Residential Guide to Grab Bar Placement & Installation
What Size Should I Order?
Grab Bars can be placed vertically, horizontally or diagonally depending upon a variety of factors.
1. Vertically (straight up or down). The grab bar can be mounted into a stud (if located) that sits behind the wall or optionally mounted using anchoring devices such as Snap-Toggles or Securemount anchors when a stud cannot be identified. One must be sure that this particular wall has adequate room within the hollow area behind the wall so that an anchoring device can function adequately. We frequently install a small vertically oriented bar at the entrance to the shower or tub to facilitate entry or exit. Many people often lose their footing getting in and out. A smaller grab bar (12, 16 or 18 inch bar ) is all that is usually needed in this situation here. Essentially you need a secure handle to stabilize yourself with rather than clinging precariously to bathroom fixtures, glass doors and towel bars.
2. Horizontally. If you wish to utilize the studs for anchoring a bar that is a multiple of 16 inches (ie; 16", 32", 48") will often work. In most cases but not always, the studs that sit behind the wall are 16 inches apart on center. There are many instances where studs are located 18", 24" or even 12" apart. If you buy a 16 inch bar or a bar that is a multiple of 16 inches, you can easily line the bar up with the studs, do an easy install and have the flexibilty of using the bar as a towel bar if you'd like. In situations where the stud spacing is different than 16", or in cases where the studs cannot be positively identified, a hollow wall anchoring device such as the Snap-Toggle or Securemount can often provide an adequate anchoring solution.
3. Diagonally. There are benefits as well as disadvantages to a diagonally place grab bar. If studs can be located, the grab bar can be place diagonally utilizing the studs for anchoring. When studs cannot be located or when the angle desired does not correspond to the stud locations, the Snap Toggle Securemount anchor can be used either at one end or both ends of the grab bar. Use of an anchoring device is dependent upon wall conditions and may not be suitable for walls that are in poor repair. A sloping grab bar allows individuals of different heights (like a small wife and tall husband) equally easy access to the grab bar at different gripping heights. A diagonal bar also puts our hand and wrist into a more natural and functional position with less stress on the wrists. The diagonal position though is more conducive to assist on who prefers to face one direction in the shower. The horizontal grab bar on the other hand assists the user when facing forward or backward but is limited to a fixed height.
4. Snap -Toggles and Secure Mount Anchors can usually help to make all things possible. If you have no idea where your studs are, or if studs are not present in the location that you desire Secure Mount Anchors or the Snap-Toggle will often allow you to put a grab bar wherever you'd like. See our Anchoring Solutions page for more information or email firstname.lastname@example.org for an expert's point of view and tips on an easy install.
What is the actual length of a grab bar?
A grab bar is measured from the center of one flange (cover on the left and right side of the grab bar which conceals the screws) to the center of the other flange. Therefore a 16 inch grab bar is 16 inches from the center of one flange to the center of the other. The flange cover however occupies 1-1/2 inches on either side of the grab bar. Therefore to get the total length of the grab bar you need to add 3 inches to the length. A 16 inch grab bar is actually 19 inches (16 + 3) from end to end, a 24 inch grab bar would be 27 inches (24 +3) and so on.
The Decision to Have Grab Bars Installed
In most residential applications, there are many factors to consider considering the placement of grab bars. Primarily, there often exist barriers that must be initially overcome by the individual at risk. In particular, the decision to install grab bars, bath safety rails, grab rails, handicap rails or whatever term that might be used to describe these important safety and assistive devices, is not always an easy one to make. In my experience as a grab bar installation specialist, I frequently encounter consumer concerns addressing such factors as finish, size or location of the grab bar, and more often than not, these aesthetic matters seem to take precedence, at least in the consumer's mind, over the actual assistive and safety benefits of having grab bars installed. If these concerns are not initially dealt with in an adequate manner, the individual at risk may simply object to the addition of grab bars. This individual will continue on unprotected at high risk for a potentially devastating fall. In addition to providing safety and assistance, there is also the tremendous benefit of reduction of apprehension and anxiety that is gained by the simple addition of grab bars.
These are just some of the factors which go into the mix when addressing the psychological concerns of the individual at risk. This individual does not necessarily have to be one that is elderly, infirmed or disabled but can simply be a typically healthy and active person who happens to have a bath or shower environment which by design is excessively slippery or unsafe.
Grab Bar Placement – Where to Locate Bathroom Grab Bars
In a typical bathtub or walk-in shower installation I usually recommend an entry grab bar on the shorter wall, as well as an interior grab bar on what is commonly the longer wall.
The entry grab bar which facilitates both entering and exiting the bathing area can be placed vertically or horizontally to provide support. I tend to use a vertically placed grab bar which I find provides a more efficient and mechanically advantageous hand grip when stepping in or out of the shower. The vertically oriented grab rail also offers a range of effective height at which to grab so that both a short or taller person can get a grip at a suitable height. Grab bars with enhanced gripping surfaces such as the curl grip, peened or Eurogrip grab bars, can address concerns regarding hand slippage for grab bars that are oriented vertically. I try not to locate these grab bars too far from the outside edge of the shower or tub so as to make them as effective as possible for both entrance or exit from the bathing area.
The horizontally oriented entrance bar can provide some assistance, but I personally find that it is located at a fixed height thereby unable to address discrepancies in height amongst users, and additionally does not allow one to place their hand in a functionally advantageous position when entering or exiting.
On the interior and typically longer wall of the shower or bath enclosure, I frequently place a horizontal or diagonally oriented bath grab bar (sloping upwards to the shower head). There are advantages and disadvantages to both of these placement methods. Stud placement, wall conditions and other grab bar anchoring concerns, are some of the additional factors I consider regarding the placement of interior bath safety grab bars.
The horizontally oriented grab rail allows the individual to stand towards or away from the shower outlet with adequate coverage and support. It is located at a fixed height though and does not deal as adequately with discrepancies in height amongst individuals using the shower enclosure.
The diagonally placed grab bar on the other hand addresses variations in height amongst users and allows the grab bar installer to adjust the position of the safety bar for attachment to studs at both ends. The diagonally oriented grab bar is also quite useful to assist with sitting and standing when used in conjunction with a shower chair. The diagonally oriented grab rail provides a very natural and functional hand grip, but really works effectively with the bather facing in one direction only. These are some of the concerns that one should consider when dealing with the placement of the grab rail on the interior wall of the shower.
In larger showers or in situations where more adequate coverage is required, I very often place additional grab bars in various locations within the shower. In conjunction with my customers, I always consider wall conditions, hidden hazards such as plumbing, wiring, pocket doors and other related factors in addition to the actual functionality and overall appearance of the installation.
Howard Cohen PT / Mr. Grab Bar