Tag Archives: Value vs Cost

Sleep Number Bed – How It’s Made & Review

Kind of random I know, but that’s my blog.

This post inspired by our battle with our own bed and Sleep Number’s customer non-service department.

Image from Businesswire.com

As you doubtless guessed from my opening and previous post about sleep quality, I have some real gripes here. I’m going to be fair and talk about the pluses we experienced while we owned the bed also. It’s probably easiest to work through things in a chronological order.

We started out looking for a new bed about 5 1/2 years ago when my back was probably at it’s worst, or at least during one of several truly bad points over the years. The advertised fact that the bed could adjust to conform to the needs of a sleeper, and even that sleeper’s changing sleep needs was a powerful selling point for us. You could make it firmer or softer if you had a physically demanding day, etc…

Resting on the bed at the store, it was just as comfortable as a foam mattress like a Tempur-Pedic, but seemed to adapt and support even better as our sleep numbers were dialed in. And that’s the trick; Sleep Number beds are great when you first buy them.

Purchase is where we hit our first snag or grumble though. When you see the commercials and they say “Only X Dollars”, they’re only talking about only the mattress assembly itself. The base costs more, with an adjustable base potentially more than doubling the cost of the bed. Then there’s the topper that goes on top of the air chambers. The more plush or heat dispersing you go, the price goes up, but the topper is disguised as a different model number. “Oh no, the super plush cooling top? That’s our i12 model, not this i8… It’s much more.”

To be fair, the vast majority of manufacturers of numerous products play the “different model” game. Even with other bed manufacturers though, there’s more of a difference in material construction than with a Sleep Number bed. Many of those beds won’t cost you upwards of $3000 out the door either.

Sleep Number Construction:

Let’s get into how the bed is made so that we can actually start talking about where the real problems begin.

Above is our (former) Sleep Number bed. It was a little over 5 years old when we got rid of it. That is about the shelf life for a poor to middle quality inner-coil spring traditional mattress. The reason we bought this bed though is that it came with a 20 year pro-rated warranty. We figured in the end, we’d come out ahead vs buying 3 or 4 supposedly lesser quality beds over that same time period.

If you notice above, the topper or “pillow top” already looks pretty shabby in terms of holding it’s shape, particularly on the right side. The problem is that the topper is primarily just cheap foam:

It’s got the sleep number logo all over it though, so that must make it high end, right? LOL.

Aside from that foam, there’s about 3/4 of an inch (1.9cm) of not very dense or supportive padding in the upper casing. The problem with the foam is that it loses support without you even realizing it IF you’re only judging it’s condition based on it returning to a normal shape after you get off of it.

As a side note, this is an issue I have with Tempur-Pedic; to get warranty replacement of their mattresses, the foam has to show a full 1 inch (2.4cm) of sag or indentation before they’ll replace it, per some internet sources. Foam, even high quality stuff like Tempur-Pedic uses, loses support well before it shows that kind of sag.

Same problem with our topper there. It looked OK if you unzip it, but NO support. Why does that matter? Because the rest of the bed is a glorified air mattress:

Or in the case of our Queen sized bed, two air mattresses connected via a zipper so there’s no gap in the center. This allows each side of the bed to be adjusted to varying firmness levels independent of the other side. If you’re wondering, the construction there is a combination of cloth and some vinyl-like material. Not much different from a decent quality camping air mattress that you’d buy from a department store.

Needless to say, the potential for leaks is there. Unlike those camping air mattresses, these held pressure pretty well up till our move out here from California. More on that in a minute or so.

Oh and of you’re wondering, YES, that IS just a foam block border around the air mattress, on all four sides. The outer fabric shell is primarily what holds the bed together. NOW, for the sake of being complete, here’s what’s under the air chambers:

First, we have about 3/4 of an inch of more foam to act as padding for the air chambers. THEN we have the bottom of the outer shell, secured to the adjustable base via four bolts anchoring wide plastic hold downs:

As you can see, it’s a fairly simple design overall. The air bags provide the firmness level of each side of the bed, and the topper helps the bed conform to your body and feel softer than a basic air mattress would. The hold downs keep the mattress from going anywhere while the adjustable base is in anything other than a flat position.

The air pump’s hoses hook into the head of the air mattress, and keep the mattresses at the desired setting, at least in theory.

Our Actual Problems:

Aside from the topper’s foam wearing out without us being fully aware of it (the air chamber softness can make this harder to notice than with an all foam mattress), the big problem was with air pressure. Customer (Non) Service as well, as you’re about to read.

Twice in the last 4 months we’ve had my side of the bed alternate between not holding pressure and just slowly being completely random in what it would be. I might go to bed at my ideal sleep number, wake up 2 hours later and have the pressure maxed out, and the next time I wake up, it could be nearly flat. This played hell with my back and neck as well as my already very poor sleep quality.

The first time, we called Sleep Number’s corporate customer service. We got told that we could throw parts blindly at it, OR have somebody come out and diagnose the bed. That would cost $100 though. Cheaper than just guessing and going through a pile of parts, right? We went that route.

It took a week and a half for them to get somebody out. We were stuck on our old inner spring guest bed during that time.

Two young guys that barely look out of high school show up, unzip the topper from the main body and take a quick look at the mattress, looking lost the entire time. They call the same 800 number we did, and talk to corporate. Perhaps unknown to corporate, we can hear the other end of the conversation, and they tell the kids to just label it the air chambers and get on to the next call. They sounded quite annoyed that the kids seemed to want to actually do the diagnosis we paid for.

Unsure what to do at the moment due to fatigue and not knowing how to check the other parts ourselves, we throw up our hands and say “fine”.

Here’s the kicker for this first call: Not only did we get charged $100 for a diagnosis that was nothing more than a blind guess, our 20 year pro-rated discount price for the new air chambers was another $200! Being pro-rated and only 25% of the way through our warranty, that means the parts should have been 75% off. MEANING, Sleep Number prices their air chambers at $800 MSRP.

The replacement parts order was also botched, and when we called back a day or two later, the order had never even been placed. THEN it took almost two weeks for the new air chambers to arrive. Yes, if you’re doing the math, that’s a month without the high priced bed. We also told them we’d install the new parts ourselves (it’s really pretty simple). Another three or four weeks later, Sleep Number has two new guys knocking on our door at the crack of dawn saying they were here to install the new parts we’d ordered.

SO, if we’d waited for them that would have been almost two months with no bed.

We put everything together though, and for a short while everything seemed OK. We figured that MAYBE the fluctuations in air pressure were caused by the pump trying to compensate (poorly) for a previous leak and we were good.

Three months later, we were back exactly where we were before.

THIS time, I spend a couple of days online researching things. YouTube and other review sites have several irate reviews about the pump systems on these beds being complete crap, and Sleep Number allegedly deliberately making them that way so they can sell a steady stream of replacement parts.

The crappy pump in question

Between the cost of the parts last time, realizing finally that the topper is worn out also, and feeling very burnt over the diagnostic fee, we had enough. We figured we’d be paying the same inflated prices for a replacement pump and topper, AND that we’d have NO idea how long before those parts or something else gave out again. That was when we opted to replace instead of repair.

Sleep IQ and Questions of Privacy:

Another thing to consider with a Sleep Number bed is their “Sleep IQ” phone app. First, the app is going to want access to quite a bit of your phone’s system. It’s also not just tracking your sleep via pressure sensors in the pump, it’s reporting that info back to Sleep Number’s computers. It will also pressure you to allow the app to monitor your wi-fi enabled thermostat, “to help avoid you sleeping hot or cold”.

All in all, there’s a ton of data about your sleep habits, sleep schedule, and home energy usage, along with God only knows what else from the other phone permissions, that the app data-mines and reports back to Sleep Number. I guarantee you that info is getting sold to third party marketers.

Since the app also claims to stop snoring by detecting it and elevating the upper portion of the bed, one can assume that the app is also using your phone as a listening device. How else is it going to detect snoring after all? Tossing and turning might be detectable via minor, brief changes in air pressure, but snoring??

Needless to say, we never installed the app. WAY too “Big Brother” for us.

Final Thoughts:

First, let me be fair: Our Sleep Number bed was pretty comfortable when we got it. It really helped with my back. MY big issue with the bed is the lack of long term quality and the piss-poor customer service with the company at the corporate level. When one pays a premium for a product, it’s naturally expected that performance and longevity will above average, ideally well above average.

Most fair, independent review sites will show that the Sleep Number bed is at the top of the charts for long term cost of ownership with beds. Even the custom fitted sheets designed to stay put on the unusual construction and movable base are around $250 for a queen set. Sleep Number is as much in business to sell you parts as they are an actual bed.

As you can see from the pictures above, the bed is really just an air mattress surrounded by foam as well. Nothing that justifies a nearly $4000 price tag for the newest models. In short, in my opinion, not only is the quality not there to justify the price, it’s long term costs are too high, AND the combination of foam and air mattress also make it hard to recognize when some parts are wearing out.

It’s also pretty lousy for sex as well. Too much give, and neither side is intended to support the weight of two people.

Buy ANYTHING else, but save your money here. It’s not worth the aggravation.

Le Creuset Style Cookware Review

A slight spin on my “Meals Monday” given the current housing situation here… Even if I had all my kitchenware, I’m still left with no grilling allowed at the apartment and only a cheap electric stove to cook on. We’ll be improvising here for a while with Meals Mondays.

So let’s get to it… I’m sure some of you have seen the fancy cookware on the Food Network and cooking shows elsewhere. Vitrified porcelain coated cast iron that always looks so shiny and new. What are the pluses and minuses? Is it worth the money? Are there alternatives? Silk is here with answers! 🙂

The premiere brand for this kind of cookware is Le Creuset. They’ve been largely the only manufacturer for ages. Their stuff is world class, last a lifetime and pass it on to your kids quality (barring stupid level abuse). It’s also world class expensive. My 5.5 quart dutch oven is currently on sale for $288 (this is NOT stuff you buy at Walmart).

So is it worth it? If you’re like me and prefer things that last, instead of replacing things every couple of years, it probably is. As said, these will last forever under normal use.

HEAT: A Plus and Minus

This is probably the biggest determiner of if this type of cookware is right for a meal you’re making. Between the cast iron construction and the heavy lids, Le Creuset cookware is famous for retaining heat AND heating evenly. People say the dutch oven is great for baking bread because of that. NOW, if you’re making a recipe that calls for something to be cooked on high for a time and then reduce heat… You’re going to have problems.

My best example here is trying to do a one pan breakfast meal. Cook the meat on a higher temperature, then try to turn down the heat so I don’t flash fry the eggs next… Not much luck.

Sometimes it’s simply a question of making the heat retention work for you. Turn down a soup early, even pull it off the stove and it’s going to keep the soup nice and hot.

If you need exact temperature control and to be able to vary it though, some sort of aluminum cookware is probably best. Get something coated though, as aluminum has been linked to various health issues.

A True Heavyweight:

Being ceramic coated cast iron, this type of cookware is gawawful heavy. The dutch oven is 11.5 pounds all by itself. Think of the money you can save on gym memberships though, LOL. Seriously though, a few people will find the weight factor to be off-putting.

Nonstick??

SORT OF… The vitrified porcelain coating is reasonably stick resistant and is as good as most nonstick pans if you use a good coating of cooking spray like Pam. A little olive oil in the pan works fairly well also. I haven’t gotten to experiment yet with how well something like butter or lard work.

Durable?

Vitrified porcelain is specially made, and a good bit more durable than normal porcelain. You’re supposed to be able to use metal cooking utensils with no issues. I’m still careful here myself however.

Stain Resistant?

Well, not perfectly so. Stains will seem to sink into the porcelain, BUT any time they have, I’ve been able to scrub them out with some liquid cleanser. Barkeeper’s Friend FTW. 🙂 Long story short, food will not just slide right out of your pan like it was a TV infomerical, and it will take a little work sometimes to keep the pans looking brand new.

Alternatives?

Le Creuset had a virtual monopoly on this style of cookware since 1925. There are several brands out there now making slightly similar stuff with ceramic or porcelain exteriors, but SOMETIMES the interior is still bare cast iron. Personally, I **HATE** trying to season cast iron too.

The best alternative I’ve found is made by Crock-Pot. They make pots in very similar sizes to Le Creuset, but are typically 1/3 the price. Take a look at the 5 quart dutch oven on Amazon for example. Normally $90 vs $360 normal price for the Le Creuset, and currently on sale for $52. They also do skillets and frying pans.

The frying pan I did my breakfast pizza post in is a Crock Pot pan:

I have three other Crock Pot brand pans also:

The difference between the “knock offs” and the Le Creuset is that Crock Pot and others use a porcelain enamel coating that’s probably not quite on par with Le Creuset’s vitrified porcelain process. While still durable, it’s probably not QUITE as abuse tolerant as Le Creuset’s vitrified porcelain coating. It’s every bit as easy to clean up, etc… otherwise however.

“Vitrified porcelain tiles are created by combining clay with other elements such as quartz, silica or feldspar under incredibly high temperatures. The vitrification process creates porcelain tiles that contain a glass substrate. The glass substrate gives the tiles a sleek appearance, provides added strength and makes the tiles water and scratch resistant. Vitrified porcelain tiles do not need to be re-sealed or glazed.”

That per Wikipedia, and while the entry was referencing tiles for counters, floors and showers, the process is essentially the same with the porcelain coating.

Is it worth the extra money for the Le Creuset? In my opinion, probably not UNLESS you won’t miss the extra money AND you tend to be rough on your cookware. I operate under the philosophy of “take care of your stuff and it’ll take care of you”. Going by that, AND what I’ve seen of the Crock Pot cookware I have, I expect it to last just as long as the Le Creuset.

While Le Creuset is still a better product, alot of that big price difference seems to be just for the name. Common with luxury goods.

My 3 quart Cuisinart brand pot

Cuisinart also makes some products along these lines, as you can see from the picture above. Same as Crock Pot stuff but a bit more pricey.

My Verdict:

While not ideal for every coking situation, this style of cookware is durable, long lasting, heats evenly and cleans up well. The inexpensive brands should last a lifetime with a modest amount of care. Le Creuset is even more rugged yet, but comes with a premium price tag.

If you’re fed up with throwing out cookware every few years because the non-stick surfaces have decayed, and you can’t get the stains off the bottom, etc… This IS worth it. Pay a bit more, take care of it, and you should never have to replace it.

I love mine enough that they were among the few items we did NOT trust to the movers on the trip to Tennessee.