Shower Design for Aging in Place
The most important consideration in designing a curbless shower is to determine the appropriate size. The overall length and depth is critical. In general, the smaller the footprint of the shower, the more difficult it is to contain water that might spill out beyond the shower curtain or shower enclosure. More important, the deeper the dimension from the entrance to the back wall of the shower, combined with the location of the showerhead, the easier it is to prevent water from damaging adjacent walls and floors.
While most accessibility standards define the minimum depth of a curbless shower to be 30 inches (76 centimeters), a more generous minimum depth of 36 inches (91 centimeters) is recommended. An even larger depth of 42 to 48 inches (107 to 122 centimeters) not only permits easier drainage, but also allows someone in a wheelchair to enter the shower and retain complete range of motion for bathing and accessing the water controls.
Although it is suggested that shower spaces be 66 to 72 inches (168 to 183 centimeters) in length for a roll-in shower, the standard minimum length is at least 60 inches (152 centimeters) in all directions, providing adequate space for a caregiver to assist someone in a wheelchair.
The position of the shower drain is another vital component in bathroom design, and the larger the shower, the easier it is to gradually slope the shower floor to the drain. Location options that can reassure any skeptical designer, contractor, or client include installing the drain in a corner of the shower opposite its entrance, along the back wall of the shower, or as a trough-style drain around the perimeter of the shower enclosure.
The minimum slope of the shower pan from the entrance to the drain should be one-quarter to three-eighths inch for every foot in length (two to three centimeters for every meter in length), and the transition between the bathroom floor and the shower floor should be flush. If the shower is especially narrow or small, or if there are concerns about overspray or drainage, an acceptable compromise is to create a small bevel (1:2) in the shower floor just inside the entrance that permits a wheelchair to roll over the bevel.
Case in Point
"A few years ago, I had a new contractor (with his plumber) actually tell me that getting rid of
curbs at the shower is against building codes and that is why he went ahead and put one in
"Now as a design professional, it takes a lot to pull the towel over my face when it comes to designing a safe bathroom for my clients. I figure that it was just something that they didn't know how to do and decided that he could use building codes as an excuse.
"Creating a flush, flat entry where clients can move out of a wet, slick shower pan without
stepping over something is just basic on my design agenda and is not an option."
—Anonymous designer, 45 years young
Other Features to Consider
Shower spaces can be enclosed with something as simple as a vinyl shower curtain mounted on a rod or partially enclosed with bypass or tempered glass doors that not only retain water but also hold in warmth during showering. Designers should take note, however: curtain rods must always be permanently and securely mounted to the walls adjacent to the shower or to the shower jamb, and shower doors should always be installed so that they swing out into the bathroom.
A bench within a shower is definite benefit — a safe pace for someone to sit or prop up a leg or foot while showering. In most cases, shower benches should conform to the typical seat height and depth of a chair, although personal preference and the available physical space will dictate the actual dimensions.
In the absence of sufficient space for a built-in bench in the shower, designers should consider creating a portable seat or bench fabricated from teak or another attractive, water-resistant material to avoid having to rely on other more institutional-looking options.
The placement of plumbing fixtures also can contribute to a more pleasant showering experience. Most shower valves are located directly under the showerhead, a placement that requires the user to get into the shower before turning on the water — and probably experience an initial shot of cold water. Locating the shower controls just inside the shower enclosure, where a user can reach them to adjust the water temperature before stepping under the water, makes more sense.
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Drue Lawlor, FASID, is a certified interior designer and the owner of Drue Lawlor Interiors in San Gabriel, California. She specializes in residential interior design consultation for clients interesting in aging in place, and has served as chair of the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID) Aging in Place Council.
Michael A. Thomas, FASID, CAPS, is president of The Design Collective Group in Jupiter, Florida. He is certified as an Aging in Place Specialist by the National Association of Home Builders, is a member of the National Kitchen & Bath Association, and was the first chair of the ASID Aging in Place Council.
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.