Insiders' Guide to Adjustable Beds

If you're in the market for adjustable beds, there are literally hundreds of choices in today's marketplace. We've created this guide to assist you in distilling the information down so that its a little more straightforward to find the adjustable bed model that's right for you.

Perhaps the most important thing to know up front is that adjustable beds are typically just the "superstructure", or underlying support base for your particular sleep surface. Whether you prefer an air bed mattress, a memory foam mattress, or even a conventional coil type mattress, buying the mattress surface is an independent decision that is separate from selecting an adjustable "base".

In recent years, the evolution of adjustable beds has come a long way from the industry standard "Craftmatic" base that many of us are loosely familiar with. Most bases today are constructed using lighter weight materials with motors that are quiet because they are encased in sound dampening cases, the rollers and other moving parts are constructed of indestructible substances like nylon, and there are massage features, remote controls, fail safe devices for power failures, and much more to consider before you're ready to make a purchase.

We've created a list of 5 of the most important points to consider when selecting an adjustable bed. Perhaps the most important decision you will make, beyond the adjustable base, however, is the mattress which will sit on top.

1. Choose the mattress surface first, before you investigate an adjustable bed base.

This may sound obvious, but many people get caught up in the technical wizardry of the technological features of an adjustable bed, and forget to spend time selecting the best sleep surface for you. Go to a few stores, and try a mattress or two on several adjustable beds. If air beds seem comfortable, try the Select Comfort or a good knock-off product. If memory foam is your preference, try a Tempur-Pedic. If you are comfortable with a coil or coil-foam combination, try them as well, but on an adjustable base if possible. Almost any adjustable base available in the U.S. market today will offer a two point articulation system, meaning that it folds in two places, dividing the mattress into 3 sections, the head section, the middle section, and the foot section. Each sleep surface, or mattress, will react differently when folded and bent on an adjustable base. If you are serious about an adjustable bed, then you should realize that few side sleepers will have a use for an adjustable bed in any other position than flat, so understand your sleeping habits and how they are affected by the use of a bed whose purpose is probably to elevate your head or legs.

Most conventional coil mattresses are not designed for use on an adjustable bed, and it is important to use a mattress, especially if you already have one or if you are intending to buy your adjustable base separate from your mattress, that is capable of being folded with minimal resistance and does not lose the original qualities for which you purchased it, when in an articulated (folded or upright) position. An air bed mattress, for example, that is not designed to be used on an adjustable base, may not fold or bend in a way that properly distributes air through the bladder system, thus resulting in deflation or overinflated areas. A foam bed that is constructed of high density foam that is rigid, may completely resist bending or folding at all.

2. Choose an adjustable bed base from a reputable, established manufacturer with experience under their belts.

The best adjustable bases on the market today, widely distributed in the U.S. under many brand names, are fabricated by Leggett and Platt. They have been making institutional beds, including hospital beds and other medical equipment for almost a hundred years. We consider them the most well made adjustable bases available for many reasons.

If you've ever had the opportunity to climb up underneath a Leggett and Platt base, much like you would to view the underside of your car, you would find some qualities that are highly desirable. For example, the gauge, or thickness of steel members used in its fabrication make it a very heavy affair, but make it quite capable of handling greater loads without stressing the framework, especially over time. We've seen imported adjustable bases that do not use heavier steel for the framework that may be subject to bending and distortion with larger weight loading. Also, the rollers used in a Leggett and Platt base, which are the most important moving part in an adjustable base, are made of nylon, almost indestructible, rather than wood, metal, or other substances. Nylon produces little friction, does not wear over time, and is noise free. We've seen wood or metal rollers used in less desirable beds that make squeaking and crunching noises, even when brand new, at trade shows!

Most importantly, a Leggett and Platt base (you need to ask your dealer..who makes the base?) uses American made motor components in sealed casings (very simply that means that the motors are maintenance free, do not need to be lubricated, and therefore the gear systems will not wear or degrade over time). The motors operate the rollers, which move or bend the three sections of the base to allow for different body positioning. The motors are quiet, in heavy plastic housings to both protect the workings of the motor and provide virtually noise free operation. Also, the remote controls are reliable, and easy to use.

We like some safety features offered by Leggett and Platt systems as well, including the power failure feature. During any power loss, the bed system typically returns automatically to a flat position to allow for easy exiting from the bed, should there be no light for example. Not all base manufacturers may offer this feature.

If there is a downsize to the "tank like" construction of the Leggett and Platt base, it is the weight issue. The frames are very heavy. A queen size base weighs about 170 pounds, so don't figure on installing one yourself, or hauling it up a flight of stairs without some professional help!

3. Buy an adjustable bed base that is easily transported, assembles easily, and offers instructions that any lay person can understand.

After being in the bedding business for a number of years, you see many knockdown products, or RTA (ready to assemble) products, and adjustable bases are available in many forms as well. Remember, if you are buying something that you have to put together, you are assuming that all of the pieces will fit together easily. You are also assuming that the instructions will be accurate, will include lots of pictures, and will be in English (if that is the language of choice) Adjustable bases are no different. We've seen some adjustable bases with air beds that require the use of many tools, and bolts, and other sometimes unrecognizable parts. Ask your dealer..is the base largely pre-assembled? This is a highly desirable characteristic. The Leggett and Platt system is largely pre-assembled, and although the big box is heavy and cumbersome, it takes 10 minutes to typically assemble one, and the instruction page might have a maximum of 2 -3 pages, not 7-9. We like it because about the only things you have to do are remove the bed frame from the box, slap on the caster wheels, plug it in, attach the front bumper, and program the remotes. It's heavy, its big, but it is solidly put together, at the factory.

4. Have your dealer spell out the warranty. The odds are you will have an adjustable base for a while, and since it is a mechanical device that you probably can't fix because you don't stock adjustable bed parts, ask a lot of questions.

The warranty should be a good 10 or 20 years. Be highly skeptical of "Lifetime Warranty" scenarios…We like Leggett and Platt because they typically offer a comprehensive 20 year warranty where everything is spelled out, with one year full technical support, including free on site labor. Make sure that you have at least one full year of this service, since problems with products of this kind will typically happen within the first 3-6 months of ownership. Get the warranty in writing before you buy. Do an internet search on adjustable bed bases you might be interested in and find message boards offering critical of the product. Even the occasional bad write-up may not mean the product is not worth considering, because not everyone reads instructions properly, or properly tightens bolts or wheels, or programs remotes correctly.

5. It doesn't have to look like a hospital bed. And, in most cases, an adjustable bed may seem like a hospital bed, but it is radically different . Young couples still in their prime buy adjustable beds every day. Aesthetics make a difference. Buy an adjustable base that is pleasing to you, and you will enjoy it.

Most adjustable base manufacturers today understand the need to create a product that is aesthetically pleasing and looks like a conventional bed. The adjustable part of the bed usually conceals the motors and flex points, and is decorated with a fabric covering to look like a regular box spring or foundation piece. Find a base that has a finished look to it. Avoid a bed with motors that are not permanently mounted to the inside of the system, because these parts could be damaged, tripped over, and cords could get torn out of the motors causing electrical hazards. Again, and I know we sound biased, but experience has shown us that Leggett and Platt are probably the industry wizards at concealing and decoration. If you look sideways at a L&P base, you will most likely have to study it at first glance to figure out that it is a fully articulating bed! The quality of the fabric is very desirable, the top of the bases are finished with a non-skid type material that keeps the mattress in place, and the casters and wheels have a "residence" feel rather than an institutional look to them.


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