What Is a Level Entry Shower?
A level entry shower is any shower that does not require the user to step up and over a barrier or step down into the shower. In the last decade, level entry or barrier free showers have become more popular and more common because of the trench style drain.
Prior to the mass availability of this type of drain, most showers had some type of level change. The most common shower floor type is a recessed pan with a center drain that slopes in all directions toward the drain. This type of shower will also typically have a 4″ tall bulkhead covered in tile to contain the spray of water. Some custom homes built in the last 10-20 years may not have the bulk head, but will still have the center drain and recessed pan.
By using a trench drain, you eliminate the multi-directional slope. The trench drain is usually placed along the back wall of the shower and the pan slopes toward the drain. The pan does not need to be recessed and all of the water slopes toward the drain. This also eliminates the need for the water containment the bulkhead provides.
Trench drains themselves are not terribly expensive, but remodeling your bathroom to accommodate a level entry shower can be expensive, especially if you have a concrete slab foundation. This type of shower is definitely an investment, but it is an investment that can yield a lot of returns. What are the benefits to you as the home owner?
Level Entry Shower Benefit #1: Larger Tiles and Less Grout
The typical drain style I mentions above requires that the shower floor tiles be no more than 4″x4″ in size. The multi-directional slope, will not accommodate larger tile sizes. This will leave you with more grout to clean, and while we do have better grout available, eventually you will encounter staining and mildew.
Because the trench drain has only one slope, if your shower is at least 5’x3′ in size, you can use large format tiles for your shower floor. However, I have one caveat, you have to get tiles that have been tested for slip resistance!! This means you probably are not going to be able to go into your local big box and pick out a 12″x24″ tile. You will need to speak with a tile professional and ask about the Dynamic Co-efficient of Friction (DCOF). This test measure the slipperiness of tile when wet, basically. Any tile you are considering for a shower floor should have a DCOF score of at least 0.42.
FYI- MANY tiles do not! Especially the very pretty shiny, polished tiles.
Level Entry Shower Benefit #2: Reduce the Risk of Falls
Did you know that the bathroom is the #1 place to fall in your home? More people are injured in their bathrooms each year than any other room in the house. What can you do to reduce that risk? There are several steps you can take. However, if you’re planning to remodel soon, investigate the option of a level entry shower.
With a typical shower entry, you have to lift your foot higher than you would in a normal walking gate. When you lift your leg high enough to step up and over a shower entry, you are depending more on your core strength and vestibular system to keep you balanced. Additionally, you will need forward momentum on the standing foot. This will create friction between the foot on the ground and the floor surface. A wet floor reduces that friction. Any disruption to the biomechanics of this maneuver can result in a slip and fall.
A level entry allows you to move from a wet surface to a dry surface with out changing your gate. Thereby the risk of a slip and fall accident is reduced.
\Benefit #3: Larger Shower Openings
It’s not necessary to have a fully functional shower door when the drain is positioned toward the back of the shower. However, you will need to make sure the depth of the shower is adequate and that the shower head is set far enough into the shower. This can be advantageous if you ever need to use any type of assistive device, even temporarily. Less glass also means less cleaning!
Please leave any comments or questions you may have about level entry showers in the comments! Make sure you download your copy of the “Cohesive Style Guide” before you go!