Chapter 6: Bathrooms
These universal design features are about functional bathrooms, specifically for personal grooming, showering, & toilet hygiene.
Residential Universal Design Building Code, 2023 version. © The Universal Design Project.
At least one full bathroom should be located on the main floor, even if the home is a multi-story with an elevator.
Regardless of whether or not someone currently needs one-level living, a full bathroom on the main floor is wise (elevators aren't fail-proof). None of us can guarantee that we'll always have "perfect" health. Even a short-term injury can make a difference in how we perform our daily activities. If someone is recovering from an illness or injury, a bathroom without steps to access can be important. A safe shower is better than a bath at a sink any day.
There must be floor space of at least 5×5' (60" / 152cm) in a bathroom. It needs to be unobstructed at all times (e.g., by an open door, cabinetry, or other fixtures).
5×5′ of floor space (sometimes noted as a 60″ or 152cm turning radius) will allow anyone who relies on extra support (wheelchairs, caregivers, etc) to move around and turn around without bumping into walls, cabinets, or the toilet.
People who use mobility devices need to be able to use the bathroom with the door closed. If a door opens inward, there often isn't enough space to close the door and ensure privacy. Hinging a door to open outward or the use of a pocket door or barn door can be a solution to this problem. Also, there are times when an extra person is needed to help someone on and off the toilet, which can apply to both adults and children.
At least 75% of storage needs to be located between 18-48" (46-122cm) from the floor.
Towel racks and/or hooks should be installed no higher than 48" (122cm) from the floor.
Toilet paper hardware should be 24" (61cm) from the floor and 7" (18cm) from the front of the toilet. Use hardware that doesn't require pinching to change the roll of toilet paper.
Make sure the most commonly used items can easily be reached by everyone. Recommended (but not required): pull-down shelving for any storage that's above 60″ (152cm) from the floor for additional usability.
If open shelving is used, keep shelving shallow (12" / 30cm or less) for easy reach of items near the back.
If cabinetry is used, install pull-out shelving or drawers to bring items within easy reach.
Lighting should exist over the toilet area, at the sink, and over the shower (if a full bath).
Lighting should minimize shadows and be designed to be as glare-free as possible in all task areas to provide maximum safety.
Where possible, use windows in bathrooms. Natural light via the use of skylights, sun tunnels/tubes, or clerestory windows will brighten up spaces during the day while increasing mental health.
Indirect and low lighting:
The use of indirect ambient lighting and low lighting that illuminates the floor without visible bare bulbs or translucent covers (from a seated or standing position) is ideal. Indirect lighting reduces eye strain and is more calming than direct lighting.
The option to adjust the intensity of ambient lighting (e.g., with a dimmer) should be used wherever possible.
Color choices should incorporate contrast to allow for easy identification of items throughout the bathroom.
Color schemes include everything: flooring, wall color, hardware, fixtures, etc. While monotone or neutral-colored items may be the least objectionable color choice for the masses, this can create difficulty for individuals with low vision or cognitive impairments.
The toilet area must have at least 32" (81cm) of unobstructed floor space in front of the toilet bowl.
The toilet area must have 16" (41cm) from one side wall to the midline of the toilet bowl.
The toilet area must have at least 32" (41cm) of unobstructed floor space on the opposite side of the toilet than the side closest to a wall.
People use toilets differently. Adequate floor space next to one side of the toilet and in front of the toilet will allow the positioning of most mobility equipment beside the toilet to enable safe transfers from mobility devices if needed. The opposite side should be close to a wall so users can have support as necessary.
Note About Multiple Bathrooms:
People sometimes need to transfer from a mobility device to a toilet. Transfers can occur from different directions. Having enough space on both sides of the toilet would be ideal but unrealistic due to the need for plumbing and placement next to a wall. The solution is to have multiple accessible bathrooms, but one with access to the toilet from the left side and the other with access from the right.
Blocking (reinforcement) should exist inside the walls around the toilet area, between 18-48" (46-122cm) from the floor, for the possible installation of grab bars.
Most people think about grab bars when thinking about universal design, but they're not required. However, if there is a need for them in the future, it's much easier to install them into a wall that has already been prepared for them with blocking in the walls between studs. Grab bars are used as leverage to get on/off the toilet or provide stability when pulling up clothing.
Toilets should measure 17-19" (43-48cm) from the floor to the top of the seat.
Toilet heights can be in many shapes or sizes. They are also user-specific. However, a toilet seat 17-19" (43-48cm) high is generally the best option for accessibility. It's within the same range as most chairs.
Toilet paper hardware should be installed 24" (61cm) from the floor and 7" (18cm) from the front of the toilet bowl. The style of toilet paper holder should not require any pinch, grasp, or fine dexterity skills to change the toilet paper roll.
Toilets should have a lever flushing mechanism that is easy to reach and located on the front of the tank for easier access.
Vertical toilet paper holders work well as it eliminates the need for a user to manipulate the standard tension rod to change a toilet paper roll.
Water-saving flush mechanisms and other push-button styles can cause difficulty with flushing the toilet. These are often located on the top of the tank and out of reach. Consider a toilet with a standard lever on the front of the tank.
An electrical outlet should exist near or behind the toilet for the use of a bidet.
This is for assistance with hygiene tasks, particularly for users with limited dexterity. Consider a placement where any wires will be out of the way and out of sight.
Sinks in bathrooms with only one sink should be 36" (91cm) from the floor. This measurement is from the floor to either the top of the counter or the top of the sink, whichever is highest based on the style of the sink.
Sinks in bathrooms with two sinks should be at 34" (86cm) and 36" (91cm) from the floor. This measurement is from the floor to either the top of the counter or the top of the sink, whichever is highest based on the style of the sink.
Different people benefit from different sink heights. This isn't only useful for accommodating sitting or standing but for different user heights at any age.
Adjustable-height counter exception:
Adjustable-height counters with a minimum range of 30-42" (76-107cm) may be used in lieu of fixed counter/sink heights. Dual sinks may be in/on the same counter, or two separate adjustable-height counters may be used.
At least one sink per bathroom must have at least 29" (74cm) of unobstructed vertical clearance underneath for seated access. This should be measured from the floor to either the bottom of the counter or the bottom of the sink, whichever is the lowest, based on the style of the sink.
At least one sink per bathroom must have at least 32" (81cm) of unobstructed horizontal clearance underneath for seated access.
At least one sink per bathroom must have at least 18" (46cm) of unobstructed depth clearance underneath for seated access.
The goal is to provide access for users who prefer to or need to sit on a chair, stool, wheelchair, or another mobility device at the sink. This promotes energy conservation for anyone during long grooming tasks such as drying hair or shaving.
While floating counters are ideal, under-sink clearance can be achieved with closed cabinetry with flipper doors that fully recess. The width between open doors must still be ≥ 32" (81cm), and the flooring should extend to the wall underneath.
The drain pipe from the sink may extend into the under-sink clearance only if located exactly in the middle of the 32" (81cm) clearance width so knees can go around it.
Any exposed plumbing needs to be insulated and padded.
This protects against exposure to high temperatures and/or reduces injury to the legs when someone is seated at a sink.
Unexposed Plumbing Exception:
If plumbing is unexposed behind a panel, it does not need to be insulated and padded.
Countertops should be solid colors with no patterns or very low contrast patterns and should be minimally reflective.
Small items, commonly used in the bathroom, can visually "get lost" in counters with lots of patterns, such as what's typical with many granite options. High reflectivity can also create difficulty in focusing on various tasks. This is particularly problematic for people with low vision but is something anyone can experience.
The lower edge of the mirror at the sink should be right at the top of the counter.
The upper edge of the mirror at the sink should be no less than 78" (198cm) from the floor.
Some people are tall. Some people are short, including kids. Some people sit down at sinks and vanities. Everyone should be able to see themselves in the mirror(s).
Faucet hardware should be operable with one hand while not requiring any pinching or grasping.
Single-handle or touchless faucets are typically the ideal options.
Motion-activated faucets, single-touch faucets, and those with lever-based hardware can eliminate frustrations when trying to turn on/off the water. No pulling, turning, or gripping should be required, which will make them easy to use for everyone, but particularly for users who struggle with dexterity.
Faucet hardware should have clearly visible hot and cold temperature indicators.
While it's generally expected that hot is to the left and cold is to the right, this isn't intuitive for everyone. Clearly visible indicators enhance safety. Consider a faucet with colors and letters/words to depict between hot or cold temperature controls.
All bathing areas should be walk-in showers with no step or curb at the entrance.
There are lots of tub and shower options available, but for true universal design, the best option is a walk-in shower with a flush, zero-step / no-curb entrance, particularly for people who have difficulty with steps or who use mobility devices. This is the safest option for everyone to minimize the risk of falls or loss of balance.
Bathtubs may be used in universally-accessible homes to provide more bathing options for families with young children or simply for people who prefer to use them. Tubs should only be used in a full bathroom if the same bathroom already has a walk-in shower or if there are multiple full bathrooms shared between bedrooms (i.e., not an en suite) in which one full bathroom has a walk-in shower, and another has a tub.
All showers should be constructed/installed without built-in seats.
Avoid integrated seats to allow people to add a seat as needed. A strategically-placed seat will provide options for many people, but there are lots of user variables that need to be considered, such as balance, the effects of pressure on the skin, and the way that someone gets on or off a seat. Integrated seats can be a barrier.
Walk-in showers should have an open floor space of no less than 48×48" (122x122cm) -or- 36×60" (76x152cm).
Rectangular showers tend to be the most flexible for accommodating mobility equipment, though square or rectangular showers usually both work well for universal accessibility. If space is a concern, consider making the bathroom a wetroom.
Showers should have an entrance of at least 36" (91cm). If the shower is rectangular, this should be on the longer side.
The shower must have at least 36x36" (91x91cm) of unobstructed floor space in front of the entrance.
Everyone needs adequate space to safely enter and exit the shower area, particularly people who depend on a seat, bench, or another type of mobility equipment.
Avoid using a door unless it'll be fully out of the way when opened or closed. Ensure any user can open/close it from inside while maintaining the ability to reach any mobility equipment that needs to stay outside.
The floor of the shower should have a floor that primarily slopes in one direction.
Seats that are set on the floor need to be stable. This requires an even floor. Center drains often result in each side of the floor sloping toward the middle. While good for water drainage, if a seat isn't centered (this can't be required), the seat will wobble. The better solution is to design the shower with the drain on the side under the shower head.
The shower should include a handheld shower head with a height-adjustable wall mount with a lower height of no greater than 36" (91cm). Hardware should not require any pinching, twisting, or grasping for use. Levers work well.
Handheld shower heads with adjustable mounts are the way to go for universally-accessible showers. No matter whether someone is standing or sitting, users need to be able to adjust and reach the shower head without difficulty. This also helps with washing those difficult-to-reach places, cleaning the shower, and even washing the dog.
Ensure handheld shower heads can be reached & controlled from a seated position without requiring excessive reach or strain.
Multiple shower heads:
Consider the use of multiple shower heads for the greatest flexibility of use. Ensure that the plumbing is designed to maintain adequate water pressure for each and that each can be controlled separately. Only one handheld head is required.
To create more control in the shower, consider a handheld shower head with on/off controls on the shower head itself. This can help individuals who have difficulty manipulating the larger faucet controls have the ability to control the environment as they shower.
Blocking (reinforcement) should exist inside of shower walls, between 18-48" (46-122cm) from the floor, for possible installation of grab bars and/or a seat.
Blocking is all about planning ahead for easy adaptation in the future. Blocking around the shower ensures the ability to install a seat, grab bars, or other support as needed. Reinforce the wall space around the shower in its entirety to allow easy installation of supports in any location, which will decrease the need for costly modifications at a later time.
A floor of a different material, style, or color should be used inside the shower versus the floor in the remainder of the bathroom.
The shower can be where accidents frequently occur due to being more slippery when wet. For flooring inside the shower, consider an option with small tiles, which creates more grout lines. The decreased surface area of the tile creates a less slick surface, and the additional grout adds more grip.
Showers should have adequate shelf storage located between 18-48" (46-122cm) from the floor.
Shower storage should be accessible for anyone to reach items (shampoo, soap, razors, sponges, etc.), no matter if they shower while standing or seated.
Shelves recessed into walls:
Recessing storage into the wall is a great option that preserves the space inside the shower for movements required during bathing.
Faucet hardware should be operable with one hand while not requiring pinching, twisting, or grasping.
Single-touch faucets, as well as those with lever-based hardware, can eliminate frustrations when trying to turn on/off the water. No pulling, turning, or gripping should be required, which will make them easy to use for everyone, but particularly for users with limited dexterity.
Ensure that users who may need to use a seat can still safely reach the controls without reaching too far outside their base of support.
Faucet hardware should have clearly visible hot and cold temperature indicators.
While it's generally expected that hot is to the left and cold is to the right, this isn't intuitive for everyone. Clearly visible indicators enhance safety. Consider using both colors and letters/words to depict between hot or cold temperature controls.
Last modified 2mo ago