Shower Design for Aging in Place
by Drue Lawlor and Michael A. Thomas
Customarily, architects, builders, and contractors have designed, specified, and built curbs at shower entrances that require users to pick up their feet and step over and into the shower pan. In some cases, the floor of the shower pan is lower than the floor of the bathroom.
Stumbling over curb heights of four or more inches (ten or more centimeters) to get in or out of the shower is a likely occurrence for individuals of any age who suffer from a loss of mobility, balance, agility, or strength.
Perhaps this traditional but potentially unsafe construction practice is based on the misconception that if water should ever back up in a shower pan because of poor or inadequate drainage, the curb would prevent the water from running out onto the bathroom floor.
With well-executed framing and appropriate plumbing and drainage installation, however, it is possible to build showers without curbs and thresholds that not only do not leak, but also meet building codes. A curbless, zero-entry, or "freedom" shower entry eliminates one of the major barriers — and most dangerous obstacles — in a bathroom, while successfully preventing stray water from permeating the area surrounding the shower.
Costs for building a curbless shower usually do not exceed costs for a shower with a traditional curb. The successful construction and plumbing of a curbless shower, however, does require careful attention to installation details and adequate supervision of the various contractors involved, especially when subcontractors may have little or no experience with this type of construction or may be resistant to change.
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This article is excerpted from Residential Design for Aging in Place by Drue Lawlor and Michael A. Thomas, copyright © 2008, with permission of the publisher, John Wiley & Sons.
Accessible bathroom design need not dictate institutional detailing.
Photo: Michael Giscombe
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The original plan of this bathroom had walls that cut up the space into smaller, less desirable segments. After the remodel, the bathroom is now a single open interior space.
Photo: Courtesy Robert Wright
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