Anne-Marie Brunet, CKBD, CAPS
Right-size doorways, lever handles and clearance around the sink and commode are a great start in making a powder room accessible to all.
Including a powder room on the main level of your home ensures that anyone, regardless of age and mobility, has access to a sink and toilet without having to climb stairs. In a two-story home, a powder room or a full bathroom on the main level is also important if someone sustains a serious injury or a progressive disease takes its toll. It ensures that everyday grooming activities, some of which we might take for granted, can continue without interruption and embarrassment.
A closet-size powder room carved out from underneath the stairs might do in a pinch, but one that size is usually too small to accommodate those with mobility devices. If you have the option of adding on or remodelling, consider making the powder room at least 60 inches wide and 60 inches deep, with a toilet and sink offset from each other. This allows the minimum code 30-inch space for the toilet and a 30-inch space on one side of the toilet for those requiring transfer assistance. As necessary, these guidelines will require adjustment depending on the user. If you do have the space and the budget, a full-size bathroom on the main level is the way to go. This provides the most flexibility in the off chance that you or a loved one does sustain a major injury, and can no longer get to another level.
Accessing the powder room is the first hurdle. Aim for doorways that are minimum of 34 to 36 inches wide to facilitate mobility aids, such as wheelchairs and walkers. Pocket doors work well because they don’t take up any room in the powder room or in the hallway, allowing for maximum floor space for easy navigating.
If there isn’t any room to enlarge the door opening, and a swing door is the only option, consider installing swing-away hinges to maximize the opening and having the door open away from the toilet. These features will allow for the necessary room for someone to turn around without first having to close the door.
For conventional swing doors, opt for lever handles. Individuals with arthritic hands or limited dexterity can operate lever handles much more easily than round knobs or latch-type handles, which require more pressure to grasp and turn.
Depending on the type, vanities can offer much-needed storage in a small room. Wall-mounted vanities, depending on the height of the cabinet, offer leg clearance for those in wheelchairs. Pedestal sinks also work well. This vanity with angled sides offers more floor space for those navigating with a wheelchair or walker and is situated far enough away from the door to minimize obstructions.
Vanities that have a slanted front — such as the Fairmont Design T&C ADA Wall Mount Vanity or this Lacava Libera vanity — offer greater flexibility for wheelchair users, as they allow them to get closer to the fixtures. The decorative slanted cover for the plumbing means users won’t get burned by hot pipes, and there’s bonus storage space.
If space is limited or you require greater clearances, a pedestal sink might be the way to go. Pedestal sinks offer the user, especially those in a wheelchair, an easier approach from either the front or the side. It might also allow space for someone else to stand nearby. Pedestal sinks also offer undersink space to keep a step stool close at hand for toddlers and young children.
A vessel sink, either sitting on the countertop or recessed into the countertop, can offer design and accessibility alternatives. Leaving the space open beneath the counter allows for leg clearance for those in chairs. Modifying the depth of the counter allows users in wheelchairs or small children to reach the fixtures easily. Also, consider the height of the overall countertop and bowl, and adjust to fit users of varying heights.
Opt for a comfort-height toilet, usually 2 inches taller than a regular toilet, to make transferring from a wheelchair easier. Allow enough clear floor space on one side of the toilet for those who require a transfer or need a place to park their walker. Aim for at least a 30-inch width and a 48-inch length on one side of the toilet. This also allows room for an aide. And don’t forget to add grab bars at the back of and on one side of the toilet for both the user’s and assistant’s safety.