Should you buy a plywood bed deck or metal bed springs for your residence hall beds?
We get this question a lot. And the truth is, there are benefits to both.
There are some popular misconceptions too.
For example, most campuses stick to the same standard for compatibility, and that isn’t necessary.
Because, it’s not hard to convert from metal springs to a wood deck assembly while maintaining compatibility with your existing bed end inventory.
In this short guide—part of our Nuts & Bolts Series for operational and facilities leaders—we compare plywood bed decks to metal springs based on the categories below. And as a solid wood furniture company, it’s important to note that we have an obvious bias towards wood.
That said, we aim to give you the best information—based on our experience and observations—to help you understand which option is best suited to your unique needs and context.
In our experience, these qualities, contexts, and considerations will help you evaluate what’s best for your project or campus standard:
- Assembly & Storage
- Comfort & Function
- Compatibility with Inventory
- Freight & Shipping
- Bed Bug Protection & Mitigation
- End of Life
We’ll explore these criteria in-depth below, but let’s start by taking a quick look at the landscape of available bed deck options.
- Tubular steel rail
- Angular iron steel rail
- Solid wood rails
- Plywood deck
- Ventilated single piece plywood deck
- Three-piece plywood deck
- Fully sealed 3-piece plywood deck (UV finish on top and bottom and edge banding on all 4 sides)
- Tubular metal spring
- Angle iron spring
- Angle iron spring with wood facia
Assembly & Storage
One thing your facilities team is going to ask you right away is whether the bed deck is easy to store and assemble. There are advantages and drawbacks for both wood and metal.
But first, let’s answer the question, “Why would I need to store my bed decks anyways?”
The most common reason is summer programming, like conferences and camps. You may have to convert a double room to a single with a full bed. Another reason you might have to store your bed decks is for attic stock.
Plywood Bed Deck
In general, you can expect a lower storage footprint with wood bed decks. Why? Because they’re easier to stack. They’re also easier to move around.
Instead of having to move and store a large metal spring, a plywood deck typically consists of 3 pieces of plywood and 2 80″ rails. These pieces are easier to handle and store with a smaller footprint in a warehouse or storage room.
Also, metal springs are unwieldy, and can lead to finger and hand injuries if not moved with great care.
In terms of assembly, our standard Quicklock bed features a smart and attractive metal rail that easily connects the wood deck to the headboard and footboard. The inserts, which function the same as nuts, are welded directly into the rail. That means you just need 12 joint connector nuts to lock it down.
Why is this so helpful? First, it quickly positions the decks and secures it with little effort. Second, it’s the easiest way to attach plywood decks. We can also make the wood deck with a wood rail.
And if your facilities staff is stretched thin, another benefit of plywood deck design is that one team member can easily put this together on their own.
For storage, and as noted above, metal springs are often heavier and bulkier than wood decks. That makes them harder to move around and harder to store.
They are also awkward to carry. And that makes it easy to damage walls and elevators to say nothing of possible injury to the people that move them.
One person can build a metal frame alone but you’ll need help to bunk them.
Plywood Bed Deck
Wood is a highly customizable medium so it’s easier for us to tailor the design to your needs and desires. In essence, there are unlimited styles, features, and options.
Metal spring decks are less customizable because metal is not as malleable as wood. You’re going to get a limited number of styles and less options overall.
Let’s talk about durability. This is a big consideration for anyone buying bed decks for their residence halls. And we’ll be honest with you, it’s pretty even in terms of overall durability.
Both wood and metal spring decks are resilient and durable. We use strong long lasting wedge locks for both plywood decks and metal springs. And we rarely get complaints about the beds.
That said, there are some differences that you should weigh up.
You can dent and scratch wood. It’s easier to damage in that way. At the same time, it’s easier to fix and you can also refinish it.
And according to some sources, wood is more durable overall than metal in the context of a bedframe. Why? Because of the construction design. What does that mean?
For one thing, wood bed decks are made from hardwood plywood. We’re a solid wood company, why wouldn’t we use solid wood panels for the deck? Because plywood has dimensional stability, and that’s part of what makes it so durable.
In general, you can expect a wood bed deck to last 25-30 years.
Unlike wood, metal bed springs don’t dent or scratch easily.
One weakness with metal bed springs is that they squeak over time. They are also prone to rusting when exposed to moisture from spills, sweat, etc.
At DCI, our metal spring bed goes through rigorous government-mandated GSA testing. That guarantees the strength and durability of the bed springs. Our GSA contract mandates that the bunk beds have to pass government test 3FNE 99-582E, Test A,B,D and E.
Like wood decks, you can expect your metal bed deck to last 25-30 years.
Comfort and Function
Are you looking for a firmer sleeping surface or one that’s got more give to it? That will impact your choice.
Wood bed decks are firm. Your mattress will sit evenly on the platform. For many people with back pain, this is desirable and supportive.
In contrast to wood, your spring deck is going to have more give. If you’re using a traditional innerspring mattress rather than foam, that can increase the life of your mattress.
According to some bed designers, the the metal spring design can be wobbly leading to improper mattress support. That can negatively impact your comfort and sleep quality.
A quick note on function. If you’re using a metal spring in a bunked or Jr. Loft configuration and want to store items underneath, like a 56” Tall Wardrobe, you need to account for the structural supports of the metal spring when evaluating the height of the bed deck.
Depending on the volume of your order, there isn’t a significant price difference between hardwood plywood bed decks and metal springs.
However, given the ongoing disruptions to the global supply chain catalyzed by Covid-19, this is a volatile factor that could quickly change. I encourage you to do research to get up to date pricing.
As we noted above, campuses often stick with the same bed systems just to keep inventory compatible.
But this assumption is an unnecessary limit to growth and innovation.
If this idea is preventing you from upgrading your bed system, it’s important to know that DCI can custom engineer a wood deck system to integrate seamlessly with your existing bed ends.
That’s true even if your bed ends were originally designed for metal springs.
This way, if you’re thinking of switching to wood but also have a campus standard bed end that you don’t want to change, you don’t have to worry about mixed inventory.
Freight & Shipping
When it comes to freight and shipping, there are some differences to consider that can impact both your cost and carbon footprint.
One advantage of wood over metal springs is that you can fit more into a truck, cutting carbon and costs.
Because we process the plywood in our factory, we can combine it with other furniture for added freight efficiencies. This also simplifies project planning by allowing us to schedule single deliveries to the installation site, especially on projects that require phasing.
In contrast, metal springs ship from outside manufacturers either from North Carolina or Pennsylvania. Approximately 450 springs fit into a full truck. So there’s more potential for wasted freight with any order quantity less than that.
And let me briefly clarify how we process plywood.
DCI uses hardwood plywood for more than bed decks. We also use it to make laminate tops, drawer bottoms, internal drawer parts, and case backs.
The hardwood plywood is delivered to our factory by truck load in 4×8 sheets, varying in thickness. First, we cut the sheets to size with our state-of-the-art yield-optimizing CNC panel saw. This reduces waste because we make multiple components from the same sheet of plywood.
Then the plywood parts go to finishing, milling, or edge banding. We do all of this under our own roof, maximizing efficiencies at every stage until we consolidate the bed decks with other furniture for final delivery to your site.
Bed bugs are another factor you need to consider when buying bed decks. At DCI, we developed a solution that largely eliminates the possibility of bed bugs infesting your wood bed decks.
How do we do it? Here’s the short version.
We sand, finish, and seal every plane on the bed deck. A typical bed has three bed decks, so we apply this treatment to each deck.
Then we band the edges of the plywood–all 4 sides–with thin strips of finished wood. By gluing thin pieces of finished wood to the sides, this treatment creates a perfectly smooth edge, with no voids to veil the would-be insect vampires.
In general, metal beds aren’t a refuge for bed bugs because they are naturally cold and inhospitable to the bloodsuckers. However, if you do get bed bugs, you may have a harder time with an infestation depending on what treatment method you use.
One advantage of the three-piece plywood deck is that it stacks easily in the heat chambers campuses often use for treatment.
End of Life
A lot of schools today are taking more responsibility for their impact on the earth. They’re evaluating the sustainable pedigree of their products and providers to make climate friendly choices which reduce their carbon footprint.
In that context, we must consider the entire lifecycle of each product. And in particular, what happens to it at the end of its useful life on campus. Is it designed for easy recycling or reclamation?
Both wood and metal are recyclable at the end of their useful life on campus. One difference is that wood offers you a lot more options and avenues for giving the furniture another life.
At DCI, we design our wood furniture based on the principles of circular design, which accounts for the entire lifecycle of the product.
Wood is easy to reuse, repurpose, recycle, or resell. It can go on to live many lives. We have repurposed more than 300 40ft containers of reclaimed wood dorm furniture over the last 10 years.
You can also recycle your metal bed springs at the end of their useful life. There is only really one direct path for that. You’ll need to work with your local scrap metal collector, but steel is highly recyclable.
You can also repurpose metal springs for garden beds, trailers, etc. Here’s a list of potential recycling and repurposing ideas for metal spring decks.
If you enjoyed this article, you can check out the full Nuts & Bolts Series here.