How to Install Grab Bars in a Bathroom

Slips and falls in the bathroom are a major cause of injuries to people of all ages.

Positioning a grab bar

Properly mounted grab bars (installed directly into studs or wooden backing behind a wall) can prevent falls and are an inexpensive way to help ensure no one in your family gets injured in a preventable home accident.

According to the National Kitchen and Bath Association grab bars installed horizontally or on a 45-degree angle provide the best support for a person trying to get out of a bathtub or shower.

Install horizontal grab bars between 33 and 35 inches above the floor of the bathtub and close enough to the shower control to allow for water temperature adjustment.

A 24-inch grab bar installed on a 45-degree angle exactly spans the spacing between studs installed on 16-inch centers, so it's relatively easy to install a grab bar directly into the underlying studs, without disturbing the existing wall.

Locating the studs

If the drywall above your shower is exposed an electronic stud sensor should locate them easily. Also if you have access to the backside of the bathroom wall (for example through a closet) you can measure the stud location and transfer the measurements into the bath area.

Unfortunately, stud finders sometimes have problems with tile covered walls, but by using a stud finder you can determine approximately where a stud is located. You'll need to drill a small hole in the tile or grout to ensure you've found a stud. (See below for how to drill tile). If you miss the stud, bend a thin piece of wire and insert it through the hole then spin it to determine exactly where the stud is located and mark its location.

Once you've found a stud, measure 16 inches from the mark to find your second stud.

Patching the holes with a dab of silicon caulk will keep moisture out and they will be hidden from view by the base of the grab bar.

Installing the grab bars

Determine where you want the grab bar located, position the grab bar over the already marked stud locations and mark the mounting screw locations.

Drill your mounting holes and install your garb bar. Apply some silicon caulk to the screws before you install them to help keep water and moisture out of the wall.

Drilling through bathroom tile.

Remember, tiles are hard and brittle so you need to use some special techniques when drilling into them.

Use a carbide tip tile drill bit for drilling into tiles (not a regular drill bit) and drill slowly applying easy pressure.

To prevent the drill bit from dancing around on the hard tile surface, you need a small starter hole (really a small mark or indentation) to give the drill bit a hold.

One way to make your starter mark by scribing a small hole with an awl, twisting the tip of the tool into the tile surface.

Alternatively mount your carbide drill bit in a reversible variable speed drill. Position the drill bit over your mark and very slowly run the drill in reverse. By running the drill in reverse, you will make a small indent in the tile surface, but the bit won't dance on the surface.

Ensure your tiles won't crack when installing your mounting screws by using a carbide drill bit that's 1/32 of an inch larger than the diameter of your mounting screws.

Things You Will Need

  • Electronic stud finder
  • Reversible drill
  • Carbide drill bit
  • Silicon caulk
  • Grab bars
  • Stainless steel screws
  • Fine tip marker

Tips

  • Use stainless steel screws to prevent rusting over time. If your garb bar comes with chrome plated or plain steel screws replace them with stainless steel screws.
  • Don't install your mounting screws too tightly or you might crack the tiles.

Warnings

  • Never use a towel bar as a grab bar. Towel bars aren't strong enough to support a person and will likely come apart if someone grabs on.
  • Never install grab bars using wall anchors or even Molly bolts, they just aren't strong enough to ensure adequate support.

About the Author

I learned home repair and maintenance hands on. Over the past 30 years I've built sheds, decks, fences and gates and planted numerous trees and shrubs. Inside I've done all the common jobs like repairing and installing toilets, plumbing and light fixtures plus I've transformed three basements from bare concrete floors and walls into warm , bright family rooms. I write on home maintenance and repair for DoItYourself.com and answer maintenance and repair questions online at MyHomeImprovement.com.