Simple tasks become more difficult. And it is not just aging that creates these problems: chronic illnesses such as diabetes, heart disease and Multiple Sclerosis can leave us with physical challenges, as can strokes or heart attacks. Even a car accident can leave you less physically capable than you were before.
Universal Design Bathrooms For All Ages
Given the odds that you or someone you love are likely to face periods of limited – or declining – mobility, it makes sense to consider Universal Design (UD) in your next bathroom remodeling project. UD is the principle that buildings, rooms, and objects should be designed so that the broadest range of people can access them and use them as easily as possible.
In practical terms, incorporating Universal Design ideas into your bathroom remodeling plan allows everyone from your three-year-old daughter to your 88 year-old-father to bathe, brush their teeth, and use the toilet as safely and as easily as you do. The beauty of Universal Design is that it tends to make things easier for everybody: while someone in a wheelchair might appreciate pull-out drawers instead of cupboards below the counter, a shorter-than-average woman finds them just as convenient. And while an elderly person finds it much easier to bathe using a hand-held shower while sitting on a built-in bench, so does someone tasked with bathing a four-year-old . . . or the family dog, for that matter.
“Utilitarian Bathroom” Doesn’t Mean Ugly
When many people think of bathrooms that are adapted for people with limited mobility, they think of utilitarian-but-unattractive toilet seat boosters, metal grab bars, and plastic bathing stools – things you can buy or rent in a well-stocked pharmacy. They do the job, but they certainly do not seem very inspiring, do they? Fortunately, there are simple design ideas you can incorporate into your bathroom remodel that will make your bathroom a beautiful and functional space for everyone.
When walking is difficult and balance is precarious, there are many things you can do to make your bathroom feel safer and more secure. Instead of carpet, opt for smooth, slip-free tile on the floors, and banish scatter rugs – they’re very easy for anyone to trip on. Attractive grab bars are available in designs that match your towel racks and other bathroom hardware, and can be placed in the usual spots – by bathtubs and toilets – but also by light switches and sinks.
Consider how your bathroom remodel can make it easier for someone in a wheelchair to navigate the space. A seldom-used bathtub can be replaced with a wheel-in, no-threshhold shower. Rather than being an eyesore, spacious showers with lots of bells and whistles are growing into a popular design trend. In addition to seeming luxurious, walk-in shower designs make it easy to include useful features such as a built-in tile bench with its own hand-held shower. They also give enough space to move around and frequently include safety features such as anti-scald fixtures. Rather than being a sign of accommodation and adaptation, universal design showers can add both luxury and convenience.
For people with vision problems such as cataracts or macular degeneration, it can be frustrating to navigate simple tasks. Edges are blurry, colors fade into each other, and it is often difficult to judge distances. Two of the most helpful – and inexpensive – ways to help people with vision problems is to boost the contrast between objects and surfaces, and reduce glare on those surfaces.
If the walls are a light color, consider using dark-colored faceplates to make it easier to see outlets and light switches. Choose solid-colored towels that contrast with the walls. If the sink area is a light color, select toothbrushes, soaps and accessories in dark or bright colors to contrast with the countertop (or go with light colors against a dark countertop). It is also very helpful to put a contrasting band of color on the edges of the sink and counter; it will make the edge easier to see. To reduce glare, install incandescent lighting rather than fluorescent – and install plenty of it, wherever tasks are performed: the sink, the shower or tub, and the toilet. Dimmer switches can keep the space from looking like an operating room, but bright, glare-free light is important for people with visual difficulties.
Consider Grasping Ability
As we age, muscle weakness can set in. Hands can become arthritic, or a stroke can leave us with impaired use of one side of our body. For some, turning a doorknob or grasping a round drawer pull can be painfull, and knob-shaped faucets beyond our ability.
A thoughtful bathroom remodel can make it easier for everyone. Lever-shaped door handles make it easy to open a door with your elbow, your fist, or a downward swipe of your hand – a perfect solution whether you have arthritis or are holding a squirming toddler, fresh from a bath. Single-handle faucets you can easily operate from the right- or left-hand side mean that you can easily adjust water flow and temperature even if you only have the use of one hand. Better yet, manufacturers are designing very attractive hands-free faucets, so you can have the convenience and hygiene of motion-activated water in designs that match your bathroom remodel.
Universal Design Bathroom Remodel vs. Costs Of Assisted Living
As usual, Baby Boomers are leading the way in creating solutions to mobility issues that focus more on enhancing their ability to do for themselves rather than on addressing disabilities. Baby Boomers do not want to be reminded that they are aging, and they do not want to sacrifice design. They may also have children and elderly parents in their homes at the same time, or they are caring for others while facing their own aging issues.
The average cost for a year in a nursing home is $70,000, and other senior living solutions, while not as expensive, are still pricey. Universal Design beautifully meets the needs of people at all ages and stages of mobility, and a thoughtful bathroom remodel (or any other project) will allow you to use your home fully for many years to come, at a cost that will likely be less than one year elsewhere.
About The Author
Michael Orehowsky was all but born to be a plumber. His father, Mike Sr., began his career as a professionally licensed plumber in 1986, when Mike was four years old. Growing up, Mike learned from his father the keys to running a successful plumbing company in Northern Virginia: Take care of your customers, and be true to your word. In 2004, Mike joined his father in business and in 2006, they founded 4Fast Plumber together. With Mike’s mother, Susan, running the office, Mike and his father worked together over the next four years to grow 4FastPlumber into one of Northern Virginia’s leading plumbing companies. To learn more about 4Fast Plumber, visit their website at 4FastPlumber.com.