Crash Course in Accessible Commercial Restrooms

We’ve all most likely heard the word ‘Accessibility’ or ‘ADA’ regarding commercial properties well it’s time to layout a few principles so that you can quickly improve your knowledge in the subject.  Honestly, it’s an important subject and can take a lot longer than I can write in this article to explain all the principals behind creating accessible spaces.  Well…rather than tackling the whole field I’m going to tackle a simple 1 person restroom to point out a few of the basics.

Many times I get the question “Does my restroom have to be accessible?” or “Do all restrooms in my office need to be ADA?”  Well there is one case where you don’t need an ADA restroom but I’ll get to that later in this article.  First I’m going to run through a few of the basic principals I use to help determine if an existing (single user) restroom is accessible:

  1. Door Clearance:  The entry door to a restroom needs to have the allowable floor clearance on both sides of the door.  This clearance can not overlap the floor clearances required by other fixtures.  Generally floor clearances are established based on how you approach a door.  If the door swings it may for a reason as that is a signal for me that the interior of the restroom is not big enough for it to swing into the restroom.  It’s best to look at the code regarding door clearances for the actual required area each side of the door that needs to remain clear as the size varies depending on how you approach the door. (Note that the door itself must have at least 32″ interior clearance….It takes a 36″ door to achieve 32″ interior clearance)
  2. Fixture Clearances:  Generally a fixture such as a sink, paper towel dispenser, automatic dryer or urinal require a 30″x48″ floor clearance in front of the fixture.  In the case of a lavatory this would be centered on the sink itself and the centerline of the sink must be at least 15″ clear of any wall.  Additionally a sink can not be in the clear floor area required for an accessible toilet.
  3. Accessible Toilet Clearances:  A toilet needs to be mounted 16″ to 18″ from the wall.  and provide a 5’x5′ clear floor area under most circumstances.  The lavatory (sink) can not be within this area.   This is an easy catch when it comes to many restroom as many times in older properties there just isn’t enough distance and the sink will encroach into the space required for the toilet.
  4. Grab Bars:  Every restroom is required to have an accessible toilet and that toilet will need to have grab bars.  Generally there are (3) common bars required.  One on the rear wall, the side wall and a vertical bar also on the side wall.  Look for the vertical!  If it’s not installed, it’s a good indication that you are in an older restroom that could have other items as well.
  5. Lavatory (Sinks):  Is the counter at the sink open underneath.  An accessible sink will have be open underneath to allow a wheel chair to roll up to the sink.  If you see doors and a cabinet underneath that is not a ‘break away’ or ‘removable’ cabinet than you have a sink that is not accessible.  There are a defined set of dimensions regarding sink clearances but generally you want to make sure that your sink is 2′-10″ above the finish floor and has at least 29″ of floor clearance beneath it.   Also take a quick look at the plumbing as there should be an insulated cover to protecting the pipes.
  6. Other items to look for are the pressure it takes to open the door, closing speed of the door, height of a all coat hooks no greater than 48″ aff. (above finish floor) as well as the time it takes for the automatic faucet to turn off.  Should stay on for a required length of time that is greater than a few seconds.

Well those are a few items regarding single user restrooms.  It get’s a bit more complex when you start looking at larger commercial restroom serving more than one person.  It’s easier to start small and understand the basic principals regarding accessible items prior to looking at larger restrooms but overall the same principals will apply.

How to Fix an Accessible Commercial Restroom?

Fixing your accessible commercial restroom depends on the severity of your issues.  Obviously installing a grab bar is easier than moving the toilet.  Most of the times I get called on to a job it requires a whole lot more.  It’s important for building owners and tenants to understand that when it comes to Accessibility just (1) one inch can make the difference between being compliant or not.  You either meet the dimensions required or you don’t.

I’ve torn out an entire restroom to make an accessible stall the required width.  In most of these ‘remodel’ situations there are few ways to expand the restroom.  Quite simply,  I get put into having to make a compliant restroom without the luxury of being able to greatly increase the space. It can be accomplished by moving plumbing fixtures around and sometimes requires getting really creative on rearranging the room.

Keep in mind that tile finishes are the reasons that a restroom becomes non-compliant.  You may install the walls in a restroom with the right clearances, but mindful that thicker tile or the backing for tile can increase the wall thickness and reduce the restroom space.

So what room doesn’t have to be accessible?

It’s good to make all restrooms in a commercial setting accessible, but if you are adding a restroom to your own private ‘executive’ style office. You don’t have to be concerned about making this particular room accessible.  In this instance, it’s for ‘private’ and not ‘public’ use.

Overall, if you are building a commercial property make all restrooms accessible.  If you are making alterations to existing buildings than it’s a good practice and many times required to bring your facility up to current accessible standards.  This is not always an easy task, and the design professionals at Architectural Civil Group (ACG Design) can assist you in establishing your ADA needs as well as creating the permit drawings for both your restroom and overall tenant improvement plan.  ADA issues can extend all the way to your parking situation.   So even though you are moving into a tenant space it’s important to look at how your customers will park and access your facility.  Again the PRO’s at ACG are happy to help or at the very least field a few questions you may have regarding your project.


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