The Many Benefits of Barrier-Free Showers

Explore the nuances of and best practices for creating these trending shower spaces
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Sponsored by Infinity Drain
By Jeannette Fitzgerald

Step 4: Select the Grate Style

In conventional shower spaces, including a shower floor with a four-sided pitch, a center-placed drain, and physical barriers at the threshold to keep the water in the wet area, architects do not often spend much time contemplating the drain that will be used. But linear drains offer a heightened aesthetic that can serve as a design element to enhance the overall look and feel of the bathroom.

This varies by manufacturer, but in general, there are four basic categories of decorative top grate styles: wedge wire, perforated, tile insert, and solid.

Wedge-wire grates have a traditional grid aesthetic. They are typically constructed of grade 316 stainless steel, making them the sturdiest of all the decorative grates. This wedge-wire-style grate can have a load rating of up to 2,000 pounds.

Perforated grates are unique in that they are available in several patterns to complement a wide variety of aesthetics. Typically, perforated grates are the least expensive option and may be constructed of grade 304 stainless steel.

Both wedge wire and perforated grates are ideal for barrier-free installations when the drain is positioned along the threshold of the shower enclosure.

There are several styles of grates for linear drains, including wedge wire and perforated in several patterns.

The tile-insert grate is filled with the tiles used in the larger shower floor, which essentially allows the drain to blend in with the rest of the floor surface. The tile insert tray arrives on-site empty, and the tile setter creates a mini tile floor within the tray. In this style, there is a 14-inch gap between the tile frame and the linear drain channel. Tile-insert grates are not recommended for barrier-free installations when positioned along the threshold of the shower because of their lack of grate-free area. Water may skip over the plane of the tile insert grate and over to the dry side of the shower.

The solid grate option features a solid stainless-steel top. The water drains around the edges into the 14-inch gap on all four sides of the channel. This style can also be fabricated in glass. The solid grate option is also not recommended for barrier-free installations where the drain is located along the threshold of the shower.

Best Practices: Start Early, and Put a Linear Drain in the Drawings

When designing a barrier-free shower, perhaps the one aspect that surprises architects the most is how early in the design process the decision must be made. Unlike conventional showers that use curbs or physical barriers to keep the water in place, barrier-free showers depend upon more subtle and design-sensitive measures for water management. The success of the space is related to the height and slope of the waterproofed floors, which may not be something that an architect typically dives into the weeds on. Unfortunately, if the appropriate consideration is not given early on to determine whether the bathroom will be a barrier-free dry/wet room or a barrier-free wet room, decisions will be made about the type of waterproofing that should be used, often by someone other than the architect, and soon the structure of the area will not be well-suited to support a barrier-free space.

Also, while the popularity of barrier-free showers is on the rise, they are by no means considered the default style of shower. This means that any component in the barrier-free shower system that requires something different from a conventional, center-drained, four-way-pitched shower must be clearly addressed, otherwise the construction team will likely install the shower area the way it normally does, which again can be problematic. For example, the waste line is placed where the drain in the shower will eventually be located. If the waste line is installed in the center of the shower, as it commonly is to accommodate the center drain, it will be challenging to install a linear drain flush against the wall or at the threshold of the shower space.

Another important way that designing a barrier-free shower differs from a conventional shower is in the consideration that must be given to the drain. In a conventional shower space, the center drain is often not a detail specified by the architect. In fact, oftentimes the center drain a homeowner ends up standing on while he or she showers was selected by the plumber from the inventory of whatever happened to be on the truck that day. If the intention of the space is to have a barrier-free shower with a linear drain, the architect will need to include the linear drain in the specification.

Lastly, if the intent is to have a barrier-free shower space with a linear drain, it is critical that the intent be captured in the construction drawings. Anecdotally, there have been several instances where an architect loved the look of the linear drain and intended to incorporate it into a shower space, but put the conventional center-drain element in the construction documentation, so the space was built to accommodate a center drain. Unfortunately, swapping a center drain for a linear drain at the last moment is not recommended, as the two elements are not interchangeable.

In short, designing a barrier-free shower, in lieu of the conventional stall, requires more than a change of drain. Best practices have emerged that indicate that architects should consider whether they will be creating a barrier-free shower space early in the design process and then clearly communicate their intent down the channel and in their specification and construction documentation.

Tile-in drains disappear as if they are integrated into the tile (as shown), and a solid top grate provides a contemporary complement to modern shower design.


Barrier-free showers are being incorporated into more and more residences during new construction and renovation projects. This new design solution offers a wide range of benefits—making the shower space easier to use and more hygienic, enabling designers to use large-format tiles to create beautiful spaces that appear bigger, and ultimately delivering an all-around better experience to people of all ages and abilities.

Whether answering a client’s demand for aging-in-place accessibility or simply creating a sophisticated and luxurious interior, delivering a barrier-free shower that operates as expected can be achieved by considering three key elements. They are: a seamless floor surface at the transition points between the dry and wet areas, how the shower floor will be sloped to efficiently evacuate water from the space, and the drain selection.

To create this barrier-free space, architects must fundamentally change the way they approach the design and specification of a shower in a few important ways. The design of the bathroom, and the decision about whether it will be a barrier-free dry/wet area or a barrier-free wet area, needs to be considered much earlier in the design process, as it directly effects the type of waterproofing that should be used and the location of certain plumbing elements.

In addition, architects will need to be involved in the specification of the linear drain system. The channel of the linear drain will need to be compatible with the waterproofing technique used in the bathroom. There are two types of linear drain systems that work with the traditional waterproofing methods: fixed-length linear drains and site-sizable linear drains. The flanged linear drain should be used when modern bonded waterproofing techniques are employed. The universal linear drain is compatible with most mainstream waterproofing methods.

The grate styles in a linear drain system are decorative and can be selected to complement the nuances of the decor. Wider, more “open” grate patterns or styles are recommended when the drain is placed along the threshold in a barrier-free application. Tile-in drains disappear as if they are integrated into the tile, and the solid top grate provides a contemporary complement to modern shower design.

The design of the bathroom is evolving to be a better space for more people. With barrier-free showers, homeowners can experience improved accessibility and a more beautiful space, and architects already have all of the tools they need to deliver these best-of-both-worlds bathrooms.


Infinity Drain Infinity Drain is the leading manufacturer of premium quality decorative and architectural drains. Innovations such as the Site Sizeable™ linear drain are ideal for residential and commercial applications. Proudly made in the USA.


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Originally published in Architectural Record
Originally published in May 2021