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How to Shop for Bamboo Flooring

Updated on March 14, 2012
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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 Bamboo Flooring Sample
Horizontal Bamboo Flooring Sample | Source






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.

This is the edge of a flooring sample of solid horizontal bamboo mounted on a piece of plywood.  Notice how the bamboo planks are 3-ply.
This is the edge of a flooring sample of solid horizontal bamboo mounted on a piece of plywood. Notice how the bamboo planks are 3-ply. | Source
Vertical solid bamboo flooring
Vertical solid bamboo flooring | Source






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.






This is the edge of a flooring sample of solid vertical bamboo mounted on a piece of plywood.
This is the edge of a flooring sample of solid vertical bamboo mounted on a piece of plywood. | Source
Solid strand bamboo flooring
Solid strand bamboo flooring | Source






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.





This is the edge of a flooring sample of solid strand bamboo mounted on a piece of plywood.
This is the edge of a flooring sample of solid strand bamboo mounted on a piece of plywood. | Source

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.

Summary

To summarize, here are the steps in shopping for bamboo:

  1. Choose between glue/nail down and floating.
  2. Choose between solid or engineered.
  3. Choose the grain that you want: horizontal, vertical or strand.
  4. Choose the plank size and the finish that you want.

Good luck with your shopping!

We installed Morningstar's 3/8" x 3-3/4" solid strand carbonized bamboo in our master bedroom.
We installed Morningstar's 3/8" x 3-3/4" solid strand carbonized bamboo in our master bedroom. | Source

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    • Ashley LeAnn profile image

      Ashley LeAnn 

      2 years ago

      One thing to remember is that its likely best to consult a professional or at least do research when deciding to do floating floors, because it's not always the best option for every room. Also, make sure you don't install cabinets on top of a floating floor, this is likely to cause a buckle in the floor.

    • Donna Huebsch profile imageAUTHOR

      Donna Fairley Huebsch 

      6 years ago from Clearwater, Florida

      Wilderness, thank you for stopping by and commenting. Sorry to hear about your experience! We had decided to put this flooring throughout our whole house and it was a HUGE investment, so we researched, over-researched, and researched some more. We liked the idea of bamboo, and hardness was our main concern...I think the strand was a good choice. A couple of the rooms have been down for quite a few months and look like they're holding up well. The latest room is a game room with a pool table and there have been a few hits on the floor of pool balls gone wild - so far we haven't seen any dents, so it seems to hold up well.

    • wilderness profile image

      Dan Harmon 

      6 years ago from Boise, Idaho

      Sure wish I'd seen this before we put down a bamboo floor in our dining area as we are disappointed with it and would have known better.

      Although the floor turned out beautiful, mixing different colors and designing patterns into the nailed on flooring, it hasn't lasted. Not that the surafce is scratched, just dented everywhere. Pushing chairs across it the past 10 years has nearly destroyed it with large dents wherever the chairs sit.

      A great hub that I wish I'd seen long ago, and very helpful and descriptive photos.

    • homesteadbound profile image

      Cindy Murdoch 

      7 years ago from Texas

      When we bought our current home which was a fixer upper, we pulled up all the carpet and put in solid flooring throughout. I wish we had done some bamboo flooring because it really is so pretty and it is green too.

      Great hub with lots of great information.

      Voted up, interesting and useful.

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