What are your mobility needs?
Before installing grab rails, think about any mobility aids you’re already using and whether they’re suitable. If they don’t feel suitable or if you don’t have any and think you could benefit from some, you could arrange for a mobility needs assessment by a physiotherapist or occupational therapist.
If you feel confident about making a good choice, you could also consider buying a stick or walking frame to provide support.
Once you’re happy you have suitable mobility equipment if needed, the next step is to consider additional grab rails for support.
What are grab rails for?
If you often need to hold on to furniture and the walls when you move around the home, it’s a sign that you probably need more support. Grab rails (also known as grab bars) will provide extra confidence when negotiating steps or stairs, or when changing position and needing leverage, such as when getting in and out of the bath.
What are the different types of grab rail?
There’s a wide range of rails on the market in different shapes, sizes and materials. Here are a few rules of thumb to apply when considering which rails will best suit you and the location.
These work well for stairs, as you can get them cut to shape and jointed to provide a continuous run. The cylindrical shape of the traditional mop-stick handrail also provides a good grip for most hands. You can paint it to match the decor.
Metal newel-post rails
These rails fix on to the newel post, which is generally positioned at the bottom of the stairs. This type of rail twists so it fixes on to two facings. It’s excellent for supporting you until you can get a grip on the main stair rail.
Single straight metal grab rails
You can buy metal rails in different lengths, from 300-900mm. They’re typically available in white, but you can find different colours to blend in with the decor if required. Generally, a 300-450mm rail works well at the front door or at level changes around the home, for example if there is a step up or down between rooms.
Plastic grab rails
These work best in the bathroom, particularly around the bath and shower area. Added advantages of plastic rails are that they can:
have a raised surface to prevent wet hands from slipping
be modular in design and be joined to give a tailored continuous rail, which can be designed to flow around a corner or, for example, to lead into a shower area
come in a wide range of colours, which is useful if you have low vision and will benefit from a rail colour that contrasts with the background wall. For people with dementia, a strong contrast colour will help them to locate the rail.
Grab rails for the bathroom and shower
The bathroom is the most obvious place for support rails, as people are moving in and out of the bath or shower, when it can be wet and slippery. Without support, falls can be particularly hazardous in this area. Plastic rails are the safest option in a wet area, especially if you choose one with a raised grip to prevent hands from slipping.
Grab bars can also help provide stability next to the toilet, when adjusting clothing or for the transfer on and off the seat. For some people, a rail next to the hand basin will also provide extra support if their balance is poor when standing. Our article on bathroom safety offers more guidance on adaptations that can be made to make it easier and safer to move around your bathroom.
Health and safety recommendations are that metal rails in the bathroom should be earth bonded for protection against electrical incidents.
Rails for stairs
If you need additional support on the stairs and have only one rail, then consider installing a second one.
It should run the length of the stairs, and best practice would be to butt and join the ends when the rail needs to run around a corner or up a second flight. This will provide continuous support and look more aesthetically pleasing, too.
The rail should also extend beyond the bottom and top of the stairs to provide a handhold on the level surface. If the wall ends suddenly, or if there’s a door at either end of the stairs, consider installing a short vertical rail so you can move your hand from the stair rail to a short rail on the landing to enable you to get your balance.
For existing rails, check that you can get a good grip on the rail and that it’s in the right place for support. If you’re having difficulty gripping the rail (it might be too wide or too square, for example), consider changing it to a more traditional round rail, known as a mop stick.
For changes in level between rooms, read our advice for installing a rail next to a step.
Stairs are a particularly risky area for falls, so it’s important to take care to make them as safe as possible. Check out our article on stair safety for more information.
Grab rails for front and back doors with steps
It makes sense to have additional rails next to the front and back door if there are steps leading up to them, as well as on uneven paths or steps within the garden area. They are especially important here if the area becomes slippery in wet weather.
For doors with a wooden frame, position a rail on the frame itself, close to the door. However, rails can’t be fixed on to PVC door frames, which are frequently found in modern homes or when doors and frames have been updated. In this case, you’ll need to fix the grab rail to the adjacent wall. This means it may be more difficult to find a good position close enough to the door to provide support when negotiating the doorstep.
Downstairs I put grab rails on the front door, the back door and the toilet. We fitted a second rail on the stairs so she could hold on to either side.
Where to fix grab rails
Rails are generally fixed on to a wall, but if the wall’s not strong enough to do this safely, you can find rails that are attached to both the wall and floor, or to the floor alone.
Solid brick or block walls will provide a good fixing. It may be difficult to get a good, solid fixing on a plasterboard wall. Your builder should advise, and you may need to consider a backing board, which can provide a more solid base but may look less attractive.
See our guide on installing and fixing grab rails for more advice and tips on finding the best position for grab rails and fixing them securely.
Where you shouldn’t fit grab rails
You shouldn’t fix rails to a bathroom floor that has been sealed and made waterproof, as it will destroy the seal and potentially become costly to repair. Similarly, floor fixings aren’t suitable when there is underfloor heating in the bathroom.
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