Bunk beds are a fantastic option for saving space. They’re also fun for kids. The choices available, however, can be overwhelming. You want a sturdy bunk bed that will hold up. You want the time spent assembling it to be an investment, not something you’ll need to repeat anytime soon.
Beyond sturdiness, however, bunk bed selection is largely a matter of personal choice. Which one is right for you? We’ll walk you through the decision process and look at all the options available.
Considerations When Buying a Bunk Bed
Here are some things to consider before purchasing your bunk bed:
First and foremost, how high is your ceiling? Bunk beds can vary in height from about 3.5 feet all the way up to 6 1/2 feet, so you’ll want to know the maximum bed height your room can accommodate.
Once you have your ceiling height, subtract an appropriate amount to allow for the space needed to crawl into the top bunk. If you want to be able to fully sit up while on the top or bottom bunk (bedtime stories), or have room to change the sheets, you’ll need extra space as well.
Bunk Bed Length
Bunk beds without stairs are generally between 60 to 68 inches long. If you prefer one with stairs, you’ll generally need between 77 and 80 inches of space.
The next thing to keep in mind is the weight limit. The top bunk is the one that matters most in regard to weight.
It’s difficult to give an exact number, but the general consensus is that the average upper bunk will withstand regular use by a 200-lb person.
The reason weight limits are tricky is because safety standard testing does not directly correlate to real-world situations. For example, ASTM testing requires that 400 pounds be slowly distributed across the upper bunk for a short amount of time . They do not test weight long-term or simulate the various ways a person might move.
Bottom line: 200lbs max weight for the top bunk.
If you need a higher weight limit, there are heavy duty bunk beds that are specifically designed to hold more weight.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children under age 6 not be allowed to sleep on the top bunk of regular-sized bunk beds . However, there are smaller, shorter bunk beds specifically designed for younger children . They are made with brighter colors, and look like a lot of fun!
Bunk beds usually don’t come with mattresses, so you’ll need to find your own. Luckily, bunk beds don’t require special mattresses, you can use a regular one.
You’ll just want to make sure your mattress fits the frame and that the mattress leaves enough of the safety rail exposed.
The bunk bed manufacturer should have a recommendation for mattress thickness. If they don’t, consider limiting mattress thickness to around 8 inches.
If your bunk bed will be used by children, consider mattress size. Do they need a bigger mattress to grow into? Do they roll around a lot in their sleep?
Basically, there are two options: metal and wood. Each has its pros and cons.
Metal Frame Bunk Bed
Pros: Metal bunk beds are relatively light-weight, are easier to move and are more affordable than wood. Also, the powder coating used on metal tends to be more resistant to scratching and chipping than the paint used on wood (7).
Cons: Style options are somewhat limited; most are simple and contemporary. Metal frames can be a little noisier, and in some cases, the bolts may need to be tightened periodically. Metal also feels cool to the touch, which can be a negative for some people.
Best Metal Frame Bunk Beds
Solid Wood Frame
Pros: Solid wood is extremely sturdy. Three-level bunk beds tend to be made of wood, as do bunk beds with stairs. Also, wood allows for an almost unlimited array of styles.
Cons: Solid wood is heavy, and is the most expensive option.
Best Wood Bunk Beds
Composite Wood Frame
Pros: Very affordable, less susceptible to dents.
Cons: Is the least durable. Damage to composite wood is often irreparable.
Ladder vs. Stairs
There are three ways to access the top bunk: vertical ladders, angled ladders, and stairs. Vertical ladders are the simplest, most affordable option. However, they can present challenges to certain individuals. If you go with a ladder, keep in mind that flat rungs will be more comfortable on your feet than round ones.
Angled ladders are easier to climb, but require additional space as they protrude out from the frame. They usually come with a hand rail for added safety.
Steps are by far the safest option but will require additional assembly and space. However, the steps can offer a storage bonus in the form of drawers: A dresser and bed in one! Although it takes up more space length-wise, this option can end up saving bedroom space overall by eliminating the need for a separate dresser.
Type of Bunk Beds
The next step is to decide how many people you want your bed to sleep. Bunk beds generally consist of one, two, or three beds. Four-person bunk beds, while less common, are available as well (the beds aren’t all stacked vertically, of course — that would be sheer madness).
If you need just one bed, consider a loft bed. It’s basically a bunk bed without the bottom bunk. The open space below can be used for playing, studying, working or storing items.
Loft beds generally vary in height more than other types of bunk beds, so you’ll want to think about what you want to use the space below for. Do you want to be able to stand up or walk below the bed? Do you want to work at a desk? Do you just need some extra space?
The options for this space are numerous. The most basic configuration is an empty space, which allows you to use your own furniture. However, there are lofts that come with built-in furniture such as chairs, futons, sofas, drawers, and desks. Some even come with shelving.
If you want to sleep one person but have a bed for overnight guests, you can always lay a mattress underneath. Just make sure the space will be wide enough for your mattress. Typical mattress lengths and widths are listed here for your convenience:
Twin: 38″ x 75″
Twin XL: 38″ x 80″
Full: 53″ x 75″
Queen: 60″ x 80″
The two-person bunk bed is what most people picture when they think of a bunk bed. They generally come in the following configurations: twin over twin, twin over full, twin over queen; full over full, full over queen; and queen over queen. Twin XLs are available, too.
Many two-person bunk beds can be separated into two separate beds, which can save you money in the long run if you plan on moving to single beds eventually.
If you have two kids who both really want a top bunk, consider buying two loft beds.
There are two options for sleeping three people: triple bunks or a double bunk with a trundle. A trundle bed is a bed – usually on rollers – that is housed beneath the main bed. It can be pulled out as needed.
Triple bunks come in two main configurations: triple stacked in a column and L-shaped. Triple-stacked bunks are really tall — about 6.5 feet (1). Also, the bottom bunk sits really low to the ground, so it might not be the best choice for anyone over, say, 35 years old.
L-shaped bunks fit nicely in room corners and are available in shorter heights. Just a heads up, this shape of bunk bed might limit option for sleeping positions. If any of your kids have a specific fear or preference (like insisting on sleeping facing the closet) that’s something to consider.
For the second option — a double bunk with a trundle — picking a trundle is pretty straightforward. You want one that’s easy to pull out and put back.
There are three options: An L-shaped quadruple bunk, a triple bunk with a trundle, or two sets of regular double bunks. The triple bunk with trundle takes up the least space, but the trundle might not be the most comfortable bed. It probably best reserved for overnight guests.
Trundles frames can be purchased separately. They generally come in a twin or full size. Mattress thickness must be taken into consideration; make sure the mattress will easily fit underneath the bed. Because of the lack of support, they may not be the best option for elderly guests or those with bad backs.