In our other blogs, we have discussed how to select grab bars, where to place them and how to use them. As far as installing grab bars, we have also offered to blogs on how to reinforce walls prior to installation. As far as installing grab bars, we discuss below some of the factors that may help you ensure that your grab bar is secured tightly to a wall or reinforcement.
Always follow all manufacturer’s instructions for installing the specific grab bars and/or fastening systems that you have purchased.
I always like to get all of my tools together before a project. Tools needed for grab bar installation include: grab bar and fasteners, tape measure, hammer, level, cordless drill, drill bits (some specialty ones may be needed), stud sensor, blue tape, floor protectant (towel or drop cloth to collect shavings from the drill), shop vacuum, safety glasses, hearing protection, and a small table to hold the tools.
Add Grab Bars to Reinforced Walls
If you are in the middle of construction and the walls are open, then you have the most ideal circumstances for installing grab bars securely. Here are some tips to help you in this case.
Add reinforcement boards where you know you want grab bars or you think you might want grab bars eventually (see our blogs on reinforcing walls)
Keep a record of where the reinforcement boards have been placed on an elevation diagram of the various walls where reinforcing was installed
Once you are ready to install grab bars into reinforced walls, then your job got a lot easier
Follow the instructions below for the material (drywall, tile, fiberglass) that matches the material on the wall in your situation
Best of all – you do not have to search for studs since you can install your grab bar into the reinforcing.
Also, you can choose any length of grab bar since you do not have to worry about hitting studs that are spaced 16 inches apart
Add Bars to Wall Studs
To install grab bars into studs, you will first need to choose a grab bar that is an increment of 16 inches since that is the distance from the center of one stud to the other
If you choose a grab bar that is any size other than 16-, 32- or 48-inches long, then you will need to use an anchor or fastening system as described in the next section
Locate the studs with a stud finder – the center of studs are 16 inches apart in most walls built over the last 80 years
Finding studs behind tile walls or fiberglass enclosures can be trickier
If the tile or enclosure does not go to the ceiling, then use your stud finder on the drywall above the tile or enclosure to locate the studs and drop a level straight down
Otherwise, go into the room behind the wall, find the studs and use reference points to locate the studs behind the tile or enclosure
Place 1½-inch wide blue tape vertically on the wall over the location of the stud where you want to install each end of the grab bar
Move the cover flanges to the center of the bar and temporarily secure them with blue tape to keep them out of the way during mounting flange installation
Center one mounting flange on the stud at the right height and draw a circle around the flange onto the blue tape
Holding the mounting flange at the desired location, mark at least three holes on the blue tape using the flange as your guide
TIP: Be careful not to drill into electrical wires or panels by going to the other side of the wall and checking for outlets and electrical service panels. Avoid drilling into or near them!
Drywall: into the wall AND stud where you marked the holes on the blue tape
The drill bit should be slightly smaller than the shaft of the mounting screw (the bit size is often detailed in the mounting instructions - usually close to the shank size of the screw – but not bigger)
Make certain you drilled each hole into a stud and that the drywall is flat against the stud. If you miss the stud, then insert a wire and fish around the wall cavity to locate the stud and return to step 1.
Select a 1/8-inch diameter drill bit designed for tile (called a glass and tile bit that has a spade or diamond tip). Make sure it is “fresh” or new (as opposed to dull or old) to prevent wobbling that can lead to incorrect size holes.
Pre-drill at your marks through the painter’s or masking tape to prevent the bit from slipping and scratching the tile.
If you hit the wood stud or tile backer, stop drilling before you drill into the backer or wood and go to step 4. If you miss the stud, then insert a wire and fish around the wall cavity to locate the stud and return to step 1.
Once you have pre-drilled and found the stud, then use the appropriate diameter glass and tile bit to drill through the tile, stop at the stud or tile backer, change bits to a wood drill bit and drill the appropriate diameter holes into the stud.
Fiberglass enclosure: This is the most difficult of the wall coverings for securing grab bars. There is usually an empty pocket behind the fiberglass surround and often the surround wall may be at an angle.
The goal is to fill the gap between the fiberglass wall and the stud with a solid spacer for fiberglass enclosures such as The Solid Mount. The Solid Mount ™ will span the distance of 7/8"' to 2 1/8" from the fiberglass surround to the 2x4 in the wall. According to its website, The Solid Mount ™ is the one and only Patented fastening system designed specifically for installing grab-bars into a Fiberglass Shower or Fiberglass Tub.
Carefully follow all instructions for these anchors and ensure that the screws are long enough to penetrate the wood stud by at least 1 inch.
TIP: Use your shop vac while drilling by keeping the intake hose below the drill holes to suck up dust and the tank far enough away so that you do not blow the dust around.
3. Use a level to mark the height of the other end of the grab bar and repeat the steps above
4. Mount one flange with the supplied screws – which should be stainless steel to prevent rust
TIP: Coat the inside of the mounting flange with a waterproof silicone prior to installing the screws.
5. Screws should penetrate at least an inch into sound wood so that the grab bar meets or exceeds the 250-pound load rating
TIP: Assess the wall thickness by inserting a wire into the hole and marking the wire where the wire hits the stud. This will help you determine the length of the screw.
6. Coat each screw with wax (candle wax or bee wax) to allow for smoother screw installation and to prevent so much tension that the screw breaks
Check the tightness of each screw – after tightening the screw, if the head of the screw rotates freely then the screw is broken and you will need to remove that screw or add another screw to another hole into the stud
7. Double check the location of the other mounting flange with a level
8. Mount the other flange to the studs through the drywall with at least three screws
9. Remove the blue tape temporarily holding the flange covers, slide them to the ends and push each one onto the mounting flange
TIP: After the grab bars are secured and before anyone uses them, test each one with a “yank test.” Firmly pull on the anchor to ensure that it remains solidly fixed to the wall.
Add Bars to Hollow Walls
The most secure place to install grab bars is into studs. Since this is not always possible, here is one way to anchor grab bars to hollow walls – for drywall and tile with sturdy board in back of the tile.
Toggle bolts. One brand called “WingIts” proclaims that it meets or exceeds the ADA 250-pound load rating. According to its website, the RESGBW35 Structurally Engineered Grab Bar WINGITS® exceeds all building codes and ADA guidelines. It is used extensively in commercial, institutional and residential grab bar installations. When installing into Ceramic Wall Tile, Plaster or Marble, use the APACHE200™ Industrial Grade Carbide drill bit for quick, precise holes. 3/4" holes required. No caulk needed - self waterproofing. Designed for 2" x 3" or larger hollow walls and wall substrates from 1/4" - 1.3" thick.
For fiberglass walls, you will want to use The Solid Mount and secure the screws into a stud. The fiberglass wall is simply not strong enough to support a grab bar so you must use the special anchor into a stud described above.
This really long blog is provided as a guide and is not expected to cover every structural situation or do-it-yourselfer’s capability. If you are unsure about installing a grab bar yourself, then hire a professional – look for a Certified Aging in Place Specialist (CAPS) to hire or provide consulting services.
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