Grab Bars for Bathrooms: What You Should Know Before Installation

Before beginning the installation process of your grab bars for bathroom installation, it is important to know what type of tub or shower you have (tip – walk-in bathtubs and showers are a perfect complement to grab bars).  The type of shower determines the installation method and products needed to have a successful installation.

Installing Grab Bars for Your Bathroom to Code

Installed grab bars for bathrooms need to sturdy enough to support your weight.  State Building Codes and Federal accessibility guidelines for public buildings require grab bars be installed to support a minimum 250 pounds.

In most cases, additional wood or structural material needs to be added to the shower walls such as installing plywood between the shower unit and wall studs, or solid wood blocking between the wall studs.  If you install a grab bar into an existing bathroom wall without providing the proper support, the grab bar installation will not secure properly.   This could cause you great harm in the event you are relying on the grab bar for support and it pulls off the wall.  The easiest way to install proper support is to open the wall, either from the toilet room side of the wall, or if possible, through the back side of the wall from the adjacent room.  This will require some patch and repair work to the wall after the support has been installed.

Molded Fiberglass Shower

If you have a molded fiberglass shower, installation of grab bars for

bathrooms is more challenging.  Most prefabricated units use a thin fiberglass plastic wall material that is not strong enough to support grab bar installation.  If this is your situation, it’s best to rely on a professional installer who has previous experience drilling holes through a fiberglass wall.

Grab Bars for Bathroom Tools

It is important to have the proper tools to ensure the shower wall does not “crack” or become damaged.  The structural issue of concern for grab bars

mounted on a fiberglass shower is the air space between the fiberglass wall and stud wall.  There is a product on the market which called “The Solid Mount” that attaches to the wall stud, filling the hollow space, sealing the hole and leaving a mounting surface to which a standard grab bar can be safely

attached.   If you have tile walls, consider using a professional installer for grab bars to avoid shattering or cracking the tile when you drill screw holes.

Styles and Sizes of Grab Bars for Bathrooms

Sizes of Grab Bars – As far as grab bar size and styles, a variety of grab bars is available on the market.  They come in different diameters and clearances to the wall, various lengths, shapes and finishes.  You need to find a grab bar that

has a 1-1/4 inch to 1-1/2 inch diameter (whichever fits your hand size best) and when mounted on the wall, provides a clearance no greater than 1-1/2 inches.  If the clearance to the wall is greater than 1-1/2 inches, there is a safety concern.   If you were to lose your balance your arm could slide between the wall and grab bar.  You could get “wedged” between the wall and grab bar or even break your arm!

Styles and Finishes of Grab Bars – Grab bars don’t have to look institutional.  Attractive finishes and decorative flanges and screw cover plates are available.  Grab bars are available in various colors to match your décor, as well as brass, antique brass, chrome, bronze, oil rubbed, etc.  Some of the higher end plumbing showrooms carry the more decorative finishes and cover plates.  In addition, some grab bar manufactures offer “non-slip” surfaces which work well in wet areas.

Though at first glance grab bars by different manufacturers appear to be comparable, the quality varies. Here are some questions to ask yourself to determine if you can use a less expensive grab bar or need a higher quality grab bar:

  1. Does the grab bar support the user’s weight, or is a stronger grab bar needed?  Some grab bars are designed to meet minimum requirements set forth by accessibility codes and guidelines (250 pound minimum) and may not be able to support the weight of a heavier person.
  2. If a stainless steel grab bar is selected, will the materials eventually rust (especially in a shower situation)?  Grab bars that are made of 3 or 4 series metals (stainless) should not rust, grab bars made of 1 or 2 series metals can rust even though they are stainless steel.
  3. If selecting a powder-coated(e.g.: white or colored) grab bar, will it rust if the bar gets chipped?
  4. Is it important to have a stylewhere the screws are counter sunk (recessed into the bar flange)? Some manufacturers do not recess the screws into the flange.  They are less attractive and the screws may catch on the user’s skin, or snag their clothing, etc.
  5. Is it important for you to have the screwsconcealed for a more aesthetic image?
  6. Is the flange thickness important to you? Some manufacturers offer a 12 gauge flange thickness which is thicker than most that are only 14 gauge. (Note: The lower the gauge the thicker the metal.)
  7. Is the flange “hand pig” welded to the bar? Some welds are thinner and possibly not done by hand which may create a weaker joint.
  8. Is it important to have all visible clampor fabrication marks removed from the surface of the grab bar or are minor imperfections acceptable?
  9. Is a product guarantee important to you? Some manufacturers offer a lifetime guarantee.
  10. Finally, in regard to position and length, there are many resources available that provide guidelines.  But, it is always best to consult with your occupational or physical therapist, or CAPS trained professional contractor to determine the best grab bar for bathrooms positioning for your specific safety needs.