Designing clear floor space for tubs and showers

When selecting and specifying the tub fixture, there are several options to consider to best meet a client’s needs for entering/exiting the tub and bathing.

May 06, 2013

When designing the clear floor space adjacent to a tub, it should be a minimum of 30 inches by the length of the tub, or the tub and transfer surface if the transfer surface is at the head of the tub. If an aid will be assisting in bathing or if a person will be approaching using a mobility aid, the width of this clear floor space should increase, with 48 inches being a good guide.

Beyond the control wall and beyond the head end an additional 12 inches to 18 inches of clear floor space improves access to the controls and to the transfer surface by a person using a wheelchair.

The Access Standard indicates that a minimum of 12 inches is needed at the head of the tub. It is worth noting that these clear floor spaces can challenge the proportions in the bathroom, and there are several things that can help balance the open space in the room. A movable storage island can be an attractive and useful addition, and a design that integrates the adjacent shower or wet area can use the shower space as part of this clear floor space.

Tub entry and exit

When selecting and specifying the tub fixture, there are several

options to consider to best meet a client’s needs for entering/exiting the tub and bathing. Variations on the traditional tub that relate to improved access include built-in seats and transfer surfaces, and integral supports or grab bars. One tub may be deeper because it supports a person sitting upright to bathe, while another might be more traditional in size, supporting a person soaking or experiencing water-related therapy.

In addition, tubs with doors are becoming more readily available. If the client is considering a tub with a door, the specific way in which a client is able to approach and enter the tub must be examined. When reviewing the fixture options, the strength and clear space needed for the door to operate, the speed with which the tub can be filled with water and emptied, and the height of the threshold into the tub or the access to any built-in seat must be reviewed. Because the fixture specifications and the client’s needs must be matched carefully, no general recommendations can be accurate in terms of matching the client with the tub.

Keep in mind that the entry and exit from a tub can be challenging to the most agile among us. This is the most critical aspect in the design and specification of the appropriate fixture, as well as the surrounding space.

The shower

The ease of entry and exit and the flexibility to sit or stand that can be designed into the shower probably contribute to the current preference for showering as our main method of personal hygiene. Based on size and design, there are two categories of showers relating to access, the transfer shower and the roll-in shower.

Transfer shower

The transfer shower must have a 36-inch by 36-inch finished interior dimension, with an L-shaped grab bar on the control and half of the back wall, a fold-up seat on the wall opposite tcontrol wall, and a full 36-inch opening. These specifications must be precise to succeed at creating a space where anyone using the shower will have controls and support within reach at all times. It is important to note that, based on a client’s needs, the transfer shower, although smaller, can be the better choice.

When the clear floor space adjacent to the shower is sufficient, many standing or seated users will be able to use this shower independently. Access Standards suggest that the clear floor space adjacent to the transfer shower should be a minimum of 48 inches along the opening and extending beyond the opening on the seat wall by 36 inches in depth.

A more generous clear space of 60 inches in length will make showering easier for most people using a mobility aid, allowing for the positioning of the wheelchair to line up with the shower seat or to access the controls, and 60 inches in depth would provide the turning clearance for that same bather.

Because the shower interior is so small, the transfer shower is not always designed as a no-threshold shower. When possible, making the area outside the shower a wet area by extending the waterproof membrane and sloping the floor gently toward the drain will make it possible to consider no threshold for this fixture. With or without a raised threshold, care must be taken to contain the water in a shower this size. Adding a second drain outside the shower, or using a trench-style drain can help with this, and there are many products available to streamline this process. While a door will contain the water, it can be difficult to plan a door that will provide the 36-inch opening and still not interfere with maneuvering space. A shower curtain that is long enough to drop onto the floor and weighted to hold it down will help, and the curtain can be tied back when not in use, eliminating the obstruction.

Roll-in shower

A roll-in shower is a large waterproof area with either no threshold or a flush threshold. This design is easier to use for children, those with balance issues, and, in general, most people. It is particularly accommodating to a person using a wheelchair, as he/she is able to roll in and remain in the shower chair while showering.

Most recommendations for access suggest a minimum 60 inches wide by 30 inches deep, which allows for conversion from a traditional bathtub to a shower in the existing space. To help with water containment, a minimum depth of 36 inches to 42 inches is preferred for a roll-in shower. Ideal dimensions are 60 inches wide by 48 to 60 inches deep, which makes entry and full turning easier for the bather using a wheelchair, and it improves water containment.

Given the current enthusiasm for generous size and Euro-style shower spaces, this is becoming a universal approach, with the benefits expanding to include bathing pets, dual or multiple user showering, and more.

The clear floor space in front of a roll-in shower compartment should be at least 60 inches long next to the open face of the shower compartment and a minimum 30 inches wide. As with the transfer shower, a more generous clear space will allow for easier maneuvering.

To accommodate turning to enter the shower by a person using a wheelchair, the width of the entry opening must be considered. When using glass or other inflexible materials for the fixed panel and the door, the width of the door opening can be critical to the user who will roll in. If the shower is not more than 42 inches deep, the door opening will need to be 36 inches to allow the seated bather to maneuver into the space, including turning at the entry. If the shower is deeper, as shown at 60 inches, the opening can shrink to 32 inches as the bather can roll straight in before turning to the right position for showering. The option of a seat in the shower is always good, and in a roll-in shower, it should be a folding type or designed not to interfere with the clear floor space. One location is on the wall adjacent to the controls. A second option presented in recent code updates is to have the seat on the end wall opposite the controls and when this is the case, care must be given to be sure the seated user will have access to the controls and the handheld spray.  PR


This article is excerpted from the NKBA Professional Resource Library volume: Bath Planning, Second Edition by Kathleen Parrott, PhD, CKE, Julia Beamish, PhD, CKD, JoAnn Emmel, PhD, and Mary Jo Peterson, CKD, CBD, CAPS, CAASH. Copyright: 2013 National Kitchen & Bath Association; published by John Wiley & Sons, Inc. This material is reproduced with the permission of John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

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