HA roundtable: A blueprint for bathroom safety
A blueprint for bathroom safety: how to make bathrooms safe for all generations
The rise in multi-generational living has necessitated a shift in how products are specified. Grandparents will often be living under the same roof as small children, and their needs, particularly from a usability and safety perspective, will differ drastically. This becomes especially pertinent when it comes to the bathroom, one of the most heavily used rooms in the home.
To take a closer look at some of the key issues associated with bathroom safety, Triton Showers teamed up with Housing Association Magazine to host a roundtable on the subject. Victoria Galligan, Editor at Housing Association, reports.
David Tutton (DT) – Managing Director at Triton Showers
Kate Sheehan (KS) – Director and Occupational Therapist at The OT Service
Richard Soper (RS) – Director of Development at the CIPHE
Dennis Evans (DE) – Executive Director of Property at Platform Housing Group
Left: David Tutton, Right: Dennis Evans
Left: Kate Sheehan, Right: Richard Soper
Q. Is the UK feeling the impact of the rise of multi-generational living?
DE: We’re in the middle of a housing crisis, and affordability is a major issue. This means there is an increasing demand for social housing, at a time when the economy is really struggling. I think with the way things are going, there’s going to be significant pressure on existing homes over the next 12 months.
KS: I think that helps to explain something we’ve noticed from an occupational therapist perspective, which is a marked increase in multi-generational living. Part of this is the concern surrounding care homes, and not being able to see loved ones given the current (COVID-19) situation. I think that the pandemic is going to have a big long-term effect, and push this trend even further.
DT: I wonder if the experience of living in bubbles with specific groups of people will drive behavioural change more widely? People may be more open to living with loved ones as they get older, and this combines with the younger generation struggling to get onto the property ladder.
KS: I certainly hope the challenges of the last 12 months gets people thinking, because currently the private rented sector is not geared towards multi-generational living at all. Time and again we come up against a reluctance to make adjustments to a property. It’s something that can happen in social housing too, and we’ve struggled in the past with getting permission to put up grab rails in sheltered accommodation.
DT: Is that a cost issue?
KS: I think that’s certainly a part of it, which is where we need to educate on the true cost of not making reasonable adaptations. Consider, for example, that a hip replacement after a fall costs around £25,000. Never mind the emotional distress, it’s a fallacy not to install easy access fittings from a pricing perspective.
RS: There are some bad landlords out there who only think about the property in terms of the revenue it generates, with little regard for tenants. There are currently 3.6 million households that are fuel poor, and 3 million that are water poor, indicating that across both the private and social sector, properties are not being properly maintained.
KS: This becomes even more apparent when you have elderly occupants living in a home that is not fit for purpose. An important step is to strive for products that are practical, but offer aesthetic value as well. A well-positioned riser bar in a shower doesn’t look like a disability feature – it can actually look really good.
DE: Unfortunately, there are so many products out there that aren’t practical and fit for purpose. At times it can feel like a race to the bottom, particularly when it comes to fittings in the bathroom. There appears to be a disconnect between style and substance.
KS: You’ve hit the nail on the head there, and it’s so avoidable. If you asked someone if they wanted a level-access shower, they’d look at you strangely. However, if you propose a wet room or a walk-in shower, they have these images of a beautiful bathroom at a high-end showroom or a luxury hotel. That wet room ledge can look great, and serve as a seat for grandma or a play surface for young kids. If you design well from the beginning, it will meet most people’s needs.
DT: So why do you think there is this problem with racing to the bottom? Why isn’t there more emphasis on combining practicalities with aesthetics?
DE: I think the industry has lost sight of how we define value for money. It needs to account for customer choice and experience, and not just be a case of cost.
RS: The most effective way to provide a satisfactory experience for customers is to take a whole life approach, which includes proper installation and ongoing maintenance. As we move into a difficult economic period, there is an increased risk that standards may drop, as people seek out the most cost-effective solutions. This is why we have to raise the levels of workmanship across the entire industry.
KS: Your point on maintenance also raises a serious issue with regards to legal obligations. If a hoist or a stair lift is installed in a home, then there is a duty to have this checked once a year. Yet there are more accidents around showering than almost anywhere in the house, so why aren’t there annual checks towards bathrooms?
"The real key to a future-proof bathroom comes down to regulation. We need to be able to weed out bogus tradespeople through stringent regulations, making sure that all ages are cared for." - Richard Soper
Q. How can specifiers meet the changing needs of occupants?
KS: One of the biggest challenges is retrofitting homes that were not built with the future in mind. We need to ensure that right at the beginning of the journey, we are thinking about the entire life of that bathroom, for whoever is going to be using it. Are the fixtures and fittings going to be easy to adapt further down the line?
RS: The real key to a future-proof bathroom comes down to regulation. We need to be able to weed out bogus tradespeople through stringent regulations, making sure that all ages are cared for. At the CIPHE, we’re aiming to put together a compliance health check for plumbing and heating, across both private and rented sectors. As outlined in our manifesto, it will be similar to an MOT and will encourage consumers to have regular inspections of their plumbing and heating systems. The aim is to prevent problems before they occur and ensure systems are working effectively and safely.
DT: It’s a good step, as I think it’s going to be a combination of legislation, informing and educating. Wider society has to have some way of checking and enforcing this.
DE: I think you’re right in that it certainly requires a combination of legislation and education, particularly at those early design stages, to make sure homes are built with future needs in mind. In terms of specifiers meeting changing needs, this is about design and construction. The new affordable homes programme is suggesting that 25% of new homes need modern methods of construction, giving you the ability to have a highly engineered product which is centred around the future maintenance needs.
Modular homes, for example, are ideal because you can slot in a certain type of bathroom, and then easily replace it at a future date. This can be done with minimal disruption to the customer and at a relatively low cost. A lot of the organisations building modular homes are adopting this type of approach to everything, including the products within it. This bodes well for the future, as we will be able to make accessibility and generation driven changes to homes more easily.
KS: How much of the specification process also comes down to perception? Take ‘comfort height toilets’ for example, just the name implies that you have something wrong with you. But the fact is people are getting taller, which is precisely why we need higher toilets, and that becomes an issue when you start to lose mobility.
DT: You’re right, and there are some elements of the specification process that I think need to change to ensure we are getting the most suitable products into homes.
KS: I’d start with how the specification tender is worded. Time and again, we are seeing a particular product specified, followed by ‘or similar’. As soon as an installer sees that, they are going to go and get the same product as they have worked with a million times before, because they know how it works and how to install it. Plus, it’s technically meeting the brief because it’s ‘similar’. We need to educate on the reasons behind why a certain product is specified, so that those actually putting them in place understand the importance.
DT: So how do we change this, is it a matter of legislation?
DE: From a housing association perspective, it’s about standing firm and highlighting to housebuilders, developers, and installers that this is our standard. It cannot be a case of value engineering. It’s also really important to ensure that just because it’s social housing, you aren’t going in with the lowest priced product. That further stigmatises the situation, so you need to be smart with procurement, and not just go for the bottom of the contract range.
DT: Our trade range covers products all the way through different price points, but I have seen that some parts of the industry do have contract ranges that are made up of their cheaper products.
RS: A lot of the time, specifiers are not necessarily looking for the contract product, but the associated price, which is where we have to ramp up education as we’ve already mentioned. We need to get tradespeople thinking about why they are installing certain products, whether it’s across one property or several.
DT: Precisely, but because the person installing the shower isn’t thinking about the end user, we, as manufacturers, have a part to play in putting the message out there.
DE: Agreed. We have to stop confusing cost with value.
Q. Are functionality and style mutually exclusive?
KS: Products in the disability sector tend to be quite expensive, purely because they have that label. This is where it’s prudent to look at mainstream lines, such as Triton, where they offer some really good products that meet the needs of the end-user, and crucially, are aesthetically pleasant.
It is vital to realise properties are not just bricks and mortar, but someone’s home. Putting an adaptation into a bathroom generates this honeymoon period, where the user suddenly feels able to function as they want to, but then after a few months this can give way to apathy if the products are ugly. This can lead to embarrassment and a return to hating their bathroom.
RS: The two places we all spend a lot of time in the home are the bathroom and the kitchen. The bathroom tends to be where we go to be alone, and there’s nothing better than looking around and thinking the tiling is beautiful, or the shower temperature is right. Safety is always a priority, yes, but there has to be style.
Something else which links with this is efficiency. People are having more showers than ever before, often more than once a day, which means we have to make sure wastage is minimised. Showers account for roughly 21% of the bill for water, and yet regulations move far too slowly – the latest in England were brought out in 1999. This puts the onus on manufacturers like Triton to achieve style, functionality, and efficiency.
DT: It’s about both water and energy efficiency to be honest, and this is where electric showering has a potentially key role to play moving forwards.
DE: Returning to the question of ‘is it possible to create a stylish bathroom that is also safe?’ – it’s a resounding and emphatic yes. It’s about us understanding the art of the possible, as opposed to just accepting what has happened historically.
For more information and to view Triton’s Blueprint for Bathroom Safety report, please click here