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FEATURE: Equipment trends shaping the accessible bathroom market

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The complete accessible bathroom is bristling with innovative, functional and aesthetic aids and equipment. From adaptable showers and bathing units to specialist lavatories and tiling, equipment suppliers are upping the ante when it comes to bathroom design. AMP’s Carly Hacon takes a look at some of the most exciting trends and products making a splash in today’s market.

Bathrooms are considered to be the most renovated room in a house and with consumers constantly wanting to be on top of trends suppliers continue to battle it out to offer cutting-edge solutions that meet a wide range of parametres. In the past, the use of technology in a bathroom was frowned upon and highly dangerous, but due to the industry’s recent advancements suppliers are offering products with more and more digital elements.

Sound systems, mood lighting and heated seats are set to be top-selling points this year and, as social media sweeps the nation, consumers are not only wanting a functional bathroom but are looking to create an Instagram-worthy space fit for the whole family.

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It is possible to identify a number of key trends driving the accessible bathroom sector forward in 2019. One factor is that alongside the increasing developments of technology in every sector, consumers are wanting more than just a one-purpose functional product. For a start, consumers are expecting more from their bathrooms and suppliers have recognised that a bath needs to offer more than practicality. This includes Access Walk-in Baths, part of the Gainsborough Healthcare Group, which offers a wide range of optional extras with its various bathroom products.

Clare Long, national sales manager of the company, says: “Technology is advancing at a rapid rate and the same is true with our baths. Features such as heated seats, air spa, chromotherapy light systems, Bluetooth sound and shower screens help to personalise each bath and make it just that little bit more special.”

These options can be seen in its range of 12 different bath models with 27 configurations. Every Access bath has an easy-open door with low-level access and slip-resistant surfaces, which have been designed and independently verified to ensure they provide the very highest levels of slip resistance.

Bathing specialist, Companion, also highlights the use of technology in an accessible bathroom with the utilisation of LED lights, wireless sound systems and heated seats across its range, while fellow supplier, Closomat, cites the same trend and has developed technology through its range of assistive bathroom products. The Closomat range of shower toilets provides hands-free toileting which enables users to keep their independence and dignity preserved. Its models also help carers in regards to preventing manual handling issues and risk of cross-contamination.

Robin Tuffley, marketing manager of Closomat, says: “We’re all more used to using gizmos and gadgets. Our latest evolution, the just-launched Asana, demonstrates that: it features remote control operation as standard, you can choose a raft of wash settings, and we’ve even got a choice of flush mechanisms including a ‘hands-free’ version.”

Mobility provider Companion claims that its walk-in showers are most popular with customers as far as its offering is concerned. David Harrison, sales and marketing director at Companion, says: “Walk-in showers are undoubtedly the most popular products, which led to the launch earlier this year of our Showerpod, a quick-to-fit single unit that makes the process of bathroom adaptations much less disruptive and in many cases more affordable.” The model claims to be easy to look after as its self-contained leak-proof unit needs no tiling, grouting or sealant.

Meanwhile, Impey Wetrooms, which is well-known for its wetroom floor formers, hails the creation of its Level-Dec EasyFit. The popular model is able to withstand up to 300kg (47 stone) and has been fitted in over 250,000 installations, to create level-access showering facilities across residential and healthcare settings. “For those projects where level access is not achievable, we offer a leading selection of low-level accessible shower trays including our ‘Mantis’ tray which, with a step height of just 24mm,” explains Chris Kingaby, group product director at Impey.

The slip-resistant surface of the Mantis is classified to DIN B (51097) ensuring a safe grip when showering and as it is available in 12 sizes, it aims to be ideal for most shower room situations, with no need for wheelchair ramps.

When it comes to pinpointing the most important pieces in an accessible bathroom, every company will have its own idea of what products are mobility must-haves. Whether it’s a bath, shower, toilet, hoist or everything in between, Companion believes pieces of equipment which give the user confidence and independence are key.

Harrison says: “Our teams are working on over 100 bathroom adaptations every month, replacing traditional baths with accessible walk-in showers, seats and grab rails. Functionality and practicality are still the priorities for many of our customers.” Kingaby from Impey agrees, noting that it is keen to ensure that its accessible showering spaces allow users to feel “safe, supported and able” when washing.

He says: “Within an accessible shower room, every piece of accessible showering equipment can be individually important; from the level-access floor former, to the strategically-placed grab rail in the shower space.”
Step-free shower access is one of the most valuable benefits offered by a wet room; allowing complete showering freedom to many individuals who would struggle to use a conventional bathroom due to mobility difficulties.

Long believes that the focal point of any bathroom is the bath itself. She says that identifying the correct bath based around the needs of the bather are paramount and it is important to spend time talking with customers about their individual needs and preferences.

Long remarks: “Maximising floor space in an accessible bathroom is vital. Bathers who have restricted mobility or age-related complications commonly need more space to manoeuvre mobility equipment and to get in and out of the bath. What used to be a simple ‘step in and out’ process may now be a significant challenge. By having a wide range of accessible baths available to distributors, we ensure fitters and end-users can select a solution that perfectly fits individual bathing needs and bathroom configurations.”

Tuffley, meanwhile, argues that a toilet, as the most used piece of bathroom equipment, is also the most important aspect of an accessible bathroom. “We ‘go’ on average eight times a day so it’s certainly used more than any other fixture. It is also the most frequently adapted fitting under a home adaptation, whether it’s raising the height or changing the seat on a conventional loo, to changing the traditional WC for a shower toilet.”

It is becoming increasingly important for a supplier to offer more than just functional products as consumers desire safe and stylish equipment as well. Bathroom specialists are seeing demand move away from plain, medicalised finishes and have witnessed a desire for more adventurous designs.

Defying the stereotype that accessible bathrooms have to be visually bland and consist of an all-white colour scheme, Pressalit offers its products in a wide range of colours. The company is a firm believer that colours can not only give an accessible bathroom a personal touch, but the use of contrasting shades can stand as a visual aid for the elderly and visually impaired.

Lowndes says: “Bright colours, for example, play an important part in our range of shower seats and support arms and are ideal for younger users, or indeed those who are visually impaired. Our products are all aesthetically designed, enabling the bathroom to meet the user’s needs as well as feeling safe and at ease. We firmly believe that the best furniture and aids for the bathroom must integrate into the surroundings, be functional, durable and beautifully designed.”

Although fashions and trends are constantly evolving, Long from Access Walk-In Baths believes that accessible bathroom designs have to become sleeker and more stylish than ever before. Consumers have come to realise that highly functional, accessible shower rooms do not need to look institutional. With the right planning and design choices, it is possible to have a beautiful bathroom that exceeds accessibility requirements.
Impey, which works with homeowners, carers and occupational therapists to create stylish and accessible wet room products, believes consumers no longer have to compromise on style to meet requirements for independent living.

“Simple design swaps like opting for a modern stainless-steel grab rail instead of a typical white plastic one or, fitting a modern brushed-steel drainage grate instead of a standard white one – can make a surprising visual difference,” states Kingaby.

Value for money primary concern

Harrison disagrees with the current status quo and insists that performance and value for money are Companion’s main concern. He says: “Although there has been some debate about the importance of providing more attractive mobility products, in the accessible bathroom sector our experience is that people prioritise functionality and price over styling. However, we believe that in order to persuade more people to make changes to their homes before they are deemed necessary, a greater choice of products and features is important.”

When considering the future of the accessible bathroom industry, it is almost certain that the market will see a surge in demand over the coming years, mainly due to the increasingly ageing population. This will inevitably continue to drive sales of assistive bathroom equipment.

Research indicates the bathroom market, in general, is set to increase at over 10% by 2021, according to Closomat. It claims the impact of Disabled Facilities Grants (DFGs), which are set to be valued at £500m by 2019/20 on the accessible bathroom front, will further boost significant demand in inclusive bathroom products that are practical and easy to use. The additional funding for the DFG will result in increased demand for home adaptations including bathrooms for those companies working with local authorities in this area.

Demand is rising

Alongside society’s ageing population, there is a growing desire to keep people living at home for as long as possible. From the introduction of Changing Places facilities in public buildings to businesses looking to provide excellent facilities for staff and visitors, companies serving the industry should expect a consistent rise in demand for their products and services.

“Demand for accessible bathrooms is rising and as an industry we need to be ready to meet it. The bathroom is such an important room for accessible products, it’s an area where demand is only going to increase,” says Lowndes.

With more and more homeowners keen to plan for the future or create a space that is usable for all members of the family, the choice to install versatile and adaptable equipment is becoming increasingly popular.
A past concern for homeowners was the potential of decreasing the desirability or value of a property by implementing assistive installations. However, according to estate agents, a modern wetroom can actually add value and appeal to a home when it is listed for sale, says Kingaby.

Going into 2019, the market is expected to be shaped by functionality over aesthetics, but suppliers cannot deny that the way that a product looks is becoming ever more important. For consumers, equipment must not only be safe and secure but must also be pleasing to the eye and offer more than it says on the tin.

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Joe Peskett

The author Joe Peskett

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