I’m a huge fan of grab bars in the aging-in-place home. As an aging-in-place DIYer, I’m sure by now you’ve read about the importance of having sturdy grab bars in the bathroom as older adults safely make their way in and out of the shower.
And yet, grab bars have the power to do so much more.
Grab bars aren’t just for the bathroom. You can place them just about anywhere in the aging-in-place house. In fact, I’m an advocate of placing grab bars in every room, especially in spaces where your parent does a lot of sitting and standing.
A grab bar is also one of the least expensive aging-in-place upgrades there is – and is one of the easiest safety accessories to install.
Grab Bars May Be Simple Accessories, But They Have Serious ADA Safety Guidelines to Follow
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) sets the guidelines and rules for safe aging-in-place design. In the case of products, like a grab bar, the ADA wants to see certain product features that ensure it’s capable of properly supporting an older adult.
The ADA mandates a grab bar meet the following standards when it’s used in an aging-in-place home.
- The outside diameter gripping surface must be 1 ¼ inch to 1 ½ inch, or the shape must provide an equivalent gripping surface.
- The grab bar should be able to withstand at least 250-lbs of pressure.
These guidelines are in place for two specific reasons that relate to aging-in-place safety. First, to make sure the diameter of the grab bar’s gripping surface isn’t too big or too small. Too big, and older, sore hands won’t be able to fully grip the bar. Too small, and adults with arthritic hands will find it too painful to grab without hurting their fingers or pinching their wrist.
Second, the grab bar has to fully support the weight of the person using it. This may go without saying, but when you purchase an ADA-compliant grab bar you can feel confident that it’ll fully support your parent’s weight and keep them safe.
5 Places to Install Grab Bars in the Aging-in-Place Home
Grab bars are an essential safety feature in aging-in-place design. They can – and I argue they should – be used in every room of the home. But, before you start throwing a grab bar up in every corner of every room, begin with some prioritization.
Your parent will benefit most from grab bars placed in a few strategic locations. When I’m renovating an aging-in-place home, I add grab bars to these five areas first.
1. At the Base of Stair Railings
Single floor living is ideal when you’re renovating an aging-in-place home. But, renovations take time. If your parent’s bedroom and master bathroom are still upstairs and will be for a little while longer, grab bars at the base of those stairs are a smart addition.
If the stair railing is solid and made of thick hardwood, you may be able to affix the grab bar to the base of it. Most often, I’ll add a grab bar by installing it into the wall at the base of the stairs.
When your joints are stiff, the first step up a staircase can be the hardest. A grab bar at this location gives your parent a lot of extra support so they can take that first step safely.
2. On the Side of a Favorite Chair in the Living Room
Shifting from a sitting position to a standing position is almost always a struggle for older adults. A natural place for a sturdy grab bar is on the left side or right side of a favorite chair or couch.
For grab bars in the living room next to a chair, I like to use longer rails that flip up against the wall when they’re not in use. This keeps the chair clear of the grab bar until it’s needed and the house looking less clinical without sacrificing safety.
3. Next to the Dining Room Table
Sitting down and standing up at the kitchen table is another aspect of life that gets a lot harder as you age. A grab bar near the table can provide some much-needed support.
When you’re installing a grab bar near the table, you have a couple of options. Grab bars that flip up and stay out of the way when not being used work well here. A more traditional grab bar that runs along the wall behind or near your parent’s chair works well, too. Deciding which to add is a matter of preference. Either way, a grab bar in this location will be a big help each time your parent sits down for a meal.
4. Alongside Closet Doorways
Something as simple as opening the closet door and reaching for a set of clothes or a coat can present a series of fall risks when you’re older. When your parent opens the closet door and reaches inside to grab a piece of clothing, there usually isn’t a good way for them to support themselves in the process. What if they reached in to find a jacket and extended a bit too far? There’s no way for them to catch their fall.
A grab bar just outside the closet along the wall or doorway trim solves this problem.
I especially like grab bars placed along the closet doorway for adults who rely on a walker. The height of a grab bar placed at shoulder level lets your parent transition one hand from the walker to the grab bar so they maintain a sturdy point of contact as they use the other hand to open the door and grab what they need.
5. On the Walls Alongside Any Step-Ups or Uneven Thresholds
Like with the stairs, your aging-in-place home renovations should eliminate any step-ups or height gaps in the thresholds. These are obvious tripping hazards. If you’re just beginning your aging-in-place DIY journey and haven’t yet renovated the floors, a grab bar alongside any uneven floor surface is a great add-on to hold you over until floor construction begins.
I recommend adding as many grab bars here as necessary. If the uneven threshold is through a standard-size doorway, a grab bar on each side of the doorway should be enough. If you’re contending with a step-up that runs the length of the room, add as many as make sense based on how far and how high your parent needs to step.
And don’t forget to account for both up and down travel. Your parent may need a grab bar positioned higher on the wall when they’re stepping down and a lower grab bar while stepping up.
If you’re planning a flooring project to even out floor heights in your aging-in-place home, this article of mine will help: “Tips for Making Doorway Thresholds Safe for Aging-in-Place.”
The Best Grab Bars for The Aging-in-Place Home
Once you know where you’re installing your grab bars, here’s my list of favorites to help you find the best ones for your aging-in-place home.
If wall space is limited, this flip-up grab bar is a great way to add support alongside the dining room table or living room chair. Your parent can easily flip the bar down into position and use it to pull themselves up. After they’re standing securely, the bar flips back up and out of the way.
This flip-up grab bar from Moen can support up to 300-lbs. It’s strong and will last wherever it’s installed.
If you prefer a grab bar that extends out from the wall and stays there without flipping up, check out this grab bar rail from Zelen. Its sleek lines and metal finish keep it looking modern while giving your parent up to 440-lbs of support.
As long as this grab bar rail doesn’t hinder your parent’s ability to sit down and get to their seat, then having the bar permanently in place so it’s always accessible is a great way to go.
I can’t begin to sing the praises of this grab bar without first noting the rare look of its golden brass finish. There is nothing clinical looking about this grab bar. If anything, it’ll look like a design element in your parent’s home even more so than a safety feature.
But beyond style, this grab bar will also give your parent a lot of extra support as they step-up and over thresholds or sift through their closets. It has a great textured surface for added grip. At over 17-inches long, this grab bar is a great size to install vertically along the trim of your parent’s coat closet as a support bar that doesn’t take away from the look of the entryway.
If golden brass isn’t your style, this black satin stainless-steel grab bar is another great looking option. It’s a grab bar that doesn’t look like a grab bar. And yet, it’ll give your parent up to 500-lbs of support as they safely walk through the kitchen, up the stairs, or through doorways.
Small but mighty! I love this curved grab bar and have installed them in a number of places throughout my client’s aging-in-place homes. It’s small enough to go almost anywhere while still supporting up to 300-lbs.
I like to put one next to the master bed, by the front door to help your parent as they step inside the house – even next to the thermostat so your mom or dad can hold on while adjusting the temperature. There’s really no end to its usefulness.
If you’re shopping for a grab bar to assist your parent with a step up or uneven threshold and are limited on wall space, this space-saving grab bar may be the way to go.
An excellent grab bar for the base of a staircase is this angled bar from Moen. It follows the line of the railing and gives your parent a lot of space to grab on depending on the height they need.
Because stairs are such a safety issue in aging-in-place homes, I’ll sometimes install additional grab bars that follow this angled bar up along the line of the railing. A strong, durable grab bar that fits your parent’s hand usually gives them more support than a railing that’s too wide for sore hands to fully grasp.
This extra-long grab bar may be overkill for some aging-in-place homes, but if you need to cover a lot of space along a wall or down a long hallway, this 48-inch grab bar is as good as it gets. It’s made with stainless steel and can support up to 500-lbs. I especially like the textured grip that extends the entire length of the bar. When in doubt, go big and give your parent as much support as you can with an extra-long grab bar like this one.
This grab bar from OXO uses suction cups to attach to surfaces rather than drywall screws or mounting brackets like the others on the list. I included this as one of my recommended grab bars for a simple reason: sometimes the best place for a grab bar isn’t a wall.
Take the front door, for instance. If your parent’s front door is framed by glass on both sides, installing a standard grab bar isn’t an option. This suction cup bar lets you add support along the door frame to help your parent as they step outside. It will suction securely onto most glass and mirrored surfaces.
Beyond its strength, this grab bar model is my pick for the best suction cup option out there because it looks like a typical metal grab bar. You’ll find that most suction grip grab bars look plastic and toy-like; not a great look if you’re trying to steer clear of a clinical-looking aging-in-place home.
Get Each of the Grab Bars on the List and Get to Work This Weekend
Take one day this weekend, map out where to place grab bars throughout your aging-in-place home, and get to work. In just a few hours, or even less, you’ll make a huge improvement to the safety of your parent’s aging-in-place home. Even if you’re an aging-in-place DIY novice, this project couldn’t be easier.
As you select your grab bars and begin your installation, use the comments section below to send me any questions you have.
Good luck with your next aging-in-place home project!