Are Box Springs Necessary for a Bunk Bed?
The term “box spring” used to refer to the traditional bed foundation that uses springs to provide support for the mattress that’s placed over it. This type of bed foundation was most popular in the 1980s and 1990s. While there are still literal box springs available, the term nowadays has come to refer to a bed foundation that may not use even a single coil of spring. Box springs or bed foundation frames can be made out of either wood or metal, and they form a “box” that has a standard height of about 9 inches. But are box springs necessary for a bunk bed?
Box springs are not necessary for a bunk bed because they are far too bulky, and using one in a bunk bed could even prove to be dangerous. Instead, you should use a bunkie board, bunk bed support slats, or even a DIY mattress foundation made out of plywood.
Because bunk beds are designed to not use a box spring, the additional 9 inches of height will make a bunk bed unnecessarily high. In the same vein, box springs and traditional bed foundations weren’t designed with bunk beds in mind. They don’t go well together in terms of aesthetics, function, and safety.
Let’s talk about safety. If a box spring is used on the bottom bunk, the mattress will be uncomfortably high. However, when a box spring is used on the top bunk, it can potentially lead to some injuries. The top bunk of a typical bunk bed will have side rails to prevent falls. If you use a box spring on the top bunk of a bed, it will inadvertently raise the mattress so high that it defeats the purpose of having the side rails. You may fall out of bed and wind up on the floor with hopefully only minor injuries. For more information about injuries resulting from bunk bed falls, see this 1990 article from the American Journal of Diseases of Children.
Since bunk beds were not designed to use a box spring or a traditional box bed foundation, it is an unnecessary expense. You can easily avoid this expense by choosing to use other mattress supports, such as a bunkie board, bunk bed support slats, or even plain plywood.
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- How to separate bunk beds and why you may want to
Are Box Springs Necessary for Bunk Beds? Here are Recommended Mattress Foundations for Bunk Beds
A bunk bed is not designed to use a box spring, so it will do perfectly fine without it. However, the mattress that you may want to use in the bunk bed may still require another kind of mattress foundation to enhance comfort, prevent sagging, and ultimately abide by the warranty (that’s right, most mattresses come with warranties that may become void if you don’t use a company-approved mattress foundation - see this guide from Utah State University for more information). There are a few different types of mattress foundations that you should put under a bunk bed mattress.
You should put one of the following mattress foundations under a bunk bed mattress:
- Heavy-duty solid wooden slats
- Wooden split bunkie board
- Split-type rollable support wooden slats
- Steel frame bunkie board
- Plywood mattress foundation
As a general rule, the mattress foundations mentioned here are low profile, so using them won’t go against the functional design and safety features of a typical bunk bed.
Bunk bed slats and bunkie boards are both strong enough for any type of mattress, such as memory foam, latex, coil, or even gel mattresses.
Bunk bed slats also provide ventilation due to the spacing in between the slats. This helps dissipate the heat from the sleeper which in turn results in a better night’s sleep. However, a disadvantage to bunk bed slats is that some will have spaces that are too wide and can allow your mattress to sag or give too much, but this depends on the individual’s preference. If you’re a DIY enthusiast, you may also not like that they can be difficult to modify.
Both foundations are also affordable but the real advantage of purchasing a bunkie board or bunk bed slats is that they are already ready-made. All you need is a few minutes of simple assembly. After you’re done with the assembly, you just need to lay them over your bunk bed frame, and you’re done. You can now add your mattress on top and rest assured that it’s going to be supported by the sleek yet strong bunk bed slats you’ve laid at the bottom.
Heavy-Duty Solid Wooden Slats
You can use heavy-duty solid wooden slats as a mattress foundation. You can either purchase heavy duty slats alone or inside of a bunkie board. These are designed to be sturdy enough to provide support for any type of mattress. Aside from providing structural support, the spacing in between the slats also allows heat to dissipate, thereby cooling the mattress. Here is an example of heavy-duty solid wooden slats you can use.
Wooden Split Bunkie Board
You can also use a wooden split bunkie board as a mattress foundation. Instead of rolling out one large set of slats, the two separate slats encased in fabric make it easy to install because you don't have to deal with tangled slats. These fabric-covered wooden bunkie boards provide firm support to help your mattresses last longer, and they’re perfect for bunk beds. Here is an example of a wooden split bunkie board.
Split-Type Rollable Support Wooden Slats
This third type of mattress support is a combination of the first two. Split slats are easy to roll because they don't get tangled up. However they are cheaper than split bunkies because they don't have fabric covers.Here is an example of split-type rollable support wooden slats.
Steel Frame Bunkie Board
Steel framed bunkie boards are rigid and strong. They will come disassembled into their component parts, but they can easily be put together in minutes with the help of the handy instruction guide.
Here is an example of a steel frame bunkie board mattress support. In this other version, the steel frame bunkie board is wrapped in a quilted polyester cover to hide the slats, adding to its aesthetics.
Plywood Mattress Foundation
For the most pragmatic person, there is nothing more suitable as a mattress support than plywood. This option is ideal for pragmatists and DIY enthusiasts. Plywood consists of several sheets, or “plies”, of wood that are compressed and glued together to form a sturdy board. Plywood comes in many different dimensions, but it generally ranges between ⅛ of an inch to 1 ¼ inches thick. It’s ideal to go with a piece of plywood that’s at least ¾ of an inch thick in order to ensure the structural strength of the material, as this will be a weight-bearing addition to the bunk bed.
Plywood is a great material to work with. DIYers who are adept with woodwork will have no trouble cutting a sheet of plywood to fit a bunk bed. If you’re not good at woodworking, plywood may not be the best choice since it may require some work before it can be used. If you plan to use a plywood mattress foundation, make sure to consider the dimensions of the plywood before you make a purchase.
Plywood is also a good choice because it is relatively inexpensive. However, since plywood is shaped as a solid board, the absence of spaces to ventilate the underside of the bed is one possible disadvantage.
- Curious about the most common mattress foundation thicknesses and sizes?
Bunk Bed Slats vs. Plywood: Which Is a Better Mattress Foundation for a Bunk Bed?
To get the flattest foundation that will provide sturdy support for your bunk bed mattresses, you should choose between bunk bed slats and plywood.
Bunk bed slats are better if you prefer a ready-made mattress foundation that you can install easily. Plywood is better if you are good at woodworking and want to create an affordable custom foundation for your bed. Below is a list of some additional pros and cons of each type of mattress foundation.
|Pros of Bunk Bed Slats||Cons of Bunk Bed Slats|
|Ready-made||Spacing in between slats may not be to your liking|
|Easy to use||There may be unwanted give or sag if the slats are too far apart|
|Sturdy||May not be easily modifiable|
|Spaces in between slats for ventilation of the mattress|
|Pros of Plywood Foundation||Cons of Plywood Foundation|
|Sturdy||May require some work like cutting, sanding, or covering before it can be used|
|Relatively inexpensive||Not ideal for non-DIYers|
|Easily modifiable for DIY-ers||If used as a solid board, may not have space for heat dissipation|
|You have your choice of thickness|
Are Box Springs Necessary for a Separated Set of Bunk Beds?
If you have bunk beds that can be separated into two separate free-standing beds, then you can consider using a box spring. However, there are still some disadvantages to doing so. This situation is a little tricky because the bunks could be thought of as both part of the bunk bed set and as separate beds. But are box springs necessary for a separated set of bunk beds?
Box springs are not necessary for a separated set of bunk beds, but you can use them if the beds will only be used as free-standing beds and aren’t stacked like traditional bunk beds.
If the beds are used as part of the traditional bunk bed set, it’s best to avoid using a box spring since it will make the beds too high. Bunk beds were never designed to be used with box springs, but it could be argued that a box spring or traditional bed foundation could be used only with the bottom bunk - the height of the bed is, after all, a personal preference that differs from one person to the next.
However, the same can’t be said with regards to the top bunk because of safety reasons. As mentioned before, if you install a box spring that is typically 9 inches tall and place a mattress on top of that, you are essentially bypassing the safety feature of the side rails. If the person sleeping on the top bunk were to change positions, move, or roll around in bed, they would no longer be protected from falls by the side rails since the mattress would most likely be at the same height as or above the rails, effectively rendering them useless. Make sure you follow bunk bed safety tips and age guidelines.
However, if the bunk beds are used as two separate free-standing beds, box springs may be used regardless of how high the mattress becomes as a result. If the bunks are primarily used in this manner, the choice of whether to use box springs would just be a matter of personal preference.
The table below summarizes the pros and cons of using box springs on a separated set of bunk beds. You may also like to use this reference guide for bunk bed mattress sizes to determine the ideal foundation height.
|Pros of Using Box Springs on a Separated Set of Bunk Beds||Cons of Using Box Springs on a Separated Set of Bunk Beds|
|Provides sturdy structural support for the mattress||Dangerous if used with stacked bunk beds, as it will make them too high, especially the top bunk|
|Typically more expensive than other highly acceptable alternatives|
Is It Possible To Use a Low Profile Box Spring on a Bunk Bed?
Since a traditional box spring is typically about 9 inches tall, you must account for the height of the box spring as well as the height of the mattress that you want to install in your bunk bed. If this 9-inch profile is too much for you, you can choose to get a low profile box spring if you wish. A low profile box spring is usually around 4 or 5 inches tall, but they provide the same level of sturdy support as a traditional box spring. But is it possible to use a low profile box spring on a bunk bed?
It is possible to use a low profile box spring on a bunk bed, but there are some additional concerns you may want to consider, like safety and the comfort of the person sleeping in the bed.
The availability of low profile box springs has opened up the possibility of using them for bunk beds. While this may be a tempting idea, there are still a few things that must be considered. The first and foremost important concern is safety. When you add significant height to your mattress, you should consider where the mattress is placed. If it’s at the bottom bunk, then adding height may only alter the comfort of the person sleeping there. Here’s a great 4 inch thick box spring that can work on the bottom bunk. If that person prefers to have a higher mattress, then utilizing a box spring instead of a bunkie board would be acceptable. A 5 inch thick “smart base” like this one can also do the trick on the bottom bunk (to increase height and make it easier to get in and out of).
If you’re considering a low profile box spring for the top bunk, you should first measure the height of the side rails in relation to the base of the top bunk. It is imperative that you take an accurate measurement of this and compare it with the combined height of the low profile box spring and the mattress that you’re going to use. If the mattress’ height will render the side rails useless, you shouldn’t get a box spring, even if it is low profile. If the remaining height of the side rails after installing both the low profile box spring and the mattress is acceptable as a protective barrier to prevent falls, then you can feel free to use a low profile box spring.
This table summarizes the advantages and disadvantages of using a low profile box spring for bunk beds.
|Pros of Using a Low Profile Box Spring||Cons of Using a Low Profile Box Spring|
|At 4 or 5 inches tall, they have a much lower profile when compared to a standard 9-inch box spring||Will still add some significant height to the mattress, which may interfere with the top bunk’s protective side rails|
|May not interfere with the top bunk’s protective side rails if the rails are particularly high (however, accurate measurements still need to be made)|
|Can be used in bottom bunks without concern for altering comfort too much|