Wall-mounted grab bars are available in a variety of sizes, colors and finishes. Most grab bars are made out of stainless steel, nylon over stainless steel, or plastic.
Diameter varies from 1 to 1-1/2" inches. Many older adults prefer the smaller sizes (1 to 1-1/4") as they are easier to grip for arthritic hands. Length varies from 18" to 48". The longer the grab bar, the more gripping area there is to use from a variety of positions.
Several companies make grab bars in a variety of decorative colors. Bright colors are easier to see against a light colored wall than grab bars in standard white. They also add a decorative element that reduces the industrial look of stainless steel bars.
Special Note: Choose finishes carefully, as some finishes can be either too rough for fragile hands or too slippery for people with reduced handgrip.
Where to locate Grab Bars
The placement of wall-mounted grab bars depends on:
- bathtub placement
- wall structure
- plumbing layout
- user's physical characteristics (height, muscle strength, range of reach, etc)
- method of bathing (full emersion or shower)
Using the guidelines below, GEM recommends that you practice getting in and out of the bathtub while fully dress. Have an observer mark the locations where a safe and comfortable reach is achieved.
General guidelines of grab bar placement.
This location offers a handgrip to support balance while entering the tub from a standing position. Install a 24" - 36" grab bar horizontally on the wall at the foot end of the tub, at approximately 33" - 36" above the floor. Tall persons may need a higher bar.
Vertical bar. Some individuals prefer using a vertical instead of a horizontal grab bar in this location. Professionals recommend a 18" - 36" grab bar, installed no more than 9" from the edge of the outside tub wall, with the bottom of the grab bar approximately 32" to 36" above the floor. A textured finish is recommended for a vertical grab bar as the hand may have a tendency to slip when wet.
One 24" - 48" long grab bar, installed at 33" - 36" above the floor. This location offers a handgrip to support your balance
while standing in the bathtub or while getting up and down when using a bath chair. Tall persons may need a higher bar.
One 24" - 48" wide grab bar, installed 9" - 11" above the bathtub rim. This location offers a handgrip for pulling yourself up from the bathtub floor, transferring from or into a wheelchair, and getting up from a seated to a standing position when using a bath chair.
Approximate cost of a grab bar is $30 - $100, without installation.
Grab Bar Installation
According to most national and local building codes, grab bars must be installed to sustain 250 pounds of dead load force. For more in-depth information on this topic, please refer to the meeting notes from GEM's Grab Bar Safety Working Group and the Grab Bar Fastener Test Results from the Eastern Paralyzed Veterans Association (EPVA).
The following are among the safest ways to install grab bars:
- directly into the wall studs
- into plywood blocking installed behind the wall
- with a fastener that meets code (see below and resources)
Grab bars installed with only plastic anchors and screws directly into tile and wall board may not hold up during a fall.
In the Grab Bar Fastener Testing conducted by EPVA, the Wingits fastener installed in tile and 1/2" sheetrock did not fail until 460 lbs of dead load force were applied.
Illustrated to the right is a side view of the Wingits fasterner (normally inside the wall and not visible). According to the manufacturer, Wingits can be installed into the following wall surfaces:
- 5/8" drywall - painted or wallpapered
- 5/8" or 1/2" drywall with tub surrounds
- 5/8" or 1/2" drywall with tile, marble and all stone
- 5/8" or 1/2" drywall with panels made out of fiberglass, faux marble, acrylic & plastics
- multiple layers of drywall
- plaster & lathe
- 1/4" acrylic/fiberglass surrounds
- 1/4" acrylic/tub surrounds
- all masonry type boards, with or without panels
Cost per grab bar is $39.90 (for two), which does not include the installation cost.
In the Grab Bar Fastener Testing conducted by EPVA, the Toggler toggle bolt passed the minimum building code standard of 250 lbs. The fastener, installed in _ sheetrock, did not fail until 360 lbs of dead load force were applied.
Togglers are either packaged in large volume (50 to a box) or sold at hardware stores two to a package for approximately $2.50. In EPVA's testing, four 1/4" togglers were used to install one grab bar.
According to the manufacturer, the Toggler toggle bolt can be installed into any hollow core substrate, including sheet rock, plaster, wood, and gypsum board, and into steel studs.