When it comes to home safety for seniors, few places are as important as the bathroom.
The bathroom is where many falls and accidents happen for older adults. But fortunately, there are many easy ways to reduce this fall risk.
Grab bars are an option that provides secure places for seniors to hold onto while navigating dangerous bathroom surfaces.
But, even the best grab bars for seniors and the elderly won’t help if you don’t take the time to install them correctly.
So here are some of the safest and best fasteners for installing grab bars, plus a few helpful tips on choosing the right one for your needs.
Best Fasteners for Installing Grab Bars
First and foremost, grab bars should be permanently attached through the wall and directly to the studs. This attachment will always create the strongest installation.
If the grab bar came with its own hardware and fasteners, use those if possible since the manufacturer included them to secure the grab bar properly.
Fasteners for Wall Studs
A few different types of fasteners are used to install grab bars. The most common fasteners for attaching a grab bar directly to studs are screws and bolts.
Screws are the most common type of fastener and are perfect for installing wall-mounted and overhead grab bars. They are also the easiest to use.
All you need to do is drill through the wall and into the stud. Then attach the bar with the screws.
My research shows that most grab bar installers prefer to use #12 stainless steel sheet metal screws. This size screw has a thicker diameter and will form a strong connection.
Just make sure the thicker screw will fit into the predrilled holes of the grab bar mounting brackets.
If the installation requires a machine-type screw (flat on the end), professional installers recommend using 10-24 or 1/4-20 sizes.
Another option is a 2-1/2 inch long “pan head” screw, according to Lowes.com. This screw has a wider head, so the grab bar is less likely to pull off the wall over the screw head.
All screws should be at least 2-1/2 inches long or 3 inches long for thicker wall surfaces.
While screws are more common, some installations may need a bolt instead. Bolts are just thicker screws that sometimes have washers and nuts on their end.
However, to use a bolt with a washer and nut, you need access to the backside of the wall, which is unlikely if you are installing the grab bar in an existing bathroom.
Another option would be to use a lag bolt that has a pointed tip like a screw but is thicker and has larger threads. A lag bolt will provide superior holding power compared to a screw of the same size.
Choose a stainless steel option since it will come into contact with water. The most common size for installing grab bars is a 3/8 in. by 3 in long with a hex head.
Anchors and Fasteners When a Wall Stud Isn’t Available
If a wall stud isn’t available, you can use anchors to install grab bars. The only safe methods, however, are to use one of two variations of toggle bolts.
Do not use drywall anchors. They are not strong enough to support the weight of a human being – especially in an emergency.
Toggle bolts have a special nut on their end with spring-loaded wings called, appropriately enough, a spring wing anchor or toggle nut. You drill a large enough hole to fit the toggle nut with the wings folded back.
Once you have inserted it into the hole far enough, the wings pop open and lay flat against the back side of the wall. The opening of the wings creates a force on the back side of the wall, which creates a firm brace for support.
If you are using standard toggle bolts from your local hardware store or home center, Phil at yourdallashandyman.com recommends using 3/16 inch bolts because they can each support 100 lbs, and you can use multiple bolts on each side (one per hole).
Many professional installers recommend using the Toggler Brand Snaptogglers because they are stronger than standard toggle bolts and don’t require drilling large holes through your wall or shower. They commonly use these on drywall, tile, and concrete block walls.
Joey Bolohan, a professional grab bar installer at OC Grab Bars, uses two 3/16″ toggles on each side of the grab bar. He does state that it is best to attach one end to a stud when possible.
Tips for Choosing the Right Fastener for Your Needs
When choosing the right fastener for installing grab bars in the bathroom, here are some quick tips to ensure the best outcome for you and your loved one.
- Make sure the walls are structurally sound and can support the users’ weight.
- Always screw directly into the studs, even if it’s only possible for one side of the bar.
- Choose screws that will fit through the holes in the brackets.
- For screws, predrill holes into the wall that are smaller than the screws you will be using.
- Choose anchors that will support the weight of the person using them.
- For anchors, predrill holes into the wall that are the size indicated on the package’s instructions.
- Use screws or anchors that are corrosion resistant.
- Seal the holes and brackets with a waterproof silicone sealant.
You only have a few options when looking for the best fasteners for installing grab bars.
Screws that came with the grab bar and are installed directly into wall studs are always the best option. The next best option is properly sized screws purchased separately that are also screwed directly into studs.
Finally, using the correct wall anchors is an acceptable substitute if wall studs are not an option. The pro installers recommend Snap Toggles because they are easier to use and more robust than standard toggle bolts.
The final option is toggle bolts of sufficient size and weight capacity to support the person’s weight using the grab bars.
Following these tips, you can install a safe and secure grab bar in no time.
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