Dear James: My father is coming to live with me, and he is in a wheelchair. I need to remodel the bathroom so he can access the shower. What is the best way to design the shower for wheelchair access? — Denise H.
Dear Denise: With the aging population in the United States, more and more people are becoming concerned about wheelchair access throughout homes. Showers are one key area of consideration because someone in a wheelchair obviously cannot enter a standard shower with a raised step across its opening.
When you remodel the bathroom, the shower floor must be designed so it is flush with the bathroom floor. You might think this would flood the entire bathroom floor every time someone takes a shower, but with proper design, it will work just fine. Some homes are being built this way today, even if no handicapped individuals will be living there.
The first remodeling consideration is creating a shower area that is large enough to accommodate a wheelchair. There must also be enough room for the wheelchair to rotate inside the shower. Measure your father's wheelchair and rotate it to determine how much space it requires. Generally, a 5-square-foot shower stall should be adequate.
Making the shower stall bigger reduces the remaining free space in the bathroom. Make a detailed layout to scale to be certain there will be sufficient space left. If not, you may decide to expand the bathroom area or include the cabinet and sink in an area adjacent to the existing bathroom.
To create a shower stall with the floor flush with the bathroom floor, you will have to start by lowering the subflooring in the shower stall area. It should be about one and a half inches lower. This will provide depth for the shower flooring system and tile to bring it up the rest of the bathroom floor.
On a floor with floor joists under it, the tops of the joists will have to be cut down by 1 1/2 inches. This will weaken them slightly, so you may want to add some support lumber, depending on the span (unsupported length) of the joists. If the bathroom is built over a slab, some of the concrete will have to be removed.
In order drain properly, the floor in the shower stall needs to have a slope of only 1/8 inch per foot down to the drain. Since there may be some overspray while showering, it would be wise to give the entire bathroom floor a very slight slope to the shower area. It can be so slight that it is not even noticeable.
Once the floor is ready, a waterproof poly liner should be placed on the base and sealed to the drain. It should run partially up the walls under the tile to direct any water that gets through the tile down to the drain. The mortar mix, with the proper slope, is poured over this liner, and the tile is set over this.
Install double shower curtains to minimize the amount of water that gets out onto the bathroom floor. Ones with weights along the bottom will be most effective. Be sure to install a handheld shower nozzle and an anti-scald shower valve for safety. Older people's nerves may be less sensitive, so they can scald themselves without sensing it.
Send your questions to Here's How, 6906 Royalgreen Dr., Cincinnati, OH 45244 or visit www.dulley.com. To find out more about James Dulley and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.