Bamboo Flooring:Pros and Cons
Sustainability and eco-friendliness aside, what are the pros and cons of bamboo flooring?
There is just something wonderful about the look and the feel of wood floors. They can add a warm, country ambiance or contemporary flair. The concern has been for the loss of so many trees. It takes approximately 100 years for a hardwood tree to mature to the point it can be used for floors. There has to be a solution that is better than toxic fake wood, right?
Many people feel that there is. While it take a lifetime for hardwood to mature it typically takes bamboo only about 3-5 years to reach a size that can be used for the manufacture of wood flooring. It is a grass and there is no need to replant it. Bamboo regenerates readily from the rhizomes left in the ground. It does not even require pesticides to do well.
In addition, many people in third world countries rely on the bamboo industry to support their families.
Sounds like the perfect, earth-friendly alternative to wood, but is it?
Installing Bamboo Flooring
Bottom Line-Is Bamboo Flooring Durable?
In comparison the darker bamboo is similar to black walnut and the lighter colors can be compared to maple. These wood varieties, although hardwoods, are considerably softer that oak. They are easily dented and scratched by heavy furniture, high heels, and normal use. Bamboo is much the same. It is not more durable than conventional hardwood, nor is it easier to take care of.
The color variations in bamboo floors are created by heating the bamboo. The lighter the floor is the less it has been heated and the stronger it is. As bamboo is heated it gets softer and more easily marred. The boiling and heating process that created the carbonized color softens the wood by approximately 30%. The bamboo strips are finished with an aluminum oxide finish, however this does not seem to add as much durability as manufacturers would have you think.
The bottom line is that bamboo floors are easily scratched, dented, and chipped, just like many other woods. If you are looking at bamboo flooring press a fingernail or a coin into the wood and see how much, and how easily, it dents. This will give you an idea of what will happen at home.
Types of Bamboo Flooring
The bamboo is naturally hollow, with thin walls. It is very different from conventional wood in the way that it is formed. Strips of the bamboo are laminated to make the desired size of flooring. Some floors are termed "horizontal". This means that the bamboo strips are laminated together so that the top shows the natural growth rings. This makes the wood look like short, choppy rows. Some manufacturers offer three foot lengths while others make bamboo flooring in six foot lengths. Most people prefer the longer lengths because it seems to just look better once it is installed. When bamboo is described as "vertical" the strips are laid on their sides and laminated to create a look of long, thin rows of wood.
Engineered bamboo flooring is not 100% bamboo. This type of bamboo is more durable than other types, however, and resists cupping and is ultimately more stable than pure bamboo. If you live in an area with very high humidity the increased moisture resistance of engineered bamboo flooring may make this a good choice for you. Engineered flooring is described in terms of plies. The number of plies indicated more stability due to the layering of the bamboo.
Stranded bamboo floors are created with bamboo fibers. These fibers are shredded and blended with an adhesive and pressure treated. This is probably the most durable of the bamboo floors. Because of the density of the flooring it is also the hardest to install properly.
Management? Fair Trade? Eco-Friendly?
One of the many problems with bamboo is that large areas of natural forests are being cleared to grow bamboo for export. Large amounts of chemical fertilizers are being used to increase bamboo yields.
The practice of clear-cutting is creating large amounts of erosion. Tilling, pesticides and chemical weeding practices are increasing soil loss and toxicity. Because of these practices biodiversity in these areas is on the wane. There is a resulting loss of native plants and animals due to the changes in the habitat.
There are no bamboo companies that have credible environmental certification. Other woods can be certified by the Forest Stewardship Council but most bamboo products have no certification.
In spring of 2008 Smith and Fong Plyboo earned FSC certification on it's bamboo flooring. Other companies are begining to do this as well. This means that the bamboo from these companies is certified to be grown in a sustainable and responsible manner.
Other issues of concern to consumers that are interested in earth friendly products are:
- There is not a Fair Trade certification for bamboo.
- The vast majority of bamboos have formaldehyde binders in the adhesives.
- It can't be locally sourced
- It can bleach in areas that receive direct sunlight
- It will stain easily if not sealed properly
Benefits of Bamboo Flooring
There are benefits to bamboo flooring. Many of the benefits of bamboo are the same as conventional wood:
- Easily cleaned
- Long lasting
It also has some benefits over wood floors:
- It costs up to 50% less than conventional flooring
- Bamboo floor can be easily installed over many types of subfloor.
- Bamboo flooring can be nailed, floated, or glued.
- It is environmentally friendly in that it is quickly renewable.
- Some companies are using safer resins with low formaldehyde emissions.
- It is fire resistant
Should You Choose Bamboo Flooring?
The decision whether to choose bamboo or conventional wood flooring should be made after considering all of the facts and choosing what works best for you. Do not be swayed by what they tell you are the store, or by claims by manufacturers.
As with everything do your homework and ultimately buy what appeals to you the most.