Robert Lamoureux | Getting a grip on grab bar installation

Robert Lamoureux
Robert Lamoureux
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Question: Hello, Sir. I need to install grab bars in a walk-in shower that my elderly father will use when he makes his way to live with us very soon. I know that anything invasive where water is concerned can be risky, so I’m asking before I ruin anything. What do you recommend I use, and how do I go about this, please?  

— Linda L. 

Answer: Linda, you are an angel, planning to care for your father. You are correct, penetrating any area where water is, is risky but not impossible to do safely. There are a few options.  

There are temporary options, which have heavy-duty suction cups, that are secure as long as they are on the proper tile/enclosure. The only way to know would be to make the purchase, install per instructions, and test them out immediately and after about a week or so, having run water on them.  

To properly test this, you need to put your full body weight on it, as this is what they may be needed for. I say this because the moisture and temperature changes could affect the suction and, therefore, the security. If you do this and after that time and testing, they are still secure, you can choose to move forward at your discretion, utilizing this option.  

If the tile or enclosure doesn’t accept the suction cups securely, the other option would be to secure them to the studs in the wall. This is the invasive option and needs to be done properly, primarily for security and, secondly, for ensuring a proper seal against water intrusion.  

First and most importantly, choose the area needed and identify if there are wall studs in the installation areas. Every now and again you will get lucky and have studs right where needed. If there are no studs in either area, the next concern would be if there are water pipes in the space. Ideally you can install grab bars opposite or adjacent to any such areas and if you are unsure, I’d call a plumber in to assist with at least a consult. The last thing you want to do is hit a water pipe and create a leak situation.  

In the case that you find the area without studs and pipes, this is the most invasive because the area would have to be opened up to install the necessary backing to support the weight of a person. It is not possible to use, for instance, simple toggle bolts like you’d use for a heavy photo. The proper supports have to be there to secure to, and in this case I’d recommend hiring a professional both for safety as well as proper sealing.  

Once you are ready to install the bars after proper prep, follow manufacturer instructions and move forward with those. For sealing against water intrusion, there should be a rubber seal between the bar and shower side. In addition, for extra protection, you can use a silicone sealer. 

Best of luck with this install and caring for your father. 

Robert Lamoureux has more than 40 years of experience as a general contractor, with separate licenses in electrical and plumbing contracting. He owns IMS Construction Inc. in Valencia. His opinions are his own, not necessarily those of The Signal. Opinions expressed in this column are not meant to replace the recommendations of a qualified contractor after that contractor has made a thorough visual inspection. Email questions to Robert at [email protected].           

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