Top Design Considerations for a Handicap Bathroom Remodel

Medicare Benefits Solutions
Apr 4, 2022

Falling in the bathroom is a concern at any age, but older adults are at a higher risk for fractures due to osteoporosis. Other risk factors include muscle weakness, balance issues, mobility difficulties, and medication side effects.

If your bathroom isn’t equipped with safety features or doesn’t have room for medical equipment like a wheelchair or walker, you may want to make some changes. Renovating your bathroom to make it accessible may be the key to safely aging in place.

Aging in Place

Older Americans aging in place need special accommodations to make their home accessible. Aging in place, a term now part of our vernacular refers to remaining in your home and preserving your independence as you grow older.

According to US Aging, 86% of adults older than 65 have at least one chronic condition. Aging and chronic conditions can diminish your strength, balance and stability, causing you to question the safety of living at home, especially if you live alone.

Along with caregiver support, home modifications for older adults can help improve your quality of life. Once you decide to adapt your home to meet your changing needs, an excellent place to start is researching how to design a handicap-accessible bathroom remodel.

What’s Needed to Make a Bathroom Accessible?

The American Disabilities Act (ADA) requires that public or commercial structures accommodate people with disabilities for ease of access. Although you don’t have to comply with these requirements in your own home, you may want to refer to ADA standards for accessible design to understand the ideal dimensions for your handicap bathroom project.

What’s needed to make a bathroom accessible depends on your general bathroom layout. Here are some considerations to discuss with your general contractor:

  • The bathroom door should be at least 32 inches wide.
  • If your bathroom does not offer enough entry width or turning room for a wheelchair, moving a wall may be required to expand the space.
  • Think about toilet placement. Corner toilets will open up floor space on either side but may not free up more space in front.
  • Zero-entry showers with built-in shower chairs are popular. But, you need to have the space to place a center drain, or else the water may pool along the walls and corners.

Simple Handicap Bathroom Remodel Ideas

According to Home Advisor, the average cost of an accessible bathroom remodel is roughly $9,000, with the final price hinging on the specific features being added. If a complete handicap accessible bathroom remodel job is out of reach, you might consider small changes suggested by the National Institute of Aging:

  • Install grab bars close to the toilet, tub, or shower
  • For floors subject to moisture, position non-skid mats or non-slip strips
  • If your faucets are hard to turn, replace them with levers that are easy to turn

How Can You Build an Accessible Bathroom?

To transform a standard bathroom into a bathroom with disability access, consult with a professional contractor well-versed in ADA guidelines on depth, height and clearance. When searching for a local contractor with ADA design experience, try reaching out to a senior center or ADA coalition in your town or county.

Accessible Shower Ideas

Low-threshold or zero-entry showers may include a:

  • Transfer shower that is at least 36 inches wide so that you can easily transfer from your wheelchair to a shower seat
  • Roll-in shower that is about 60 inches wide so you can enter a shower without leaving the wheelchair
  • Shower with specific features like horizontal grab bars, a hand-held shower hose and built-in seating

Accessible Toilet Considerations

For adults, ADA recommends a toilet height of 17 to 19 inches from the floor to the top of the seat. This type of design is sometimes referred to as a comfort-height toilet. Homeability cautions that these toilet seats, which are about two inches taller than the standard version, are not suitable for everyone.

Comfort-height toilets may be uncomfortably high if you are on the shorter side. If you plan to transfer from a wheelchair to the toilet seat, another option is installing a wall-mounted toilet that you can position at the appropriate height.

Accessible Sink Ideas

Features to look for in an accessible sink are well-insulated pipes and plenty of clear floor space to accommodate a wheelchair. ADA sinks are often wall-mounted for added toe and knee clearance. However, having the sink mounted to the floor rather than the wall adds stability, especially for people who tend to lean on the sink.

Some people prefer pedestal sinks because they take up less space. But if you need cabinetry to house toiletries, cleansers or towels, you may choose an under-mount sink installed in a cabinet. Don’t forget nearby grab bars for stability and faucets that you can easily control by touching or pushing rather than turning.

Accessible Flooring Suggestions

Because you need waterproof flooring in a bathroom, porcelain and ceramic floor tiles are popular. However, these tiles can be slippery, so look for tile designs with a textured surface.

Luxury vinyl flooring is a good option as it is waterproof, reasonably priced, provides non-slip traction, and is easy to install. You may also want to add a radiant floor heating system in the bathroom for added comfort.

Medicare Benefits for an Accessible Bathroom Remodel Project

Medicare does not cover a handicap bathroom remodel as a whole, but you can take advantage of benefits for specific types of equipment and fixtures.

While Medicare won’t pay for a complete handicap bathroom redesign, Part B does cover medically necessary durable medical equipment (DME). You may be eligible for coverage of handicap bathroom equipment such as:

  • Shower chairs
  • Handrails
  • Grab bars
  • Hand-held showerheads
  • Commode chairs

DME also covers walkers, wheelchairs, scooters, canes, crutches, oxygen and related equipment, and hospital beds for home use. The healthcare provider prescribing the equipment must be enrolled in Medicare. Many of these items are rented, but some may be eligible for purchase after paying a specified number of rental payments.

The cost to you for approved DME is 20% of the Medicare-approved charges after meeting the Part B deductible ($233 in 2022). Not only must your doctors and suppliers be enrolled in Medicare, but suppliers must participate in Medicare, meaning they accept assignment. As long as a supplier accepts assignment, you cannot be charged above your deductible and coinsurance.

If you are enrolled in a Medicare Advantage plan you will have at least the same Part A and Part B benefits as Original Medicare, but your plan may include additional coverage. Speak to your plan provider directly regarding the benefits of bathroom safety equipment. Depending on the plan you’ve chosen, you may have to rent or buy your equipment from a supplier within the plan’s network.

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