Grab Bar Installation

With many different bathtub, shower grab bar configurations available, I am going to mainly talk about the method of attachment here rather than configuration or even placement.

Grab bars have become more mainstream in recent years and are not just for disabled or elderly people as once was. The safety benefits will help anybody regardless of age or physical condition.

The first point in our installation is to make sure we have the correct bar. Being that this is a wet environment, most bars are stainless steel, but there are other color choices such as white powder coat paint and brass and even different shapes that don’t quite look like the traditional curve ended stainless.

ADA (American Disabilities Act) compliant bars are available most anywhere and are fairly simple to install when following a few basic steps.

The key point here is that the bars must be fastened securely to wood frame studs or pre-placed blocking in the wall with long enough exterior grade or stainless steel screws. Usually 3 or4 inch if going through tile and it’s backing.

Moen brand bars come with 2 inch SS screws and are long enough for placing directly on drywall, unfortunately, bars more often than not, need to be placed on tile surfaces which takes longer screws and a carbide tipped drill bit. 3/16 inch should be sufficient size, the bit being just larger than the screw diameter.

Here comes the fun part, locating the studs, if your tile does not go all the way to the ceiling, locate the studs above the tile with a stud finder. Once you have the stud found, locate precisely the outer edges of the studs with a small finish nail to confirm the exact edges and mark in pencil, the marks should be 1 1/2 inch apart, (width of common stud). Older houses,  up to 1940’s, may have a little wider studs, which works in your favor.

Using a level, transfer the marks down to the area where you want to place the mounting end of the bar on the tile and mark the holes with the grab bar at the angle you need to be to catch each end on both studs. The Moen type mounts provide a hole pattern that allows the bar to be at any angle and still be able to put the recommended 3 screws in each end.

Now comes the 2nd most fun part, drilling the holes. there are a few different ways to start a hole on slippery tile, one, hold straight, steady, and drill slowly until the bit bites. You can also use masking tape to keep it on target until it etches a little, or use an awl to scratch it by hand first. It doesn’t take much of a starter hole to keep the bit from dancing around, after that, you are in.

At this point do not over drill into the wood, you will feel the difference once it breaks through the tile and it’s backing. Next, use something that will go into the hole, a wire, slender screwdriver, anything and measure the depth of the hole and add 1 1/2 inch to that, and that will be the minimum length of your screws that you need.

You may already have your screws,  just confirm that they will penetrate the wood at least 1 1/2 inch, deeper is surely OK.  Do not shortcut here, this is a safety bar you are installing, take time and get the proper screws. If the wood feels mushy you may want to add 2 inches more.

I like to mark all the holes where they go first to be sure they all line up but only drill 1 hole in one end and put a temporary hold screw in that first hole and then drill the other holes, this way I know all holes will line up. This is where you need to be accurate.

Once the holes are drilled and hopefully you found wood, then take a bathtub caulk or silicone, most any water resistant caulk will do, and put some in each hole to prevent water seepage into the wall, position the grab bar and install the screws.

Be sure all the screws are tight but DO NOT over tighten, as this could crack the tile. Slide the cover plates on and snap into place and clean up your mess and you are done.