Blog #3 – Natasha’s Bathroom (Con’t.):
Last week, we described how Whiteley & Whiteley redesigned a Jack and Jill bathroom to increase useable floor space for wheelchair accessibility. This week we will review the amenities within the bathroom – vanity, toilet, etc. The job went smoothly, but we did have some challenges along the way.
Whiteley & Whiteley has designed several homes and remodels to accommodate wheelchairs, but most of them were designed for aging parents or adult children. We had, in the past, carefully measured for optimum vanity height and found that we always ended up at the ADA standard ( 34”), so we stopped measuring. This time, when Natasha rolled up to the vanity, we had a problem; Natasha is 7-years old and significantly smaller than our previous clients, so the standard ADA vanity was four inches too high. The solution was to cut down and rebuild the vanity to accommodate Natasha. Lesson learned, always measure. Natasha has some difficulty raising her arms, so we placed the faucet on the side of the lavatory, making it easier to reach. Her grip strength is also an issue, so we provided a “touch” faucet – touch it anywhere and the water flows. Natasha and her sister spent about an hour washing their hands over and over the first day.
The existing toilet was “comfort height,” so we didn’t need to replace it, but Natasha’s parents wanted it fitted with a bidet. The bidet had two issues: it had to be the right size, because she would fall through the standard bidet, and it required electricity to operate. We were able to do some Internet research and find a bidet designed for children. We needed to relocate some light switches and lighting fixtures when we reconfigured the floor plan, so we asked the electrician to add a receptacle next to the toilet. This is much easier to do when the walls are open and before the drywall sub-contractors come in. Pre-planning is everything.
On the topic of pre-planning, if you are opening up the walls and/or moving electrical fixtures, keep in mind that light switches and receptacles should be placed lower and also toward the front of the vanity. You may notice that most bathroom receptacles are located on or near the back wall. You will need to instruct the electrician to locate the electrical fixtures where they can be reached or he will place them in the “usual” locations.
We needed to add grab bars around the toilet but when we opened the space, we eliminated the walls that might be used for grab bars. Now what? The grab bar industry has become very creative and we were able to find grab bars that store against the wall when not in use and swing down when needed. I describe them as working like a railroad crossing gate. We installed one on each side of the toilet. You can buy these grab bars with a built-in toilet paper holder, so we installed one with toilet paper and one without.
When installing grab bars, keep in mind that they will be supporting a person’s full body weight. If possible, the best method is to install blocking in the framing so that you are screwing the grab bar directly into the wood framing and spreading the load over a larger area. If this is not possible, a few different styles of toggle bolts are available to fasten the bar and spread the weight load across a larger area. These are available at any large hardware store.
Natasha’s parents didn’t want to remove the existing tub, because they plan to build a new fully accessible home in the near future and didn’t want to invest the money in a shower system. If you are building a new home, a roll-in shower is easy, but how do you retrofit a roll-in shower in an existing bathroom? It’s surprisingly easy, as well. Several companies make pre-fab shower systems that fit in the 60” space designed to enclose a standard size tub. You simply remove the existing tub and tile surround and take the space back to the studs. You may need to move the drain pipe. If the floor is concrete, this will require saw-cutting the foundation, which is not as difficult or dangerous as it sounds. A professional plumber can coordinate this for you. The pre-fab shower stalls typically come in 5 sections – a floor pan and four wall segments. Once the floor pan is installed, the other pieces snap into place and you have a roll-in shower. The front lip of the shower typically has a soft rubber strip designed to yield when the wheelchair rolls over it. The rubber strip prevents water from draining onto the bathroom floor.
The final touch in this bathroom was the adjacent closet. Remember, the closet door was always inside the bathroom and we just relocated and enlarged it. We brought Natasha into the bathroom for this last step and measured her reach for the clothes rod. (We learned to always measure from the vanity!) Once we knew how high to make the lowest rod, we built out the closet.
As a result of this remodel, Natasha can get herself ready for school in the morning. She can wash her face, brush her teeth, comb her hair and dress herself. Her parents need to get up 15 minutes earlier every morning, because Natasha takes more time to do it herself, but her independence makes it all worthwhile.