Make Bathrooms Safer, Easier To Use for All
Universal design concepts open a world of possible improvements.

Bathrooms can be hazardous to your health—the statistics prove it.

Every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 235,000 people over the age of 15 come to emergency rooms with injuries that happened in the bathroom, and 14% of them, almost 33,000 people, are hospitalized. Injuries increase with age, and for all ages, the most accident-prone activities were bathing, showering, and getting out of the tub or shower.

“Falls can be fatal for seniors,” says Doug Walter, an architect and certified aging in place specialist with the Centennial, Colo., firm, Godden/Sudik. “Anything we can do to prevent that, we should.”

Curbless showers are not only useful for wheelchair users or homeowners who make need a walker; they are also beautiful and easier to clean. Hand-held shower heads on an adjustable slide make showering convenient for users of different heights.
By applying the concepts of universal design—products and a built environment that accommodate users of all abilities—a lot of these hazards can be ameliorated.

Consumers don’t have to forego aesthetics in their quest for products that address some of the sensory losses and decreased mobility often attendant on aging. Considering that 90% of Americans age 50 and older say they prefer to stay in their homes as they grow older, according to AARP, there is a large—and ever-growing—market for universal design.

Three of the biggest trends in universal design are curbless (zero threshold) showers, taller toilets (aka comfort height toilets), and layered lighting to eliminate glare. These features provide convenience and safety across all age levels. None of them suggest disability or reflect an institutional look.

“When universally designed bathrooms are done well, it’s not obvious, and the best of it is invisible,” says Mary Jo Peterson, head of a design firm in Brookfield, Conn., specializing in kitchens and baths. “If it’s obviously just a solution to a problem without beauty, it’s not universal design.”

“No-threshold showers have begun to take hold with not just designers, but with builders and consumers as well,” she says, and they “are of benefit for everyone, not just for those who have to roll into a shower.”

These type showers use a trench style or linear drain rather than a central drain, and from a remodeler’s standpoint, that means the shower floor only need slope in one direction rather than two, which also makes it possible to use larger tiles on the floor, opening up greater design opportunities, Peterson says.

For seniors who still want to have a bath, there are tubs with a door in them that are perfectly presentable, adds Walter.

In the shower, flip-up seats, grab bars, and hand-held shower heads on a vertical slider are other conveniences that serve people with a range of abilities. A seat offers a place to rest or a safer way to trim toenails or shave legs than trying to perform those tasks while leaning against a shower wall or bending down with one foot propped up on the shower curb.

“While grab bars scream old to most people, they don’t have to look institutional,” Peterson says. There are companies making some fun and funky grab bars, and manufacturers are also working harder to incorporate support in other products, like towel bars and even soap dishes. For homeowners who steadfastly resist the notion of grab bars, Peterson advises putting the necessary blocking in the walls behind the tile so that the bars easily can be added at a later date if needed.

“The big trend in toilets is the comfort height,” which adds a couple of inches to the traditional toilet, says Walter. Just by looking at a toilet, no one can see that it’s comfort height, but in use, its advantages are immediately apparent, especially to anyone with ailing or aging knees.

“The other nice development is the bidet seat; all they need is power to heat up the water. These are great for seniors who may have trouble with hygiene,” he adds, but they are also a real boon for homeowners of any age.

Providing adequate lighting for the tasks at hand benefits everyone, but especially for those in the 40-plus age range, since it’s around age 40 that people begin to notice the diminution in vision that aging brings. At age 60, people need three times the amount of light as they did at age 20, says Walter, and most homes are woefully underlit.

Especially in a bathroom, where people are performing tasks like shaving, putting on makeup, and taking medications, a mix of task lighting and soft overhead lighting can eliminate glare and make it easy to accomplish those tasks. For safety’s sake, Walter strongly recommends some form of daylight in a bathroom, through either a window or a solar tube. He also likes to use motion sensor lighting in a bathroom, and advocates the use of dimmer switches to control light levels, and rocker switches, which don’t require the fine motor control needed to operate other types of switches.

Other universal design features include:

No-touch faucets
Lever handles instead of door knobs
D-ring or loop pulls on cabinets and drawers, or soft close mechanisms, which can be operated with a push
Counters with knee space beneath for sitting and/or wheelchair access
Low-sheen or honed finish on floors to reduce glare
Wide doorways for ease of access
Storage at the point of use
Employing universal design concepts and products in a bathroom will not only create a convenient and beautiful space for homeowners to age in place, but will also make their homes welcoming and safe for visitors of all ages and abilities.



Age in Place / Special Needs

Are you a consumer seeking to modify an existing home for aging in place or build a new home to meet your needs over the long term? If so, check out our Aging-In-Place Design Checklists. They contain features you may want to consider for your next new construction or renovation project.


Low-maintenance exterior (vinyl, brick)
Low-maintenance shrubs and plants
Deck, patio or balcony surfaces are no more than ½ inch below interior floor level if made of wood
Overall Floor Plan

Main living on a single story, including full bath
No steps between rooms/areas on the same level
5-foot by 5-foot clear/turn space in living area, kitchen, a bedroom and a bathroom

Minimum of 36 inches wide, wider preferred
Well lit

Accessible path of travel to the home
At least one no-step entry with a cover
Sensor light at exterior no-step entry focusing on the front-door lock
There needs to be 32 inches of clear width, which requires a 36-inch door
Non-slip flooring in foyer
Entry door sidelight or high/low peep hole viewer; sidelight should provide both privacy and safety.
Doorbell in accessible location
Surface to place packages on when opening door

Flush preferable
Exterior maximum of ½ inch beveled
Interior maximum of ¼ inch
Interior Doors

There needs to be 32 inches of clear width, which requires a 36-inch door
Levered door hardware

Plenty of windows for natural light
Lowered windows or taller windows with lower sill height
Low maintenance exterior and interior finishes
Easy to operate hardware
Garage or Carport

Covered carports and boarding spaces
Wider than average carports to accommodate lifts on vans
Door heights may need to be 9 feet to accommodate some raised roof vans
5-foot minimum access aisle between accessible van and car in garage
If code requires floor to be several inches below entrance to house for fume protection, can slope entire floor from front to back to eliminate need for ramp or step
Ramp to doorway if needed
Handrail if steps

Lever handles or pedal-controlled
Thermostatic or anti-scald controls
Pressure balanced faucets
Kitchen and Laundry

Wall support and provision for adjustable and/or varied height counters and removable base cabinets
Upper wall cabinetry – 3 inches lower than conventional height
Accented stripes on edge of countertops to provide visual orientation to the workspace
Counter space for dish landing adjacent to or opposite all appliances
Base cabinet with roll out trays and lazy susans
Pull-down shelving
Glass-front cabinet doors
Open shelving for easy access to frequently used items
Easy to read controls
Washing machine and dryer raised 12 to 15 inches above floor
Front loading laundry machines
Microwave oven at counter height or in wall
Side-by-side refrigerator/freezer
Side-swing or wall oven
Raised dishwasher with pushbutton controls
Electric cook top with level burners for safety in transferring between the burners, front controls and downdraft feature to pull heat away from user; light to indicate when surface is hot
30-inch by 48-inch clear space at appliances or 60-inch diameter clear space for turns
Multi-level work areas to accommodate cooks of different heights
Open under-counter seated work areas
Placement of task lighting in appropriate work areas
Loop handles for easy grip and pull
Pull-out spray faucet; levered handles
In multi-story homes, laundry chute or laundry facilities in master bedroom

Wall support and provision for adjustable and/or varied height counters and removable base cabinets
Contrasting color edge border at countertops
At least one wheelchair maneuverable bath on main level with 60-inch turning radius or acceptable T-turn space and 36-inch by 36-inch or 30-inch by 48-inch clear space
Bracing in walls around tub, shower, shower seat and toilet for installation of grab bars to support 250 – 300 pounds
If stand-up shower is used in main bath, it is curbless and minimum of 36 inches wide
Bathtub – lower for easier access
Fold down seat in the shower
Adjustable/ handheld showerheads, 6-foot hose
Tub/Shower controls offset from center
Shower stall with built-in antibacterial protection
Light in shower stall
Toilet 2 ½ inches higher than standard toilet (17 to 19 inches) or height-adjustable
Design of the toilet paper holder allows rolls to be changed with one hand
Wall-hung sink with knee space and panel to protect user from pipes
Slip-resistant flooring in bathroom and shower
Stairways, Lifts and Elevators

Adequate hand rails on both sides of stairway, 1 ¼-inch diameter
Increased visibility of stairs through contrast strip on top and bottom stairs, color contrast between treads and risers on stairs and use of lighting
Multi-story homes may provide either pre-framed shaft (ie. stacked closets) for future elevator, or stairway width must be minimum of 4 feet to allow space for lift
Residential elevator or lift

Slope no greater than 1 inch rise for each 12 inches in length, adequate handrails
5-foot landing provided at entrance
2-inch curbs for safety

Adjustable closet rods and shelves
Lighting in closets
Easy open doors that do not obstruct access
Electrical, Lighting, Safety and Security

Light switches by each entrance to halls and rooms
Light receptacles with at least 2 bulbs in vital places (exits, bathroom)
Light switches, thermostats and other environmental controls placed in accessible locations no higher than 48 inches from floor
Electrical outlets 15 inches on center from floor; may need to be closer than 12 feet apart
Clear access space of 30 inches by 48 inches in front of switches and controls
Rocker or touch light switches
Audible and visual strobe light system to indicate when the doorbell, telephone or smoke or CO2 detectors have been activated
High-tech security/intercom system that can be monitored, with the heating, air conditioning and lighting, from any TV in the house
Easy-to-see and read thermostats
Pre-programmed thermostats
Flashing porch light or 911 switch
Direct wired to police, fire, and EMS (as option)
Home wired for security
Home wired for computers

Smooth, non-glare, slip-resistant surfaces, interior and exterior
If carpeted, use low (less than ½ inch high pile) density, with firm pad
Color/texture contrast to indicate change in surface levels
Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning

HVAC should be designed so filters are easily accessible
Energy efficient units
Windows that can be opened for cross ventilation, fresh air
Energy Efficient Features

In-line framing with 2 by 6 studs spaced 24-inch on center
Air-barrier installation and sealing of duct work with mastic
Reduced-size air conditioning units with gas furnaces
Mechanical fresh air ventilation, installation of air returns in all bedrooms and use of carbon monoxide detectors
Installation of energy efficient windows with Low-E glass
Reduced Maintenance/Convenience Features

Easy to clean surfaces
Central vacuum
Built-in pet feeding system
Built-in recycling system
Video phones
Intercom system
Other Ideas

Separate apartment for rental income or future caregiver
Flex room that can used as a nursery or playroom when the children are young and as a home office later; if combined with a full bath, room could also be used for an aging parent/aging in place–bath-design-trends.aspx?rssLink=NKBA%20Announces%202013%20Kitchen%20&%20Bath%20Design%20Trends&utm_source=newsletter&utm_content=jump&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=BP_022613&day=2013-02-26


Anyone doing repairs/renovation on historic home? I have close to 300 pieces of 1942 Bartile concrete roof tiles that I was able to salvage from an old Bela Lugosi home/sheds in Southern California. Bartile was the first concrete roof tile to be manufactured in the U.S. I would like to see it used for preservation rather than have to dispose if it. It is a beautiful tile and has aged gracefully. Please put the word out and help save and restore some history.
Thank you.
Eddie Leverett Jr

At the 2013 Builders’ Show, some of the most creative minds in the business looked into their respective crystal balls to talk about the trends we’ll be seeing in 2013.

21 Big Ideas for Home Design Today

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Check out the newly released Cost vs. Value report from Remodeling Magazine. Find out where you should wisely invest your remodeling dollar



If your home is getting cramped, you are probably thinking about ways to expand it that will improve the house’s livability and allow you to stay in your current neighborhood. Many of my customers automatically assume that they want a room addition, but that isn’t always the best option. I always work with them to see if it’s possible to achieve their goals by reconfiguring the existing space or using other methods that are less expensive.

If you exhaust all the other options, however, it’s time to consider a room addition. A room addition adds square footage, makes your home more livable, and increases the value of your home. On a per square foot basis, additions are almost always more expensive than new construction. They are also time consuming and can disrupt your home for months. When they see the end results, however, my clients always feel that it was worth all the hassles.

Uses for a Room Addition: With today’s lifestyles, many homeowners are replacing their existing living rooms with larger great rooms that are less formal and often connect to the kitchen and dining room. Home offices are another popular use for room additions; they may even be tax deductible! A bathroom addition may seem like a small project, but adding a bath can really improve your home’s livability and increase its value. This is particularly true if adding a bathroom will bring your home more in line with the surrounding houses in your neighborhood. These are some of the most popular uses for a room addition, but I have seen them used for almost anything: dining rooms, family rooms, kitchens, home theaters, garages, and just about everything else.

Bedroom Addition Options: Many homeowners add on a room in order to create a master bedroom or to expand their existing master. Older homes often have small master bedrooms with little closet space and small bathrooms. A room addition can give you a big, luxurious bathroom and walk in his-and-her closets. Adding a bedroom in the attic is a surprising cost effective way of improving your home. In studies on the return on investment for various home remodeling projects, attic bedrooms almost always top the chart in terms of how much they increase the value of your home.

A Little House: You can think of building an addition as building a mini-house. It requires many of the same elements as a full-size home: permits, foundations, HVAC, framing, roofing, plumbing, and electricity. However, in many ways, putting an addition on can be even harder than building a house from scratch. Remodelers must fit the new structure to an existing building rather than starting with an empty lot. An addition must match up perfectly with the existing home and must be consistent stylistically so that the new part looks like an original part of the house rather than an add-on. Depending on where your addition is, it may be hard for construction equipment to access the work site. Cutting through exterior walls can be a difficult and costly procedure. Remodelers also must work around the inhabitants of the home, trying to minimize disruption and control dust.

Going Up: It’s worth your while to consider a vertical addition to your home. “Pop-ups” are a cost effective ways to add square footage because you save the costs of digging a foundation** and you may have existing walls, with wiring and plumbing that you can extend. They are also a more energy-efficient means of expanding your home than building out horizontally. You can expand into the attic or build a whole new story on top of your existing house. If you are expanding into the attic, however, you will need permanent stairs and you’ll need to think about how to get natural light into the space. For instance, you can add dormer windows or install skylights in the roof.

** Reinforcement of existing foundation may be necessary at times.

Let us help with all your design and remodeling needs, we can transform your home into the space you want it to be.
Eddie Leverett General Contractor
Design / Build / Remodel