If bamboo floors are on your wish list, knowing what to expect from them will help you decide whether they are the right choice for your home. Here is a quick overview of the benefits and drawbacks of bamboo flooring.
Advantages: Highly Renewable
By far, the best aspect of bamboo floors is their remarkable eco-friendly qualities. As far as sustainability is concerned, bamboo is a dream material for the environmentally minded. Most species of trees take decades to mature until they become a good contender for your hardwood floors. Tree reserves may have to be replenished by replanting in order to keep the wood source going. By contrast, bamboo may take as little as three years to mature, does not need replanting and grows wild and in abundance in tropical areas. It does not get any more renewable than this.
The bamboo stalks are often cut by hand, which diminishes carbon emissions during harvesting. During the harvesting process, the roots are left intact, which means that soil is not threatened by erosion. Finally, no panda’s menu is endangered by bamboo harvesting. The bamboo planks are mostly made from the Moso variety that has no leaf growth at the base, so it is not a source of food for pandas.
Excellent Hardness and Durability
The hardness of bamboo floors greatly depends on the manufacturing process. Carbonized bamboo loses part of its strength during this process, while the fabrication process can turn strand-woven bamboo into a material that defies the strength and resilience of concrete. Add to that the age of the bamboo stalks and the details of each manufacturing process – and you get a picture of why the hardness and quality of bamboo greatly varies from one product to another.
Here are some approximate numbers. Regular blonde bamboo has a hardness rating of about 1380 on the Janka scale, which places it above red oak (with a 1290 index), but below hard maple (1450). Because of the processing of bamboo strands, the carbonized bamboo has a hardness index of only 1180. Strand-woven bamboo, however, is a whopping 3000, which makes it an extremely hardwood floor option, twice as hard as oak or maple. As a general rule of thumb, the darker the bamboo, the softer the planks.
The hardness of bamboo translates into fewer chances to scratch or dent the floors and suits high-traffic areas and families with children or pets. (However, keep in mind that, while it is hard to dent good-quality bamboo flooring, sharp objects can still penetrate the planks and damage them). Despite their hardness, bamboo floors are easier on the body than hardwood. In addition, because bamboo grows at the tropics, this type of flooring is more resistant to the humidity in the air, it expands and shrinks less than hardwood and is a good choice for kitchen installations.
Clean, Contemporary Look
Bamboo flooring is simply beautiful. It has a specific look – clean, fresh, and light – that fits perfectly into modern and contemporary decors and gives your home a serene, relaxed appearance. Bamboo is a good option if you prefer a more uniform look, unless you choose the tiger variety that gives you a dramatic combination of light and dark, or the strand-woven bamboo, with even more color variation.
Drawbacks: Quality of Bamboo Flooring Varies
With bamboo harvested and manufactured overseas, it is hard to regulate the manufacturing process or to distinguish between low and high-quality bamboo. From the maturity of the bamboo stalks (six-year old bamboo is harder than the three-year old one) to the quality of adhesives that may contain toxic chemicals, the variation in quality is overwhelming. Using a professional wood floor company with a good name is the best way to make sure you get the best in bamboo flooring.
Bamboo planks are not simple cuts from the trunk of the trees, but a collection of bamboo strips or strands condensed into a hard mass. Because the manufacturing process requires glue to bond these strips together, and because this adhesive may contain high doses of toxic urea formaldehyde, there is a danger of slow release of VOC fumes over time and of polluting the inside air of your home.
The solution is choosing a reputable wood flooring company, asking questions about the manufacturing process and choosing bamboo planks that use formaldehyde-free adhesives and water-based, low-VOC finishes. Bamboo certified by FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) is a good way to go.
More Difficult to Refinish
Because of the grassy structure of bamboo and the way planks are manufactured, bamboo floors run the risk of being hard or even impossible to refinish. They may shred when sanded or release VOC fumes if the quality of the planks is questionable. However, high-quality bamboo may allow for two or three sanding rounds. This, combined with its excellent durability and the generally smaller price, can give you decades of use and excellent value for your money.
Care Needed during Installation
You may face a few problems when working on installing bamboo floors. Kiln drying that is not up to standard or very difficult to measure may lead to great variation in the moisture content (MC) of your planks. In addition, strand-woven bamboo adapts its MC slowly to the environment because of its extremely dense structure. This means that this type of bamboo needs more time for acclimation. Finally, extra care is needed when using nails and staples that can easily ruin your floors.