Bathrooms That Work (Safely!) for Everyone

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Photo Credit: Beth Tauke

The bathroom may be the most important room in a home—and it’s certainly the most intimate. One uses it first thing in the morning to prepare for the day and last thing at night before going to sleep. It is the room where people clean and pamper themselves, store their medicine and body care products, take a break, or even read the newspaper. Indeed, the bathroom is often a refuge.

The bathroom also is the most dangerous room in the home. According to the Centers for Disease Control, more than 22 million Americans are injured in their bathrooms each year, most from falls. Why are bathrooms so unsafe? In the bathroom one takes off clothes, washes body parts, and moves in ways that require many extreme postures. Hard floors, wet surfaces, hot pipes, and sharp faucet parts are only a few of the obstacles a bathroom can present.

How does one design safer bathrooms that do not skimp on style? Here are a few tips:

Entrance

Photo Credit: Beth Tauke

A 36-inch (or more) wide entrance is essential. Choose lever-handled door hardware that can be opened with an elbow when hands are wet and unlocked from both sides in case someone inside needs help.

Space to Maneuver

Photo Credit: Susanne Tauke

A 60-inch radius in the main lavatory and 36-inch widths for any space that contains a toilet should provide the necessary room most bodies need to move around.

Lighting

Photo Credit Beth Tauke

The rule of thumb for bathroom lighting is up, down, and all around. Toilet, shower, and tub areas usually are underlit. Use at least five sources of lighting: ambient, daylight, bathing area task lighting, vanity area task lighting, and a set of safety lights. And remember to install ground fault circuit interrupters on all outlets, switches, and light fixtures.

Grab bars

Photo Credit: Megan Basnak

Grab bars help people keep their balance and thus prevent falls. During construction, install blocking for grab bars around the toilet, tub, and shower to ensure that the bars will hold a person’s weight. The bars can double as towel racks, clothing bars, and drying lines. For a streamlined effect, consider a continuous bar that unobtrusively wraps around the entire room.

No-step Shower

Photo Credit: Susanne Tauke

A no-step shower reduces the risk of tripping and falling. Install a sub-floor pan during the construction phase, and consider a single sloped floor with a trench drain that angles away from the shower opening. This helps keep floors dry.

Right-height Sinks

Photo Credit: Susanne Tauke

Is there a way for a three-year-old toddler and a 6’6” basketball star to easily use the sink? There are lots of options. Multiple height or adjustable height sinks are two of the best. In lieu of that, match the sink heights to the occupants’ heights, or provide a safe step stool for children.

Multi-sensory Water Temperature Controls

Photo Credit: Susanne Tauke

Hot water can burn skin, especially in the shower or tub. Select anti-scald, pressure-balancing faucets that allow one to set the maximum temperature. And use lever faucet handles, so the water can be turned off easily and quickly.

Benches

Photo Credit: Susanne Tauke

Benches are not a bathroom luxury—they are a basic. If there is a tub, install a transfer bench behind it for easy entry. A shower bench (preferably built-in), vanity seating, and a place to sit and towel off also increase safety.

Storage

Photo Credit: Bay Lakes Builders

Build shower storage alcoves at several levels to make shampoo and soap readily available. Position towel storage close to the shower. Consider placing built-in storage behind full-length mirrors to eliminate the need to reach for toiletries above the vanity sink.

Soft Edges

Photo Credit: Beth Tauke

Hitting a sharp corner or protrusion during a fall can be dangerous. Round the edges on wall corners and countertops. Choose oversized blunt-ended hooks. And, select faucets that do not have sharp protrusions.

Mirrors

Photo Credit: Susanne Tauke

More mirrors make a bath more user-friendly. A full-length mirror for a head-to-toe check, a lit-magnifier for a face check and an adjustable tri-fold vanity mirror for an all-around check help one leave the bath ready to face the world.

Original article, written by Beth and Susanne Tauke, was published in the 2016 Summer issue of Best in American Living.

 

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