How to Install Shower (or Tub) Grab Bars

Getting in and out of a shower isn’t always easy, even when you’re fit and able. If you have a sore knee or a sprained ankle, you may find it nearly impossible to maneuver safely without a secure handle. For safe entry and exit, install a vertical grab bar inside your shower 18 to 24 inches from the shower head end. If you’re installing a grab bar for someone with an injury or disability, have that person help you find the best location.

Inside a bathtub enclosure, position a grab bar horizontally, approximately 36 inches from the bottom of the tub, so that a bather can use the bar to help raise himself from a seated position. For stepping into and out of a tub, consider installing a vertical bar at the tub edge as a convenient handhold.

Don’t be tempted to use any old towel bar. Get the best quality grab bar you can afford and install it either with a blind fastening system or with blocking in the wall. Do not rely on wall anchors.

You can use a new blind fastener, the WingIts system, directly on wallboard without an attachment to structural support. The anchors flare out behind the wall to hold firmly. You should install the fastener on a sound wall made of 5/8-inch-thick wallboard or tile over plaster, cement board, or 1/2-inch wallboard. The system exceeds all building code and ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) specifications.

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The directions that follow are for installing a grab bar on a tile shower wall. Gather these tools to install a grab bar with a WingIts grab bar system:

  • Electric drill with 1/8-inch masonry bit and 1 1/4-inch carbide-tipped hole saw

  • Felt-tipped pen

  • Measuring tape

  • Rubber mallet or hammer

  • Rubbing alcohol

  • Screwdriver

  1. Locate the 1 1/4-inch mounting holes so that the center of the grab bar fastener slides into the holes.

  2. Measure from the inside of one bar flange to the outside of the other to find the center-to-center distance or the distance the 1 1/4-inch mounting holes should be spaced apart.

  3. After making sure that the wall surface is clean, mark the location of the mounting holes with a felt-tipped pen.

  4. Use a masonry bit to drill a 1/8-inch pilot hole through the surround, whether it be tile or another material, at each mark.

  5. Hold the grab bar, with fasteners attached, to the wall to check that the pilot holes line up with the centers of the fasteners.

  6. To cut holes in tile use a 1 1/4-inch diamond-tipped hole saw to enlarge the pilot holes.

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    Diamond saws are very pricy for one-time use. Although you can use a less expensive carbide hole saw for plastic surrounds and some soft tiles, it may not cut through a hard tile.

    In lieu of using a holes saw in hard tile, you can drill a series of very closely spaced holes at the perimeter with a carbide masonry bit and use a cold chisel to carefully chip out the waste. A hammer-drill, which adds a high-speed hammering action to the turning drill bit, makes that job go very quickly.

    If you hit a wall stud while drilling a hole, you can mount the grab bar directly to the wall stud with 2 1/2-inch-long #12 stainless steel screws rather than the fastener.

  7. Use a screwdriver to back the bolt out of the fastener until the end of it is flush with the nut at the opposite end of the fitting.

  8. Temporarily install the fasteners to the ends of the grab bar with the stainless steel screws provided.

  9. Wipe the wall surface around these holes with rubbing alcohol so that the tape sticks to it.

  10. Remove the paper that covers the adhesive on the faceplate.

  11. Insert the fasteners into the holes in the wall while they’re attached to the grab bar.

  12. Press the grab bar tightly toward the wall for a moment so that the fasteners can adhere to the wall in the correct position.

  13. Remove the grab bar from the fasteners and use a screwdriver to firmly and quickly punch the head of the bolt toward the faceplate.

    You can also hit the screw gently but firmly with a rubber mallet or hammer.

  14. Simultaneously pull on the bolt and tighten it by hand.

    Use a screwdriver to tighten the bolt very tight.

  15. Attach the grab bar to the fasteners with the stainless steel screws.

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