5 Expert Tips to Choosing a Sustainable Bunk Bed

Materials are key, but longevity is just as important.

White bunkbed

Juan Lopez Gill / The Bunk Bed Book

When I floated the idea of writing a book about bunk beds, nearly two and a half years ago, it was a natural next step: I’d just finished a book about small spaces and I’d spent the past seven years writing about family homes for Parents magazine. But one of the reasons I was eager to write "The Bunk Bed Book" is that I am a big believer in living in a downsized space as the most direct means to a more sustainable lifestyle—and bunk beds often make a small home work better. 

Bunks are inherently sustainable because they help families live in smaller homes, and smaller homes require less energy to heat, cool, and power and take up fewer resources to furnish and maintain. From a dozen different perspectives, living small means having a “small” footprint.

But what about the bunk itself? How does one choose a sustainable bunk bed? Here are five tips I learned about how to buy a sustainable bunk bed while writing a book about bunks:

Pay Attention to Materials

Most bunks are made of either metal or wood, but not all metals and not all woods are created equally, and like most furniture, it can be hard to suss out what materials are truly sustainable. FSC certification should mean that the wood was responsibly harvested. Room & Board uses recycled natural steel for its popular (and extra-sturdy) metal Fort bunks (seen below in a room by interior designer Emily Butler).

In addition to responsible sourcing, materials that will last a long time are a more sustainable than those that will not. So, while medium-density fiberboard (MDF) may use less virgin wood than solid-wood construction, it is decidedly less sustainable because it is likely to only last a few years. Likewise, a lighter-weight metal bunk might have a lower transportation-related carbon footprint than those heavy steel bunks from Room & Board, but they’ll also likely be headed to the trash sooner.

A room with white bunk bed in the corner next to a desk.

Genevieve Garruppo / The Bunk Bed Book

Seek Out Sustainable Style

Longevity is also a concern in the style of bunks you choose; you don’t want to have to buy a new bed just because your kid has outgrown their pirate phase. To prevent today’s bunk from becoming tomorrow’s trash, avoid any themed bunks and instead opt for simple, open-ended designs.

You might think that the question of painted vs. natural wood finishes is strictly a matter of taste, but it might also be a question of longevity too. With rambunctious kids, a painted surface may chip long before a stained wood will show wear and tear, but painted furniture can also be repainted. The one thing to definitely avoid is wood veneers, which invariably will chip and scratch.

Invest In Flexibility 

Many manufacturers are building flexibility into their designs with bottom bunks you can add or remove (like Ouef’s Perch bunks in a room designed by Bachman Brown above), stacked twins that can be separated later on, and more. One of these might be pricier than a fixed bunk, but it could save you money in the long run when you don’t need to buy additional beds later and it can help increase the likelihood that your bunk won’t end up in the landfill. 

A blue and white child's room with wooden bunk bed in the left corner

Dane Tashima / The Bunk Bed Book

Think Twice About Custom 

Built-in bunk beds don’t use any more materials than an off-the-shelf bunk and you can be picky about how they are made (you could even use upcycled and scrap lumber like Racheal Jackson did in her kids’ room). However, the downside to a custom bunk is that it is much harder for it to be reused by someone else if you decide you don’t want bunks later on. A compromise would be to commission custom bunks made like a piece of freestanding furniture. Roberto Gil, the founder of Casa Kids, a custom bunk bed brand based in Brooklyn, NY, makes all of his beds like furniture, unattached to the walls; in fact, his company recently relocated a triple bunk seen in "The Bunk Bed Book" (and at the top of this post) for a family that was moving.

Research The Brand’s Policies

Gil is also ahead of the curve on circularity in his business: Casa Kids will facilitate the resale of their furniture through their pre-owned sales. On the other end of the price spectrum, IKEA has started to experiment with a buyback program. Before you make a big purchase, ask the retailer if they have any plans for a similar program in the works.

If you’re looking for mattresses for your bunks, Treehugger has an excellent guide to 10 places to buy a more sustainable mattress.