Find out how to make your bathroom accessible to people of all ages and abilities. Get tips on replacing door knobs with lever handles, replacing a vanity with a pedestal sink, installing secure and attractive grab bars, improving lighting and more.
LESLIE: Well, it’s a good idea to plan for all stages of your life when you’re remodeling or even when you’re building from scratch, even if you are in perfect health right now. Hey, you never know what life may throw at you along the way.
TOM: That’s right. And a universally-designed bathroom can do just that by simply making your bathroom accessible to people of all abilities. The host of This Old House , Kevin O’Connor , is here now to tell us more.
KEVIN: Thank you very much for having me, guys.
TOM: Now, it sounds like making these bathroom alterations  isn’t always that difficult.
KEVIN: It’s not. And in fact, I think these are some great DIY projects. And you’ve got to keep in mind, you might not just be doing these for people who have physical disabilities; these make sense for anybody at any age. And they can really increase the amount of time that we spend in our houses comfortably.
TOM: Really good point. And something as simple as a door knob. We’re so used to round door knobs but a lever handle is just easier to use.
KEVIN: If your hands are arthritic, getting it around that round door knob and actually turning it left or right could be difficult. With a lever handle, you can actually use your palm, your elbow, your arm; it’s a lot easier to work on.
TOM: Let alone that, if your hands are filled with groceries.
KEVIN: Yeah, absolutely.
LESLIE: If my hands are filled with the laundry, Henry’s toys, anything and everything, an elbow is great.
LESLIE: I mean and the same goes for bathroom faucets and fixtures, as well. You know, knob handles in the shower or on the sink really could be much more easily operable with lever handles, as well.
KEVIN: And I’ll tell you what, they look great. This is not something you expect to see in a facility or a hospital; these are some good-looking fixtures. So, it’s a nice upgrade.
TOM: Now, another upgrade is to replace your current bathroom/vanity/cabinet/sink with a pedestal sink. A lot more accessible, right?
KEVIN: Yeah, sure. Think about this: the vanity is really just a sink surrounded by a big box. And so if you’re in, say, a wheelchair and you want to roll up to it, it’s not as accessible whereas a pedestal sink is, so consider upgrading to that.
And also, when you choose a pedestal sink, you might be able to get one that you can raise up a few inches so that you can get underneath it better and also, as you bend down to wash your hands, just a little closer.
TOM: And it makes the bathroom look that much bigger, too.
TOM: Now, another improvement that’s easy to make to bathrooms would be grab bars. But I think when you say “grab bars,” we all think hospital-esque.
LESLIE: Oh, super-sterile.
TOM: Yeah. Stainless steel, knurled handles, things like that. The grab bars today, though, can be quite attractive. In fact, I think I’ve seen some plumbing manufacturers that make them to match the faucets.
KEVIN: Match the faucets, beautiful stainless steel, nice chrome finishes. And also, the hardware is really good, right? Because we don’t know what’s behind those walls and when you’re doing a retrofit, you’re wondering can you get a stud or not. Well, they’ve got some great hollow-wall anchors so that you can actually put in a grab bar that could hold all of your weight, make it nice and secure.
LESLIE: And I think another good point that not only works well in the bathroom but throughout the house is to improve lighting. I think all of us end up doing work under super-dim lighting and then we’re all wearing glasses earlier than we’re supposed to. So it just makes a lot of sense to use the brightest bulb that fixtures can handle.
KEVIN: Our ability to see diminishes with age and it’s not just distance, as you say; it’s also how bright things are. So light up the house.
TOM: Now, what about the toilet? That’s probably the last seat in the house that you end up changing but those couple of inches, in the difference between a standard toilet and one that’s known as an ADA-height toilet, can make a big difference.
KEVIN: It’s a lot of up and down.
KEVIN: You’re going to be getting up and down on all of the toilets.
KEVIN: So as you say, the higher up it comes, the easier it is to maneuver yourself in and out of that toilet. And if you do end up using a wheelchair, a higher toilet is easier to shift over to.
TOM: And they’re far more water-efficient today. Any time you replace a toilet, you get one that’s much more water-efficient and does a great job.
KEVIN: We spent a lot of time at one of the country’s – actually, one of the world’s largest plumbing manufacturers – and they have an entire division set up just to invent stylish, hardworking, efficient fixtures, faucets, toilets and stuff for an aging population. They’re very aware of this problem, so there’s a great number of choices out there.
TOM: And these are improvements that make sense, not only for the bathroom but for the kitchen and really, for your entire house.
KEVIN: All over the house, right? So think about this: if you’ve got a banister going up once side of the stairs, put it on the other side, as well; put another railing there, too. It only helps, another place to grab. You can do it all throughout this house.
And we’ve got a great gallery of photos and ideas on ThisOldHouse.com that can walk you through all of the possibilities.
TOM: Good advice. Kevin O’Connor, the host of TV’s This Old House, thanks for stopping by The Money Pit.
KEVIN: My pleasure.
LESLIE: Alright. You can catch the current season of This Old House and Ask This Old House on PBS. For your local listings and some really great step-by-step videos on making your home more accessible – and a lot of other projects – you can visit ThisOldHouse.com.
TOM: And This Old House and Ask This Old House are brought to you by GMC. GMC, we are professional grade.