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Easing the shower access barrier

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Individuals requiring assistive technologies may perhaps encounter obstacles performing routine daily tasks. Typical residential showers are not designed to accommodate individuals utilizing assistive technologies; consequently, a shower becomes an arduous necessity for personal hygiene. Ideally, a totally re-designed shower renovation eliminating the curb minimizes the accessibilty problem; however, for those individuals with budgetary constraints this solution may not be feasible. One less costly alternative is to replace the curb with a fabricated threshold which minimizes the access barrier while maintaining the functionality of the shower. The main costs associated with this solution are the labor charges incurred by hiring a tile contractor to perform the work, the threshold cost, and the cost of a new shower enclosure with an increased door opening for easier access.

Removing the existing curb begins by properly protecting the surrounding finished surfaces with paper or plastic and taping over the shower drain to prevent debris from falling into and clogging the drain lines. Next, the exisitng tile material covering the curb should be removed while being careful not to damage the adjoining shower and bath floors. Shower curb construction methods vary but mainly are composed of concrete or wood covered by a concrete backer board. Whatever the construction, the curb must be completely removed taking special precautions to keep the shower pan liner intact. The resulting channel left by the curb removal should be thoroughly cleaned, any nails removed, and rough edges smoothed in preparation for the waterproofing process. During the final remodeling stages this channel will contain the fabricated threshold which serves as a dam for the water in the shower and foundation for the new door enclosure.

Creating a waterproof seal between the remaining floors is critical to eliminate water seeping into the sub floor thus causing structural deterioration and future water related problems. A thin layer of a sand and cement mixture sloped towards the shower drain should be applied under the shower pan material left after the curb removal. This technique aids in the draining of any water that might seep under the new threshold. The liner should then be molded into the channel and cut flush with the top level of the bath floor. A waterproofing material with properties allowing it to adhere to the shower pan material should be applied to seal any perforations and the edge adjoining the newly cut pan material and floor. A variety of products used in the tile and marble installation industry are available and a knowledgeable installer will have experience with their usage.

After the waterproofing material has fully cured according to manufacturer's directions, the fabricated threshold can be pre-fitted and adjusted as necessary. The front threshold edge should be as flush as possible with the bath floor while the inside edge will have some lippage due to the sloping nature of the shower floor which facilitates proper draining. After the threshold is adjusted satisfactorily then it can be mudded into place and positioned properly. After the cement has fully cured the front and rear joints of the threshold and floors should be carefully caulked with pure silicone that must be routinely inspected and maintained.

The final step in this process is to have the glass enclosure designed, measured, fabricated, and installed. Consideration of door widths and swing will vary according to the specific bathroom being re-engineered. Possible door configurations should be discussed with the glass enclosure manufacturer. Using a frameless unit would be desirable to eliminate the need for a metal channel to be installed on top of the new threshold. If a bathroom configuration allows for the use of a pair of French style doors in lieu of a single door, this will help to offset the need for a wider swing area and the heavier weight associated with a single door.

Although this procedure does not eliminate a curb completely, it does minimize and eases ingress and egress difficulties. This approach may not work for every bath configuration but for those that are candidates this technique provides an economical alternative to a costly complete remodel job.

Diagrams courtesy of DMR Installations/Norman Neaderhiser


Author: David M. Rivard
Affiliation: The Shepherd Center
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