A Kailua-born engineer’s invention keeps the bed comfy and has become popular among women
We could haul out the old saw about necessity being the mother of invention, but in this particular case, the saying about genius being 1 percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration has never been more accurate.
Consider Kurt Tompkins, a Texas engineer who worked a night shift. He went to bed about the time most people were getting up, and in order to sleep comfortably, he kept turning up the air conditioning. Naturally, his electrical bills were going through his (uninsulated) roof.
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Air coming from the top of the bedfan keeps the sleeper cool. The bedfan attaches to the foot of the bed and blows air between the covers.
And, just as naturally, his engineer's brain went to work. Could he cobble something together to help him sleep comfortably?
The result was a nifty little invention he dubbed the Bedfan.
"I went through several prototypes, and never pictured exactly how it would appear, just what it was supposed to do," said Tompkins - who was born in Kailua, by the way. "It took quite a while, and it turned out that the answer lay in Velcro."
What Tompkins realized was that much of the heat generated while sleeping comes from our own bodies. It builds up beneath the sheets until it reaches uncomfortable levels, at which point the covers are thrown off and the cycle begins again. Instead of cooling the sleeper, he thought it would be easier to figure out a way to release the trapped, heated air. Tompkins wasn't trying to replace air conditioning, he was trying to make it more efficient.
The solution was a fan that delivered a steady, small feed of air from the foot of the bed, an imperceptible breeze that simply displaced hot air. The tricky part was designing a flat device that could be adjusted to any bed height, and was not easily broken. Tompkins came up with plastic risers held in place with Velcro.
Prototype completed, Tompkins tried it. It worked. His AC consumption dropped by at least 10 percent, a significant dollar savings. He started a small business to manufacture the item, then tackled the next trick, sales.
"We were considering making it a kind of Avon or Mary Kay (type) product, where other ladies give you a show. It seems almost too simplistic to be real, but it works by basic physics. You have to feel it."
In other words, the Bedfan was an ideal word-of-mouth product. The Internet turned out to be the solution. Word of the device began to spread there, and sales are almost all handled over the Net.
A new customer base popped up, one Tompkins had not anticipated. The most enthusiastic users of the Bedfan, it turns out, are women going through menopause, suffering from hot flashes.
The business has grown 400 percent a year for three years, and more than 12,000 Bedfans have been sold.
The list price is $99, but shop around on the Internet and pay attention to shipping prices. I found two for $79.95 each, with $13 total shipping via USPS. They came in four days and were immediately appropriated by two ladies of - ahem - a certain age, and they're not giving them up.
"First time in ages I've slept with sheets over me the whole night," reports one.
"Women take sleeping seriously, and this helps," reports the other. "Men, well, they can just flop down anywhere in their underwear and pass out. It's not fair!"