Accessible, open-concept bathroom designs are very popular right now for a variety of reasons. Many people are living with a disability, aging in place, or they just like the clean look and space-saving benefits of an open, European-style wet room.
But with many zero-entry curbless shower designs, we hear these questions:
- Do I still need a shower door or shower curtain?
- How big do I need to make the shower to keep water from splashing out?
- How much of the outside room needs to be waterproofed?
NOTE: While we'll cover some general concepts and guidelines in this article, you should always check your local building and plumbing codes to see what's required and recommended in your area before starting a new construction project.
How much space do you need?
Here are a few basic shower dimensions based on universal design principles:
- 36x36" is the minimum shower for one standing adult to be comfortable.
- 42x60" is the optimal size for one standing adult, not too big while still allowing good range of motion.
- 60x60" is optimal for a wheelchair user and leaves enough space for assistance should they need it.
- 72x72" is how big the sloped area should be if you want a completely open space with no barriers.
If you want to add any features that might encroach on your shower space, such as a bench, corner shelves, grab bar, etc. factor those into the size of the shower.
For example, if you want to be able to wheel a wheelchair into a shower space, have room for the wheelchair user and a helper, AND have an 15" deep x 36" wide bench to sit upon, you'll want to add that 15" depth to the 60x60" width of the pan, making a shower that's 75x60".
How open do you want the space to be?
You could have a totally enclosed shower with just an open doorway, or you could opt for no walls at all and go totally open-concept.
Visually, an enclosed shower with walls on all sides makes the total bathroom area look smaller, while using pony walls or glass panels opens up the sight lines so you can see more area, making the space look bigger.
A partial height 5'-6' wall will keep in some water and open up the space more, but you may want to add a glass panel to shorter 3'-4' walls to contain as much water as possible.
The less enclosed the shower is, the more space you'll need to dedicate to a sloped floor.
What type of shower head do you have?
A bigger splash zone requires either more slope or more barriers.
A rain-style ceiling-mounted shower head will have the smallest splash-zone, as the water falls directly down to you.
A standard wall-mounted shower head angles into the space and will have a larger splash zone. Consider where it's pointed and where the water will land.
A hand-held shower head has the biggest splash zone, as you could potentially spray every corner of your shower: ceiling, walls, and all.
If you have multiple shower heads or shower heads with more spray, you'll need to either increase your total shower area or make it more enclosed with added barriers such as glass panels.
Barriers: Glass Panels, Pony Walls, and More
If you can't create a completely open 72x72" space, you'll need some sort of barrier to help keep water contained. Plan your shower entrance as far from the shower head as possible, while installing walls or glass panels closer to the water source.
Partial Walls and Pony Walls
You can create some privacy or room for additional storage (ledges or recessed shelves) by adding a wall between the shower and the rest of the room.
Your walls will be covered in the same durable tile as the rest of your shower for a low-maintenance surface.
A "pony wall" is typically 36-48" tall and can be topped with a glass panel or left open.
You can also raise the wall to 60-72" to act as more of a divider while still letting light, steam, and air pass over it.
Consider where the water will bounce off of you and splash onto the walls. If you want to add a wall to keep water in the shower, it should be at least as tall as the shower head.
If you don't have the space for a 72x72" shower but want the open-concept look, you can have glass panels installed in the splash-heavy areas and leave the rest open.
Like partial walls, glass panels should be tall enough to catch splashed water, but do not need to go all the way to the ceiling.
Glass panels can also be used atop pony walls for the same open-concept look as they don't break your line of sight when standing.
The downside of glass panels it that they'll show water spots if you have hard water, but this can be minimized by using a squeegee to wipe them down post-shower.
Low-profile water barrier: Schluter ShowerProfile-WS and -WSK
Would you like the benefits of a curb without loosing wheelchair access?
Schluter Systems has created this little splash-guard to keep water in curbless showers with a collapsible lip.
The collapsible lip can be removed and swapped out with the semi-circular insert depending on your needs.
The arched WSK profile can be installed on top of tile that's in place, while the more discreet WS profile is installed at the same time as your tile.
Proper Waterproofing is Key
With any shower build, you need a 100% waterproof protective layer behind your surface material.
No tile and grout combo can act as a waterproofing layer. Even slab shower panels require a layer of waterproofing underneath because water can work its way through the smallest pinhole in the seams and corners and cause problems.
Part of a good waterproofing system is the slope to the drain: proper drainage is at least 1/4" of height difference for every foot of distance towards the drain. There are several ready-for-tile shower pan options available with perfect slope built in.
Even though all of the areas receiving a direct flow of water will be sloped to the drain, it's important to waterproof the area outside of a curbless pan for any water that is tracked outside.
Keep it Cozy: add heating to your floors & shower
One major critique of an open-concept shower is that it can be a little drafty without a door to keep steam in.
Schluter's DitraHeat system is an under-tile heating system that can be easily waterproofed and installed on a tileable shower pan.
You can even run the heating cable up onto your bench for a toasty warm shower seat.
If left on 24/7, the heat system can be used to heat the entire room, including the shower area.
This system has the added benefit of drying up standing water faster, resulting in fewer slippery surfaces.