How to Shop for Bamboo Flooring
When we bought the house that we're renovating, we knew one thing - there would be NO carpet in the house when we got done. We hate the stuff. We wanted wood flooring throughout.
I have to admit, when I first heard about bamboo flooring, I was a little skeptical. My experience with bamboo products was limited to those cheap old bamboo roll-up shades, and a set of bamboo wind chimes. How on earth could they make flooring from bamboo? It was a little beyond my comprehension, kind of like looking at a veggie burger and wondering how it could be made from a soybean.
However, a lot of research turned up some interesting facts and also turned us into bamboo flooring believers.
A Green Flooring Option
Bamboo is often referred to as a green or eco friendly flooring option. This is because bamboo is actually a grass, not a tree. It takes about 5-6 years to reach maturity for harvest, compared to 20-120 years for trees. Also, once it's harvested, it doesn't need to be replanted. The rhizome root system will continue to sprout new growth after the mature stalks are cut.
Bamboo also requires minimal fertilization and pesticides. If you're concerned about minimizing your impact on the environment, bamboo flooring is a choice you can feel good about.
Once you start shopping for bamboo, it can be overwhelming to sort through the selection of products on the market. However, making a few decisions ahead of time can help narrow down your choices.
Glue Down or Floating?
First of all, decide if you'd like have a glue down or floating floor. Glue down is just what it says - the flooring planks are glued down to a concrete subfloor or nailed down to a plywood subfloor. Floating means that the flooring planks are manufactured with tongues and grooves that click together and hold them in place over a concrete or plywood subfloor. Flooring manufacturers will indicate which type of installation is recommended for a particular product.
If you're going to hire a professional installer, ask them for a recommendation for your project. If you're a Do-It-Yourselfer, you may find that a floating floor is much easier to install - glue down could be quite messy for the new flooring installer!
Understand the additional costs for glue down vs. floating. For glue down over concrete, you will need to use a glue with a built-in moisture sealer - this glue can be quite expensive. For example, on one of our quotes for a glue down strand bamboo, the glue cost almost 40% as much as the flooring itself!
If you go with floating over concrete, you will need to include the cost of the plastic sheeting moisture barrier, as well as an underlayment to help cushion the floor and reduce the noise when walking on it. Although our price per sq. ft. for the actual floating flooring was higher than the glue down, the additional cost for the plastic sheeting and underlayment was only 18% of the cost of the flooring.
Solid or Engineered?
There are two basic categories of bamboo flooring, solid and engineered. Solid bamboo planks are made of all bamboo, where the engineered planks consist of a thin (about 1/8") layer of a bamboo veneer over other layers of composite wood materials. How do you choose? Your budget may be the determining factor - solid bamboo flooring is generally more expensive than the engineered variety.
Also, engineered flooring has traditionally been considered a better choice for high moisture environments, such as kitchens, below-grade or basement installations. It typically has a greater resistance to changes in humidity and temperature.
Solid bamboo has the advantage over engineered flooring when it comes to refinishing, simply because there is a greater thickness of the bamboo to work with.
Horizontal, Vertical or Strand?
Now that you've decided between solid and engineered bamboo flooring, you will need to decide on the structure or grain of the bamboo itself. There are basically three choices: horizontal, vertical, and strand.
Horizontal (also called "plain pressed" or "flat pressed") means that the bamboo is cut into long strips and then the strips are glued together with the outside surface of the bamboo showing. This type of flooring will show the characteristic joints or "knuckles" of the bamboo.
The joined bamboo is then glued together in layers to form a multi-ply plank of the desired thickness.
Vertical (also called "side pressed") means that the bamboo is cut into long strips and then the strips are glued together in a stack, with the edges showing.
Strand (also called "strandwoven") means that the bamboo is shredded into strands, which are then mixed with resin and pressed under high pressure to form solid blocks from which planks are cut. Because of the way strand bamboo flooring is made, it is about twice as hard as horizontal or vertical bamboo flooring.
When making a choice between horizontal, vertical or strand, be sure to consider the traffic that the flooring will get in your house. If you have kids, big pets, or host frequent gatherings where guests may be wearing heels like stilettos, strand bamboo flooring will be the most durable, but it will be more expensive. If you have very light traffic, the less expensive horizontal or vertical will work - just be aware that it scratches and dents fairly easily.
Plank Sizes and Finishes
There are a wide variety of plank sizes as well as finishes to choose from. Which one you choose first, plank size or finish, is up to you. You may want a certain width and length of plank, and then choose from the finishes available in that size; or you may really want the look of a certain finish, and then choose the plank size that best fits your needs.
Bamboo flooring is available in many different widths and lengths, with most choices from 3-3/4" - 5" wide and from 3ft.-6ft. long. Thickness is generally 5/8"-9/16", although some solid bamboo flooring is offered in 3/8" thickness and some as thick as 11/16".
Finishes used to be limited to natural and carbonized. Natural, of course, is the natural color of bamboo, while carbonized means that the bamboo has been subjected to pressure heating. When the sugar in the wood is heated, the bamboo turns a darker color. You may hear that carbonization softens the bamboo, which is true for horizontal and vertical bamboo. However, the strand process compensates for the carbonization, and so strand carbonized bamboo is still extremely hard.
In addition to natural and carbonized, there are now many finishes available to choose from, as well as special styles such as handscraping. At this point, your choice of color will be whatever is most appealing to you.
To summarize, here are the steps in shopping for bamboo:
- Choose between glue/nail down and floating.
- Choose between solid or engineered.
- Choose the grain that you want: horizontal, vertical or strand.
- Choose the plank size and the finish that you want.
Good luck with your shopping!
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