Single Use Toilet Rooms
by Jennifer Perry
Single Use Toilet Rooms – sometimes referred to as Unisex Toilet Rooms – are scoped in the Revised ADA/ABA Accessibility Guidelines in Section 213.2 and also in the International Building Code (2006 IBC – Section 1109.2.1).
The IBC requires the installation of a unisex toilet room in assembly and mercantile occupancies where an aggregate of six or more male and female water closets is required. The unisex toilet room is provided in addition to the other accessible toilet rooms provided. The Revised ADA/ABA Accessibility Guidelines and ADAAG will permit the use of a unisex toilet room in alterations where it is technically infeasible to alter existing toilet rooms to be accessible. Keep in mind that ADAAG, the Revised ADA/ABA Accessibility Guidelines and the IBC require access to toilet/bathing facilities (and fixtures) where they are provided. Access is required to all toilet rooms and bathrooms provided for public or common use. “Common use” includes those serving a defined or restricted group of occupants (e.g., employees, students). Where toilet or bathrooms individually serve multiple public or common use spaces of the same type required to be accessible (e.g., patient exam rooms), then access is required to each toilet or bathroom. The plumbing code typically determines how many fixtures must be provided within toilet rooms.
Single-use toilet rooms benefit people who use attendants and are a good consideration in occupancies with high traffic, such as shopping centers and airport terminals, hence the requirement in the IBC for the installation of unisex toilet rooms in Assembly and Mercantile occupancies when an aggregate of six or more male and female water closets is required. Accessible unisex restrooms cannot be used as a substitute for accessible multi-user restrooms (except in alterations where making existing restrooms fully accessible is not technically feasible).
There is an Exception in ADAAG, the Revised ADA/ABA Accessibility Guidelines and the IBC for Toilet rooms designed for use by a single occupant of a specific space, which allows the toilet room to be designed to be “adaptable” so that accessible elements can be installed when needed after construction. This allows structural reinforcement or blocking for later installation of grab bars and removable base cabinetry below lavatories. It is not intended to include moving walls, relocating plumbing, replacing fixtures, widening door frames, or other work more appropriately addressed in design and construction. Rooms need to be designed to provide required clear floor space at fixtures, turning space, and door clearance.
Where portable single-user toilet or bathing units are provided at exterior sites, at least 5%, but no less than one, must be accessible at each location. (This does not apply to units used only by construction personnel at construction sites). Portable units are subject to the same technical criteria applicable to permanent facilities.
While none of the federal guidelines or model codes specify room dimensions for single-use toilet rooms, key considerations include the configuration of water closets and lavatories, clear floor spaces required at fixtures, turning space, the location and swing of doors, and maneuvering space at doors. An important consideration is whether or not space for side transfers is provided. Doors can swing into the turning space but not the clear floor space required at fixtures. A key difference between ADAAG and the Revised ADA/ABA Accessibility Guidelines and ANSI A117.1 is the clearance required at the water closet. While ADAAG will allow a lavatory to encroach on the clear floor space required at the water closet, the Revised ADA/ABA Accessibility Guidelines and ANSI A117.1 – 2003 require that a minimum of 56 inches X 60 inches of clearance is provided at the water closet and no other fixtures can encroach on this clear floor space. Another key difference between ADAAG and ANSI A117.1 is the requirement for a vertical grab bar at the water closet – explained in more detail below.
Below are some of the key design features for unisex/single use toilet rooms:
Maneuvering Clearance at Toilet Room Door
The door leading into a single use toilet room must comply with the maneuvering clearance requirements found in ADAAG 4.13.6. The maneuvering clearance requirements applicable in ADAAG are the same in ANSI A117.1 and the Revised ADA/ABA Accessibility Guidelines.
Turning Space & Door Swing
All 3 standards (ADAAG, the Revised ADA/ABA Accessibility Guidelines and ANSI A117.1) require that a turning space is provided within the room (either a 60 inch turning diameter or a T-Shaped wheelchair turning space). The clear floor spaces, clearance at fixtures and turning spaces are permitted to overlap. Per ANSI A117.1 603.2.3 and the Revised ADA/ABA Accessibility Guidelines Exception 2, when the toilet room is for individual use and a clear floor space of 30 inches X 48 inches minimum is provided within the room beyond the arc of the door swing, the door can swing into the clear floor space for a fixture.
*Note that ADAAG and ANSI A117.1 have allowances for different fixture heights when used primarily by children*
Clear Floor Space: ADAAG 4.16.2 requires that the clear floor space for water closets not in stalls must comply with Figure 28 (below). As stated above however, ANSI A117.1 and the Revised ADA/ABA Accessibility Guidelines require that a minimum of 56 inches X 60 inches of clear floor space must be provided at the water closet. This difference is illustrated in the two figures below.
The first two layouts above do not comply with clearance requirements at water closets in jurisdictions that reference ANSI A117.1. These layouts do not comply with the Revised ADA/ABA Accessibility Guidelines either. See below.
Revised ADA/ABA Accessibility Guidelines/ANSI A117.1 2003 604.3
The additional clearance at the water closet provides the space necessary for someone to perform a side transfer to the water closet as illustrated below:
Centerline of the Water Closet: While water closets are required to be 16 to 18 inches from the adjacent/parallel wall in ANSI A117.1 and the Revised ADA/ABA Accessibility Guidelines (Sections 604.2) ADAAG stipulates that the centerline shall be 18 inches from the side wall (ADAAG 4.16.2 and Figure 28)
Seat Height: The height of water closets shall be 17 inches to 19 inches measured to the top of the toilet seat (ADAAG 4.16.3, ANSI A117.1 & Revised ADA/ABA Accessibility Guidelines Section 604.4.
Grab bar requirements are found in Section 604.5 in both 2003 ICC/ANSI A117.1 and The Revised ADA/ABA Accessibility Guidelines and 4.16.4 in ADAAG. There are two areas in which grab bars will need to be provided; the rear wall (behind the water closet) and the side wall (closest to the water closet). While we will discuss each location’s specific requirements we must make certain that under both circumstances the distance between the grab bars and the wall is 1 ½ inches and the diameter for circular grab bars is between 1 ¼ inches to 2 inches. This is required to ensure that the arm of a wheelchair user does not slip into a larger gap during the transfer. Also, keep in mind that non circular grab bars are permitted. They have to have a 2 inch cross section dimension and 4.8 inch maximum perimeter. Note that there is an exception in the IBC, ADAAG and the Revised ADA/ABA Accessibility Guidelines for grab bars not to be installed in a toilet room for a single occupant accessed only through a private office and not for common use or public use, provided that reinforcement has been installed in walls and located so as to permit the installation of grab bars.
Rear wall grab bars: Grab bars behind the water closet must be 36 inches in length. There must be a minimum of 12 inches between the wall and the centerline of water closet and an additional 24 inches minimum between centerline and transfer side of water closet. In instances where the lavatory or other fixtures are required to be recessed so that the necessary clear floor space for the water closet can be achieved, the rear grab bar is permitted to be 24 inches in length. (ANSI A117.1 & Revised ADA/ABA Accessibility Guidelines Section 604.5.2, ADAAG 4.16.4)
Fixed side wall grab bars: ADAAG 4.16.4, Section 604.5.1 of ANSI A117.1 and the Revised ADA/ABA Accessibility Guidelines require that a 42 inch long parallel grab bar must be located 12 inches maximum from the rear wall and extend 54 inches minimum from rear wall. ANSI A117.1 Section 604.5.1 requires a vertical grab bar as well (this requirement is not found in ADAAG or 2004 ADAAG).This vertical grab bar 18 inches minimum in length must be provided with the leading bottom edge between 39 inches and 41 inches above the floor and with the center line located between 39 inches and 41 inches from the rear wall.
Flush Controls: ADAAG 4.16.5, ANSI A117.1 and the Revised ADA/ABA Accessibility Guidelines all require that flush controls shall be hand operated or automatic and shall be mounted on the wide side of toilet areas. ADAAG states that flush controls shall be no more than 44 in (1120 mm) above the floor. ANSI A117.1 and the Revised ADA/ABA Accessibility Guidelines require that flush controls are mounted within accessible reach ranges outlined in Section 308 of ANSI A117.1 and the Revised ADA/ABA Accessibility Guidelines.
Toilet Paper Dispensers: The requirements for a toilet paper dispenser can easily be overlooked and are often a last minute add-in when designing a unisex toilet room. However, special care should be taken to ensure that toilet paper dispensers are located properly to prevent the need for relocation after an incorrect installation has occurred. This can be costly and time consuming especially on projects of large magnitude.
Per ANSI A117.1 and the Revised ADA/ABA Accessibility Guidelines (Sections 604.7) toilet paper dispensers are required to be centered 7 to 9 inches in front of the water closet and 15 to 48 inches above the floor. Also, they must not be located closer to 1 ½ inches below the parallel grab bar or 12 inches above. If this requirement is not met the toilet paper dispenser will interfere with the functionality and will require relocation. ADAAG 4.16.6 states that toilet paper dispensers shall be installed within reach, as shown in Fig. 29(b). Dispensers that control delivery, or that do not permit continuous paper flow, shall not be used.
An accessible lavatory shall be provided within a single use toilet room. ADAAG 4.19 provides the scoping for accessible lavatories and The Revised ADA/ABA Accessibility Guidelines and ANSI A117.1 scope lavatories in Section 606. ADAAG requires knee clearance of at least 29 inches to the bottom of the apron, while the Revised ADA/ABA Accessibility Guidelines and ANSI A117.1 require that the knee/toe clearance complies with Section 306 of the Revised ADA/ABA Accessibility Guidelines and ANSI A117.1. See knee clearance figure below detailing compliance with Section 306.
As you can see, ANSI A117.1 and the Revised ADA/ABA Accessibility Guidelines require minimum of 27 inches of knee clearance with a maximum lavatory height of 34”.
Under all 3 standards, lavatories shall be mounted with the rim or counter surface no higher than 34 in above the finish floor.
*Note that there are exceptions for lavatory heights used primarily by children in all 3 standards*
All three standards will also require that a clear floor space 30 inches minimum X 48 inches minimum shall be provided in front of a lavatory to allow forward approach. Such clear floor space shall adjoin or overlap an accessible route. Additionally, hot water and drain pipes under lavatories shall be insulated or otherwise configured to protect against contact. There shall be no sharp or abrasive surfaces under lavatories.
Faucets are scoped in ADAAG 4.19.5 and shall not require any tight grasping, pinching or twisting of the wrist to operate. Hand-operated metering faucets are required to remain open for a minimum of 10 seconds per ANSI A117.1 and the Revised ADA/ABA Accessibility Guidelines (Section 606.4).
In all 3 aforementioned standards, mirrors are required to be installed with the bottom edge of the reflecting surface to be no mounted no higher than 40 inches maximum above the finished floor or ground. ANSI A117.1 and The Revised ADA/ABA Accessibility Guidelines (Section 603.3) states that mirrors that are not located above lavatories or countertops shall be installed with the bottom edge of the reflecting surface to be to be mounted no higher than 35 inches above the finished floor or ground surface.
Coat Hooks & Shelves
Per ANSI A117.1 and the Revised ADA/ABA Accessibility Guidelines Section 603.4, if coat hooks or shelves are provided within a toilet room, coat hooks shall be located within accessible reaches (15 inches minimum and 48 inches maximum above finish floor). Shelves shall be 40 inches minimum and 48 inches maximum above the floor.
Toilet Room Signage
ADAAG 4.30.6 requires that signs be centered at 60” above the finished floor or ground surface. The Revised ADA/ABA Accessibility Guidelines Section 703.4.1 and ANSI A117.1 703.3.10 require that tactile characters on signs shall be located 48 inches minimum above the finish floor or ground surface, measured from the baseline of the lowest tactile character and 60 inches maximum above the finish floor or ground surface, measured from the baseline of the highest tactile character.
All 3 standards require that signage is placed on the wall adjacent to the latch side of the door, where wall space permits this installation. See the figure below from the Revised ADA/ABA Accessibility Guidelines 703.4.1 for clarification: