Sunday, February 25, 2007

Slip Sliding Away....

Grab Bars for Bathroom Safety

As our loved ones age, they may become unsteady on their feet. Substantial stair rails and strategically-located grab bars prevent falls and injuries. Grab bars in the correct locations also prevent using unsafe makeshift grab bars like the bathtub faucet, glass shower doors and towel racks that fail when needed most.

Grab bars must be mounted properly to ensure safe use. Toggle bolts and molly screws can't provide enough strength - the bar could fail if grabbed by a falling person. Some builders have started to install blocking between the studs around toilets, tubs and showers so that bars can be safely installed later, but this is the exception rather than the rule.

The most common option is to locate the studs in the wall and screw the bar to the studs. At the local home center, you'll usually find an assortment of grab bars similar to those shown . For some bewildering reason, grab bars are usually available in 20" and 36" lengths. As discussed previously, studs are usually on 16" centers so the grab bars don't line up very well at all. Many people install the bars at an angle as shown so that the bar can be screwed to a stud at each end. Even this isn't a secure installation, as only 2 of the 3 mounting holes at each end can fit on the width of a stud.

Blocking might be installed between the studs so that rails can be installed horizontally and adequately secured to the wall but this requires opening up the wall. In some cases, it may be possible to go in from the other side of the wall, perhaps through the sheetrock from a bedroom or kitchen, but this still requires patching holes in the wall or even re-tiling a bathroom.

As pragmatic (and lazy) caregivers, we know there had to be an easier way. Once again, our friends at This Old House came to the rescue. Tommy installed a grab bar in a tiled tub using Wingits. So what is a Wingit? Think of a toggle bolt on steroids. Lots and lots of steroids.

The drawing shows an installed Wingit. Instead of the small contact area of a toggle bolt, the Wingit has contact over a circular area almost 3" in diameter! Each Wingit will support well in excess of 250 pounds....with a 250 pound load in a sheetrock wall, there is no damage after undergoing 1000 cycles of load application.

Wingits work with their line of grab bars as well as many others. One of the nicest grab bars is made of nylon, so it doesn't feel cold to the touch. This is what we have installed in our own shower; when you bump up against it, you don't get an unpleasantly cold clammy surprise like with a metal bar. They also look really attractive - strong like ox, but not ugly like warthog.

Installation is a piece of cake. As easy as pie. Determine where to install the grab bars, avoiding studs. Carefully measure the grab bar length and drill 1.25" holes using a carbide hole saw. Push the Wingit into the hole completely, allowing it to expand inside the wall. Tighten the screw. And finally. screw the grab bar to the Wingit Plate. The complete instructions show pictures of how simple this is. From start to finish, a grab bar can be installed in a tiled shower in less than 30 minutes. This is easily a quarter the time it would take to install a conventionally-mounted bar, and it is much more secure, attractive and professional-looking.

Grab bars around toilets are often helpful too. We'll talk more about that some other day.

There are many styles of Wingits available to help with all mounting needs. We recently used some light duty Wingits to mount a shelf from Ikea. They made quick work of the project.

Fiberglass Tub Surrounds and Showers

Fiberglass surrounds create some challenges to installing grab bars. With molded showers and tub surrounds, the thin fiberglass of the enclosure isn't in contact with the wall behind it. Screwing a grab bar to the studs won't work, as there may be a gap of an inch or more between the fiberglass and the wall behind it.

One innovation approach is called The Solid Mount. These mounts screw into a stud and provide an adjustable spacer to a mounting plate for a grab bar even with the surface of the fiberglass surround. The pictures show how it works.

When using The Solid Mount, the grab bars must span the space between two studs. Rather then settle for the 20" or 36" bars found at most home centers, search around for 1 6" or 32" bars resulting in a horizontal grab bar.

The installation is no piece of cake, but it isn't too difficult and is far easier than opening the wall behind the tub or shower to install blocking. Use a stud finder on the wall above the surround or drill small holes just above the surround to determine the stud locations.

Other Bathroom Safety Equipment

Shower stools and chairs are handy when a loved is unsteady on their feet. They can sit down while bathing, particularly their legs and feet. A wide range of styles is available, including one from Wingits that hangs from your newly installed grab bar and lifts out of the way when not in use. A plastic patio chair may also be used in a pinch.

Non-skid mats in the tub and shower are also helpful to prevent slips and falls. Just be sure that any mat used has holes that line up with the drain so that the tub doesn't flood.

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