Future-proofing bathroom design

Robin Tuffley of Closomat explains how whether you are designing a bathroom for a domestic, multi-user or commercial environment, there is one overriding consideration to bear in mind: a proactive approach to suitability for all

It doesn’t matter what words are used – inclusive, accessible, multi-generational, multi-occupancy – they all mean the same thing. Today’s bathrooms (washrooms, restrooms, cloakrooms, public conveniences and ensuites) need to accommodate a huge range of needs.

Those needs are physical, mental, racial, religious. It is no secret we are facing an ageing population, with all its degenerative health issues, or that our population is becoming increasingly obese, and 20 per cent of the population is registered disabled. Islam is now the largest non-Christian religion in the UK, is set to triple in the next 30 years to 13 million, and has specific toilet requirements. HM Government is currently debating a Private Members Bill, which, if enacted, will require all new public buildings to include a Changing Places assisted accessible toilet. The ‘Neighbourhoods of the future’ White Paper published by the Agile Ageing Alliance calls for housing to feature built-in adaptability. A YouGov poll highlighted that 75 per cent of people feel new homes should be built to be accessible from the outset, with 90 per cent of those respondents citing an accessible WC and shower as the most important accessibility features. Market research has further identified that the market for inclusive bathrooms has grown by 20 per cent in less than five years, and is now worth £180m.

Factor in too changes to accessible best practice guidelines – BS8300 and Lifetime Homes. The British Standard was revised in 2018, and now applies to all multi-occupancy buildings, whether new build projects or not. It now recommends up to 5 per cent of bedrooms should have a wheelchair accessible ensuite shower room, if ensuite facilities are available elsewhere in the building; a further 1 per cent should have a fixed track hoist system, a further 5 per cent (maximum) should have an ensuite for ambulant disabled people, with an overall total of 15 per cent of bedrooms large enough to enable easy adaptation if required in the future. In buildings to which the public have access, or spend any amount of time in, at very least a unisex wheelchair-accessible toilet should be provided. Lifetime Homes criteria advise an accessible bathroom in every dwelling, on the same storey as the main bedroom, plus an accessible WC at entry level, plus potential for retro-fitting of a hoist. Alongside that, RIBA’s latest guidance for age-friendly housing says “hospital-style bathrooms have made bathing a procedure rather than a pleasure for older and disabled people, but safety and practicality no longer need to come at the expense of style.”

Therefore, market forces alone are encouraging inclusive design in bathrooms. With developments in mobility equipment technology and design, it is easier than ever to future-proof the design of a stylish bathroom, so that it enables as many users as possible to optimise its functionality from the outset. First, people need to get into the room. Doorways need to be wide enough to allow for a wheelchair, level access, and ideally the door opening mechanism’s compliant with fire regulations but still light enough to enable someone in a wheelchair to open it and manoeuvre through. Whether at home or away, the most common reason for a bathroom to be accessed is to use the WC. Simply changing the conventional WC for a wash dry/shower toilet instantly broadens its use. It actually simultaneously gives any user improved cleanliness and hygiene. It is perhaps the ultimate in accessible bathroom fixtures, addressing diverse religions, cultures and most disabilities, alongside enhanced cleanliness, wellbeing and hygiene for your ‘average Joe.’ Indeed, the RIBA age-friendly guidance cites inclusion of such equipment as exemplar. To optimise scope for all, consider too that we are not all the same height, whether or not we are walking into the room or entering via a wheelchair. Height adjustable fixtures and fittings enable each user to set the washbasin, shower seat, even the WC and changing bench, to the most appropriate/ convenient height. With the prevalence towards obesity and ageing, manual handling is a correspondingly increasing consideration.

At home or away, a ceiling track (‘X/Y’) hoist provides a safe solution that accesses every point of the room – and spaces beyond. Hoist design has advanced: the motor units themselves look more aesthetic, they are more discreet. The systems can be installed unobtrusively, even if the ceiling and/or walls do not provide sufficient load bearing: utilisation of modern materials means slimline gantry legs are almost invisible once fitted. Just by implementing these few elements, bathrooms and washrooms become accessible and future-proofed, addressing the needs of almost every potential user, yet still delivering a contemporary, hygienic, relaxing environment to undertake our ablutions.

Robin Tuffley is marketing manager at Closomat