Part 3: Me Vs. The Bathroom: Round One (A renter’s adventure into making a house a lifetime home)

Part 3: Me Vs. The Bathroom: Round One (A renter’s adventure into making a house a lifetime home)
May 12, 2018 admin
Bathroom, before

12/05/2018

Me vs. The Bathroom. Round one.

Read time: 12 minutes

I was going to do these blogs in a lovely logical order, starting at the doorstep and working my way through the flat, topic by topic, room by room. It turns out, however, that I’m just not that logical and life’s not like that either. Being completely surrounded by cardboard boxes has changed my priorities somewhat, it seems, and so it’s going in the order that needs must instead and as inspiration and motivation come to me!

So first up, the bathroom. Mostly because it’s sort-of the easiest room to get going with – throw your existing towels and shampoo into pretty much any rental bathroom and it sort-of functions. But also because showering is one of my greatest pleasures in life and I wanted to get my morning ritual locked down as soon as possible so I wasn’t turning up for work feeling like a zombie every day. And of course we all need to use the loo! :p

So, we now have a good-sized bathroom, if pretty basic, including a power shower over the bathtub, a toilet and a hand basin (surrounded by a vanity unit) and a mirror medicine cupboard. Thankfully, all the sanitaryware was fairly clean (if you overlook some mould patches which need a little attention) which was a good start. It wasn’t quite a blank canvas – I’m not over the moon about the grey mosaic and textured tiles which give it a distinctly late 90s/early 2000s feel (pretty sure this was the last time it was upgraded) but it’s not an avocado suite so I can’t really complain. Disguise and distract will be my main technique for these bits I’m less keen on over the coming weeks, but that’s for round 2.

Most important was getting the facilities up and running. However, after two years of having a tiny but awesome shower cubicle, we were now dealing with something more akin to a trickle. As a lover of a powerful dousing to kick start the day, it was a big disappointment when I excitedly jumped in for my maiden shower only to find we have pitiful water pressure. Less glorious shower, more standing in the buff being dribbled on in a chilly draught, especially as we moved in right in the middle of snowmageddon in February.

I briefly toyed with the idea of giving up washing until the spring, but that seemed a little extreme and not very fair on those around me. You may not think shower pressure has much to do with lifetime homes, but I know a lot of older people who genuinely stop washing in the winter unless absolutely necessary because it is too much faff and they don’t want to catch their deaths.

So I had two main issues. 1. The shower head was pretty scaled up. Not so hard to fix. Rather than clean it though I decided to buy a new and nicer looking one, specifically designed for lower water pressure to see if that would make any difference (I have since seen these air-injection ones too, which you can switch between spray modes with just a push of a button). 2. The slider bracket which holds the shower head up was so old it had almost completely cracked making it impossible to angle the shower where you wanted it (i.e. at your body, not the wall). On closer inspection it was also so scaled up it had become stuck at the very top of the pole meaning by the time the water reached my head it had lost any chance of power. Even without these problems, the slider bracket was adjustable by a twist function that required an awful lot of strength to turn, a bit like a stiff tap at the top of a pole. These brackets are pretty standard in many bathrooms, but not exactly easy to do with your hands above your head and covered in soapy water.

However, you can get slider brackets with easy to push buttons rather than twist mechanisms which allow you to easily change the height of the shower with just one wet, sudsy hand and without much grip strength. A must in our household when the two main occupants are a full foot different in height. Also great if you have children.

So off to YouTube to learn how to change this. Looked simple enough and so after measuring everything I needed to it was off to Amazon to buy a shiny new one. There are so many lovely fittings to choose from and I thought this one with a nice big easy push button should do the trick nicely.In the end this meant changing our entire shower riser rail in order to get the fitting we wanted as it only fitted a certain diameter pole and ours was a weird size. Luckily you can get universal ones which fit straight into the existing holes in your tiles. It was super easy too. Great for me with limited DIY skills and as renters who can’t drill holes. I used this riser rail set, which was pretty good value, even though you do end up with some extra bits you don’t need (anyone want a soap tray??), and then swapped out the bracket it came replacing it with my nice button one instead.

I briefly got quite excited about changing the riser rail as you can get some which double up as grab rails too, but this involved a lot more drilling than I was willing to do just at the moment.

Nothing to do with lifetime homes, but a big shout out to The Shower Doctor here. My husband and I spent a long time one evening watching the lovely George with his very reassuring Scottish accent, who taught us how to do this all ourselves and the importance of popping in extra washers and using a bit of rag. Thank you, George. All in all, this took a bit longer than simply replacing the broken bits with any old fitting from the local Homebase, and a whole lotta research, but well worth it. The shower now moves up and down seamlessly with one hand as well as being shiny and new. The pressure is also much improved too, although not perfect, so the research continues on that one.

NB. I have since found out about Bristan showers. These have just about the easiest riser rail shower functions I have come across (and have universal riser rails – woop woop!). They also have very cool power shower units designed in collaboration with RNIB that are quite beautiful in their simplicity. Amazing extra large and contrasting controls for slippery hands, bleeps when it is at temperature (great for preventing that horrifying cold or hot water moment when you step in too soon without checking) and large print numbers so you know what temperature it’s on. Works for users with visual impairments – but what’s not to like – they are great for just about everyone else too. I know I want one.

Shower unit

All the while this was going on with the shower (it was hanging off the wall for a couple of days), I was forced to embrace the bath. As I mentioned, we are now blessed with a fairly giant bath in the new place which isn’t in bad nick. This is a novelty for me as I have never been one for baths – I get a bit bored and cold – but I hear many people enjoy a soak so I thought perhaps I’d been doing it wrong. Perhaps my tastes might have matured; after 30 years on the planet I now like olives so perhaps I would now also enjoy a scented candle and a glass of wine in a tub full of bubbles?

Apparently so. It was pretty nice in fact. Being able to completely rinse myself certainly gave it extra points over our shower anyway. I can confirm that after a few weeks of bath practice, I am now a full bath convert. Especially as I have put a big plant at one end so it feels a bit like I’m in a jungle when I soak. I am easily pleased. We discovered a peculiar quirk of the house while getting to know the bath however: the tap in the kitchen also mysteriously runs when you run the hot tap in the bathroom. We vowed to look into this plumbing anomaly properly another day, but until then we are just making sure to have someone doing the washing up at the same time as running a bath so as not to waste water!

So, running the bath: easy. Getting into the bath: hmmm, now there’s a thing. If you really look at it objectively and break this task down into its component parts (lifting your leg, stepping up and over the bath side, balancing on a slippery surface, turning, lowering, raising, leg over again, lower yourself out) it is surprisingly acrobatic, verging on treacherous in wet conditions. Not least because the side of the bath is over half a metre high, meaning you have to be able to do a low-level can-can in order to be permitted entrance. Have you ever noticed that the inside of the bath is also perplexingly higher than your floor, so when you get out you sort of have to leap into the void? Add to this the slippery nature of the bathroom and it is a wonder anyone takes baths at all.

Like many houses, our shower is imprisoned in the bath, making washing completely out of reach for some people, an almighty hassle for others, and just unnecessarily unsafe and inconvenient for everyone else. These are surprisingly common design features in bathrooms across the UK, which we all seem to accept unquestioningly despite the bathroom being one of the most accident-prone areas of the home. It is something we should all care about too – not just kids and older people who you might imagine would be vulnerable to slipping. You might be surprised hear that most of the accidents in the bathroom (I’m talking the slipping over kind, not the toilet kind here…) actually happen amongst working age adults so it seems bizarre not to make the experience better for everyone.

I am a big fan of this video by Moen (I think it is an American company so is probably using US stats, but you get the point) which explains it really well.

I am fortunate to have decent balance, coordination and strength at the moment, but I suspect this won’t always be the case. The amount of sporting injuries my husband receives on a near weekly basis from various bizarre contact sports means bathroom accessibility is a live and recurring concern. I would also like my mum to come and stay with us, and she recently had a knee replacement, so our current set-up just won’t work for her. It’s simply out of the question for my nan to wash with this set-up.

So what to do?

I sadly do not have the right to pull out my whole bathroom and start again. Nor do I have the cash at the moment even if I did. If I did, I would perhaps look into some different options to make things safer and more enjoyable for me and my guests now and in the future, as and when I felt able to upgrade. I am currently working on a (pretty exciting even if I do say so myself) guide about just this. Watch this space.

Should our landlord ever fancy upgrading our bathroom, I could also use this information to advocate for something a little better that suits us all. Especially given the financial benefits of building more inclusive facilities that appeal to a wider range of possible tenants and help others sustain their tenancies for longer as they grow older, rather than having to move into specialist accommodation.

In the meantime, and on a smaller scale, there are all sorts of incredibly useful contraptions to add to your bath to make things easier and safer. Sadly they are all, almost universally, boring or ugly. I am always amazed some of these features, like rails on the walls and sides of baths aren’t just better designed into our current bath fixtures and fittings and included as standard in bathrooms. There seems to be a woeful lack of inspiration and investment around developing this, as I explored in another blog. That said, things are getting better, just slowly. And with enough digging around and creativity you can actually find a few bits which suit your needs and your personality in equal measure.

So here is what I have gone for:

A bath step

I originally wanted this cork bath step from Scotts of Stow as it looks really luxe and spa-like, but it was removed from production shortly after I ordered it so I never actually received it.

A person stepping into a bath using a cork bath step

Although after doing a bit of digging I found that you can get yoga blocks that do just the same. The one I have gone for is only 5cm high – just enough to redress the height differential between inside and out – but I guess if you needed it higher you could stack them just as long as they weren’t going to slip and slide. Having recently got super into houseplants (a side effect of having more space than I ever have before, more about this in another blog soon), I love the idea of using a small step like this as a plant stand too when it is not needed. Pictures coming soon!

A grab rail

I have combined this cork step with a small suction grab rail for a bit of extra stability getting in and out. I have chosen this one as it is really neat. As these are not screwed to the wall, these grab rails are definitely not for putting your entire weight through, nor would they counter a fall in action, but they do give a handy place to steady yourself, which might just prevent a fall from ever happening in the first place.

I also like this brushed nickel one by OXO good grips. If I owned this house I would look to add in a permanent and beautiful grab rail as part of the bathroom design itself. I could probably ask to fit one now if I really needed it and the landlord could not unreasonably deny it. Grab rails are among the most useful things you can add to your bathroom, whether you think you need them or not. I guarantee you would use it if you had one, just to steady yourself, but they have a such a bad reputation as a ‘disabled’ or ‘elderly’ or ‘medical’ product. Luckily, they are getting better, as I cover in another blog. I would love to see the development of new shapes of grab rails – really elegant narrow ones for example, like you see in towel rails, or integrated ones, or in more choices of finish like copper or brushed nickel to match the rest of the thousands of beautiful fittings you can buy for your bathroom. One day perhaps.

It’s always best to ask for advice about grab rail placement from your Occupational Therapist or Housing Improvement Agency if you’re putting one in, as a poorly positioned or fitted one can be pretty pointless, potentially even more dangerous than none at all. Check out First Stop or the DLF for more information.

Anti-slip stickers

I’ve also added these anti-slip bath stickers, which you can stick directly onto the bath where you stand the most to stop yourself sliding around. So much nicer than a bath mat which is a germ magnet and can be as slippery as the bath itself. I am looking forward to testing these stickers as the reviews seem good but I wonder whether they will be like sandpaper on one’s backside when sitting in the bath, which I have now come to so enjoy. I will report back soon on the condition of my rear.

Bath ledge

The other option for us was a bath board. These are great devices that make getting into the bath easier as opposed to the more traditional flinging your leg over (see here for how they work https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wq0_d-Y3dzk) but are generally pretty plasticky. The day they make a gorgeous wooden version that safely bears weight and stays put which also incorporates a place to pop my wine and Netflix, I will be the first one to buy one. Bath shelves like this are already popular way to add a touch of luxury to a bathroom. Why not make them double up as an important accessibility feature too?

books and coffee atop a bath shelf across a full bath

In our new place we are actually lucky enough to have an extra bit of bath at the end which offers the same functionality as a bath board. Though ours is not quite wide enough to be totally perfect for all bottoms, I have seen some good examples of ledges like this built in and really made a feature of like in the picture below. When it’s not in use it can double up as an extra shelving space (I am using mine for my growing plant collection….), but it’s super useful to have, should I or a guest ever need it.

bathroom with ledge at the end of the bath

Thanks for reading. Tune in for more adventures next time as I discuss more about bathroom lighting, fixtures and fittings including such exciting things as taps and toilet roll holders. If you’re a design nerd like me you’re gonna love it.

I’ll have more real pictures of the ‘after’ too (I just need to clean my bathroom first!) and hopefully my guide to choosing the bathroom that’s right for you.

Please let me know if you enjoyed reading this and if there is anything you would like to hear more (or less!) about. Please share if you know anyone who might find it useful. 

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