Build a Better Bathroom

By David Ferguson

July 17, 2010

In last week’s column, I offered a few suggestions that might help make a bedroom décor everything it could be. In this next part, I will take a look at the bathroom and offer ways to make it safer, more practical and more up-to date.

july-17-3d-floor-plan If you saw the plan for last week’s column, you will notice that I have made a few changes to the bathroom floor plans.

For anyone who is renting their home, spending money beyond buying some fresh, new towels, a new shower curtain and some accessories would seem frivolous. Those who are decorating a newly-built home were likely satisfied with the selection of tile and other finishes, so they, too, wouldn’t buy much more to pull together an easy and pleasing look.

When Creative Space was strictly an advice column, hands-down, the most frequently asked questions about the bathroom would have something to do with the lack of space. Even bathrooms that by most standards would be considered large, readers would suggest that there is little or inappropriate space to store the things we use every day.

Another factor that is rightfully coming into play more and more is “universal design”, a concept designed to accommodate the functional needs of everyone, with or without activity limitations or disabilities.

On a personal note, I have recently had to make some changes to my own home in order to accommodate a family member. I have found that, despite being able-bodied, I use and appreciate these new features all the time.

Look, the reality is, we are all getting older and with that, we are becoming less agile. While we may resist some of the changes I am suggesting here, once installed, you will wonder how you ever lived without them.

  1. Everyone can appreciate a well-designed bathroom that is safe, spacious, relaxing and easy to use. The successful design of a universally-accessible bathroom starts with identifying its users and anticipating the needs of all family members and visitors who will use the bathroom.

july-17-3d-illustration-2Its size and location are important considerations, and in the example I have drawn here, the fully-accessible bathroom is located on the home’s second floor, so it is assumed that there is an easy means of access to that level.

The biggest change I made from the previous floor plan was to increase the size of the room. The adjoining hall was more than large enough, so I borrowed almost 60 centimetres (two feet) of floor space for the newly-renovated bathroom.

The configuration of the toilet and shower were designed to allow independent access to a wheelchair-bound individual. In both cases, the wheelchair is taken to the location and the individual transfers themselves to the appropriate facility.

Both the flooring and wall finishes should be slip resistance, as should the finish of any additional furniture used in that room.

july-17-3d-illustration-3As with all bathrooms, storage for toiletries, linens, medicines and anything else that may be required in the bathroom should be plentiful and easily accessible.

When lighting a universally-usable bathroom, consider the tasks at hand. A motion-sensor control for general illumination would be a terrific investment. In general, lighting controls should be installed lower on the wall.

When designing a bathroom for someone who uses a walker or wheelchair, allow a manoeuvring space of 75 centimetres by 120 centimetres (30 inches by 47 inches) in front of, or beside all fixtures including the bathtub, shower and storage spaces. It is especially important to consider the manoeuvring space in front of all of the controls, so that it is not necessary for someone to lean to reach them. Sufficient manoeuvring space in front of windows and window controls should be considered, as well.

july-17-3d-illustration-4A minimum manoeuvring space of 150 by 150 centimetres (approximately 5-feet by 5-feet) within the bathroom will allow for turning around and approaching the bathroom facilities (for power wheelchair or scooter users the required turning radius is larger, depending on the size of the mobility device.


  1. 2. Finishes are more plentiful and more important than ever. When selecting bathtubs, flooring, toilets and showers, remember to take into consideration the surface finishes.

Wall and floor surfaces in the shower should be designed to prevent mold from growing. Adequate ventilation, both natural and mechanical, is extremely important to eliminate moist air and the potential for mold or mildew growth.

All surfaces chosen for a bathroom should be slip resistant, yet easy to clean and maintain.

  1. Minimal effort should be required to clean the bathroom. Eliminate difficult-to-reach areas, and one way to do that is to raise cabinets and counters off the floor so that there are fewer corners to clean. Try to avoid any materials that require special cleaning products. In general, bathroom cleaning products should be stored in easy-to-reach locations, preferably in drawers. In families that include small children, people with Alzheimer’s or individuals with developmental disabilities, give careful consideration to the storage and security of these products, as well as to mediation.


  1. Bathroom safety cannot be under-estimated. Once upon a time, grab bars were institutional-looking. On the market today are some beautiful grab bars that are designed to do double-duty as a towel rack, shelf, soap holder or shower control, among other things. Although they may be considered more expensive, the price will no doubt decrease as their popularity increases.

july-17-3d-illustration-6Safety hazards in the bathroom deserve the highest consideration because the bathroom is the site of many accidents and falls.

A non-slip flooring surface is extremely important. When possible, bath mats should be avoided because they can be a tripping hazard and an obstacle. On the other hand, a non-slip mat in the bathtub is an excellent idea to prevent a slip or fall.

Burns can be another safety hazard in the bathroom, particularly for children. Mixing valves that limit the water temperature to a maximum of 49ºC (120ºF) should be installed. The hot water tank temperature should never be lowered below 60ºC (140ºF) as dangerous bacteria can flourish in that environment.

july-17-3d-illustration-1Avoid sharp edges on surfaces in the bathroom to prevent injury in case of a fall and consider various lighting options.

In future columns, I plan to write a lot more about universal design, a subject I am passionate about and something I would like to see adapted to all newly-built environments.

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