Universal design concepts include wider halls and doorways, varied-height countertops, and lowered light switches, but it’s bathrooms — more specifically, showers — that often get the initial attention. After all, the wet tiles of a bathroom are slippery, and when you combine a wet, soapy surface (a shower floor) with being able to safely step in and out of the shower — not to mention some near acrobatics (washing one’s feet or shaving one’s legs) — you get ideal conditions for a slip, a fall, an injury, or worse.
274,109 emergency room visits in 2009 for injuries in the bathtub or shower*
Finding a shower that can comfortably accommodate all family members’ needs and abilities is key in a universal design remodel. Zero-threshold showers, shower seating, and grab bars are some of the components to consider.
Crossing off the Threshold
Accessible showers demand special products and techniques.
Bathrooms, and specifically low- and no-threshold showers, are getting special attention from manufacturers to meet the demands of the universal-design trend.
Delta conducted baby-boomer focus groups before creating its Universal Design no-threshold showers. “We found that the top concern for that demographic was falling or tripping in the shower,” says Delta product manager Cori Sherperis. “The line was inspired by those universal-design principles, but the features and benefits are there to be used by as many people as possible.”
Among the features are reinforced grab bars and stylish trench drains to manage water flow. Drainage in a barrier-free shower is an important consideration: “In order to drain water out of the unit, the drain must be wider and the floor has to slope,” says Charlie Kopplin, associate product manager for Sterling. “When you bring a threshold to near-zero height, you minimize the ability to slope the floor and there can be issues with terraining.”
On the Level
To address this challenge, pre-leveled units are available. On a barrier-free shower, due to the limit in the height of the exterior dam, water drains at ¼ inch per square foot — 50% less pitch than a standard shower — so leveling becomes even more important, explains Gil Allen, national sales manager for Aquatic. “A few years ago we began offering solid-base barrier-free units that offer the same 3/4-inch curb and same pitch as a typical low-threshold shower but which are pre-leveled during manufacture so that if you put it on a level floor, it will drain properly.”
Jason International’s level-form base Zero-Threshold shower uniquely resembles a three-sided bathtub. “We didn’t do a full enclosure for the base because people still like natural materials,” says Jeff Cunningham, vice president of engineering. The 18-inch-high sides accommodate a bench seat and are easy to clean, but designers can finish the look with tile.
Manufacturers agree that low- and no-threshold showers are a burgeoning trend. “It’s something we definitely hear a lot about in the field, Kopplin says. “Customers are asking about it and requesting it.”
|Have a Seat
Incorporating a seat in the shower design is another way to bring comfort and value to clients.
What I Like
Mike Crossman, president, New View Construction, in Brunswick, Ohio, talks shower benches
Product: Schluter Systems Pre-Formed Shower Benches
Mike Says: A bench seat in the shower is a popular request from clients, if only to hold shampoo bottles or, more realistically, for the women in the family to have a chance to sit down and shave her legs. A high percentage of our baths include shower benches, but they do take up space. Any shower larger than a standard 5-foot footprint will have a shower bench. Less room than that and you start getting cramped for space, but even in a 4-foot shower, we might do a corner bench.
Schluter Systems’ pre-formed benches are great for the work we do. They’re extremely lightweight but are also load-bearing, and the installation is so much easier than framing out a bench. If you compare the price tag of buying a pre-formed bench to framing and plywood, the bench is probably three to four times more expensive, but you have to remember that you’re paying for the quality of the product and you’re saving on labor. If you have to hire a carpenter to do all that, compared with simply mortaring a foam bench into place, the pre-formed bench is much more efficient and cost-effective.
I’ve been using Schluter products since about 2006 and have been amazed at all they come out with — everything from countertop edging to terminations to outside corners, They’ve solved a lot of problems we’ve had in the field. 800.472.4588 schluter.com