Design tips for going barrier-free

By Hugo Sanchez
The great advantage of barrier-free showers is they are more functional than their traditional counterparts. They provide easy access for anyone—especially children, the elderly, and those with reduced mobility. Further, the absence of doorsills and corners makes them easier to maintain. Seamless floor transitions also maximize floor space by making the shower look and ‘feel’ bigger. This is particularly true for small bathrooms where glass doors are eliminated to make the space more functional and practical.

Floor thickness options
In basements and condominiums, where all the floors are concrete slabs, there is no other way to go than ‘up’ to achieve the required slope to the drain. Building up the floor with a mortar bed or pre-formed, sloped trays are the preferred options.

For conventional wood construction, floor thickness can often be reduced by removing the existing floor buildup. This allows the mortar bed to be laid directly atop a single-layer subfloor. In the bathroom areas outside the shower (i.e. where there is no mortar bed), it is essential to use an uncoupling member when installing tile over a single-layer subfloor. This membrane provides uncoupling and waterproofing in the bathroom area.

There are also exceptional cases, where the floor substrate could be lowered to accommodate a seamless bathroom floor transition. However, this requires the services of an engineer as the original floor joists cannot be simply cut and weakened without risking serious consequences to the floor assembly and building structure.

Extending the waterproofing out to cover the whole bathroom floor is always a good practice as water inevitably is carried out beyond the shower, barrier-free or traditional.

Radiant heating
The popularity of heated floors in bathrooms and shower areas has rapidly increased over the last few years. Heated floors come either as electrical radiant wires or hose systems carrying heated water. The former is easier to install and less expensive. Radiant floors can and should be used under shower floors for comfort, but also to help evaporate humidity from the tile assembly, which in turn reduces bacteria buildup on showers with less maintenance.

Hugo Sanchez of Ceramiques Hugo Sanchez specializes in the design and installation of barrier-free bathrooms. He can be contacted via e-mail at

For more on Barrier-free showers, click here.

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