If you are renovating your bathroom, incorporating a shower seat into your design is a wise plan whether you need one or not. Shower seats make life easier for everyone, but especially anyone with balance or strength issues. Conditions like vertigo and other balance afflictions make a shower a dangerous place, and having a seat can make things safer. If you're installing one, it's best to follow the shower seat height recommendation and make sure it is between 17 and 19 inches high.
Shower Seat Height Guidelines
Today's best practice in home design is universal design. This is a design principle where the goal is to make spaces work for all body types, abilities and sizes. To that end, the National Kitchen and Bath Association (NKBA) has created a universal design guidebook called "Kitchen and Bathroom Planning Guidelines With Access Standards."
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The NKBA reflects many guidelines also set out by the International Code Council, and adhering to either or both of these should mean staying within parameters for your local building code. Seat height is generally not a rigid rule, but what is rigid is that you typically will need a radius of at least 30 inches on the shower floor, so any built-in seat cannot encroach on that radius and meet building codes. With a universal design in mind, the NKBA prefers a 36-inch radius, making it more accessible for wheelchair users.
In all these instances, the recommended seat height is 17 to 19 inches. For seat depth, 15 to 16 inches is suggested.
Theory vs. Use
As you know, people come in all sizes. Seat height tends to revolve around basic ergonomics. When you're seated properly, your knees should bend at 90 degrees with your feet flat on the floor. For most people, this means a seat surface height of 17 to 19 inches.
What if the shower user is vertically challenged or extremely tall? This is where it's noted that some things, like shower space, are regulated under the building code, but there are other things, like shower seat height, that are up to the homeowner or contractor.
If you are planning to build a shower seat and plan to sell your home in a few years, installing one that meets the NKBA's guidelines is a wise choice. If you're not planning to sell soon, then designing a seat that suits you means your showering will be comfortable and perfect for you.
Shower Seat Considerations
If you are building a shower seat, it's easy to incorporate one into the shower design, like a tiled corner chair or a freestanding ledge. You can always buy something like a teak or bamboo bench with a little shelf under it to make the space more comfortable for able-bodied people while providing a spalike feel, and it can be taken with you if you move. Make sure it's not too wide for your shower.
If there are health challenges and balance issues, think about an adjustable medical-assist chair that can be raised or lowered for the person using it, with nonslip arm rests and foot pads to provide extra safety when getting up or sitting down.