If you feel that you need to customize your comfort of the mattress over time, then you need to look at air beds, also referred to as dial beds. Even though air beds have been around for a long time they went through major transformation and components redesign to improve comfort and usability. Today’s air beds look just like innerspring mattress with similar height, shape, padding layers and ticking on top, but instead of innerspring they use air as a means of support. Air/Dial beds should not be confused with portable, temporary-use air (blow-up) mattresses that are packable and usually used for camping or as a short time guest beds.
Made popular by Select Comfort with their persistent marketing efforts of Sleep Number bed, there are several manufacturers that currently offer air beds of various designs and quality levels. Air beds use air-filled chamber, or sometimes called air bladder, connected to an electric pump with a remote. By changing the setting on the remote the pump adjust pressure in the air chamber and mattress will either get softer or firmer. This design allows great versatility and customization on each side independently but also is prone to mechanical failures and air leaks. Two-chamber design is popular with couples that have the opposite comfort preference or have unequal body weights.
Main benefits are adjustability, above average pressure and pain relief, good motion absorption and maneuverability. Some customers complain about small air loss over time, somewhat loud operation (pump motor), below average warranty and uneven sleeping surface with lower end models. There could be some assembly required after the mattress was delivered.
Construction of Air Bed
The most important component of an air bed is air-filled core, or chamber, or sometimes called air bladder, which provides support and also allows softness/firmness versatility. There is one chamber in small size mattresses and option to get two chambers with bigger sizes, which is desirable for couples. Chamber is typically made of vulcanized rubber, with sealed seems to prevent leaks. In order to provide even support on the whole surface of mattress, chamber is divided into smaller canals that evenly fill with air. Each chamber is connected to an electric pump, which usually sits hidden under the bed. By changing the setting on the remote the pump adjust pressure in the air chamber and mattress will either get softer or firmer. Two chambers require two separate pumps connected to two electric outlets. Two-chamber design offers great customization of each side independently and also guarantees low motion transfer.
Electric pumps are operated with wired or wireless remote controls that have small lcd displays showing current or desirable setting. There are several pump and remote options available, offering quitter, faster operation and additional settings. Typically you wouldn’t adjust the firmness setting every night, but once you find the optimal firmness you would keep it for longer period of time. There could be a small amount of air loss over time, so it is recommended to check your setting periodically and adjust it if necessary.
Reinforced edge of air beds is provided by foam panels, made from high density furniture grade polyurethane foam, that creates foam encasing perimeter around the mattress.
Top padding layers, just like in innerspring mattress, provide comfort and overall feel of the mattress. They are made from polyurethane or premium materials like memory foam, gel foams or latex. The layers come in different thicknesses and shapes and are stacked in certain order to provide a particular feel.
On the very top of the mattress are quilting and ticking layers providing final finish and breathability. Kind of like an insulation layer. High-end products will incorporate natural fibers like aloe, silk or cashmere in these top layers. By federal law, all mattresses must be treated with fire retardant materials.
Air beds come with specific matching foundations, but can be used with any solid, non-giving foundations. They are popular mattresses to be combined with adjustable, movable bases to provide the ultimate versatility and customization.
The most beneficial feature of air beds is the option to change and adjust firmness of the mattress on each side independently, thus provide customized support. This is accomplished by air chamber and electric pump operated with a remote. By pressing buttons on remote you will increase or decrease amount of air in the chamber and change overall firmness. With two independent chambers, it is possible to find desirable firmness on each side. It is invaluable for couples with opposite comfort preference or contrasting body weights. It is a matter of personal preference how often is the firmness setting changed, some people change it more frequently depending on their health or fatigue status or simply to relax. Others find it vital to have an option to change the setting over mattress’ lifespan to correspond the changes in their bodies and lifestyle.
Benefits of Air Bed
Pressure and pain relief
Above average lifespan
Good motion separation
Air Bed Warranty
This is one the most crucial aspect of choosing the right air bed. There are several mechanical parts – pumps and remotes that tend to fail. There are also hoses and seals that may wear out. So it is important to check if warranty cover not only sagging of the mattress but also its mechanical parts.
Mechanical parts are usually covered only for the first few years, sometimes as little as 1 year. Typically you are responsible for shipping cost of both, failed and replacement part. After the initial non-prorated period, you will be responsible for a portion of the total cost of replacement part plus the shipping costs.
As the construction varies from model to model so does the warranty. Be extremely diligent to learn about the warranty of any given product. Excessive sagging is typically referred to as an indentation/imprint/depression greater than 1.5”.
Most warranties start with a full mattress replacement for an initial period of time, and change to a limited (pro-rated) warranty as years go by. While comparing air bed warranties, you can find full replacement warranties for as little as 1 years and as high as 10 years, with overall warranty duration up to 20 years.
Air Bed Shopping Tips
Choosing the right air mattress is one of the most difficult tasks. Different products use completely different components, they offer different features, come with different warranties and in most cases you cannot try them in the showroom.
Air beds are popular due to their ability to provide personalized adjustable support, which leads to above average comfort and pressure relief. They last for long time, but can have problems with mechanical parts or minor air leaks. They are light and can be moved around easily. Unhappy customers mentioned annoyance with pump noise, uneven sleep surface and mattress shifting around. Initial investment can be quite high and some air beds will require assembly once delivered. The ultimate in versatility and customization is achieved with combination of air bed and adjustable base.
Since the support system is very similar through out this category you need to focus on the features offered and desirable padding and quilting layers. Read about the benefits of different materials and make a list of those that are important to you. You will always pay more for premium materials like memory foam or latex, so make sure it is there in sufficient quantity. Natural fibers like wool, silk or cashmere on the top of the mattress are desirable, because they are more breathable, but are obviously more expensive. The finish of the mattress is a matter of personal preference, stretch covers are nice because they breathe better and don’t leave creases. Don’t get swayed by the pretty floral design on top, it will be covered by a mattress pad and won’t make any difference at all.
If you plan to buy an air bed online compare all specs and read reviews posted by current owners.
As mentioned in warranty section, this is a crucial aspect in deciding which air bed to buy. Be aware of different warranties, find out how long is the mattress fully covered, and if the warranty is pro-rated, know what portion of the replacement cost you will be responsible for. Make sure you ask your store about exchange/return options and costs associated with an exchange/return. Read the fine print of the exchange/return policy before you place an order.
Always ask for a special financing offers or the incentive for not using one. Some retailers charge extra delivery and old mattress removal fees and those can add substantially to the final amount. Always ask for free gifts with a mattress purchase, it is always nice to get free pillows, mattress protector and set of sheets.