An Essential Guide for a Handicap Bathroom Remodel and a Walk-in Shower

A handicap bathroom is vital for people who have recently fallen or were diagnosed with a chronic condition that resulted in a mobility issue. Modern bathrooms may be fully functional and aesthetically pleasing for young homeowners and renters, but these styles are not always safe for elderly or disabled individuals.

Home renovations must be made so that these users can safely navigate their bathroom space as well. Plus, it is important to note that these spaces don’t have to sacrifice style or elegance!

If you need to renovate the bathroom(s) in your home for yourself or a family member or if you are shopping around for a house and can’t seem to find one that features handicap bathrooms, the good news is that disability remodeling is simple when you know what changes need to be made to create a more accessible bathroom design. With the right plan and the right professionals on your side, pursuing a handicap bathroom remodel project or building your own handicap-safe home with the help of an architect is easy.

To get started, use the guide below to help you find out exactly what changes need to be made and how you can make them effectively.

Plan Your Accessible Bathroom Remodeling

What’s needed to make a bathroom disability accessible?

Before you start remodeling your new bathroom, you will need to choose a design that makes the bathroom easily accessible for you and other guests who may be using it. In order to accomplish this, you want to consider your current needs as well as the needs that a timeless and modern bathroom design will provide for you in the future. In the planning, consider accessibility may require usage by a handicap wheelchairYou will also need:
  • A bathroom to use while remodeling is underway
  • A budget for remodeling projects
  • Advice from handicap accessible contractors who understand universal design and what can be done to help you reach the level of accessibility you need
  • A vision of what your ideal finished product will look like

How can you build an accessible bathroom?

Accessibility looks different for every person as you will need to take both functionality and interior design into consideration. Some common modifications made for a more accessible bathroom design include:
  • Widening each doorway to allow for the passage of a wheelchair or walker
  • Adding grab bars near the toilet, in the shower stall, or tub to make getting out of or onto certain surfaces easier for those using the facilities.
  • You may also wish to build a curbless shower so that stepping in and out is safer for those using it.
  • Raising the toilet seat to make sitting down easier
  • Smoothing out the transition between bathroom flooring and bedroom/hallway flooring
  • Lowering shelves and other storage areas
  • Converting a bathtub into a walk-in shower

What are some options for Accessible Bathroom Designs?

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) offers guidelines and standards for bathrooms that need to be transformed into safe spaces. If you are looking to remodel your bathroom so that it accommodates someone with a wheelchair or walker, this is a great resource to turn to. Universal design is also a useful way to approach remodeling your bathroom. This approach can help any house become accessible to people of all abilities, ages, or sizes. When it comes to universal design bathrooms, they are made safe through renovations that are the right fit for everyone.

What are some options for Accessible Bathroom Designs?

According to the ADA, an accessible bathroom should meet the following size criteria:
  • 30 inches by 48 inches from the door to the sink
  • At least 60 inches around the side and 56 inches from the rear so a wheelchair can turn around with ease
The toilet in the bathroom should be at least 17-19 inches off of the ground to make transitioning from a wheelchair to a toilet seat easier.

How Wide Should The Bathroom Door Be?

The doorway should be at least 32 inches wide to accommodate wheelchairs and walkers. Clearance around the door should be at least 36 inches.

What is required for Bathroom Handrails and grab bars?

Because your toilet doesn’t have the convenience of being located in a stall (where grab bars are always included), you will need a grab bar either on the rear wall or on the wall parallel from the toilet. Grab bars on the rear wall should be between 33-36 inches off of the ground and at least 36 inches long. The end that is closest to the sidewall should extend at least 12 inches from the centerline of the toilet and extend 24 inches from the other side. If the grab bar is on the sidewall parallel to the toilet, it should be between 33-36 inches off of the ground and at least 42 inches long. The bar should start no more than 12 inches away from the rear wall and extend to at least 54 inches away from the back wall. The bar should have a diameter of 1 ¼ to 1 ½ inch so that it can be easily gripped.
Handicap Bathroom Remodels
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Walk-in Shower FAQs

What Is A Walk-in Shower?

A walk-in shower is one you can walk (or roll) into without any obstacles, such as a lip, edge, or step. This allows for easier entry for anyone with a walker or wheelchair (including seniors). These do not require a curtain or door to block the spray of water, resulting in an open spacious feeling.

Curbless walk-in Shower

While some prefab units have shallow curbs to keep excess water from running onto the bathroom floor, many kits are designed with no curbs. The shower pan sits just below floor level. There is a gradual smooth entry—which means greater accessibility and a big benefit for those with joint pain or mobility issues. These are curb-less showers.

Safety grab bars may also be necessary to ease the transition into the space, and you may need to add a chair as well.

How can you build one?

Depending on the bathroom layout you currently have, you may be able to make simple adjustments to create an accessible design. Many people remove their current shower stall and install a kit that works for their handicap bathroom. If you have a tub in your current bathroom, a remodeling contractor can remove the tub and install a walk-in shower enclosure.

What Are Some Options For Walk-in Designs?

There are a lot of ways to approach designing a safe shower stall and chances are that you’ve seen a few in an elegant bathroom photo that matches home decor. Most likely, you will have to look at your current bathroom and how much space you have to work with. A handicap shower remodel involves maximizing the bathroom layout, and selecting appropriate fixtures.

Walk-ins should be enclosed by two walls that are parallel or perpendicular to each other. To further enclose the space and prevent water from reaching the rest of your bathroom floor, you could:

  • Install a glass wall to seal off the third side
  • Install a curtain rod and shower curtain if that is accessible for those in the house (although we recommend the glass instead)
  • Build a shelf that blocks the floor from the rest of the bathroom but leaves an open space for access and storage
  • Add a shower seat
  • Add an accessible shower head and a faucet that can be reached from a seated position – a handheld shower head is generally a good option
  • For added luxury, consider soap dispensers for easy access to your bath products. You can always look for design inspiration online or use a service like Houzz to help you figure out what the best design for your home will be.

Consult a Certified Aging in Place Specialist for more ways that you can design your bathing area that provides accessibility and safety.

What materials are used to waterproof the floor?

One of the biggest concerns with this type of project is waterproofing. This is because a walk-in runs the risk of letting water flow throughout the bathroom, creating wet floors and increasing the chances of a slip and fall. Strategic design, along with proper waterproofing materials, can help to keep you safe.

Choose a paint for the floor that is waterproof and can withstand steam. Waterproof pan liners can also help to protect the rest of your bathroom floor. A rubber flooring outside of the walk-in may help to prevent water from leaving the immediate showering area as well.

Homeowners should also consider waterproofing the showering area from behind the tiles. Ceramic tiles and grout are not waterproof, but a membrane beneath these surfaces can serve to protect the foundation of your home from excess water.

How do you clean a walk-in?

Cleaning a walk-in is not much different than cleaning a regular shower. Keep a mop and cleaning agents nearby to remove soap scum from the floor and keep all surfaces looking nice.

Use a spray after each use to make sure that the walls and surfaces stay fresh. If you choose to have a glass barrier, buy specialty glass cleaner to keep it sparkling.

The main concern is keeping your space clear for accessibility and ensuring clean, dry surfaces to avoid accidents.

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Cost of Modifications to a Handicap Bathroom and Resources

Costs and Resources

Costs will vary depending on how many modifications you need, whether it is a master bathroom or one for an in-law suite. Installing safety grab bars and replacing the flooring may end up costing upwards of $2,000. If you need to completely change the design and layout of your bathroom, those costs may reach five digits. If you are working with an architect and building a house or you are turning to an interior designer like Houzz for help, you will need to keep these additional costs in mind as well. Consult with a professional before you start to build your budget, and make sure to consult experts such as Harrell Building, Inc. or Halo Construction Services LLC, both of whom are excellent examples of professionals who have experience constructing handicap-safe bathrooms.

How much does a walk-in shower cost to install?

If you are buying a walk-in kit, expect to pay between $800 and $2,500 for just the kit ( not the labor to install). Costs will vary depending on whether you want to install tile, waterproofing material, or additional storage. Plumbing is a cost factor if the placement of a stall does not utilize the existing location of drains and water pipes. To keep costs down plumbing lines should not be moved, and existing locations of faucets and drains should be maintained, unless for accessibility reasons appliances require different location.

Will Medicare pay for a handicap bathroom remodel?

Medicare may be able to take care of some of the costs that you will need to pay bathroom remodeling contractors. Likewise, Durable Medical Equipment (DME) like commode chairs may be covered by Medicare.
That said, don’t expect every expense to be covered by insurance. For example, if you turn to Houzz for interior decorating help and these modifications are not considered “medically necessary,” you will most likely have to pay for them out of pocket.

What specialists can help me begin this bathroom project?

Seek out a contractor who is also a Certified Aging in Place Specialist. They can help you adapt your bathroom based on universal design concepts and regulations, among other necessary guidelines.

What It Means to Hire a Certified Aging in Place Specialist (CAPS)

Seeking out a contractor who is also certified as an Aging in Place Specialist (or CAPS-certified) will ensure your bathroom renovation meets the highest of standards. Part of their training involves learning the principles of Universal Design and their study is dedicated to understanding relevant guidelines. Let’s look at a few important highlights of each…

Why Would I Choose A Plan Based On Universal Design?

Universal Design actually strives to create an environment that can meet the needs of every person who uses it. It isn’t meant to address only a minority population (those with disabilities or handicaps for instance). Rather, it establishes “good design” as a fundamental condition. When you choose a contractor who specializes in a universal concept of accessible design, from light fixtures to bathroom rails down to toilet seat options, you know the result of your bathroom remodel will be beautiful and functional. It will be an accommodation you and every visitor you have will love.

Aren’t American with Disabilities Act guidelines actually for public places?

The Americans with Disabilities Act ensures that those with disabilities have equal access to work, education, and their community. It is true that this does include certain guidelines for developing public accommodations for the handicapped population. Requirements do primarily address projects in the United States that involve a commercial facility or some type of multi-family housing. However, our CAPS-certified contractors incorporate the same level of quality outlined in the above standards into private facilities’ accessible design as well.

What are some of the most common ways you incorporate ADA requirements?

Besides the ones we’ve mentioned throughout this article, common updates taken from guidelines on a place of public accommodation include:
  • Doors with lever handles (levers instead of knobs) that require no more than 5 pounds of force to open
  • Each doorway designed to be wider than normal to allow enough room for passage by a wheelchair user
  • Enough clear floor space to provide accessible routes for a wheelchair user throughout a dwelling
  • Light switches, electrical outlets, thermostats, etc. placed so that they are accessible by all
  • Countertops 38 inches or lower, counter edge protectors less than 2 inches, and, under a built-in vanity, knee clearance is 17 inches minimum

Should I plan for another remodel in the future to specifically address aging, too?

That all depends. Talk with your Certified Aging in Place Specialist about both short and long-term goals. Perhaps you want to go ahead and update your new bathroom for all life stages. Maybe it makes more financial sense to execute in stages. Whichever option you choose, you can expect that your CAPS contractor will design something that works for you now and will be adaptable in the future. Additionally, you’ll find that contractors with these certifications typically maintain the same overall goals for their clients as set forth by the Older Americans Act, Title III:
  • Provide support services to secure and maintain maximum independence and dignity in a home environment
  • Remove barriers — both individual and social — to economic and personal independence
  • Play a small part in providing a continuum of care to aging adults

Who should I contact about a CAPS-certified contractor?

Today, we’ve only covered a few of the considerations a CAPS-trained contractor will make when designing lavatory updates to meet the needs of people who require special accommodations, but it doesn’t stop there! Some CAPS-certified contractors even consult international organizations like the ICC for building safety guidelines. The bottom line is, these professionals care about both your safety and beautiful design, whether you plan on using that bathroom down the road or showing it off during a Friday preview. Ultimately, when choosing a bathroom contractor for your bathroom modifications, CAPS is the way to go for aging in place! Here at Living In Place Designs, we pride ourselves on being CAPS-certified professionals. Contact Us for more information on your bathroom remodel!
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