The bathroom can — and should — be a relaxing oasis where you can soak the day’s troubles away or calmly prepare for your day in a room that’s spacious, well-lighted and logically organized.
Yet it’s the most dangerous room in the house.
More than 200,000 people are injured in their bathrooms each year, from slipping on a wet floor, getting scalded with hot water, suffering from an electrical shock or drowning—among other fates, the National Safety Council reports.
A safer bathroom can save you a trip to the emergency room. So whether you’re getting older and are hoping to age in place; are a host to your elderly parents; have small children at home; or just want to be more careful with yourself and your family, make a safer bathroom a priority.
Here are five changes that will create a safer bathroom for family members of all ages—and start to prepare your home for your golden years, when safety becomes an even bigger concern:
1. Slip-proof. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that unintentional slips and falls injure more than 8.5 million Americans a year. Yet the solution is simple: Install a slip-resistant floor.
Sure, you can lay rubber-backed rugs near the tub, toilet and sink, but area rugs can trip you if your toe gets caught in the wrong place.
Instead, look for tile with lots of texture and a matte finish. Stay away from shiny or polished floors, which can be slippery even when they’re not wet and downright hazardous when they are.
Inside the shower, install a floor made from smaller tiles so the surface never feels slick.
2. Shatter-proof. One of the surest ways to cover a bathroom floor with water and create a slip hazard is to rely on a shower curtain to keep the water inside the shower stall or bathtub.
Replace the curtain with a shatterproof, tempered glass or acrylic door or enclosure, which will do a better job of preventing water from leaking onto the floor. A see-through model will show off your shower walls, which you can line with textured tile to complement the slip-resistant shower floor.
A caution: “Shatterproof” glass can still break if it’s hit hard enough. Have yours installed by a professional who will fasten it in place so it will remain stable and sturdy.
3. Fall-proof. Say “grab bars” to most homeowners and they’ll respond, “I don’t want my bathroom to look like it belongs in a nursing home.” The truth is: Grab bars have become so common in private homes that the stereotype is on its way out. Plus, manufacturers are designing grab bars in all kinds of colors and finishes to match your bathroom faucets, tile and the color of your toilet, sink and tub.
A tip: Have a professional install your grab bars, which belong inside the shower and next to the toilet. A grab bar must be anchored to a stud in the wall—or the wall must be reinforced to hold the grab bar. Improper installation can result in the grab bar—and part of the wall—tearing free once someone yanks on it. And that could make the fall even worse.
4. Glare-proof. The big trend in bathroom and kitchen decor this year is white—any shade. Yet white isn’t especially safe choice for a bathroom.
Especially if you choose stark white, shiny surfaces, a big mirror, bright lights and glossy, white walls, the bathroom can become glaring—literally—and temporarily blind someone with poor vision. All of that white also can make it difficult to see wet spots on the floor.
Solutions: Break up the sea of white with some color. Gray is another popular color among decorators this year, so incorporate light gray walls; white-and-gray marbled countertops and veined floors; gray grout in between textured tiles; or a colored tile border mid-wall. Other options to soften the glare: frosted tiles, off-whites like cream and bisque, and slatted or raised cabinet panels.
5. Shock-proof. A space heater in the bathroom is in invitation to injury.
Like a hair dryer, razor or any electric appliance, a space heater that comes into contact with water can shock or even electrocute someone who gets too close. And because water so often splashes onto a bathroom floor, the two are bound to meet.
Add to the mix the likelihood that someone could slip and fall in the bathroom, and that space heater could burn someone who’s already injured from the fall.
If your bathroom isn’t warm enough, consider installing under-the-floor radiant heating, which will warm the tiles you stand on without exposing any electrical parts to water. If that’s too big a job, ask your contractor about installing a permanent, bathroom-safe heater.
Jeb Breithaupt, B. Arch., MBA, is president of JEB Design/Build in Shreveport. You can contact him at 318-865-4914 or by visiting www.jebdesignbuild.com.