Series: Aging in Place - How to Make Your Home Meet Your Needs

Part 2: Low Threshold Showers and Comfort Height Toilets

In Part 1, we shared some ideas for simple updates that can improve the usability and safety in the bathroom.  Today, we are going to talk about two more bathroom options to make your existing home more comfortable and safe for what we call “aging in place.”  If you are not familiar with this term, aging in place simply means that your home environment adapts to your needs as you transition through the various life stages.  The needs of a family with children versus empty nesters are certainly different and we believe homes should adapt to fit our lifestyles and needs of each stage.

Low Threshold Showers

Typically, showers are either part of a bathtub/shower combination or a standalone option.  In the bathtub/shower combination, we must step over the bathtub wall to access the shower.  Since muscle strength and sense of balance tends to decrease with age, there is an increased risk of injury from falling into or out of the bathtub from such a high step.

Remodeled bathtub/shower combination
Example: Typical bathtub/shower combination
(Click here to see before and after photos of this bathroom remodel.)

While the base or threshold of a standard standalone shower is much lower than a bathtub, making entry and exit much easier, the elevated step can still pose a risk for tripping and falling. 

typical walk-in shower threshold
Example: typical threshold of a standalone shower.
(Click here to see before and after photos of this remodel.)

This is where the addition of a zero threshold or low threshold shower can help.  Not only are these showers safer, but they are also quite visually appealing as you can see below in photos of actual projects we’ve completed. 

Example: Low threshold shower
Example: Low threshold shower
Example: zero threshold shower close up
Example: zero threshold shower close up

Comfort Height Toilets

What is a “Comfort Height” Toilet?

Standard height toilets are generally 14.5 to 15.5 inches tall, from floor to the top, not including the seat.  Comfort Height toilets, also called ADA Compliant height toilets, generally measure between 16.5 and 18 inches tall, not including the seat.  So, switching your existing toilet could raise the seat anywhere from 2-3 inches.  While this may not seem like a big difference, it actually makes getting on and off the toilet significantly easier for most adults.  Comfort height toilets are so mainstream now that government regulations require most public restrooms to use them.

Comparison of Comfort Height to Regular Height Toilets
(Source: http://www.plumbingpro.com/toilet-faq/what-is-an-Comfort-Height-toilet)

Why Use Comfort Height Toilets

There are many benefits to using a comfort height toilet.  Homeowners of all ages report that they make it easier to get into position.  The taller height is easier on the knee joints and back.  Anyone who has joint problems, back issues, or recently had surgery of the back, hips, or knees, will find a comfort height toilet much easier to use compared to a standard height toilet.  When combined with a grab bar, a comfort height toilet gives a lot more flexibility and freedom to those who are injured, handicapped, or elderly.

Many people also use a step stool with their Comfort Height toilet.  The taller toilet makes getting on and off easier, but can increase pressure on hemorrhoids (which reportedly affects 50% of Americans), so elevating the legs and feet with a stool relieves the pressure and makes using the bathroom even easier – all without adding extra pressure to the knees and joints.

Other homeowners simply like the look of the taller toilets, especially combined with a taller vanity that doesn’t require the homeowner to bend over to wash his or her hands.

Comparison of one-piece and two-piece comfort height toilets
(Left: One piece comfort height toilet by Toto®; Right: Two-piece comfort height toilet by Toto ®)

Other Considerations

Comfort Height toilets come in many different styles and price points.  You can get one-piece or two-piece toilets.  The one piece toilets are typically easier to clean, but a little more expensive.  Many Comfort Height toilets are very efficient, using 1.6 gallons per flush (gpf) or less.  Most major toilet manufacturers offer both Standard and Comfort Height options, so there are plenty of choices available.  Comfort Height toilets can often be easily installed into existing bathrooms or planned into a remodeling project. 

Toto toilet with electronic bidet seat
(Example: Toto toilet with electronic bidet seat)

There are also many comfortable seat options available for Comfort Height toilets, from round or elongated, wooden or padded, and even heated bidet seats to make self-cleaning easier and more comfortable than ever.

Summary

Adding a low- or zero-threshold shower and/or a Comfort Height toilet improves usability, safety, and comfort in your bathroom.  It enables us to be independent longer and can greatly improve quality of life.

Next: Aging in Place, Part 3: Bathtubs

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