Aging in Place: Bathrooms

A month ago, when I was writing the first installment of this article, I was helping my parents to explore options for adapting their home to better meet their needs as they get older. As it turned out, the changes that were needed, especially in the bathrooms, were too costly and too disruptive to be considered as viable solutions. In a four-week period, my siblings and I helped my parents find a universally designed apartment and move out of the house they had lived in for 54 years. Although I think it is wonderful that our family accomplished this life-changing milestone in record time, I don’t recommend following our example. Planning in advance is the better way to go. Trust me.

One of the fundamental principles of good interior design is to create living spaces that remain relevant over the life of the room.  This is especially true for bathrooms that are costly to remodel and present a unique set of challenges for aging homeowners.   Below are some of the guidelines to follow when planning your next bathroom remodel. Remember that safe and comfortable access is one of the primary goals for a well-designed bathroom.

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The entry and shower door openings should be at least 32” or wider, if possible.

The shower itself should be a minimum of 36” by 36” in size, with a low curb to reduce the trip hazard.

If the size of your bathroom permits, a no curb shower is the best option for both safety and aesthetics.

The drying area in front of the vanity and toilet should be 48” to 60” wide.

Unless it is a bathroom that will be used by young children, a walk-in shower with a bench is usually a better option than a tub/shower combination.

If having a bathtub to soak in is a must, keep the height of the tub at 18” or below.

Slipping in the shower or bathtub is the #1 cause of home-related injuries. For that reason, all showers and bathtubs should have grab bars no matter what the average age is of the users. Grab bar design has come a long way in a short time. There are plenty of very stylish options from which to choose.

Most people find a comfort-height (slightly higher) toilet with an elongated bowl the most comfortable option for both sitting and standing.

Vanity heights have also increased to help keep things within easy and convenient reach.

Lever handles on plumbing fixtures are very attractive and much easier to operate than other types of handles.

A good lighting plan is an important finishing touch for any bathroom. At a minimum, you need two ceiling lights over the shower and drying area and a wall sconce (or two) over the sink.

Designing for the comfort and safety of multiple generations does not mean that you have to give up on aesthetics. A thoughtful design can achieve the ideal balance of form and function to serve your needs for many years to come.

Jim Tibbs is the creative director of HDR Remodeling. If you would like to learn more, please read his blog at http://hdrremodeling.wordpress.com or follow him on Twitter @HDRremodeling1.