Why we love grab rails

 As a building firm, we specialise in disabled adaptation work around the home. As such, we’ve come across all kinds of weird and wonderful technologies and gadgets to help make life easier for people who might be less mobile. But one of the most effective adaptations remains the humble grab rail. Fitted correctly, in the right location, they offer safety and security, confidence and independence.

Grab rails are particularly useful in bathrooms where they can help prevent slips and falls whilst getting in and out of the bath. Here we’re taking a look at choosing and installing grab rails around your bath.

How to choose the right grab rail

Some grab rails are specifically designed to fit horizontally or vertically, or even diagonally – make sure you buy the right one. If grip strength isn’t great, go for a smaller-diameter bar.

Think carefully about the finish. Shiny chrome might look nice and fit in with the rest of your bathroom décor, but it can be very slippery when wet. Something textured may well be a better bet.

Where to install your grab rails

The best position for your grab rails will depend both on your bathroom and the specific needs of the person using it. It’s a good idea to try climbing in and out of the tub (no need for water!) to get an idea of where the grab bars should be placed. It’s best to have the people most in need of the grab rail with you so they can help decide which position would be most helpful.

You’re likely to need a vertical bar (this could be quite small) in front of the bath to help with getting in and out of the tub. Using a vertical bar here means it’s likely to suit users of different heights.

A horizontal bar, or one at a slight angle, mounted on the long back wall of the bath is likely to be helpful. The bottom of the bar should be about 15cm – 25cm above the top of the bath. If the bar will primarily be used by someone sitting in a bath chair, the bottom should be about 45cm above the top of the bath.

Installing grab rails

Your grab rail is only as strong as the wall it’s fixed to and the fixings used.

There could be quite a force pulling on your grab rail so it’s always best to try and mount it into a stud which runs behind the wall. If your walls just have a single layer of drywall you should be able to find the stud by rapping your knuckle on the wall until the sound changes from hollow to a dull thud. Alternatively, you can use a tool called a stud finder or sensor to locate their position. If that’s not possible, you can use an anchoring device (here we’ve assumed you do have access to studs).

One you’ve had a few practice goes in and out of the tub and feel happy you know where the bars should go, mark the location using a piece of wide tape. Mark the location of the studs on the tape, pinpointing the stud centres. Most grab bars have three screw holes in each mounting flange so you may only be able to anchor two of the three screws into a typical stud – you can use a plastic anchor for the third.

Use the grab bar mounting flange as a guide to mark pilot holes over your stud marks. Use a drill bit that’s slightly smaller than the shaft of the mounting screws. If you’re drilling through ceramic tiles you’ll need to use a special glass or tile drill bit as a regular drill bit may well crack your tile – make sure you read up on how to use these properly before ploughing ahead. Check that your pilot holes go into the stud behind the wall/tiles.

You should now be able to drive the mounting screws which came with your grab rail into the wall. Take your time and be aware of any sudden slackening of resistance – this might mean you’ve broken through the side of the stud which will reduce the strength of your grab rail. You can apply some adhesive to the back of the mounting flange for additional strength (make sure it’s suitable for either tiles of the drywall, depending on where you’re positioning your grab rail).

Slide the grab bar covers over the mounting flanges and test the strength. You need to give it a good yank; you might like to have a friend standing by to catch you in case your handywork’s not quite up to the challenge!

There are alternatives to grab rails, including bath side rails, either floor mounted or bath mounted – feel free to get in touch if you’d like to find out more about these options.

Other places for grab rails

There are lots of other places that grab rails can help – in the shower, by the toilet, by the front door. It can be helpful for a community Occupational Therapist to come and assess your living needs to help identify the best places for you. You might find that there are some obstacles which prevent the simple grab rail being the best solution if, for example, your toilet is too far from the wall. There are other solutions. Including moving the toilet closer to the wall! If you’d like to consider larger structural changes to make your home more accessible, we’re happy to come and discuss the options with you.