1. Archive

A drive-in shower for wheelchair users

Published Jul. 27, 2002
Updated Sep. 3, 2005

Question: I am building a bathroom and want the ceramic tile shower to work with a wheelchair. Since a curb of any kind will hinder access into and out of the shower, the floor of the shower needs to be flush with the floor of the bathroom. Can this be done in a typical home? If so, what do I need to know to make the shower and bath floor leakproof? _ Earl B., Sacramento, Calif.

Answer: Accessible showers for the disabled are nothing new, not by a long shot. For years, high school and university gyms and professional workout facilities have featured shower floors that are flush with the changing room.

Putting this kind of shower in an average home is definitely possible. Building a wheelchair-accessible shower is easiest in a new home, but even in an existing home, a skilled remodeling contractor working with an expert tile setter can accomplish this task.

Perhaps the biggest obstacle is creating a large enough space for the shower area. Rotating a wheelchair in a confined space requires a 54-square-inch floor. A 60-by-60 space is ideal.

A typical ceramic tile shower has a cement mortar base that is just beneath the tile. The thickness of this mortar system can be as little as 1 to 1.5 inches.

If you have ever used one of these showers, you know the slope does not have to be significant for water to find its way to the drain. The shower area floor simply needs to slope [ inch per foot to achieve excellent drainage.

The rest of the bathroom floor should have a very slight tilt back toward the shower stall so that water that sprays from the shower into the bathroom can work its way back into the shower area.

The subfloor system needs to be designed so that the shower area is 1.5 inches lower than the subfloor in the main area of the bathroom. If the subfloor is a wood-based system using traditional joists, create a small, dropped flooring area using joist hangers and smaller-sized floor joists.

If your house is built on a concrete slab, the concrete in the shower area needs to be lowered the same amount.

In both instances, the tile setter must add a sufficient amount of cement mortar to raise the floor within the shower to the same level as the remainder of the bathroom.

A special liner is placed on the subfloor of the bathroom and the shower area before the cement mortar is installed.

This waterproof membrane is permanently connected to the shower drain, and it laps up the sidewalls of both the shower and the bathroom walls.

Any water that seeps through the tile and mortar is collected by the membrane and directed to weep holes within the body of the shower drain.

I prefer a membrane made with chlorinated polyethylene. This material comes in rolls and has a special solvent that allows you to weld seams together to protect the entire floor area.

This membrane is commonly sold at ceramic tile specialty stores and full-service plumbing supply houses.

There are several other issues that you need to be aware of when building this shower area.

Soap dishes and shelves for shampoo need to be at a comfortable height for those using the shower.

The shower valve control needs to be positioned so the wheelchair-user can turn the water on and off easily.

A handheld shower device attached to the main shower head is also a must. The shower valve is very important. Many shower valves are anti-scald. In fact, modern building codes mandate it.

Most anti-scald valves are designed to sense pressure differences. That is fine in most instances.

But if you desire the best valve to protect against scalding, consider installing one that is sensitive to both temperature and pressure.

These valves allow you to preset temperatures so that people using the shower face little risk of getting burned.

Finally, be sure to install one, or possibly two, shower curtains to prevent water spray from getting into the main bathroom area.

These shower curtains need to extend down to the floor and have weighted corners.

One curtain should be well within the shower area so that water spray can't find its way onto the main bathroom floor.

Tim Carter is a licensed contractor. Got a question for him? Call from 10 a.m. to noon today at toll-free 1-888-737-1450 on his radio call-in show (not broadcast in the Tampa Bay area). You can listen to his archived radio shows online any time by clicking on the Web site: cgi-bin/ multimedia. To view previous columns or tap into his archive of information and sources of building materials, see the Ask the Builder Web site: