The Accessible Bathroom
Part 4 – Barrier-Free Shower

Note: The "Accessible Bathroom" series originally appeared on a blog page and was never completed. Several elements of design have not been discussed such as fixtures, electrical and cabinetry. It is not known if the series will ever be completed. However, if you have a specific question relating to the topic here, feel free to contact us with your question.

Roll-In Shower Floor

General Shower Design

Traditional shower design has a small curb that one steps over to enter the shower. The curb serves two purposes. One is to provide a barrier to confine water to the shower area and the second is to provide a base to allow the installation of a standard-sized, specifically in height, sliding glass shower door. The shower floor may or may not be slightly below the level of floor for the rest of the bathroom. In my case, it was about an inch below the rest of the room's floor. The construction under the shower floor consists of what is called a shower pan. Its purpose is to capture any water that gets past the shower floor tile and redirect it to the drain. I won't go into how a shower pan is constructed or installed but as a standard practice in construction and there are plenty of references on the web. This was the design of my shower.

The notion of simply removing the curb and tiling over the void to make a roll in shower is a bad idea. To remove the curb and tile over the void would allow water to get under the barrier and rot, leak, start mold to whatever is below the shower. Without the curb, the shower pan must be changed to extend beyond the shower area. This will insure that any over splash will be captured and directed to the shower's drain.

How big to make the shower pan?

Shower Pan Extension
Shower Pan Extension Detail

The short answer is big enough to capture all the shower water. The long one is that it depends upon your shower design. The pan could be the entire bathroom. In some designs, a door or curtain is not used thus requiring a much larger pan than just the immediate area of the shower. Options are be limited by several factors such as new or existing construction.

In my case, I just wanted the existing shower size using a curtain. I made the pan extend about a foot beyond the shower area. The foundation of my home is concrete slab. To extend the shower pan area, the additional area had to be hammered out. Though this didn't really cost anything, hammering the concrete it did make a very big mess of dust — make sure is area is sealed off from the rest of the house as there will be a lifetime of dust created in just a few minutes. It is important to make sure your contractor understands explicitly why the pan is being enlarged. For me, the contractor only thought I needed a ramp for the shower and initially only made a portion of the pan larger, i.e., L-shaped. My design worked. In over a year of use, pan size has been sufficient to capture all the spash.

The drawback of a roll-in shower is that floor is not flat. This means that large tile squares cannot be used for the floor in the shower area. I used roughly a " sized tile for the entire bathroom floor that worked fine. I was sure to select a tile that was rated for wet floors — for the entire bathroom floor, not just the shower. The original shower used mirror-glazed wall tile on the floor and similar glazed large tiles in the rest of the bathroom. Neither of the tiles were rated for wet floor environments. The resulting floor was extremely slippery with wet feet, an accident waiting to happen. Any good tile source should have information on what tile is acceptable for showers and bathroom floors.

What if I have a bathtub and want to keep it?

You do have options and plenty of them. The simplest solution is to purchase a shower chair. These are commonly available from a multitude of sources. However, they only allow you to "shower" and not have a bath since you would still need to be raised and lowered out of the tub. There are limited solutions that allow operation without assistance that will perform this. They may or may not be within budget but, most can be taken with you when you move to a new home or on vacation. They do have one drawback in that you would always be seated in the lift when lowered into the tub and, what you would be sitting on does have a thickness that will affect how deeply you can be in the water. It is just something to keep in mind when choosing. I am considering one of these for my other bathroom that has a tub.

What about pre-fabricated shower enclosures?

Many are designed for above-grade installations meaning that it sits atop the floor of the room. You would need a ramp to get up to the shower floor. Additionally, these typically have a curb such that you could not roll out. These may also prevent an assistant, if needed, to help with bathing because of space constraints. The last item is being limited on attaching grab bars exactly where you need them.