Standing Desk Buyer's Guide
If you're already sold on the benefits of standing and the risks of being sedentary for long periods, you may be searching for an adjustable sit-to-stand desk. We've spent many years testing different desk types, working with companies that employ standing desks, and partnering with industry experts to help you know what to look for in a standing desk.
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Adjustable Sit-to-Stand Desks
The most common form of a standing desk is adjustable, so users can switch from sitting to standing throughout the day. While sitting all day can increase your risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, obesity, as well as cancer, and increased mortality, standing for long periods isn't optimal either. The best option is to alternate between sitting and standing throughout your day. And if you're contemplating a treadmill desk, you probably won't be walking on the treadmill the entire day. You'll walk at a very slow pace and alternate with sitting. Some treadmill desks have space next to them to slide a chair under, and others don't. For more information about treadmill desks, check out our Beginner's Guide to Treadmill Desks. There are a lot of standing desks that meet a lot of different needs, so there are many factors to consider. One of the first things to consider is how adjustable sit-to-stand desks change height: manually, with hydraulics, or with an electric motor.
Manual Adjusting Desks
In our experience of trying out standing desks, and according to the many people we've talked to, having to manually adjust the height of your desk (usually with a hand crank) is a pain. It doesn't sound time-consuming to take a minute to adjust your desk, but if you're switching from sitting to standing and back to sitting several times per hour, it adds up. What we've found is that many users start to reduce the amount of switching they do, and they revert to their old habit: sitting. And as standing desks become more popular, their prices are coming down. It won't cost that much more to go hydraulic or to have an electric motor.
This is a great option if you need a desk that adjusts quietly. These desks don't require any strength to adjust. You will find this option in one of the most expensive standing desks, the Focal Locus.
This is the most common type of standing desk, and there are several things to consider with electric desks. If you're working in a quiet office, you're going to want to look for a quieter desk. Measured in decibels, the range is generally between 40-70 decibels. Whispering in a library is around 30 decibels, while a normal conversation is 60-65 decibels. Regarding the speed that the desk switches positions, the range is generally 0.7 inches/second to 1.7 inches/second.
This might not seem important initially, but if you're used to having a lot of stuff on your desk, you have to consider how much weight the motor can handle. And remember that the tabletop has to be included in the weight that the motor will be lifting. Desks on the low end will only lift 50 lbs. If you're not sure how much your stuff weighs, take everything you have on your desk right now and weigh it. If the tabletop of the desk you're considering isn't listed, call the manufacturer to find out how much it weighs. On the high end, some desks can lift a whopping 700 lbs!
Electric desks will often have several memory settings, similar to what you have in some car seats. So if you share your desk with family or office workers, having 2-4 presets can save you time in adjusting, as you can just press a button and the desk will adjust to the perfect height for you.
Minimum and Maximum Height
This can be an issue if you're especially tall or short. The range is generally from 21-56 inches. When you're standing, you should be able to type with your elbows at your sides and your forearms slightly angled down towards the floor. Your monitor should be positioned at eye level. For more detailed information, check out our Guide to Proper Workplace Ergonomics.
For most standing desk users, the size of the tabletop is an important consideration. That's partly why many people choose to buy a frame and build their own tabletop. If you're used to having lots of stuff on your desk, make sure the size of your desk can accommodate everything you need. You'll also need to consider the amount of room you have in your office for your desk. Tabletops are made from several different materials, including particleboard, plastic, bamboo, carbonized bamboo, steel, 3D laminate, oak, or walnut.
There are several warranties offered by different standing desk companies. The minimum is 2 years, and some companies offer a lifetime warranty on the base or the frame and a limited time warranty on the tabletop or the motor.
Shipping and Assembly
Some desks aren't pre-made, and it can take up to 8 weeks for your desk to be delivered! Make sure you check on how long it will take, as many desks won't be delivered in a few days. Shipping generally costs $100-$150, and some companies will give you the option of "white-glove service," where they build your desk for you in the spot where you want to use it.
With some desks, you can add upgrades such as a tray to hold and hide the wires, a net to hold various items, or a keyboard tray. Beyond these options, each desk may have unique features that you won't find with other desks, such as:
- The desk syncs with your phone, giving you information about how long you've been standing or sitting and how many calories you've burned. You can also give commands to raise and lower the desk.
- You can write on the tabletop.
- A lightly textured tabletop that's more responsive to using a mouse (this desk is designed for gaming).
- Built-in speakers.
The standing desk industry is still in its infancy, so there's a range of quality, options, and performance issues. Read lots of reviews and pay attention to stability issues. Some standing desks become wobbly when raised, and some are just unstable in general, which will cause your monitor to shake when you type.
Standing Desk Converters
If you're not interested in replacing your current desk, you can place a converter or riser on top that will give you the option of sitting and standing. You can save a lot of money with this option, or spend almost what you would spend on a new standing desk.
Keep in mind that many of the options available are some variation of a table that you put on top of your desk. If you want to stand all the time, these options will work, but experts recommend alternating sitting and standing throughout your day. If you have room on your desk next to the table, and you're fine with moving the monitor and keyboard every time you want to switch, then adding a stand or table will work. Otherwise, you'll need a unit that will lift and drop your monitor and keyboard. We've found this to be more effective, as people who find switching too inconvenient tend to not switch and will just go back to their old habit of sitting.
The other issue with these more simple tables or stands is that they don't separate your keyboard from your monitor. It's important that you're looking forward to your monitor, whether you're sitting or standing, and your elbows are close to your torso when you type. See Proper Workplace Ergonomics for more details.
The benefits of a converter are that they're often cheaper, they're easier to install (many you open the box and just set it on your desk and you're done), and they're lighter. They'll also be delivered quickly as it won't take weeks to manufacture, as it does in the cases of some standing desks.
One of the drawbacks is that they're not as stable, so your keyboard and monitor are going to shake a little more. Another issue with some converters is that when you lift them, they come up and forward, so you have to step back a little. If you don't have much space behind you in your office, this could be an issue. But if you have a desk that's attached to the wall or floor, so you can't easily replace it, converters like the ones offered by Varidesk or other reputable companies can be a great option.
Standing on a Budget
Though standing desks can be quite costly, there are options for people on a budget. Or if you're not sure yet if you want to purchase a standing desk, you can use one of these cheap options to see if you like it.
Build Your Own from Scratch
If you're handy, you could build your own adjustable standing desk. You can be creative in how you get the desk to adjust to a sitting and standing height, but keep in mind a few key points.
One is to make sure it's not too inconvenient to switch the desk manually. If it takes a couple of minutes to raise or lower the desk or if it requires 2 people, you may defeat the point of having a standing desk if you end up not alternating it because it takes too long.
You'll also want to watch your budget. Some people who try to save money with "sweat equity" end up spending almost as much as what they would have spent on an electric desk and the finished product usually doesn't look nearly as good as one from a standing desk company.
For those of you who want to take on the challenge, we have created a list of different DIY standing desk options that we and others have built:
Low to No Cost Standing Desks
This option doesn't necessarily look the best or is as convenient, but it will save a lot of money. All you need to do is to make your own riser.
The quickest and easiest option is to place your monitor on a chair or stool on top of your desk. It probably won't look great, and you will need to make sure that the setup is stable so your monitor doesn't fall off the chair or stool.
A better long-term solution than a chair is a very sturdy box or a small table that will sit on top of your desk. When you sit back down, you'll need enough space on your desk so you can set the monitor back on the desk. If you don't like the way the box or table looks, you could wrap a cloth around it.
Another option is to put your desk in front of a wall and install a shelf on the wall that will hold your monitor.
A monitor arm attaches to your desk, and in some of the models, you can adjust the height as well as the angle of the screen. These options will generally cost from $70 to $100 for an arm that holds one monitor, and more if you have two or more monitors. They are critical because they align to your head height so that you don't have to look down as you work.
How to Use a Laptop When Standing
The problem with laptops, ergonomically, is that if you're standing and you're looking down at the screen, you're putting pressure on your neck and upper back. If your laptop screen is at eye level, which is better for your posture, then you have to reach to type on your keyboard, which can strain your back as well.
The solution is to separate the keyboard from your monitor. The cheapest way to do this is to add a keyboard to your laptop via your USB port.
You can search "standing desk laptop stand," and you'll find options under $50.
If your keyboard is too low to type comfortably, then you can search online or simply look at the top-rated keyboard trays here.
These options may save you money, but they are slightly inconvenient. Every time that you want to switch from sitting to standing, you have to lift your laptop and/or keyboard on top of the riser and attach the keyboard.