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Most public restrooms that I've used (in the US) place the paper holder very low, with the bottom of the roll (where you can grab the paper) below knee level when seated. This is not true in the stalls outfitted for wheelchair access, where the roll is higher. Fixtures in private homes also seem to generally be at least a foot higher than these low-hanging ones.

Whom does the low placement serve? One generally has to lean forward to reach (especially since fixtures in public restrooms tend to be enclosed, not just a roll hanging on the wall), and it doesn't seem that it's a convenient height for anybody who is old enough to use the facility unassisted. This is a change I have observed over the last 15-20 years (it wasn't always this way), making me wonder what's driving it. Is there some use case or design trend I'm unaware of?

photo

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At the risk of TMI, this question was prompted by a work restroom where leaning forward triggers the auto-flush. Whoops, so much for our efforts toward being green! –  Monica Cellio Oct 8 '13 at 18:08
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At least it isn't one of those ones with the HUGE rolls where you have to awkwardly reach your hand inside from underneath (coincidentally, these are almost always placed too low as well, making it extra awkward to get at the toilet paper). –  cimmanon Oct 8 '13 at 20:36
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Looking at the photo, I see one possible reason for mounting the holder so low: the toilet paper is now accessible from the adjacent stall. –  user36304 Oct 14 '13 at 14:51
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I just tried an experiment (because hey, I'm wearing jeans and a t-shirt today, and I was alone, and for science!), and from inside one stall, in order to reach the paper in the next one over, I had to lie on the floor and reach through and up. –  Monica Cellio Oct 14 '13 at 21:09
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They sacrifice the roll height for placing the top at the most convenient height for placing your smart phone on it :) –  Itumac Oct 14 '13 at 21:12
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5 Answers 5

Here's what I think happened. Builders read the Americans with Disabilities Act which says that paper dispensers must be between 18 and 48 inches from the floor. For accessible toilets which have a grab-bar, this means the paper dispenser has to be either below or above the bar -- i.e. either a knee level or quite high up. So they don't have to have two sets of standards for toilets with and without grab-bars (accessible and non-accessible), builders simply adopted the policy that toilet tissue dispensers will be installed low down.

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Interesting -- I never thought about interactions with grab-bars. –  Monica Cellio Oct 13 '13 at 2:04
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Highly depends on the model of holder you are talking about, but the staff usually need to be able to reach into the top of the container to switch rolls. The top of it needs to be below average eye-level.

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Oh, good point. In this case the holder holds two normal-sized rolls (one above the other), so it's still pretty low. But you're right that others are much bigger. (Photo pending.) –  Monica Cellio Oct 8 '13 at 18:42
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Not sure if this is the reasoning behind it but if you have a shorter distance between the floor and the roll it makes it less likely that the roll will unroll itself entirely due to gravity.

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Another thought is that with the dispenser so low, it becomes more impractical to use excessive amounts of paper for a single wipe.

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According to the ADA building code, the dispenser may be installed above the handrail, however the tolerances are so high that most architects avoid doing so due to the high probability of the final product to fail inspection. Technically the dispenser can be installed above the handrail only if the bottom of the dispenser is no higher then 48" AFF and no further away from the edge of the toilet seat than 7-9" to center line of dispenser. When this is done the handrail must be installed at 33" AFF to center line of handrail. This is the lowest legal height to place the grab bar and is not common practice because it is difficult to place the grab bars exactly at the right height in every stall in every bathroom of a large project. There is also a set of rules concerning the maximum 'forward reach' beyond the edge of the toilet seat to the various parts of the toilet paper dispenser and more standards about the location of obstacles (such as a handrail) adjacent to the location of the dispenser if the obstruction is between the toilet and the dispenser.

All in all it is less complicated to set the dispenser below the handrail, centered no less then 15" AFF. It doesn't have to make sense, it just has to pass the measure of the local building inspector.

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Can you link to the ADA building code that you're referencing here? If you're citing something specific then you should link to it. –  JonW Jan 16 at 11:24
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