Bamboo flooring is an increasingly popular alternative to hardwoods. You may have seen it in a friend’s house here in Austin and be curious about having it installed in yours. It is advertized as a ‘green’, super durable flooring material that gives off the natural, warm feel of hardwood. Bamboo ranges widely in quality, however, and to get the best product, it pays to do a little research.
This article will tell you:
– How bamboo is processed determines 90% of how durable the finished floor will be
– That bamboo is NOT always a green product
– That imported bamboo almost always has a high carbon footprint
Bamboo is a grass, and the grain has a finer, more abstract texture than the well defined age-lines found in hardwood planks. It comes in a very wide range of colors, and the planks can be almost any width and length. Just like regular hardwood, bamboo is a natural product, so no two pieces will be the same. The best way to get a feel for bamboo is to see it used in the home:
There are two types of bamboo flooring – solid bamboo and strip woven bamboo. Bamboo is a grass so on its own it is not very dense and will not create a solid floor. Keep this in mind when looking at solid bamboo flooring – it is not inherently resistant to scuffs, dents and scratches. The majority of its strength comes from the treatment method.
Strip woven bamboo is the most durable type of bamboo flooring, and is created by cutting bamboo poles into randomly sized strips, weaving them back together crossways, and then immersing them in glue and sealant and allowing them to reform under extreme pressure. This creates a super dense, super hard board.
The best methods create boards that companies claim will score above 3000 on the Janka Hardness Scale. Even the most durable hardwoods usually score below 3000, so you should certainly consider woven bamboo if hardness is important for your project.
Is it ‘Green’?
Bamboo is an abundant, renewable resource. However, the majority of it is grown in China, and it has to be heavily processed to achieve hardnesses suitable for flooring. It cannot be assumed to be environmentally friendly. Some types of bamboo flooring have a surprisingly high environmental impact.
Carbon Footprint – It takes a lot of fuel to move bamboo from wherever it was grown in China to a shipping vessel, across the Pacific, and then to Austin. A study done on the relative carbon footprints of concrete vs bamboo flooring showed that in a harvest-to-installation analysis, bamboo emitted almost twice as much carbon dioxide as concrete, and required almost three times as much energy. Concrete production is an energy intensive process – mining rock, crushing rock, creating additives, transporting and mixing the super heavy material all contribute to its high carbon footprint. Yet, in this study it easily beat out natural, renewable bamboo because the concrete was mined and processed just a few hours from the construction site, while the bamboo came from China. When it comes to carbon emissions, imported bamboo is one of the most harmful products you can choose.
Renewable – One of the primary benefits of bamboo over hardwoods, from an ecological perspective, is that bamboo can be continually and sustainable harvested. Bamboo takes 5-6 years to reach full maturity and peak hardness, and once it does, about 20% of a given stand can be harvested every year. However, just because bamboo can be grown sustainably doesn’t mean it is. Because of the high demand for bamboo in the US, some Chinese forests are being cut down and re-planted with bamboo. Many bamboo vendors have no idea where and how their bamboo was grown, so if you want to buy sustainable flooring, buy from a company like Teragen (http://www.teragren.com/) that controls every facet of their production.
Toxicity – Bamboo flooring producers have been criticized for using formaldehyde and Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) in their manufacturing processes. These are extremely toxic chemicals, and consumers should be suspect of any vendor who can’t provide exact information on where and under what conditions their bamboo was processed. Surprisingly, this information can be hard to come by. To be sure of the quality and safety of your flooring, buy from a company like Teragen that owns and runs their own processing plants in China.
To sum this all up: make sure your flooring is processed using a well-known method that yields a janka hardness score that is acceptable to you. Buy from a company that controls their entire production process, and remember, buying Texas-local always has less of a carbon footprint than buying from China. Call VanRossun at (512) 263-9855
for more information, and a free estimate for your bamboo flooring installation.