5 ½ Little Known Secrets to Design a Handicap Accessible Shower Which Doesn’t Look Ugly!
Updated March 24, 2019
You and your husband have had ‘the talk’ about Mom moving in. You both know it’s the right thing to do. It certainly won’t be simple. Since Dad passed away 2 years ago Mom’s mobility has been headed in the wrong direction.
You worry about her living alone.
If only she would wear the panic-alert necklace you bought her last year.
If only you didn’t have to worry about her climbing over the tall tub rail. Entering a slick bathtub is an accident you don’t want to see happen.
If only she didn’t live 40 minutes away. Then you could check on her more often.
As Mom is aging – you’re aging too quickly also just worrying about her.
You and John have come to the conclusion Mom moving in with you the kids is the right plan. Mom has finally (after many long-nights of conversation) agreed. Giving up her completely independent lifestyle is not an easy thing to do. Now you need to make your home safe for her (since this is a key reason you’re making this move in the first place). You know the bathroom is the first place she’s at risk of falling. You know your one-piece fiberglass shower on the first floor isn’t any better than what Mom has today.
The ‘ADA showers’ you’ve seen look like a bad flashback to when you visited Mom in the hospital – yuck! You and John are looking for an answer to the question of how you can create a stylish accessible shower which doesn’t scream out ‘Mom or Grandma lives here!’
In this article my goal is to give you 5 1/2 practical (and little-known) secrets to design a contemporary and stylish accessible shower. At the end I’d love to hear your feedback which ideas can help your next project and other ideas you have I haven’t mentioned. Let’s check out these secrets.
Little Known Secret #1 – Don’t even think about using an ugly white fiberglass roll in shower pans. Use a wet room or a solid surface shower pan.
If you’ve had the ‘pleasure’ (sarcasm intended) of attempting to clean the bottom of the fiberglass shower pan in your kid’s bathroom you know it’s impossible to get the brown crud off the bottom. Nothing (and I mean nothing) get those stains out. So why use a standard fiberglass roll in shower pan when you know it’s going to look lousy shortly thereafter?
The good news is there’s two better options.
#1) A one level wet room finished with a tile floor. Wet rooms are one level bathrooms. There is no curb for Mom to step over. They are completely waterproof. Without the ‘lip’ to step over they will work well if she needs to get in with a wheelchair or a walker. If you want to get ‘style bonus points’ – use a linear drain system so you can use large format tiles. These big tiles are hot, hot and hot in design today – and cuts down the number of grout joints. That’s a double bonus.
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#2) A solid surface shower pan with a low profile curb and ramp extension kit – On the other hand, if the thought of grout (and cleaning grout) makes you break out in hives use a solid surface shower pan. There are ramped versions (which unfortunately shout out to me – wheelchair) or you can go with a ‘low-profile’ (which has a small 1 ½” curb height) and add a ramp extension kit you can remove at any time. With this option you get a nice-looking base which doesn’t have a permanent ramp.
Little Known Secret #2 – Use stylish wall surrounds with zero maintenance. The “No-Tile, Tile Wall”
The reason you’re having Mom move in is to enjoy time with her and keep her safe. The problem is if your time gets sucked up helping maintain her new space (and shower), it doesn’t allow you time to spend with her.
One time-consuming (and nasty) maintenance nightmare in bathrooms are tile grout joints. Most people LOVE tile. They HATE cleaning grout joints. I’m going to share with you a new way to enjoy the look of tile without grout joints.
Enter the “No-Tile, Tile Wall.”
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Not sure what a no-tile, tile wall is? Well – it’s a high-pressure laminate shower wall panel system which is 100% waterproof and looks exactly like tile. The laminate is applied onto a 3/8” thick sturdy marine grade plywood which is attached to your studs.
What’s cool is you can install them yourself with snap-together panels which click and seal to each other (like a floating floor system). This DIY friendly system can be essential if finding a competent contractor in your town is like a needle in a haystack.
These panels are contemporary, stylish and come in different ‘tile’ (OK – actually non-tile) sizes, patterns and textures. The “no-tile, tile wall’ is the tile look minus the maintenance hassles.
There are choices in this line to create a Farmhouse, Contemporary high gloss or even a Modern Minimalist look. How cool is that?
Little Known Secret #3 – A little thought into shower heads can make an easy to use (and safer) shower
We’re all used to the stationary shower head with controls underneath to mix the water temperature. However, this traditional setup can be a ridiculous design for your Mom if she’s in a walker or a wheelchair. She certainly won’t want to roll in to turn on the water when the shower head is too high for her to reach and gets blasted with cold water before the water’s heated up? Here are 3 possible water source changes you can do to make life simpler for Mom and make it easier to use this accessible shower:
- Change #1) Relocate the shower controls – Instead of having the controls directly under the shower head move them close to the entrance of the shower. This way she can turn the water on, and let it get warm, before she enters.
- Change #2) Install a rain shower head – The technology of high-pressure rain heads has allowed them to progress beyond the ‘wimpy’ water source of yesteryear. What’s nice about rain heads for an accessible shower is they direct the water in a more compact location, so it won’t spray all over. This can be helpful for a shower which only has curtains or caregiver doors on it.
- Change #3) Use a hand-held shower – This can be an essential for someone who needs to be seated while showering. The hand-held units not only allow someone to clean hard to reach places, but it also comes in handy to clean the shower floor or walls (or your pets).
Little Known Secret #4 – A flimsy framed shower door is a bad idea. Frameless glass, semi-frameless glass or glass blocks are the way to go.
Since Mom’s balance isn’t what it used to be, and you don’t want the maintenance hassles cleaning nasty hair and dirt-infested bottom tracks of a thin framed shower door system, you’ll want to upgrade the glass in your accessible shower.
There are many options to choose from. First, you’ll want to decide if you want to go doorless (having part of the space open to roll or walk into) or choose a full glass enclosure. If you go doorless some sturdy, safe and stylish options include a glass block shower or a frameless shower screen (either with or without a pivoting door).
If you use a fully enclosed space, 3/8” thick frameless glass or ¼” thick semi-frameless glass are sound ways to go.
Little Known Secret #5 – Accessories (and their placement) and wall hung cabinetry will turn your accessible shower into an enjoyable experience
Just like accessories make the dress, it’s also true accessories make a shower. When a family member is mobility challenged, the right accessories in the right location are even more critical. If Mom can’t safely sit down, can’t reach her soap and shampoo without straining or doesn’t have something sturdy to grab onto you’ll have an accident waiting to happen on your hands. Here’s two tips to design your accessories right the first time:
- Tip #1 – Avoid buying wall panel or enclosure systems with the accessories already built in – Prebuilt shower wall surrounds with pre-made ledges or flimsy support bars are built with everybody (and I would contend nobody) in mind. This is a tragic design flaw for an accessible shower. You’ll want to determine (and be able to control) where your grab bars, seats and recessed niches are placed. If Mom has a weak left arm – think about where it’s best for her to enter. Put grab bars in the best location for her. Conversely if she’s using a shower chair how high up from the floor should a shampoo niche be placed so she can reach it without assistance or straining.
- Tip #2 – Don’t settle for ugly accessories – In the old days the only grab bars available looked just like the ones you see in a hospital room. This is no longer the case. There are decorative grab bars. There are teak fold down seats. There are stainless steel shower trays with removable inserts which make cleaning a breeze. Accessible accessories (say that fast 5 times) don’t need to be agonizing to look at.
- Tip #3 – Hang up your bathroom vanity – It’s nice to locate your vanity at the perfect height to you – without having to purchase a custom unit). This wall hung vanity below makes it easy to roll under and easy to clean.
Little Known Secret #5 1/2 – CAPS are not only useful to keep liquid in a bottle. Get the help of a CAPS – a “Certified Aging in Place Specialist.”
When you think about caps you wouldn’t associate it with an accessible shower – but I’m going to argue you should! You see there are experts around the country (yes – I’m one – but you won’t find me on the top of a Pepsi bottle) who are called Certified Aging In Place Specialists (or CAPS) (although, I like a friend of mine’s term which is Living in Place Specialist better). CAPS are trained to design spaces for people who want to stay in their homes (not Assisted Living Facilities) longer.
There is a lot to think about bringing Mom into your home (and making sure the bathroom is safe for her – yet looks nice). It can be overwhelming. After all you’re likely not a construction and design professional. So – I would recommend, even if you’re doing your own research, to seek out a CAPS certified contractor or designer. They will be more knowledgeable than your average contractor about accessible spaces and will help you to save money on design and construction decisions which are new to you.
Bringing Mom into your home is an emotional experience for you, for her and your whole family. There is a lot to manage and often too-many decisions to make.
If she’s needs an accessible bathroom I would recommend digging into the systems, products and certified professionals discussed above. They will save you time, money and make a fashionable (yet safe) space.
How can I (or a member of my team) help you?
For assistance and factory-direct product supply of grout free shower wall panels, wet room systems and glass partition walls nationwide contact Innovate Building Solutions at 877-668-5888. For an accessible bathroom remodeling project in Northeast Ohio call Cleveland Design and Remodeling at 216-658-1270 or The Bath Doctor in Columbus at 614-252-3242.
If you’re a remodeler or builder and want practical advice on remodeling products, industry trends, marketing and sales tips to grow your business (and cut day to day hassles), start reading my newest blog – Innovate Builders Blog. It’s packed with ideas you can use now. Click here to Sign Up for the Innovate Builders Blog.
If you’re in the building business, click here if you’d like to learn how to become a shower wall panel dealer or call and ask for Mike at 877-668-5888.
If you want to connect with me and/or learn more about remodeling, follow me on Twitter @Mike Foti, or my companies @InnovateBuild or @InnovateHomeOrg.
Michael – I’m very sorry about that! I see you had some correspondence with one of our team members – Michelle – back in 2019 and 2020 – but your lead from earlier in this month did get overlooked. I’m going to ask Rachael to follow up with you today (and I’ll also send you an email with my personal number if you need to reach me). If you want to call Rachael you can reach her at 877-668-5888. Mike Foti, President
Have sent several emails over the past several months through the InnovativeBuilderSolution website asking them to contact me to discuss a custom quarter round shower base with laminate wall panels. Still have gotten no phone call or email response. I live in Redding CA so is that the issue? I seriously would like to explore getting the above but need some questions answered to determine shower footprint for sizing the above.
443 812 2093
Shirlee – we don’t yet have a dealer in Chicago – but we’d be happy to work with your contractor. If we can help please feel free to call us at 877-668-5888 – Mike
Do you have someone in the Chicago area?
William and Lisa – we can help you with materials for this project – but we don’t offer installation service in Southern Ohio (and I don’t see any of our current dealers who cover this area). I’ll send you an email and you can let me know if we can assist further – Mike
William & Lisa Klaue
We are looking for a handicap shower & bathroom remodel. We are located in Wilmington Ohio & need an in home quote. Thanks
Jenn – our dealers are companies who can do the installation for you – and yes we do have a dealer in Denver. If you’re looking to DIY the project we can wholesale materials to you. Feel free to call us at 877-668-5888 – Mike
What a wonderful site and comprehensive info! Are their dealers or reps or outlets in Alberta, Canada, and/or Denver, CO? Many thanks.
Yes Melyssa – the no-tile grout free laminate panels can accept grab bars. Behind these wall panels are plywood or OSB (Oriented Strand Board) which provide a firm backing for grab bars, shower seats or accessories. Let me know if me or a member of my team can help you next. You can reach us at 877-668-5888. Mike
We recently redid the family bath…our girls are young and enjoy their bubbles. Next would be the master bath. My FIL uses that room but can’t use the shower (too small for him). He’s been used the family bath for his showers but has bouts of dizziness. I dont believe what we chose for ours will accept grab bars. Just learned about the no tile walls. Will grab bars work with that system?
Sharon – thanks for your question. Since the no tile, tile shower (also called laminate shower wall panels) use a high pressure laminate top surface they will not build up mold because they have a non-porous surface. Let us know if we can help further – Mike
interested in no tile shower. Just wondering about the upkeep and mold build up.
Judy – there are some walk in shower systems which don’t use tile which are made of glass reinforced plastic (the same material used on airplanes) for a wet room and also acrylic shower pans which are reinforced at the bottom and contemporary (yet have low curb heights). In addition, there are shower wall panels you can use to get rid of grout. I’ve included links to a ‘wet room system’ , where there is a ‘no tile’ option, the contemporary acrylic base and also a very sharp grout free laminate shower wall system below. Let us know how we can help or call 877-668-5888 – Mike
https://innovatebuildingsolutions.com/products/bathrooms/contemporary-acrylic-shower-pans-bases (contemporary acrylic pans)
https://innovatebuildingsolutions.com/products/bathrooms/roll-in-handicapped-shower (one level wet room system)
https://innovatebuildingsolutions.com/products/bathrooms/laminated-diy-shower-bathroom-wall-panels (laminate shower wall panels)
I have just moved in with my son-in-law and daughter. I must have a walk-in shower of some type along with a shower chair or seat. Any brochures or other helps would be most appreciative. I lived in an apartment which had no tile tiles and i loved it.
David – thanks for your comments. I’m glad you feel some of the products can be of help to your business (and your customers). I think it would be good for us to talk and see if we can work together. We are setting up a dealer network for our shower pans and also for a line of laminate shower wall panels (which are lighter to work with than cultured marble or granite and offer a contemporary look. I’ll check out your facebook page and give you a call. If you’d like to call me and talk about being a dealer you can call 888-467-7488. Mike
I like what you have put out here and would like to see if these products and ideas could help me provide better showers for my customers. I am a cultured marble manufacturer and I also fabricate solid surface and granite. I have been building showers for over 20 years. I currently have 4 handicap showers booked on my schedule. I’m always looking for a better way to do things. We don’t have a web site but we do have a Facebook page. B&L Marble and Granite.
William – thanks for your comment. The most important element to an accessible shower is the ‘floor of the shower’ which allows you to safely get into the space. The options with a shower floor pan (which doesn’t have a lip) are to either use (1) a waterproof ready for tile shower pan or (2) an acrylic roll in shower pan or (3) to use a one level wet room system or (4) a solid surface pan. In most cases the least expensive system will be the acrylic roll in pan, but I’m not aware of one in a 48″ x 72″ size (4′ x 6′). If you can work with a 3′ x 5′ acrylic roll in pan this will be the least expensive way to do this. If you need the 4′ x 6′ size then I would recommend a waterproof roll in ready for tile shower pan (and will include a link to our page on our site which will show you this product (note – it’s on our glass block shower page – but you don’t need to get glass blocks to use this product). A one level wet room system is also a nice way to do it (and it allows you to have the shower pan at the same level as the bathroom floor, but it will be more expensive than a ready for tile shower pan. As far as the walls of the shower go, if you’re DIY’ing it all yourself (and your labor is ‘free’) I might either recommend grout free shower wall panels or a cheap tile. I’ll include a link to one nice-looking and easy to install shower wall panel system. Feel free to call our office if you need more help or price on these materials. – Mike – 877-668-5888
https://innovatebuildingsolutions.com/products/glass-block/glass-block-shower (look under the ‘shower base’ section to see the ready for tile base)
https://innovatebuildingsolutions.com/products/bathrooms/laminated-diy-shower-bathroom-wall-panels (grout free shower panels)
WILLIAM G HOFF
sir,,,I am a sixty-five-year-old man with A L S I am trying to make my home accessible for the future of my life,,,I for sure can’t afford for someone to do this for me I will have to rely on family to help me,, that will be interesting,, lol,,can you send me your best idea that will be the least expensive for me,,,I have a 4×6 for space I can use,,,any help from you would be ge
Mary – as we discussed today the link to this page should be live in one week to 10 days for ‘The No-Tile, Tile Shower.” We are waiting to get our samples as well. We do already have pricing for the line. This product launch is happening and we’re as excited about it as you are. Feel free to call for pricing or more information. Mike 877-668-5888.
Beth – totally agree with your comments. Aging in place doesn’t have to be ugly. With the right planning you can have safety and style all in one! Mike
Roberta – it was fun talking to you today. As I mentioned our laminated wall panels (also known as ‘The No-Tile, Tile Shower” are due to arrive in the United States in mid to late November. We are in the process of completing the web page for this line (it should be done in a week to 10 days) are impatiently awaiting the samples. We would love to help you and your clients with this product (we think it will be a top seller). Please feel free to call me -or our team – at 877-668-5888. Mike
Great insight! Aging in place doesn’t mean that you house needs to look like a nursing home. The materials and accessories (like decorative grab bars) you choose can make your home safe AND stylish.
You have mentioned the No Tile, Tile Shower so many times but it isn’t available in the US yet. I even called Cleveland Design and they didn’t even know what I was talking about. Cough up the goods! You have been teasing about this product for ages. I have multiple clients this would be ideal for.
I love the “No Tile Tile Shower” look shown above (pieces snap together). Is there a link to those products?