Grab bars are one of the single most important home modifications we can provide. They are cost effective, and help prevent falls, which can be very costly and even fatal. However, it is important that you understand the right and wrong way to provide this important piece of equipment to ensure the safety of your client.

First and foremost, make sure that your contractor is licensed and insured. If a grab bar were to pull out of the wall due to improper installation, that insurance piece would be very important.

Secondly, ensure proper placement of the grab bars. Although asking the client where they want the grab bar is important, an occupational therapist is a great resource to confirm the exact location and height. Having the placement too high or too low could make it difficult to get the leverage the client needs.

There are lots of options for grab bars these days. They come in many sizes, finishes, and configurations. There are even grab bars that double as other products.

A flip down grab bar can be helpful in the toilet area or anywhere space is limited as they can fold out of the way when not in use. They can even come with legs to offer extra support for clients who need a higher weight capacity.

Grab bars that mount to the wall and floor are a great option for weight-bearing in a situation where the client requires a higher weight capacity. Grab bars like these can be rated for up to 1,000 lb. weight capacity, but do offer challenges for smaller spaces.

L-shaped grab bars are often used in place of installing two grab bars for a “cleaner” look while offering multiple grab points. They can also span two walls.

SuperPoles are another unique product that are great for areas with limited space. They can be temporarily mounted with a tension mount option or permanently mounted for additional support. These do come in a variety of weight capacities and fit 8-10’ ceilings. There are also several different options for bars for when a horizontal grab point is needed.

As previously stated, there are grab bars that act as double agents, such as a toilet paper holder, towel rack, or integrated shelf. These are good options for someone who doesn’t want their home to have an “institutional” look.

Another newer, innovative product is the Support Washbasin by Rane. It supports 200-400kgs (440-880 lbs), and is an excellent choice for when the client is using their sink as a support option currently, but isn’t meant to be. Using a sink for support that is not intended for that purpose can cause significant damage to the wall and plumbing.

One of the most important pieces to safely and properly installing grab bars is the use of blocking or specialty fasteners. Skipping this can be disastrous. In the workers’ comp arena, as contractors, we are often asked why are these grab bars so expensive? This is usually where the cost can go up significantly. Fiberglass showers are fairly commonplace, and they are not made to support the weight of a grab bar. There are usually a few possible solutions, but again, this is not a one size-fits-all solution either. Specialty fasteners can be used to distribute the weight to a greater area making the installation a safe option, and these can be used on fiberglass or tile installations. These are a more cost effective option than blocking, however, they don’t work in all situations. The best and most reliable way to properly secure a grab bar is to provide blocking inside the wall cavity for the grab bar to secure to. This can be done by removing the shower surround, installing blocking, and putting the surround back, but this is a labor intensive process. Another option is to go through an adjoining wall, opening up the drywall, installing the blocking, and then patching and painting the drywall. This is also labor intensive, but is much less invasive than removing a shower surround, especially if the surround is old and brittle.

Suction cup grab bar options are something that many people swear by, but they do have their limitations. They need a smooth, clean surface to adhere to properly, are only meant to be used for balance and only meant to support lower weight capacities. They also should be re-installed at each use. Even with these safety measures in place, failure can occur.

As you can see, the range of options is vast when it comes to grab bars, and having a knowledgeable professional on your team is helpful when finding the proper selection, placement, and securement options. Modification Network has a great team of home modification specialists and a network of occupational therapists ready to provide home assessments as needed. Email referrals to referral@modificationnetwork.com or call 800-856-1232 for more information.