PROJECT HIGHLIGHT: The difficulty of retrofitting accessible bathrooms

June 13th, 2023

Accessibility is hard to retrofit.

A recent HfH project highlights the difficulties we continue to face on projects of retrofitting accessibility in houses, particularly bathrooms.


Project Photos - Existing shower (LHS) vs. New accessible bathroom (RHS)

Project Photos – Existing shower (LHS) vs. New accessible bathroom (RHS)


What the project found

As seen in the project photos, the existing narrow shower recess is inadequate for a person with impaired functionality. In particular, trying to use a shower chair to wash regularly would be extremely difficult, hence the tenant’s innovative extended hand-held shower and grab rail.

The demolition of this particular bathroom further exposed some worrying findings in the underlying bathroom floor structure, including a lack of metal reinforcing mesh in the concrete. This meant the floor had to be completely removed and new piers, bearers, and joists installed.


The New Bathroom – Design & Specification

Wet areas, including bathrooms, toilets, and laundries, should be designed to suit the needs of the residents and local climatic conditions.

The high proportion of houses containing residents that are frail aged or have a disability has increased since 2006 to 23% (Refer to The Guide). This highlights the need to consider issues of accessibility throughout the design and specification of all bathrooms and houses in general.

This project was able to engage an Occupational Therapist, built environment professionals, and trades to ensure the appropriate design and specifications of the new wet area. The new design made sure the bathroom was appropriate for the tenant with their current limitations, and a consideration of future decline and accessibility concerns.



The Guide provides details regarding wet area design, specifications, and standards in which bathroom design should consider.

Further accessibility information can be found in the National Construction Code (NCC), AS 1428.1, and Liveable Housing Design Guidelines.