“Despite the effect on resale value, replacing a tub with a shower is increasingly popular as aging-in-place remodeling gains interest. According to a National Association of Home Builders Remodelers survey, 70% of remodelers now report making universal-design home modifications, compared with 60% in 2006. Additionally, 60% of remodelers say these projects include adding a curbless shower, as well as grab bars, higher toilets, and wider doorways. Though most requests come from clients over age 55, more consumers are making the requests on behalf of aging or disabled family members.”
— Lauren Hunter, associate editor, REMODELING
This makes all the sense in the world for me, on several levels.
For starters, it reflects a greater focus on creating a home that is what people want for themselves, not viewing the place as an investment they are just parking in. Yes, it’s wonderful when you sell to make money, and to get the price you are hoping for or more, but what good is it, really, if you aren’t comfortable and don’t enjoy living in it yourself? Value is not necessarily measured in dollars, but in getting the biggest bang for your buck – and making sure you get what you need to support your own health and lifestyle before you try to worry about some hypothetical later buyer. Surround yourself with beautiful things and colors that you love, and the greatest (and longest lasting) reward you will reap will be your own delight and joy while you yourself live there.
Second, the reality is that our population is aging, and a far higher percentage of us are going to have to age in place whether we want to or not, just because the Baby Boomer generation is going to overwhelm our existing elder care options. Nobody really wants to leave the home that they love, but more savvy people are realizing that it makes sense to plan ahead for as many potential change scenarios as they can, while they are still able-bodied enough to do so, taking the time to do it right.
By middle age, too, the body starts breaking down, of course, and none of us can do all of what we could do when we were younger, or at least very few, and this process just accelerates as we get older. People are starting to face these realities, particularly as they see their parents and friends running into problems staying in their homes because of design that interferes with being able to do so safely and easily. Particularly if people still love their homes and neighborhoods, remodeling to ease the transitions of getting older makes a lot of sense – and planning for it in advance of actually needing the modifications makes even more sense.
Curbless showers are particularly nice, because people in wheelchairs can just roll right in with no obstacles to overcome, there’s nothing for anyone else to trip over, either, and they make cleaning the floor a breeze, because there are fewer nooks and crannies for dirt to hide in, as with a traditional shower, and the entire floor has a tiny, imperceptible slope that prevents water from pooling anywhere. They also make a smaller bathroom look a lot bigger because the continuous floor visually expands space, while anything that interrupts that span, like a shower curb, makes it look smaller. It’s easier to get both kids and dogs in than to try to get them into a tub and keep them there, and controls placed low enough to be reachable by a seated user are also easier for children to reach. The advantages go on and on. And with today’s vast range of materials and finishes, your bathroom can still look every bit as stunning when accessible to everyone, regardless of whether you prefer a contemporary or a traditional look.
If you’ve got enough space for both a tub and a freestanding shower, you’ve got many more options, but if you can only fit one in, the shower offers more option for ease of use combined with beautiful aesthetics.
Many times these modifications are surprisingly easy and economical to do, especially if you are planning ahead and not under the gun of dealing with an emergency situation. If you are already planning a remodel, make sure you include as many accessibility features as possible, particularly if you already have a medical condition that you know will eventually cause you to need to make changes to the house. An interior designer who is a Certified Aging in Place Specialist to help you get the most bang for your buck (and time invested) in terms of both function and aesthetics, and integration with the rest of your home.
If you want to be sure you can stay in your home as you age, or as you move in elderly parents, or to enable disabled friends or other relatives to visit, contact Hoechstetter Interiors for anything from an evaluation of your current situation and recommendations to complete remodeling or new construction assistance to ensure accessibility, ease of use, and beauty for YOUR lifestyle.
Following are a few other images of beautiful bathrooms with roll-in (or near roll-in) showers and other accessibility features. Future posts will look at accessibility issues and features in other rooms of the house.
This is a very tiny and narrow bathroom, but look how big it looks because of the open shower, continuous flooring, suspended vanity, and that marvelous huge mirror. This stunning shower might be a little difficult for a wheelchair user to use in its present form because there’s no room to turn around, and hard to get assistance in if needed, but either a roll-in shower chair or the addition of a pull-down bench would allow for comfortable seating and easy transfer to the bench. If this is all the space you’ve got, though, it’s definitely still workable even if a bit cramped – and without architectural changes. Of course, grab bars would need to be added as well. However, the handheld shower and controls are at a good height for a seated user (or children!), and you can see how well the shower integrates into the room without curbs, and how it visually expands the limited space. The sink and vanity are already fully accessible because of the open space underneath, and placement at a height and with a depth that everyone in the family can use easily.
Even grab bars don’t have to be dull and institutional-looking. Here is only one example of a growing number of beautifully designed styles of bathroom hardware that are designed to integrate beautifully with – or completely match – the rest of your fixtures and fittings, even in a more traditionally designed bathroom like this one. The translucent fold-down shower seat nearly disappears visually. I can’t tell if this is actually a roll-in shower or not, but it certainly could be. The only thing noticeably missing here is a handheld showerhead and shower controls reachable from the seat. It’s really a shame when a room is this attractively designed with such obvious intent to make it accessible, and such major elements are left out. It’s on the right track, though, and shows how style and beauty simply need not be sacrificed even in a more traditional design. If the necessary plumbing changes simply aren’t in the budget, there are add-on handheld showers that can be purchased separately and attached to the main showerhead that can bring additional functionality to a situation like this if need be.
This lovely “room within a room” shower still has a curb, but it’s low enough that most people would be able to navigate it with much less difficulty than with a standard curb (or tub edge!), and with help, a wheelchair could be gotten over it if necessary. If designing this room from scratch, though, or remodeling it, it would be easy to eliminate it altogether with a little more attention paid to the way the floor slopes to the drain, with or without the contrasting flooring inside the shower and out. The window ledge doubles as a seat (although perhaps a little low here) – totally functional, and totally unobtrusive as to purpose. Add grab bars and a handheld showerhead, and this is another stunning example of how a shower can be accessible to all without sacrificing one iota of style.
This prefabricated showerpan is a lower cost way to achieve full accessibility in the shower. That lip holds the water in, but is compressible, so that a wheelchair will just roll right over it, or you can step right on it if you can’t pick up your feet very far. Add a drop down bench, and be sure there’s a handheld showerhead, and this is yet another well-designed accessible shower that integrates well into an attractive bathroom. Horizontal grab bars are generally more useful and safer than slanted ones, but every little bit helps. The sink, however, is not accessible as is, but could easily be made so by replacing the cabinet base with something that allows seated access as in some of the other images shown here, or by installing a cabinet base that can have doors while people are still all mobile, but which are designed to be easily removable later if wheelchair accessibility becomes necessary.
Many times, aging-in-place design allows for changes like this with flexible base cabinets when they become necessary, while retaining more “traditional” features until such time as they are needed.
Other options are installing backing in the shower in anticipation of adding grab bars later. I’ve learned from hard personal experience, though, that you should buy the grab bars when you buy the rest of your fittings, and just store them away if you don’t want to install them right away. It can take weeks or months to order something you’d really like to live with, and if you are injured (as I was last year, with a broken foot), even if you’ve already got the backing in place and every other accessibility feature set to go, you’ll get stuck with ugly hardware store special grab bars if you need them suddenly, or with finding a way to do without, which defeats the whole point.
(If anyone knows the photo credits for these images, please let me know and I will be happy to add the attributions. My new software on my new Mac has eaten all the credits I had stored in the prior version on my PC <sigh>.)