A Quick Residential Guide to Grab Bar Placement and Installation:
Grab bar placement can be vertically, horizontally, or diagonally depending upon various factors and requirements. Residential grab bar placement varies significantly from the predetermined locations outlined in the universal standards set for public housing and public facilities. One can often choose an effective residential grab bar placement strategy after assessing the availability of safe mounting locations, the wall configuration, and, most importantly, the resident's particular needs and wishes.
Residential grab bar placement is a tailored solution to a unique combination of structural, functional, and psychological factors.
The residential grab bar installation specialist often has to develop innovative functional solutions to accommodate the many variances in the client's physical characteristics and functional limitations, wall and floor conditions, and many other factors related to both the individual and structural constraints. We have assembled a collection of images to illustrate some of the approaches we have addressed to assist individuals in terms of function and safety.
One can sometimes mount the grab bar into wooden studs or wooden backing when located behind the wallboard or tile. One can mount bath rails into concrete or cinder block with the use of anchors. It is common to frame interior walls with galvanized steel studs. This type of framing makes it necessary for the residential grab bar installer to use alternative anchoring methods when retrofitting grab bars in residents' homes. There are many types of anchoring solutions on the market to accommodate situations where one cannot ascertain wood studs in a strategic location. We often use these alternative anchoring solutions when only thin-walled steel studs comprise the wall's structural framework. One must be sure that there is adequate room within the hollow area behind the wall so that the chosen anchoring device can function adequately.
Vertical Grab Bar Placement
We frequently install a small vertically oriented bar at the shower or tub entrance to facilitate entry or exit. Many people often lose their footing getting in and out. One traverses the shower entrance as he or she gets in and out of the shower. There is much more movement across this threshold then within the bathing area itself, and we believe it is a critical area to enhance in terms of safety and assistance. There is often a small lip or ledge to step over when getting in or out of the shower. This factor can increase fear and difficulty as one must bear weight on one extremity while stepping onto a new surface that may be wet or slippery. We tend to use a vertically placed entrance grab bar, which provides a more efficient and mechanically advantageous hand grip when stepping in or out of the shower. The vertically oriented grab rail also offers a range of length at which to grab so that both a short or taller person can get a grip at a suitable height.
A smaller vertically oriented grab bar (12, 16, or 18-inch) is often all you need at the point of entry to the bathing area. Essentially you require a secure handle to stabilize yourself when entering or exiting. This far safer than the alternative: clinging precariously onto bathroom fixtures, glass doors, and towel bars.
We prefer to use a 16 or 18-inch grab bar at the entrance or exit point since it provides a little more vertical coverage than a shorter bar. On occasion, we may install a longer vertical grab bar (24") when large variations in height exist between family members. We often install a more extended entrance grab bar when our clients need to transfer to and from a wheelchair and require a more comprehensive gripping surface in terms of length.
Grab bars with enhanced gripping features such as our wUndergrip, ultra-peened Gator-Grip finish, Eurogrip finish, or Slip-Tek finish can address hand slippage concerns for grab bars that are oriented vertically.
We try not to locate these grab bars too far from the shower or tub's outer edge to make them functional for both entrance or exit from the bathing area. We find the vertical grab bar ideal for entering and exiting the shower allowing for very functional hand placement.
Horizontal Grab Bar Placement
The placement of a grab bar horizontally provides increased coverage in the horizontal plane. This configuration is useful in situations where a lot of movement occurs, and the individual is likely to face both forward or backward at times within the bathing environment. Horizontally positioning of the grab-rail provides a handhold at one predetermined height instead of diagonal or vertical placement, which can be more accomodating to height variations between individuals.
The advantage of the horizontal grab bar is an increased lateral coverage. The disadvantage of horizontal grab bar placement is limited vertical coverage.
If you wish to utilize the studs for anchoring, a grab bar that is multiple 16 inches (i.e., 16, 32, 48) will often work. In many cases but not always, the studs that sit behind the wall are 16 inches apart on center. On occasion, we encounter stud spacings of 12 or 24 inches. With many homes and condos fabricated with thin-walled steel studs, we find that alternate anchoring solutions are needed to provide an economically feasible means of providing a bath safety upgrade. Tearing out and replacing / reinforcing shower walls would be cost-prohibitive. Some of our favorite alternative anchoring solutions are the snap-toggle, flip-toggle, and alligators anchors. It is important to use quality stainless steel screws and drill clean round holes that are absolutely the anchors' right diameter. Frictional solid-state anchors such as the Alligator anchor require a very precise hole, and minute variances in the drill diameter can often have a tremendous effect on the anchors' ability to be effective. Not all 5/16 drill bits are the same diameter - they will often vary depending upon the brand selected.
Diagonal Grab Bar Placement
A diagonally placed grab bar has both benefits and disadvantages, much like other grab bar placement strategies. If one wishes to utilize the studs for anchoring, the installer can mount the grab bar diagonally between the studs. If you cannot locate the studs or when the mounting location desired does not correspond with the stud locations, the installer can use various alternative anchoring solutions at one or both ends of the grab bar. The use of anchoring devices depends on wall conditions and may not be suitable for walls that are in poor repair.
A sloping grab bar allows individuals of different heights (like a small wife and tall husband) equally easy access to the grab bar at different gripping heights. A diagonal bar also puts our hand and wrist into a more natural and functional position with less stress on the wrists. An angled grab bar's diagonal positioning is more conducive to assist one who prefers facing one direction in the shower. This type of positioning may also be more suitable in situations where the individual must be seated in the shower, and assistance is required going from sitting to standing and vice versa. Like the vertically placed grab bar, the angled grab bar can accommodate large variations in individuals' heights. On the other hand, the horizontal grab bar helps the user face both forward or backward, but its functionality is limited to a fixed height.
Grab Bar Placement at Toilet
Placement of grab bars around the toilet in public facilities and housing often must adhere to specific guidelines governing height, grab bar dimensions, and location. Residential placement of grab bars cannot adhere to these specifications due to the available wall space, bathroom configuration, and a host of other factors. The grab bar installer must tailor residential grab bar placement to the individual's specific needs, wall conditions, and bathroom configuration. Grab bars can be placed horizontally, vertically, or diagonally beside the toilet, and on occasion, horizontally or vertically, directly in front of the commode to provide additional assistance when standing. We have compiled a small gallery of images to provide some grab bar placement examples tailored to provide functional solutions to various bathroom layouts and specific individual needs.
What is the Actual Length of a Grab Bar?
One can assess the grab bar's length by measuring the distance between flange centers.A 16-inch grab bar is 16 inches from center to center. The 3" circular flange occupies 1-1/2 inches on either side of the grab bar. Therefore, to get the grab bar's overall total length, you should add 3 inches to the length. A 16-inch grab bar is 19 inches (16 + 3) from end to end, and a 24-inch grab bar would be 27 inches (24 +3) and so on.
The Decision to Have Grab Bars Installed
In most residential applications, there are many factors to consider considering the placement of grab bars for bathroom safety and assistance. Primarily, there often exist barriers that must be initially overcome by the individual at risk. In particular, the initial decision to proceed with the installation grab bars, bath safety rails, grab rails, or handicap rails is not always an easy one to make.
As a grab bar installation specialist, I frequently encounter consumer concerns addressing such factors as the grab bar's finish, size, or location. More often than not, these aesthetic matters seem to take precedence, at least in the consumer's mind, over the actual assistive and safety benefits of having grab bars installed. The at-risk individual may object to grab bars if the installer does not address these initial concerns effectively. This individual will continue unprotected at high risk for a potentially devastating fall. In addition to providing safety and assistance, there is also the tremendous benefit of reducing apprehension and anxiety gained by grab bars' simple addition.
Many factors go into the mix when addressing the individual's psychological concerns. This individual does not necessarily have to be elderly, infirmed, or disabled but can be a typically healthy and active person who happens to have a bath or shower environment that is excessively slippery or unsafe by design. Such individuals do not always realize the importance of bath safety devices and may be more resistant to their implementation. We often find that active individuals are unprepared for an unexpected fall compared to the physically compromised individual who is much slower and deliberate and careful with their movements. It is because of this that we maintain that one is never too young for grab bars.
Grab bars with enhanced gripping surface or design can address hand slippage concerns for grab bars that are oriented vertically.
Mr. Grab Bar offers many variations of an enhanced grip:
wUndergrip Grab Bar
Peened or Ultrapeened Gator Grip Grab Bar
Eurogrip Grab Bar
Slip-Tek Grab Bar
These are just some of the concerns that one should consider when dealing with the grab rail placement on the shower's interior wall. In larger showers or in situations where greater coverage is required, we often place additional grab bars in various locations within the shower.
The grab bar installer must always consider wall conditions, hidden hazards such as plumbing, wiring, pocket doors, and other related factors combined with the installation's actual functionality and overall appearance.
Howard Cohen PT / Mr. Grab Bar
For more information on Commercial Grab Bar Installations, visit: ADA Grab Bars in Commercial (Non-Residential) Bathrooms - Quick Guide