When the moment arrives for you to talk to your customers about a new toilet, my guess is that you don’t start to giggle. As a plumbing contractor, you’re much more likely to enjoy talking to your customers about the features and benefits of different models.

That’s why I genuinely was surprised when a roomful of kitchen-and-bath designers reacted with embarrassed laughter when a speaker mentioned the “toilet conversation” during a recent workshop on universal design. Many designers apparently dread talking to their clients - especially when they’re older - about that rather important part of a bathroom remodeling project.

Part of the discomfort has to do with bodily functions, but another part has to do with hygiene. The speaker described the conversation from a homeowner’s perspective: “How can I tell this stranger that I want my wife (or my husband) to have better hygiene?”

The speaker was designer and author Ellen Cheever, who added, “You will get sales if you engage in this discussion.”

Talk about toilets and hygiene leads to a bigger subject. People who want to stay in their homes as they age want to do so with dignity.

“People don’t want to buy the idea of ‘growing old’ - whether in place or in another place,” Cheever said. “What they want to do is buy security that they will be independent and enjoy their lifestyle as their physical beings change.”

Many of us can relate to the fact that we can’t do as much as we once did. As they apply to using bath-and-kitchen products, these changes include diminished coordination, eyesight and dexterity.

Plumbing contractors and designers can make it easier for older homeowners with the spaces they design and the products they install. One great example from the workshop is a wall-hung toilet in a powder room.

Given the smaller dimensions of a powder room, the wall-hung toilet can free up the space occupied by a tank on a standard model. This extra space gains added importance if the older user needs a care-giver to accompany him or her into the room.

Another benefit of wall-hung models comes with the ease of cleaning under and around them. Dual-flush controls mounted at an appropriate height on the wall would make the set-up even better, Cheever said.

Besides toilets, other products can make it easier for homeowners to age gracefully. Faucets, for example, should feature controls that can be operated with a closed fist. The hot and cold labels should be easy to read and consistent on all faucets throughout the house.

The same maneuverability and consistency apply to controls in the different showers and bathtubs in a house. Showers must be equipped with anti-scald thermostatic mixing valves, and a hand-held showerhead on a glide bar should be installed as well.

Tubs and showers should be easy to get into and out of, with falls being the No. 1 cause of injuries for older people. Sunken tubs should be avoided, although I haven’t seen many of these in recently remodeled bathrooms.

Grab bars are increasing in popularity in shower and tub areas but also near the toilet. Plumbing contractor Gary Phillips, whose companies are featured in an August feature story here, encourages his remodeling customers to install the behind-the-wall hardware for grab bars even if they don’t feel the need for them now.

A final word of advice from Cheever’s workshop presentation is to focus on renovation and not new construction. That’s good advice for you, too. Remember that the toilet conversation can lead to other business opportunities.

Links