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Grab Bars 101

Most emergency room visits by seniors are the result of falls, and the most dangerous falls occur in the bathroom because of the combination of narrow spaces, slippery floors and hard surfaces. Grab bars can provide a ready crutch and help reduce the chance of falling. They can also provide assistance getting on and off the toilet and something to hold onto when showering. Towel rods are commonly installed into just drywall and their removal should be considered because of the clear danger to anyone prone to falling.

This article is about basic grab bar placement and installation. There are many complex configurations that can be considered, but 98% of today’s bathrooms will benefit from just simple horizontal or vertical grab bars, from 16-36 inches in length. These bars are now available at the big box hardware stores, but the best selection can be ordered online.

When installing grab bars, there are certain considerations to make them safe and practical. In the bathroom, they can be placed in several locations and their purpose will help determine the final placement and installation method.

Some rules to follow
• Grab bars in wet locations should have a “peened,” “knurled,” or otherwise-textured finish to increase traction
• The height of horizontal bars are typically 32-36 inches from the finished floor
• The bottom of vertical bars are typically 32 inches from the finished floor
• Both ends of each bar should be securely attached to meet ADA-compliance standards (see below).

When choosing a mounting location, one must also consider aesthetics and what might lie behind the wall, like plumbing, electrical lines or pocket doors.

Typical placement of bathroom bars
• Horizontally-placed next to the toilet
• Vertically-placed just outside the bathtub or shower stall for ingress and egress
• Horizontally-placed inside the bathtub or shower stall
• More bars should be considered if a person is prone to falls

American Disabilities Act (ADA) standards call for grab bars to be securely mounted in order to support a static load of 250 lbs. This means having at least 2 screws at the end of each bar, mounted through the wall surface and at least 1 inch into the supporting substrate behind the wall, normally vertical studs.

If studs aren’t available for mounting, here are some other options (other than installing bracing between the studs, which can be costly):
Wing-Its®
SnapToggles®

Mounting methods to avoid
• Avoid using screw anchors, standard molly bolts or toggle screws, except for the 3rd screw, with the other 2 screws going into a stud
• Avoid mounting onto tile surfaces without screwing to a solid substrate behind the wall
• Avoid mounting to fiberglass or plastic tub surrounds without pre-existing grab bar bracing (some home builders provide for this, so ask them), or using the product below.

Solid Mount® is a product for use with fiberglass or plastic surrounds that have a gap between them and the drywall, providing the gap is between 7/8″ and 2-1/8″.

Tips for a secure installation:
• Follow instructions provided with the grab bar and/or mounting hardware.
• Pre-drill holes using the size bit specified in the instructions. Using soap on the screw threads will help screw into older wood.
• Test the final installation by firmly pulling on it.
• In wet locations, use silicone caulking on all screws and behind mounting plates to prevent moisture intrusion in the wall.

Other alternatives to wall-mounted grab bars include the Super-Pole® and the Guardian tub grab bar. The Super-Pole is a floor-to-ceiling grab pole that is often used in the bedroom for assistance getting in and out of bed, or the living room getting in and out of chairs. It can also be used in the bathroom if a mounting surface isn’t available for a grab bar, or inside a stall shower. It can also be used for getting on and off the toilet. When installing a Super-Pole in a wet location, make sure silicon caulking is applied to the sleeve joint to prevent water getting into the screw mechanism.

The Guardian tub grab bar grips the side of the bathtub to facilitate getting in and out. Extreme care should be given to installing the Super-Pole and Guardian tub grab bar to make sure they are secure and won’t dislodge in the event of a fall. Test them from time to time by firmly pulling on them.