You may think of shower seats as specialized equipment – bulky, ugly medical gear you’d find in a nursing home. While shower seats are a great accessibility feature, they don’t have to be an eyesore – and they can be useful with or without limited mobility. You don’t even have to do a lot of custom construction to have a shower seat built, either! Wood and metal shower seats are relatively inexpensive and simple to have installed, and will beautify your shower while making it more usable.
Accessibility at Home
When installed at an appropriate height for the main user, shower seats are Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) compliant. That means they meet all the same standards as seats you’d find used in a hospital. They’re made specifically to be easy to use for people with physical disabilities. Unlike freestanding shower seats, these are wall-mounted to take up less space. Most models can hold up to 330lbs at a time and have seats that are between 16″ to 19″ wide. The seating area is a little narrower than a standard plastic shower chair. This can be a deal-breaker if you live alone and want to stretch out, but is ideal for a shared shower as it eliminates the need to move a bulky chair in and out depending on who’s showering.
Relax and Unwind
While shower seats are an often necessary part of our daily lives, they need not be gray-beige medical plastic. Wood shower seats serve the same function, but with a finish that’s perfectly suited for a sauna or spa-style shower. Material makes a big difference, with wood bringing a strong emphasis on relaxation. Whether or not you need it daily, you’ve likely been on your feet all day already. Why continue doing so when you don’t need to? A built-in shower seat lets you enjoy all the benefits of soaking in hot water (especially when combined with steam shower functionality), without the time-consuming setup. There are even bath bombs for showers nowadays to make it extra special!
With or Without a Back?
Some shower seats come with backs and others don’t. Is there a difference in sitting quality? The answer depends mostly on the seat itself. Shower seats with backs may have a more solid anchoring by having more contact points with your wall, but this may not translate to a difference in the seat’s weight capacity. Seats with backs are typically wider, and will keep your back off the cold tile. This can offer you a more comfortable and secure sitting experience, but that isn’t universally true. They’re also more likely to have metal rails on the side, which can be uncomfortable for people with wider hips and thighs. On the other hand, backless shower seats are more versatile, and can be installed in tighter spaces. This also can mean less elbow room and a seat that’s more difficult to get in and out of. The best way to ensure a comfortable fit is to double check the width, weight limit, and the edges of the seat frame ahead of time.
One of the biggest issues with bulky plastic shower chairs is the space they take up. It can be doubly frustrating if you have a shower that’s on the small side. Wall mounted shower seats counter this in multiple ways. Most of the seats are designed to fold flat against the wall, leaving the rest of the shower clear when you’re not using it. They’re also narrower and more fitted to the space than their plastic counterparts. Still worried you won’t get your money’s worth? When you’re not using it as a seat, the flat wood surface also makes a pretty passable shampoo shelf. And paired with a grab bar (which is another good age-in-place feature), they’re surprisingly good for shaving your legs, too!
A Professional Installation
If you aren’t one of the few that have a shower seat built into the wall of your shower already, installation is a factor when buying. Most are wall-mounted, which requires wooden studs or a concrete wall backing to hold in place. Drywall alone will not do the job properly. And that’s ignoring the tile or acrylic shower wall you likely already have. This is a project that needs a professional. When budgeting for a remodel, this makes it a better fit for a larger renovation than an individual project. Of course, this is the exact reason that plastic shower chairs are much more common. But if you live in a rental or aren’t able to do a major re-tiling project, you still don’t have to settle for plastic. While heavier and harder to move in and out, wooden shower chairs and benches are a feasible yet attractive option.
Anticipating Your Future Needs
Which brings me to my last point: shower seats are a good consideration even if you don’t currently need any kind of assistance bathing. If you plan to live in your home well into the future, it’s smart to plan ahead for the possibility that you will. Spa-inspired wood shower seats are a great example of age-in-place design. Build a bathroom you’ll love now, but that will still be usable even if your mobility declines later. Other features, like wall-mounted toilets, grab bars, and anti-slip features can all be made to be both beautiful and durable. Incorporating these features now means you won’t have to rush to get accommodations when you do need them, and may be less able to afford (or wait out) a major bathroom remodel.
If shower accommodations make you feel old for even thinking about them, it’s time to look at shower seats a different way. Being able to sit during a shower isn’t just an accessibility feature; it’s a welcome comfort.
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