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How to Install Bathroom Grab Bars

Make your bathroom safer and more versatile by adding grab bars. In your bathtub or shower, grab bars provide extra security for that first slippery step. We'll show you the best way to install them.

By the DIY experts of The Family Handyman Magazine

Your grab bars will be rock-solid if you anchor them to studs

Grab bars aren't just safety devices for hospitals and public restrooms. In your own home, a strategically placed and solidly anchored grab bar can mean the difference between a relaxing bath and a trip to the emergency room.

In your bathtub or shower, grab bars provide extra security for that first slippery step. In this article, we'll show you where to position grab bars and how to anchor them so they're rock-solid.

If you've mounted towel bars or other hardware around the house, you'll have no trouble installing grab bars. It shouldn't take more than a few hours.

You'll only need a hammer, a level, a drill and a few special drill bits. A stud sensor is optional. Your grab bars will be rock-solid if you anchor them to the studs.

If you're mounting your grab bars to standard wood-framed walls, first you'll have to precisely locate the vertical framing members called studs (Photos 1 and 2). Most grab bars have three screw holes in each mounting flange, but you'll only be able to anchor two of the three screws into a typical 1-1/2 in. wide stud. Use a plastic anchor for the third screw. As long as these screws penetrate at least an inch into sound wood, the grab bar will meet or exceed the 250-lb. load rating required by the government for public buildings. More important, it will be plenty strong to support you even in a fall.

We'll show you how to mount grab bars to fiberglass tubs and showers, hollow walls and concrete. Studs are easy to find in walls with only a single layer of drywall over the framing. Rap on the wall with your knuckle until the sound changes from hollow to a dull thud, or use a stud sensor (Photo 1). Thicker wall coverings like plaster present a greater challenge. Here are a few tips:

  • Remove the access hatch behind the tub drain and peer behind the tub with a flashlight to look for studs.
  • Go to the room or closet behind the long tub wall and look for clues to stud locations like nails in the baseboard. Then measure from a reference point you can identify when you go back into the bathroom.

When you've located what you believe to be the center of the studs, confirm the stud locations and find both edges by probing with a nail (Photo 2). If wall tile extends to the ceiling, drill 1/8-in. holes with a glass-and-tile or masonry bit in a horizontal grout line instead. Patch the holes later with matching grout or caulk.

Mark the studs and grab bar mounting holes (Photo 4). Then drill a 1/8-in. hole at one of the marks located over a stud. If you miss the stud, adjust the grab bar location accordingly and drill new holes. In most cases, the unused hole will be covered by the mounting plate on the grab bar.

Positioning Your Grab Bars

Even a solidly anchored grab bar is useless if it's in the wrong place. What location is best depends on the particular situation. If you're installing the bars for a person with a disability or injury, have this person help you decide which location will be most helpful.

A physical therapist or an occupational therapist also can help with this decision. For solid anchoring, stud locations are critical too. (Later we'll tell you what to do if studs aren't available.)

Here are guidelines for placing the bars:

  • Place an 18-in. to 24-in. long bar vertically at the tub edge (Photo 8) to assist in getting in and out of the tub. The bottom of the bar should be 32 to 38 in. above the floor. Position the bar so it can be anchored to a wall stud.
  • Mount a bar at an angle between two wall studs on the long back wall of the tub (Photo 7). The bottom of the bar should be about 6 to 10 in. above the top of the tub. For studs 16 in. apart, a 24-in. long bar provides a nice angle. A person can use this grab bar to help lower himself and get up again.
  • If this bar will be used primarily by a person sitting in a bath chair, raise the bottom to about 18 in. above the tub.
  • Mount a bar horizontally about 36 in. to 38 in. above the bottom of the tub as a convenient handhold while showering.

Fastening the grab bar

Complete the grab bar installation as shown in Photos 6 and 7. Use a 1/4-in. glass-and-tile or masonry bit to enlarge the holes. Then use a 5/32-in. wood bit to drill pilot holes into the stud. This will make driving the screws easier.

Insert a plastic anchor in the holes in the tile that miss the stud Then screw the bar to the wall with No. 10 or 12 stainless steel pan head screws. Make sure the screws penetrate the studs at least 1 in. In most cases, 2-in. screws are long enough.

If you simply can't anchor to a stud, you have a few options. The best alternative is to secure wood blocking between the studs. However, this requires opening a small hole in the wall and patching it after the blocking is screwed into place. If possible, work from the backside of the tub wall, where you're not hindered by ceramic tile or other tub finishes. If you're lucky, you'll have a closet or storage area where the wall patch doesn't have to be perfect.

As a last resort, use toggle bolts or WingIts to mount the grab bar to the hollow part of the wall. The plaster, mortar or tile backer must be dry and solid and at least 5/8 in. thick.

Use special anchoring hardware for hollow backer
tub enclosures. These anchoring systems will
support the grab bar in spite of the void behind the
enclosure.

Use this hardware with fiberglass shower<br/> enclosures.

Use this hardware with fiberglass shower
enclosures.

Special Anchor for Fiberglass Enclosures

The Solid Mount solves the fiberglass shower problem. Fiberglass tub and shower enclosures present a unique challenge. You must mount the grab bar to a stud, but the space between the stud and fiberglass must also be filled with something or the fiberglass will bend as you tighten the mounting screws.

The grab bar is fastened to the wall with a plastic
toggle anchor

Use toggle bolts in hallow walls

Use toggle bolts in hallow walls

Special Toggle Bolt for Hollow Walls

Toggler brand toggle bolts work great for hollow walls or steel studs. If you simply can't mount your grab bar to a stud or solid wood backing, then these Toggler brand 1/4-in. toggle bolts are the thing to use. Follow the instructions on the package to mount the toggle. Then use a 2-in. x 1/4-in. x No. 20 stainless steel machine screw to attach the grab bar to the toggle anchor. Use the same method to mount grab bars to steel studs.

You're not done until you yank-test

You're not done until you yank-test. Give the bars a good solid yank to test their holding power (Photo 8). With a helper standing by in case the bar comes loose, pull with all your strength. Now's the time to make sure the bar will hold up when it's really needed.

While you're at it, consider installing grab bars in other key locations. A vertical or angled bar mounted on the wall to the side of the toilet or a vertical bar installed on the side wall in front of the toilet helps getting up or down. The expert we talked to recommended mounting a vertical bar beside the entry door from an attached garage.

Usually there isn't a handrail, and negotiating two or three steps with a bag of groceries under your arm is a lot easier and safer with a grab bar to hang on to. Look around and you'll find other spots where grab bars would make everyday tasks safer and easier.

Use plastic anchors after drilling a pilot hole

Use plastic anchors after drilling a pilot hole

Grab bar fastened to the concrete wall.

Grab bar fastened to the concrete wall.

The Best Way to Anchor Grab Bars to Concrete

Plastic plug anchors hold screws tight in masonry or concrete. Anchor grab bars to concrete, concrete block or brick with 1/4-in. x 1-1/2 in. plastic plug anchors and No. 12 stainless steel pan head screws.

Drill a 1/4-in. hole with a masonry bit (you may need a hammer drill for concrete or hard brick). Push the sleeve into the hole and drive in the screw.

Buying Grab Bars

Grab bars are specially manufactured to hold at least 250 lbs. when properly secured. Towel bars and other light-duty bars are not strong enough.

Most bars are stainless steel to resist corrosion, but you can also find them with a painted finish in a variety of colors. We purchased our 1-1/2 in. dia. white grab bars at a home center. The 18-in. bar cost about $30; the 24-in. bar about $40. Thinner bars are available, but a standard 1-1/2 in. dia. bar like we're using is just right for most people's grip. Some bars feature added texture to reduce slipping. Here are a few guidelines for selecting grab bars:

  • Purchase an 18-in. or longer bar to mount vertically at the tub edge.
  • Before you buy a bar to mount at an angle or horizontally on the long tub wall (Photos 1 and 2), locate the studs. Then buy a bar that reaches from one stud to the other, usually 32 in. long for a horizontal bar and 24 in. long for an angled bar.
  • Buy standard 1-1/2 in. dia. grab bars for most situations. Thinner bars look more like towel bars and may not be strong enough for heavy use.
  • Avoid grab bars that leave more than a 1-1/2 in. space between the bar and the wall unless there is a specific reason for using one. A person's arm could slip into the extra-wide space and become trapped or break during a fall.
  • Ask a physical therapist or an occupational therapist to help select the right bars if you're installing the grab bars for a person with special needs.

Home centers keep a variety of grab bars in stock, but specialty suppliers offer the most complete selection. We've listed a few sources at the end of this article, or check your Yellow Pages under “Medical Equipment and Supplies.”

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Required Tools for this Project

Have the necessary tools for this DIY project lined up before you start—you’ll save time and frustration.

    • Cordless drill
    • Tape measure
    • Stud finder
    • 4-in-1 screwdriver
    • Level
    • Hearing protection
    • Safety glasses

Tile drill bit, Masonry bit to fit the anchor size

Required Materials for this Project

Avoid last-minute shopping trips by having all your materials ready ahead of time. Here's a list.

    • Grab bar
    • Anchors

Comments from DIY Community Members

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1 - 13 of 13 comments
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September 27, 12:08 PM [GMT -5]

Great work on the post thanks for the auto repair edmonton as well.

August 19, 9:47 PM [GMT -5]

OC Grab Bars - Handicap Bathroom Safety Grab Bar Installers

Grab bars are an essential part of any home where the occupant is elderly or has undergone joint surgery. Falls and accidents account for almost 60% of all injuries for people over 55 and nearly 80% for those over 70. The main problem is that with age, weakness in the joints and limbs can cause imbalance; since the joints are weaker it becomes almost impossible for an elderly person to steady themselves after losing balance.

OC Grab Bars in Orange County, California can provide a whole range of bathroom safety grab bar options to accommodate all of your home safety needs

Horizontal Grab Bars

By having horizontal grab bars installed it aids in giving you the ability to push upward or reach in from an entry point. Most people find it easier to push down on a grab bar than to pull on one, therefore horizontal grab bars are the most commonly used bars when sitting in a shower chair.

Diagonal Grab Bars

Diagonal Grab Bars are placed at a slight angle in order to enable someone with weak or painful arms and/or wrists. Diagonal Grab Bars aid in supporting his/her forearm on the bar while pushing upward, thus spreading the body weight over a larger area.

Vertical rails

Vertical Grab Bars are used to help pull oneself into a standing position. Grab bars are only as strong as the wall to which they are placed and the equipment that is used. OC Grab Bars will assess each shower for the best possible mounting position according to the wall strength or sub straight. After having an operation, especially knee, back or hip surgery; it is important to consider the coming months. Having grab bars installed can help prevent any further injuries due to instability or pain. In order to prevent further injury and surgery, OC Grab Bars can install grab bars around your home. OC Grab Bars can give you the piece of mind you deserve by helping you to still keep your independence throughout recovery.
If you or your families have any concerns or questions about having grab bars installed in your home, OC Grab Bars would be more than happy to answer all your questions in order to put your mind at ease. For more information visit

www.OCGrabBars.com
Joey Bolohan
Owner/Installer

August 19, 8:33 PM [GMT -5]

Hello All,
My name is Joey Bolohan with www.OCGrabBars.com on my web site i will show you how we install grab bars in most homes. The best mounts are the TOGGLER brand SNAPTOGGLE. for most tile installs. You can find them at the Homedepot or on line. for fiberglass installs the SNAPTOGGLE work well if it is a strong fiberglass unit and dose not have much flex in the walls. If the walls have a lot of flex i would suggest WingIts http://www.wingits.com/ but do be aware avoid being close to a stud because you need to drill a 1 1/4" inch hole and need about another 3/4 of an inch to let it expand behind the wall with out hitting any thing like a stud, vent pipe, electrical and so on. If you fell like this is to much you could always higher a professional like www.OCGrabBars.com to come and install it for you. I am happy to answer any questions you might have on this topic on my website.

Thanks Joey Bolohan
owner/Installer
www.OCGrabBars.com

June 12, 3:39 PM [GMT -5]

Great information with good step by step instructions that can show anyone how to do a great job. I got my grab bars from www.ocelco.com and this article was perfect for showing me how to set them up!

July 07, 4:10 AM [GMT -5]

For anyone who is wondering (like I was) where to find the mounting kit for fiberglass tubs.... I found the name of the product is "The Solid Mount™". I have found it at several places online. The lowest price I have found was $23.99 for a pair.
Once I get some, the installation should be a snap.

June 28, 4:36 AM [GMT -5]

Thanks for allowing me to leverage the experiences of others to make this task quick and simple.

You made my home safer.

June 03, 1:25 PM [GMT -5]

who is the manufacture of the special anchor kit for fiberglass showers featured in this article.

I have called all around the area and no one has this type for a fiberglass enclosure mounts

June 03, 1:24 PM [GMT -5]

who is the manufacture of the special anchor kit for fiberglass showers featured in this article.

I have called all around the area and no one has this type for a fiberglass enclosure.

October 26, 4:26 PM [GMT -5]

I am still working on the project.

I have six holes to drill in marble and it is taking about 10 hours to drill one hole using drill bits for masony.

Jam

October 26, 2:05 PM [GMT -5]

Your instructions appear to install the grab bar "on" the ceramic tile. My tile has not been installed yet. Should the grab bar be installed "before" installing the tile?????

October 05, 6:12 PM [GMT -5]

If you are adding grab bars to a ceramic tile wall be prepared for a challenge. HD has a diamond drill bit for about $12 that involves a water attachment that flushes out
the waste. If you are coordinated enough to make this work, then you could have made a lot more money as a brain surgeon. On the other hand it does cut through the tile rather well.

Nice idea to mount the bars to studs. Unfortunately, that might place the bars where you don't want them. Oh well, you can't win 'em all.

May 25, 11:20 AM [GMT -5]

who is the manufacture of the special anchor kit for fiberglass showers featured in this article.

May 08, 8:54 PM [GMT -5]

Very helpful tips and info......great magazine also!

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