September 14 2017 0Comment

A Guide to Grab Bars and Handrails

Falls in the home are a major safety risk for anyone, but especially seniors. A fall can happen in any part of the house, but one of the most common places is the bathroom, where 1 in 3 individuals over the age of 65 experience at least one fall per year. There are a lot of things you can do to make your home safer, but one of the most simple, inexpensive, and effective solutions is adding grab bars or hand rails in the right areas.

Towel bars and other objects that are commonly used for balance and support are not designed to hold human weight, and if they break while being used it could make for a very nasty spill. Read on to find out more about what type of grab bar/hand rail is right for the unique needs of each user, where they should be installed, and how you should go about installing them.

Which Grab Bar or Hand Rail to Choose?
First and foremost, you want to make sure that the grab bar you choose will support all the weight it will need to support. Most grab bars and hand rails can hold up to 250 pounds, but you’re going to want to check the specifications and make sure the one you’re choosing will be able to support the full body weight of the user. If they weigh over 250 pounds, you need to make sure you’re buying a grab bar or hand rail that is approved to support that type of weight.

When choosing a grab bar or hand rail there are many variables to be taken into account, including the necessary diameter, wall clearance, shape, length, and finish. Start by figuring out what diameter you will need. Most people use a bar with a diameter between 1-1/4 and 1-1/2 inches, so the user should try out both sizes and go with whichever they can grip best.

Make sure that the wall clearance of the grab bar or hand rail you select is not more than 1 1/2 inches. Any larger and there is a safety concern that the user’s arm could become wedged between the bar and the wall if they lose their grip.

Combine a few different grab bars for ultimate bathroom safety

As far as length is concerned, you want to make sure your grab bars or hand rails aren’t too short, as they will not offer a large enough target to grab for in the event of a fall. Anything 18 inches or more is a good length for a grab bar, and should provide plenty of area for the user to firmly grip onto. Hand rails should be long enough to safely support the users weight up and down the stairs, or across the room. Finally, you want to select the right shape and finish. Many grab bars/hand rails come with flanges that cover up mounting screws for a more aesthetically pleasing appearance.

Luckily, there are also a variety of finishes available for users who want to avoid making their home look like a hospital or another institution. Stainless steel is highly recommended for those who want to avoid any type of rusting or corrosion on the bar. However, users can also choose from decorative finishes to match the color scheme in their bathroom which include chrome, brass, bronze, and a variety of powder-coated colors. If you’re using a material besides stainless steel in the shower, try to find a grab bar/hand rail that is rust proof.

For seniors on the go, there is also the option of suction grab bars which can offer some extra stability in any bathroom. They’re not ideal for long term use, and are not approved to support full body weight, so if you’re looking for grabs bars or hand rails for your home, these may not be the best options.

Where to Put a Grab Bar/Hand Rail
The best thing to do when trying to decide where you should put grab bars/hand rails is consult with an occupational therapist. They know where the user will need the most assistance and can address any additional safety hazards you may not think of.

Suction grab bars are great for seniors who like to travel

The most common place to install a grab bar is in the shower or tub, while hand rails are usually installed along stairways. If you’re only going to buy one grab bar, the best area to install it is vertically along the tub or shower’s edge. This will help the user get in and out of the tub or shower safely and easily. Another good spot is horizontally along the shower/tub’s wall. Some people prefer to install this second bar on an angle, but unless it has a slip-resistant finish the user’s hand could slip down the angle of the bar in wet conditions.

It’s also a good idea to install grab bars either in front of or beside the toilet. That way, users who are sitting down or standing up can get a little extra support.

How to Install a Grab Bar/Hand Rail
Luckily, most grab bars and hand rails are relatively easy to install if you have the right tools, however the installation process changes a bit depending what sort of surface you’re trying to mount the grab bars/hand rails on.

One of the most common surfaces where people try to mount grab bars is tile, as many tubs and showers are surrounded by tile in the bathroom. To start out, you’re going to need the following:

Pen or pencil
Masking tape
Electric drill
Grab bar, available at home repair stores
Glass and tile bit, sized to the wall anchors
General purpose or wooden metal bit, also sized
Hand screwdriver
Wall screws
Silicone shower caulk
Please note: The process of installing grab bars/hand rails includes drilling into your walls. Your walls may contain electrical wires and/or water pipes, and drilling into them is extremely dangerous. If you feel uncomfortable or unsure doing this yourself, please DO NOT hesitate to contact us for help.

If you feel uncomfortable or unsure about drilling into your walls, please contact us for help. Your walls may contain electrical wires and/or water pipes, and drilling into them is extremely dangerous.

First things first, empty out the grab bar kit and make sure the bar is in good shape, you have the right screws, and the anchors match the size of your tile bit.

Next, you’ll need to mark the mounting location you decided on earlier. Use either the good old fashioned knocking-on-the-wall trick (and listen for where the sound changes) or use a stud finder to locate the studs you will be screwing the bar into. They’re usually about 16 inches apart throughout the walls.

how to install a grab bar/hand rail
When installing grab bars, masking tape is your best friend.

Mark the locations of the studs with masking tape, then use a pen or pencil to mark where you will be drilling in the screws. Make sure to drill through the masking tape, as it will hold your bit in place and help prevent the tile from cracking. Drill pilot holes so you know for sure where you’re going to be inserting the anchors into the wall. Once you’re through the tile, make sure you switch to the wood bit to finish the holes out.

Hammer the anchors into the holes, then attach the bar to the wall with the screws. Make sure you don’t use toggle bolts on the ends of the bar, as they are not secure enough to support the necessary weight. Make sure you follow the specific instructions that come with your kit.

Once your bar is attached, you probably want to seal the edges with some silicone caulk to keep water from seeping into the wall. Let the caulk dry for a few hours, then try a strong yank test to make sure the bar can support your weight. After that, make sure you let the caulk dry for at least 24 hours before it gets wet, and you’re good to go!

If you need help installing a grab bar on a different surface than tile, such as fiberglass, plastic laminate, or imitation marble, feel free to contact us with your questions. We have a full line of grabs bars and hand rails available, including suction grab bars for travel, and we will work with you to find the best solution out there.


Home2stay is a Canadian company founded by Rahim Lakhani. Based in Vancouver, Home2stay specializes in at home accessibility and accessibility home renovations.

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