The subject of bamboo flooring is a fascinating one and is perhaps one of the least understood of alternative wood flooring options.
IS BAMBOO AS DURABLE AS WOOD?
Bamboo flooring is not wood flooring. When used as an
alternative to hardwood flooring, the question would be whether or not it is as
durable as wood. Solid hardwood flooring is unquestionably durable. Sealing the
wood only increases its hardness and durability.
But bamboo is a plant, made of
stalks and is a member of the grass family. How can it be as durable as wood?
AND THE ANSWER IS...
The answer lies in the quality of the bamboo, the placement
of the stalks, and the adhesives used to hold the stalks together.
Quality of the Bamboo
Though it can be hard or even impossible
to always determine the quality of the bamboo being purchased, it has been
shown that bamboo that is harvested late is more durable than younger bamboo
harvested early. The younger bamboo can become cupped or warped over time. This
is why it is important to buy from a reputable dealer and look for the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) Seal.
Construction and Placement of the Stalks.
There are 2 types of construction:
- Solid bamboo flooring begins by slicing
the stalks into thin strips of a certain length. The outer skin is removed and
the strips are boiled in boric acid to remove any starches and then are laid
out to dry. They are then coated in an adhesive resin and pressed together
either horizontally or vertically. The material goes through heat binders, is
then planed and sanded and a light UV lacquer is applied. The planks are sanded smooth and can be finished as desired. The plank strips are then nailed
to wooden beams or larger bamboo pieces.
- There is also strand bamboo
flooring or woven strand bamboo flooring. With this type of bamboo
construction, the stalks are sliced into thin strips and treated for insects or
vermin. The strips will often be boiled and may be dipped in borax. The stalks
are then pulled apart and shredded and then tightly integrated with adhesives.
The fibers are formed into boards under high pressure and then treated with a
preservative. Because this type uses not just the stalks, but also the smaller
strands and is combined with adhesives, it makes a stronger product. (Strand
woven bamboo is high on the Janka Hardness Scale at 2000-3200, right up there
with Brazilian cherry and teak. One type of bamboo is advertised at 5000 on the
Ultimately, it is the man-made adhesives that hold the stalks together that make
bamboo flooring hard and durable. It is unfortunate, however, that the
urea-formaldehyde adhesives used can emit volatile organic compounds (VOCs)
into the interior space (sometimes more than that found in manufactured
wall-to-wall carpeting). The toxicity of the adhesive will depend on the
manufacturer and that is why it is important to find a reputable dealer so you
can be sure your bamboo flooring has been produced with the highest
BAMBOO COMPARED TO WOOD FLOORING
When comparing bamboo to wood flooring, the major difference
seems to be in colors and finishes. While they are both durable and attractive,
bamboo floors are limited to only a few shades, light blonde (natural) or a
medium brown which is produced by heating the bamboo in a process called
carbonization, which also makes it slightly softer. Hardwood floors come in
many varieties of colors and finishes.
Either the strands or the stalks can be
installed vertically or horizontally, depending upon the preference of the consumer. The
vertical gives a more textured look. The horizontal is what one would expect a
bamboo floor to look like.
The most common type of bamboo
flooring used in Asia is one where the
arrangement of the planks is loose, producing irregular gaps throughout. This
type of floor breathes, which will keep a room cooler and more ventilated in
When Engineered Bamboo Flooring is manufactured, the stalks go through slicing, treating, and being adhered together as for solid
bamboo flooring. The difference is the planks are sliced down into thin
horizontal layers and then installed on backing material such as plywood or fiberboard
with heat, pressure, and adhesive.
IS BAMBOO FLOORING
A 'GREEN' CHOICE?
This type of flooring is unique and
aesthetically appealing as a floor covering and has become very popular in recent years. It is
a 'sustainable, renewable' product since it matures in 3-5 years when it is
ready to be made into flooring. But there are some murky questions lurking
about its choice as a 'green' one.
The adhesives used in the manufacture of this product are definitely not 'green' and
may contain VOCs and/or formaldehyde. As mentioned above, the durability of
bamboo floors varies too much and is totally dependent upon the treatment of
the bamboo with adhesives.
Most of the bamboo comes from China
which has a history of human rights abuses, suspect politics, and a poor
environmental record, questioning the choice of bamboo flooring as an 'ethical'
There has been progress made recently. Check to see if the grower and
manufacturer of the bamboo has achieved certification from the Forestry
Stewardship Council (FSC) for their practices. Some manufacturers are beginning
to use healthier formulations of formaldehyde as well.
Bamboo is currently listed as a green
material by the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design or LEED, a
building certification process. There are other options to bamboo, such as eucalyptus, cork, and reclaimed hardwoods which may be green or greener than bamboo.
ADVANTAGES OF BAMBOO AS A
- Bamboo is a very fast-growing plant, maturing in 3-5 years.
- It is a very hardy plant and because
the root does not have to be removed at harvest, it does not have to be planted
- Harvesting is good for the
environment because removing the large bamboo stalks allows sunlight to filter down
and reach some of the smaller plants and foliage.
- Bamboo has very long roots that
spread out with spider-like veins. These hold the soil together and combat
erosion which is good for the ecology of a system.
- Bamboo is biodegradable and will break down over time in a landfill
- One important advantage of bamboo
is that it has been shown to hold more carbon than trees so it does tend to
help ward off global climate change.
- It is also able to generate 35% more oxygen than the same amount of planted trees.
SOME SERIOUS DOWNSIDES TO USING BAMBOO AS A FLOORING PRODUCT
- Bamboo has become so popular that it has
spread into fields traditionally used for other foliage. This hurts
biodiversity and changes the ecological balance of the environment.
- While, as mentioned above, bamboo
is a fast-growing plant, sometimes that growth may be augmented even more with
synthetic fertilizers and pesticides.
- Harvesting and manufacturing need to be regulated or rated by
the FSC Forest Stewardship Council, which at this time is not widespread. This makes it impossible to know whether or not the bamboo was harvested
ecologically responsibly and sustainably.
- No fair trade certification means
no way to know whether the workers harvesting are being fairly treated.
- Formaldehyde and VOCs. The higher
the quality of the bamboo, the less toxic will be the adhesives, the
formaldehyde, and VOCs.
- Transportation. Bamboo comes from SE Asia and the carbon emissions given off during the
transportation process can affect its ecological viability.
CLEANING & MAINTENANCE
- No wet mopping. Even though Bamboo is more
dense and water resistant than most other woods, it cannot be installed in a
wet environment where liquids sit on the surface of the floor. This includes
areas of high humidity (water in the air) as well. The damage can include warping and staining and can also lead to the growth of mold and mildew in the sub floor.
- Sweeping and vacuuming regularly will help to get rid of
small dirt particles and debris that can cause scratches that will dig down
into the finish when walked on, which will give the bamboo a faded look. Do not
use a vacuum with a beater bar.
- Occasional damp mopping is fine, but any remaining liquid
should be wiped free immediately.
- Only non-alkaline, non-abrasive cleaners and no floor wax
should be used on a bamboo floor. Do not use oil soap or scouring powder. If
the cleaning agent needs to be mixed with water, follow the directions very
carefully. After cleaning with any
liquid, use a dry towel to wipe up any excess moisture.
- Natural bamboo cleaning solution – Mix ¼ cup of white vinegar into a quart of water. Apply using a damp sponge or rag wrung dry before
applying and wipe up any excess immediately.
- Bamboo can be subject to scratches, dents, and cracks under
certain conditions such as pet claws, etc. Refinishing the floors periodically will help to revitalize the look of the product.
If properly installed and cared for, a bamboo floor can last
for up to 30 years.
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