Shower conversion advice needed
January 25, 2020 10:37 AM   Subscribe

The contractor is starting demolition soon, and Mr. DrGail and I are still making decisions on the conversion of our alcove tub set-up to a step-in shower. This will be much more convenient for us as we age, while still accommodating dog-bathing. We have one chance to get this right, and we sure could use some advice on the specifics.

First, we're planning to have a bench built in opposite the shower head. We've never had one, nor used one AFAIK, so it's pretty much just a theoretical concept for us at this point. Any experiences or advice you can share on that point? Second, we know we need a hand-shower (see "dog-bathing") and think we want it mounted on a bar so it can slide up and down, but aren't sure whether we can get by with *just* a hand-shower. Is that workable? Do we really need the slide bar? Third,showerheads seem to vary in the GPM from ~1.75 to 2.50. Does that matter? Should it matter to us? What else should we be thinking about as we embark on this once-in-a-lifetime project?
posted by DrGail to Home & Garden (8 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
We have exactly this set-up: an alcove shower, with a bench opposite the shower head. Our shower has a glass screen and it stops maybe two feet before the bench? I can actually take measurements for you if you'd like.

The bench is great for shampoo and shower supplies. It is also useful for leg shaving. Nobody has ever sat on it and I'm glad we chose to build a narrow bench.

Our showerhead is detachable for dog washing, and it's great. Something like this is useful for showerers of different heights.
posted by DarlingBri at 11:04 AM on January 25

I don't think the slide bar is terribly useful unless you and your partner are very different in height. You can get a suction cup showerhead holder that you can stick down low (at exactly the right spot, which might not even be on the plane of the primary showerhead plumbing) for dog-washing so you have a convenient place to stick the head to free both hands for a minute.

Our step-in has a built in seat that is mostly used as storage, but it's nice to be able to put a foot up on it for toenail and heel maintenance.
posted by Lyn Never at 11:18 AM on January 25

You could get something like this dual showerhead which has a push-button diverter to switch from the overhead rainfall shower to the hand shower. (Grohe is a really good quality brand, so although this might seem expensive, it'll probably be worth the expense.)
posted by essexjan at 11:32 AM on January 25

If it's any help, shower setups that are just a detachable shower head on a bar are pretty much the default in the UK and much of Europe. You'll see the dual shower head type in hotels or fancier domestic bathrooms. Most people seem to get by perfectly well with just the detachable head, as you can anchor it more or less overhead anyway if you want to.

I've lived with this type of shower head for 25 years and would never consider a fixed overhead shower again. A shower head you can point where you like is great because it avoids all that effort spent rinsing harder to reach areas with a sponge or cloth. Shower heads and hoses can be changed easily, and share the same thread - they just screw on and off. A head with three or four different spray patterns is great. Water pressure and quality of showering experience will depend on a combination of your hot water pressure and the shower head, of course, and many people choose a head that gives the feeling of a powerful spray while using less water.
posted by pipeski at 11:52 AM on January 25 [1 favorite]

Make sure the contractor provides studs where you can mount vertical, horizontal, or angled grab bars as/when needed.

Some handheld showers have a hole in the base that rests on a pin in the wall. These break — choose one where the handle slides into a tapered holster.

The built-in seat is fine for casual use. But, if at a later time you need a sturdier set up — a transfer bench or even just wanting to reach behind to wash off someone’s back while they’re seated, you may end up having to tear out the built-in and replace it. Cleaning under the built-in can be a drag, depending on the geometry of the door. You can find a very sturdy used bath bench at any thrift store, which you can remove for cleaning.
posted by Jesse the K at 2:44 PM on January 25 [2 favorites]

When I redid my shower recently I went with a fixed hand shower mounted at waist height to complement an overhead rain shower. It has worked out very well for me (the dog hasn’t commented.)

I thought hard about a built-in bench but in the end I think a nice wooden bench that I can move in and out suits my needs better.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 2:46 PM on January 25 [2 favorites]

> Make sure the contractor provides studs where you can mount vertical, horizontal, or angled grab bars as/when needed.

Install grab bars when you do the conversion; it's much easier then. Finding studs later can be tricky.
posted by anadem at 9:56 PM on January 25 [2 favorites]

You want to install blocking in a band at the correct height around your shower. That way regardless of exact placement any bars will be solidly anchored. Basically a 2x10 centred at 34" above the floor for horizontal bars and possibly additional 2x6 studs on their flat in locations where a vertical bar would be appropriate. This sort of thing is super cheap at the rough in stage (like $20 in material and 15 minutes of time.

When I built the shower room for my father I installed three heads. One in the ceiling pointing straight down, one fixed on the wall at an appropriate height for him and a third that is a hand shower/hose. Which one is active is controlled by Diverter Valves like this 2-way American Standard R422S, this 3-way Delta R11000, or this 2-way Pfister 0154WDX. It's a lot cleaner looking than the shower head diverter valves and because one is only using the hand held for washing the dog and rinsing hard to reach areas the hose lasts longer. You can also put the hose attachment lower on the wall so there is more useful length for dog washing.

When I think shower bench I think something like this, this, this, or this where the bench has a flat front that goes right to the base of the shower pan and is at least as strong as the floor it is built over. A bench of that sort is no harder to clean than the rest of the shower and is way sturdier than any movable bench with zero chance of moving around. The bench can even be heated.

BTW: Grab bars don't have to look all institutional or even like grab bars. Many designs that look like and function as towel bars, toilet paper holders or other shower/bath accessories are now available in a variety of materials. These sort of things are a good choice even in a households where no one needs assistive devices strictly to give one something to grab if one slips.
posted by Mitheral at 10:35 AM on January 26 [3 favorites]

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