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A walk-in shower: advantages, requirements, systems

Torben Schröder

Floor-level shower, walk-in shower and flush-to-floor shower – all these terms from the sanitary industry describe the same thing: a step-free shower system that is often found in hotels, swimming pools or saunas. Yet walk-in showers are also becoming increasingly popular in private homes. They not only look chic, but also offer some essential advantages, which we describe here.

View of a small bathroom with a toilet and a walk-in shower.
© Getty Images/iStockphoto

In this article

Advantages of a walk-in shower

The biggest difference between a walk-in shower and a traditional shower is the absence of the typical shower tray. The side of this tray usually measures 30 centimeters from top to bottom. We have already become so accustomed to it that we no longer perceive it as an “obstacle” in a negative way. However, you will notice a particularly positive change when it’s no longer there. In an accessible house, a 30-centimeter-high shower tray is of course an absolute no-no. Below we have put together a brief list of the advantages of a floor-level shower:

  • The whole bathroom looks more spacious.
  • The smooth transition from the normal surface of the bathroom floor to the walk-in shower looks timeless and elegant.
  • Eliminating the bulky shower tray really does give you more space and freedom of movement in the shower.
  • Getting in and out is much more convenient.
  • A floor-level shower is the most important step towards an accessible shower.
  • Walk-in showers are easier to clean.
View of a bathroom with walls and a floor made of large anthracite slabs. A wooden washbasin forms a visual contrast. The walk-in shower visually merges with the whole room.

A big wow factor: the walls and floor are visually merged to such an extent that you nearly don’t notice the walk-in shower.

The sticking point: the construction height of the floor

A walk-in shower requires quite a lot of space under the floor you stand on for elements such as the drain system. In a conventional shower, this lies hidden beneath the floor covering.

To create the necessary space, the floor requires a certain construction height. The construction height includes all the floor layers and elements located in them, for example the screed, insulation, unfinished floor, optional underfloor heating and, of course, the floor covering on top.

Floors in old buildings often have a low construction height, which makes it difficult to retrofit a floor-level shower. In new buildings, on the other hand, this is not usually a problem.

The choice of installation system

There are three different installation systems available for walk-in showers, which we present in more detail below:

Shower tray

In principle, the shower tray of a walk-in shower is similar to that of a conventional shower – except it is much shallower. The materials used are steel enamel and sanitary acrylic. Once it has been fitted in the prefabricated frame, the shower tray almost blends into the surrounding surface. The slope required for water drainage is already installed.

Advantages

  • Can be easily sealed.
  • Can be disassembled quickly in the event of problems with the drain.
  • Very easy to clean.

Disadvantages

  • Difficult to customize because you are limited to the manufacturer’s models in terms of shape, size and color.
  • Unstable and not large enough for a wheelchair to pass over it, which makes it only partially accessible.

Tileable shower element

A tileable shower element – also called a shower board – is a ready-to-install construction consisting of several layers: from a substructure element to a sealing fleece or mineral coating. The great advantage of this option is that you can lay the same bathroom tiles on top as in the rest of the bathroom. This ensures a uniform look throughout, even in the floor-level shower. Manufacturers offer different drainage systems, for example with a centrally positioned point runoff, a lateral gutter or a drain on the wall. The necessary slope is already taken into account in the shower board.

Advantages

  • Individual tiling possible.
  • Completely accessible, as a wheelchair can easily pass over it.
  • Low construction height.
  • Uncomplicated assembly.

Disadvantages

  • If you choose classic tiles with joints, they are difficult to clean and age quite quickly.
  • Tiles are usually slippery. Make sure the tiles are slip-resistant or cover them with a non-slip material afterwards.
View into a beige and green bathroom with a bathtub and walk-in shower.

One of the three possible installation systems for a walk-in shower: a tileable shower element.

Sloping screed with a shower channel

While both a shower tray and a shower board consist of ready-made elements to install, much more care and effort is required if you opt for a sloping screed with an integrated shower channel. A slope of about two percent is needed to drain off the water properly – you will have to calculate the inclination yourself and take it into account when laying the screed. This alternative is only suitable for installation by a specialist company – or by experienced DIY enthusiasts. After all, you don’t want to cause a flood in the shower.

Advantages

  • Great freedom of design.
  • Position of the drain can be freely selected.
  • Accessibility guaranteed.

Disadvantages

  • Laying the underlay with the correct slope is a very tricky manual task.
  • Repair work on the drain is costly, because it’s so difficult to access.

How to make your shower accessible

If you are physically handicapped or you live with physically disabled or elderly people, you should make sure your home is accessible. The bathroom plays a particularly large role in this, as we spend time there several times a day and encounter a number of hurdles.

A floor-level shower is one important prerequisite to allow everyone to use the bathroom with as little discomfort as possible. However, there are a number of other points to consider when planning your future accessible shower area. We explain them here.

Ensuring freedom of movement

Even floor-level showers have standard dimensions and standard designs. However, they can rarely be implemented exactly as they are in every home. You should therefore carefully determine the requirements for converting or building a walk-in shower at an early stage. How large should the shower cubicle be? How much free space should be left in front of the shower so that the user won’t have any trouble moving? Does the shower need to be usable with a walker or a wheelchair?

If it’s difficult to install a floor-level shower, for example because the necessary construction height isn’t available, there are other options. These include creating an extra-low step or even having a large ramp for wheelchair users added to a standard shower tub.

View into an accessible walk-in shower with grab bars and a folding seat.

The ideal solution for physically disabled people: a walk-in shower including grab bars and a folding seat.

Customizing equipment

A flat shower floor will allow a physically disabled person to enter the shower cubicle quite straightforwardly. The first hurdle has been cleared. However, to make sure they can enjoy their morning shower without any difficulty, further measures often need to be taken by adapting various elements to the needs of the disabled. The solutions you opt for and install also depend on the type of disability and the needs of the person concerned.

For wheelchair users, for example, door handles, faucets, storage options and the hand shower should be at a conveniently reachable height. People with a lower degree of disability may like to sit down to save strength – in this case, an extra seat on the wall is a possibility. If able-bodied people also use the shower, a folding seat may be the right choice.

The most important questions and answers about accessible showers

What are the advantages of a walk-in shower? What do I need to pay attention to? What different types are there? We summarize the answers to the most important questions on the subject of this article again below:

What are the advantages of a walk-in shower?

As well as a chic look, a walk-in shower offers other advantages that are primarily functional: it’s easier to get in and out, you have more space when showering, and the bathroom looks larger and more elegant.

What do I need to consider for a walk-in shower in my bathroom?

The construction height is an important factor – i.e. the totality of all the layers and elements of the floor. A walk-in shower requires a fairly large construction height, partly because the drain must be sunk into the floor. Especially in old buildings, the construction height of the floor may be insufficient.

What are the different types of walk-in shower?

There are three common types of walk-in shower, or installation system:

  1. A very shallow shower tray, fitted into a frame.
  2. A tileable shower element – also called a shower board – which consists of several layers that form a complete construction.
  3. A sloping screed with a shower channel, which must be laid by hand.
What are the advantages of the different installation systems for a walk-in shower?

A shower tray is easy to install, seal and clean. In addition, if there are any problems with the drain, it can be quickly disassembled. A shower board only requires a low construction height. The main advantage is the ability to customize the design with tiles of your choice. You can also tile the surface of a sloped screed however you like. The biggest advantage of this option is guaranteed accessibility – even wheelchair users can pass over the installation surface with ease.

How do I make my shower accessible?

As well as having a level floor, other measures may need to be taken such as adjusting the height of shelves and faucets or installing a seat. These will depend on the requirements of the physically disabled person who wants to use the shower.

Conclusion: comfortable, attractive and accessible

In principle, a walk-in shower offers nothing but advantages in relation to a conventional shower. You can get in and out more easily without having to step over the shower tray. This is especially important for physically disabled people. And the smooth transition from bathroom floor to shower floor simply looks good. When installing or converting a walk-in shower, you can choose between a variety of systems with different degrees of complexity. Options range from a shower tray to a shower element.

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