When you’re renovating to make your parent’s home safer as they age, the biggest challenge can many times be trying to create the ideal aging-in-place home within the constraints of the current floorplan.
One such example – a small bathroom. Older homes don’t always have the big beautiful master baths that we’re used to seeing in newer homes. To make these bathrooms work for aging in place, just adding a few grab bars to the wall by the shower isn’t going to cut it. Space to move around in the bathroom equals safety, especially if your parent has mobility issues and uses a walker or wheelchair.
If you’re willing and able to do a major renovation and make the bathroom bigger, excellent.
Work with a professional contractor so you know the work is done right! But, if you’re looking for a less expensive small bathroom upgrade, you have DIY options that can also deliver major results.
A good place to start is with the existing fixtures and furniture taking up floor space. By swapping bigger fixtures out for smaller ones, you can essentially add floor space and give your parent or loved one more room to move around.
The vanity usually takes up a big section of any bathroom, so let’s start here. In this article, I’ll show you how easy it is to add floor space to your small bathroom by installing a new, lower-profile sink and vanity.
Less is More When You’re Shopping for a Safe Aging-in-Place Bathroom Sink and Vanity
Low-profile vanities are an important addition to the aging-in-place bathroom for a few reasons. Not only do they take up less floor space, but they also keep the vanity sink from sitting too far back. When your bathroom has a deep vanity, the faucet usually sits farther away from the front edge of the sink. This means your parent has to reach farther to turn the water on and off. This can increase the risk of them losing their balance and falling.
Here are a few lower-profile sinks and vanities that embrace the ‘less is more’ philosophy and are worth looking into for your aging-in-place bathroom.
This vanity was practically made for aging-in-place living. It has a few great features worth noting, starting with its depth. At only 9-inches deep, it barely sticks out from the wall, freeing up a lot of floor space. The lever faucet mounted on the side of the sink is also a huge plus. The lever’s handle is safe and comfortable for sore hands and the side-mounted faucet means your parent isn’t reaching far to turn the water on and off. This is an especially great choice for small power rooms with little to no elbow room.
This is another extremely low-profile bathroom vanity from Eclife. This pedestal option is only 13-inches deep and takes up minimal floor space so your parent has more room to maneuver. It has an aging-in-place-friendly lever handle so your parent isn’t in pain when they go to wash their hands. It’ll make a big difference in the master bathroom and is also small enough for a tight power room.
This vanity from Fresca is bigger than the two from Eclife, but still low-profile enough for most master bathrooms. It’s only 18-inches deep so it doesn’t take up much floor space and gives you a good amount of cabinet storage compared to some other low-profile vanities.
Removing the Old Sink and Vanity
When you’re ready to install your new vanity, your first job is to remove the old one. Here’s how to safely take out your existing vanity.
Tools and Materials
Step 1: Turn off the Water and Disconnect the Water Lines
Under the sink is a set of water lines, each with its own shut off valve. Shut off valves are small knobs. Just turn both valves to the right to shut off water flow from each line.
Most sinks have a set of water lines with shut off valves. If yours doesn’t or they’re not turning properly, you’ll have to shut the water off to the house while you work.
Step 2: Remove the Water Lines and Pipes
Now that the water is turned off, remove both water lines from the shutoff valves. There’s a nut where the line and valve meet. Use an adjustable wrench to loosen the nut and disconnect the line. This is where your bucket comes in. Place a bucket under the water line connection before you disconnect it to catch leftover water in the line that’s going to flow out.
Now follow the same process with the drainpipe. Remove what’s called the P-trap. The P-trap is the section of pipe (usually PVC) that connects the drain pipe to the plumbing in the wall. Get your bucket back out and set it under the p-trap to catch the wastewater that’s still inside. The process of removing the P-trap is simple. Just loosen the outer nuts and remove the trap.
Step 3: Fill the Open Pipe with a Rag
The pipe leading away from the sink takes wastewater to your sewer system. Dangerous gases will flow back up into the bathroom if that pipe is left open. Until you install your new vanity, fill the pipe with an old rag to keep those gases from getting into the bathroom.
Step 4: Remove the Vanity Mirror
If a mirror sits on your existing vanity, it can easily break or get damaged when you pry the vanity away from the wall. If you can, remove it until the new vanity is installed.
Step 5: Cut Through the Caulk
If your vanity is connected to a side wall with caulk, take a utility knife and slice a line down the entire length of caulk. Scoring the caulk should be enough to let you separate the vanity from the wall.
Step 6: Remove Sink and Countertop from the Vanity Cabinet (if you need to)
Now it’s time to get the old sink and countertop out of the bathroom for good. To start, check to see how the countertop is secured to the cabinet base. Your sink and counter may be screwed to the base with brackets. If you see brackets, unscrew them and lift up on the countertop. You should be able to separate it and remove it from the vanity cabinet.
It’s also common for sinks and countertops to be secured with adhesive. If you don’t see brackets, you’re most likely dealing with a countertop that’s glued in place. If this is the case, you have a few options. You can use a pry bar and try to separate the countertop and remove it. Or, you can leave it where it is and just remove the full vanity – countertop and all – in one step as if they were one unit.
Step 7: Move the Vanity Away from the Wall
You’re ready to move the vanity away from the wall. But, don’t start pulling at it just yet. I’ve seen DIYers start to muscle their way through this step without noticing how the vanity is attached to the back wall. Do yourself and your walls a favor and check for and remove any screws or nails that may still be holding the vanity in place.
Once all of the old screws are removed, carefully move the vanity away from the wall. Take your time here to make sure you don’t scratch the walls or your floor as you pull.
Installing the New Sink and Vanity
All that’s left to do is get the new vanity and sink in place. Here’s everything you need to know to complete the installation.
Tools and Materials:
- Stud Finder
- Tape Measure
- Electric Drill
- Silicone Adhesive
- Caulk Gun
- Drywall Screws
- Anchor Screws
- Wood Shims
Step 1: Find the Studs
Use your stud finder to locate and mark each of the studs behind where the vanity will sit. In most homes, you’ll find studs spaced 16-inches apart from center-to-center.
Once the vanity is in place, you’ll need to know where those studs are, so mark each stud just above where the vanity will sit on the wall. To do this, measure the height of the vanity. Then mark your studs just above where the top of the vanity will hit.
Step 2: Set and Level the Base Cabinet
Set your vanity in place. Then grab your level and make sure that the vanity is level front to back and side to side. If it isn’t, break out your wood shims.
To level the vanity with shims, wedge the thin end of one shim under the low end of the vanity. Wedge it in as far as the shim will go. Then, break the shim off so the end is flush with the side of the vanity. If the vanity is off-level from front to back and from side to side, you may need two shims at opposite corners to create a completely level base.
Step 3: Secure the Vanity to the Back Wall
Once level, secure the back of the vanity to the wall with drywall screws. Most of the time this job requires 2-inch drywall screws, but check the vanity manufacturer’s instructions to make sure your screws are the right length.
If you’re screwing into a stud, the drywall screw is all you need. If you’re drilling into a section of the wall without a stud, you’ll need to use an anchor screw as well. In both cases, drill a pilot hole first then attach the cabinet with your drywall screws.
Step 4: Install the Sink and Countertop
If your new sink and vanity countertop are one piece, then this part of the installation is easy. If not, follow the manufacturer’s instructions to attach the sink and counter so they’re ready to mount on the vanity cabinet.
Once you have your sink and counter unit together, install the faucet and sink drain. Then, place a small amount of silicone adhesive along the top of the vanity cabinet and lay the sink and countertop in place. Press down on the countertop to help the adhesive take hold.
Step 5: Connect the Plumbing Pipes and Water Lines
When you removed your old sink, you disconnected the plumbing – more specifically, the drainpipe and water supply lines. Reinstall the pipes and connect the water lines coming from the faucet by following the manufacturer’s instructions. Once they’re installed, turn the shut off valves back to the ‘on’ position. Then turn on the sink faucet to make sure your plumbing is good to go. Water should start flowing and there should not be any water leaks under the sink.
Pro Tip: If any amount of water squeezes its way through the pipes or water lines, go back and see if you can tighten the connection and cut off the leak. If not, stop here. Unless you have plumbing experience, call in a professional. A contractor and a plumber will know how to fix the issue quickly and help you avoid potentially serious water damage.
Once water is flowing to and from the new sink without a leak, your new sink and vanity are ready for use.
It’s Time to Add Much-Needed Floor Space to Your Small Aging-in-Place Bathroom
Installing a new sink and vanity in your aging-in-place bathroom is a relatively easy project, perfect for the DIY novice. You should be able to get the new vanity installed in as little as a few hours, depending on the vanity you purchase. Use the comments section below as you go. I’m here and ready to help you complete the installation and make your entire small bathroom safer for aging-in-place.
Good luck with your next aging-in-place home project!