The installation of grab bars and more importantly, where to put them is a very common home improvement project for making the home safer as older adults age in place.
So, where do you put grab bars in a bathroom? – For maximum safety, one or two grab bars should be installed by the toilet, up to three in the shower and / or bathtub and anywhere else in the bathroom where someone would need help to balance themselves or to stand up.
My mother’s bathroom had a long hallway at the entrance. She had to take about 12 steps from the bathroom doorway before she got to her sink – so we installed a long grab bar along that wall to help her maintain her balance so she could make it safely into and out of her bathroom.
Read on for more details about the best areas to install grab bars in a bathroom setting and of course, information on the grab bar installation process.
Placement Of Grab Bars Around The Toilet
These days there are multiple options to adding the stability of grab bars either directly to the toilet or to the area around a toilet. You can view all of these products on our Toilet Safety Rails recommended products page.
My recommendations on where to place grab bars around a toilet are:
- If the toilet has a wall to one (or both) sides then installing a short grab bar onto the wall(s) should be sufficient. You can also install the more modern U-shaped bars. They come in flip up versions and also standard solid ones.
- If the toilet has no wall close enough to it to install a grab bar then a toilet frame which attaches to the toilet is optimal. You can also place a bedside commode over the toilet as well.
- A bit more unconventional is the use of a Security Pole. This is a tension mounted pole which is perfect for apartments and other rental properties.
What Is The Standard Height For A Grab Bar By The Toilet?
Normally, grab bars that are fastened to the wall by a toilet are placed at a height of 33 to 36 inches (that’s 840 to 915 mm).
My recommendation is (if it’s possible) to test it by simulating it with the elderly person who will be using it. You will also want to test to see at what angle to position it at. Vertical, horizontal or at an angle.
The position of the grab bar(s) will depend on what feels the most comfortable for the user. I have seen patients with severe arthritis who needed to have the grab bar positioned at an angle vs. horizontal. Others preferred it vertical. So, you will have to customize it to your needs and comfort.
You can check the official recommendations for grab bar installations around toilets by the ADA (American Disabilities Act) here. These are used in public spaces but it does give you an idea of what may be optimal. Again – test it out with your senior loved one.
Another option is to use freestanding toilet safety rails or an attached toilet frame around the commode. These are a foldable frame (kind like a walker) that you place between the toilet tank and the back of the toilet seat. The legs fit on either side of the commode.
Where Should Grab Bars Be Placed In A Shower?
There should be a minimum of 3 grab bars in a standard shower stall. They should be position in the following spots:
- On the wall at the entrance to the shower stall. This is normally a small grab bar positioned vertically.
- On the side wall. This is usually a longer bar positioned horizontally.
- By the faucet handles (or near them). Again, another small bar positioned vertically. A 12 inch bar like this one should suffice.
I repeat, these are standard positions. I would recommend to test it out with the person who will be using them.
What Is The Proper Height For A Shower Grab Bar?
Typically, grab bars in the shower should be installed 33 to 36 inches from the floor of the bathroom (this is according to ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) Standards). But I would strongly recommend to take into consideration the height and physical capabilities of the person you are installing these grab bars for.
If possible, go through a few simulations with them. Have them walk into and out of the shower / bathtub. Have them pretend to bath themselves, wash their hair, etc. Notice where a grab bar would be of assistance to them.
It may be that for your older adult, only 2 grab bars would be necessary or perhaps four would be needed.
Where Should Grab Bars Be Placed In A Bathtub?
The recommendations for where to install grab bars on the wall around the bathtub are the basically same as they are for showers which I mentioned just above.
The one addition that I would recommend is a clamp on bar. This great little device literally clamps on to the side of the bathtub – you can read more about them here. This works well if you are unable to install one on the wall to help you get in and out of the tub.
Different Types Of Grab Bars
When I was an Occupational Therapist there were very few choices when it came to grab bars. But today – that has changed dramatically. Here’s a list of what you can expect to find when you being searching for for the right one for your bathroom.
The Wave – these grab bars are not your Grandmother’s grab bars! They are not straight, instead they have a wave design (it goes up and down) and this can make it easier for some to grab and hold on to.
The Flip – I mentioned one of these models above as an option to place by a toilet. It’s a u-shaped version of a grab bar that flips up. This allows you to move it out of the way when it’s not in use. It’s great for tight spaces and very small bathrooms.
Tension Rods – I also mentioned this model above as an option by the toilet but truthfully it can be placed anywhere in the home. It’s a tension mounted rod from floor to ceiling with a large handle on it. It’s a perfect option if you are renting a house or apartment because it’s not drilled in to a stud. It can accommodate up to 300 lbs.
Corner Bars – These are very long grab bars that wrap around a corner so that it’s one continuous bar along two walls. These are great for those very large walk in showers and could also work well for bathtubs too.
Integrated Bars – These are really kinda cool. They are literally integrated with another item. Things like handheld shower heads, toilet paper holders, soap dishes, towel racks, shower faucets, etc. It’s basically two products in one.
Suction Bars – These are not drilled into a stud, instead they adhere to any flat and non-porous surfaces. At this point in time I would not recommend to use these types of safety bars. It’s just not worth the risk of the user falling. Products with strong suctions do work well but not for long. They will become loose within a few weeks or months. Also, if it’s installed on a wall that isn’t suitable (like a wall with small tiles) – it won’t work as well either.
How To Install Grab Bars
Grab Bars (aka Safety Bars) are one of the easiest ways that you can make your bathroom (and other rooms) safer for your elderly loved ones.
Here are some general rules on their installation:
- Take the time with the person who will be using the grab bars to measure where and in what position they should be installed.
- Choose grab bars that are ADA compliant to ensure maximum safety. Here are some that we recommend.
- The majority of grab bars are capable of supporting 300 lbs. of weight. If the person who will be using them weighs more than that – there are some safety bars available that can support up to 500 lbs. of weight like this one from Moen.
- All grab bar mounting brackets must be attached to wall studs with bolts.
- If installing a bar in a Fiberglass shower surround you must use specific type of grab bar mounting brackets specifically made for fiberglass installations.
How To Attach Grab Bars To Tiled Walls?
First and foremost – we do recommend that you hire a professional handyman to do the job for you. This may seem like a very easy project, something you could DIY but if you do crack the tile or if you use the wrong wall anchors or install the grab bar incorrectly in any way – the end result could cost you more and cause injury (if the grab bar were to come loose).
But, I also do understand that it’s important to know how a job is done so that when you do hire a professional – you have some working knowledge of what they should be doing.
The steps to install grab bars to a tiled wall (like in a shower) are essentially the same as installing them into drywall or a fiberglass shower surround.
You can see the steps in the video below and I’ll write down the list of steps that are mentioned in the video.
What You Will Need
- Grab Bar(s)
- Drill (cordless ones work well)
- Wall anchors with a minimum of 77 pound load weight (recommended)
- Masonry bit (to drill through the tile)
- Measuring tape
- Long nail
- Screwdriver (optional)
- Level (optional)
Steps To Install Grab Bars On A Tiled Wall
- Measure where the best location(s) would be for the grab bar(s0 that you are installing. Again, this depends on the person who will be using them.
- This video goes into detail on how to best center and mark the placement of the grab bar.
- Once your holes are mark as to where you want to drill – place your nail on a mark and tap it with your hammer to create a small dent. Be careful not to break the tile.
- Using your masonry drill bit and cordless drill – begin drilling into that same spot but very slow and hopefully you will not crack the tile.
- Tape in your anchor into the hole with your hammer.
- Put in your screw through the grab bar into the anchor. You can use a screwdriver or your drill to screw this in. Do not tighten the screw.
- Repeat this process with the other marks on the tile wall.
How Much Does It Cost To Install Grab Bars In A Bathroom?
Grab bar installation costs depends on the number of grab bars you are needing to get installed and the type of material they are being installed on. Of course, cost also varies depending on where you live.
According to Porch.com – the range of costs could be anywhere from $88.00 to $254.00 dollars per bar. Now, understand that the more bars you install, the lower the labor cost.
Installing grab bars in a bathroom requires a little bit of skill because they are typically being installed on a wall with tiles or fiberglass.
But, having said that – typically your handyman can do the job so the cost can fluctuate depending on what their hourly rate is.
You can use this handy little calculator from Homewyse to help you calculate what the cost might be in your zip code.
A Recommended Book
If you are making major home renovations in your bathroom to include safety bars I can recommend the NKBA Kitchen and Bathroom Planning Guidelines with Access Standards. This book by the National Kitchen and Bath Association has everything you should need to make plan out a senior friendly bathroom environment.