Does the grab bar support the user’s weight, or is a stronger grab bar needed? Some grab bars are designed to only meet minimum code requirements and may not be able to support the weight of a heavier person.
• If a stainless steel grab bar is selected, will the materials eventually rust (especially in a shower situation)? Grab bars that are made of 3 or 4 series metals (stainless) should not rust, grab bars made of 1 or 2 series metals can rust even though they are stainless steel.
• Will a powder-coated, e.g.white grab bar rust?
• Is it important to have a style where the screws are counter- sunk (recessed into the bar flange)? Some manufacturers do not recess the screws into the flange; thus they are less attractive and screws may catch on the user’s skin or snag their clothing.
• Is it important for you to have the screws concealed for a more pleasing aesthetic image?
• Is the flange thickness important to you? Some manufacturers offer a 12-gauge flange thickness, which is thicker than the more common 14-gauge. (Note: The lower the gauge the thicker the metal.)
• Is the flange “hand pig” welded to the bar? If not done by hand, the joint is thinner and may be weaker.
• Is it important to have all visible clamp or fabrication marks removed from the surface of the grab bar, or are minor imperfections acceptable?
• Is a product guarantee important to you? Some manufacturers offer a lifetime guarantee.
Finally, in regards to position and length, it is always best to consult with your physician or therapist to determine the best grab bar positioning for your safety needs. Good luck with your installation!
Do you have a question for Jane and Accessibility Design? We’ll cover all of your questions in future issues of Home Access Answers. Please contact us: 952-925-0301, www.accessibilitydesign.com, [email protected]
Jane Hampton, president of Accessibility Design, founded the company in 1992 to enhance lives through design and project management. The company provides design, consultation, project management, and product recommendation services, specializing in home access for individuals with disabilities at all stages of life.