Going Green with Bamboo

Filed in Uncategorized by on July 3, 2008 4 Comments

Maybe I’m a bit Johnny-come-lately on this one, but I thought writing an article might be a good way for me to learn a little bit about bamboo floors. About three years ago I tore out all of the carpet on the main floor of our house, and replaced it with a super-durable laminate. Is that tacky? Maybe. I generally don’t think that Minneapolis homes with excessive use of pergo type material are so fun to try to sell, especially if the owners went cheap on it. I prefer the look of hardwood floors, but we had five kids in the house, a big dog, lots of “accidents,” and I figured that it would not be long before I would be sanding and refinishing if I went that route. My only experience with refinishing an oak floor was disasterous; after mauling it with a belt sander, the floor had more waves in it than Upper Red Lake.

I Hate Carpet

The decision came down to personal preference, money, and convenience. Considerations of re-sale value and aesthetics were secondary. However, I wish I would have known more about the bamboo alternative. My only prior experiences with bamboo were limited to those fishing poles that we used when we were kids. I also thought that using up bamboo meant that panda bears were going to go hungry.

Bamboo is actually a grass, so bamboo floors are not really wood products. Bamboo grows in tropical and subtropical climates in Africa, Asia, Central America, and South America. China is the world’s largest supplier of bamboo. Also, the bamboo that is used commercially is not the same species consumed by pandas.

Prior to knowing much about bamboo floors, I heard that skyscraper frames in downtown Hong Kong buildings were constructed out of bamboo! The tensile strength of bamboo (3655 kilograms/square centimeter) is greater than mild steel and has a weight to strength ratio surpassing that of graphite.

With a tensile strength superior to mild steel (it withstands up to 3655kg/sqcm) and a weight-to-strength ratio surpassing that of graphite, bamboo is regarded as the strongest growing wood plant on earth. Because bamboo grows where it survives extreme temperature changes, it is extremely durable. Many bamboo floors even carry a warranty of 25 years, making it an excellent material for high traffic areas such as stairs. It is reportedly more dimensionally stable than red oak, so humidity should not be an issue. Suppliers claim that bamboo floors are more moisture-resistant than cherry.

Appearance

Bamboo has a unique appearance of slightly darker bands that correspond to the nodes of the plant. You will notice that bamboo has an extremely tight grain. Bamboo is available in its light, natural color, or darker colors produced by carbonization. Bamboo carbonization involves darkening the sugar content of the bamboo by subjecting it to steam and pressure.

Environmental Pros and Cons

Bamboo is a rapidly renewable resource, and will attain optimal hardness in only five years. It rapidly absorbs carbon dioxide and releases oxygen into the atmosphere. So far, so good.

However, recent hyper-planting of bamboo in some areas has caused deforestation. Also, some laminating materials that are used contain formaldehyde. Others are concerned that the fuel used to transport bamboo from China is not renewable (This does not seem like a legitimate argument to me, since everything else in your home comes from China.)

Therefore, it is important to inquire about chemicals used in any bamboo products that you may be purchasing. Also, determine if the bamboo was harvested in a responsible manner. If the product has an FSC rating,this means that the Forestry Stewardship Council has established a chain of custody that points to an environmentally responsible bamboo producer.

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Comments (4)

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  1. Chris Sharkey says:

    Enjoyed your article on bamboo floor. I, like you have little knowledge of flooring and certainly none about the facts of bamboo. What an eye opener! I am in the residential contruction industry in Calgary, Canada and am bent on Green Building practices. I know that Green building will be an emerging market that is becoming less a fad and more of a fact of building. Innovative approaches to home building such as bamboo floors will be the cornerstone of a greener future and being able to look past our initial reactions and at the facts may surprise and delight us. Thanks for your research.

  2. Hun Boon says:

    Hi Kermit, thanks for linking to us. Your article is well written, and a nice introduction to bamboo flooring.

    Thought you might also like to know that our blog has now moved to http://www.starbamboo.com. :)

  3. Jack says:

    Bamboo is not WOOD
    Bamboo is bear food in China
    Bamboo has a lot of glue to pressure it together and make it in to a board, so a lot of chemicals.

    I was reading about the comments about Brazil .

    I am from brazil and I do business in USA I have my wife in USA and my relatives in both countries

    I love USA and I love Brazil , but the Brazil forestry police is much advanced than any contry in world, only 3% of amazon is taken and I saw lot of stupid comments about labours, if you concern about labout you should worry about China not about brazil bamboo come from china.

    There is not handle working in timber industry maily in jungle …
    Its all machinery , and the explores they make more money than you can imagine.

    I know this is a way of scare the people who wants to buy wood products from brazil.

    But there is nothing wrong, 100% of wood in brazil is controlled nowadays and yes there is some corruption but we see corruption everywhere, even here in New Jersey few weeks ago.

    So before say anything about the real wood from brazil, you should understand about it, those areas burned are normal in agricultural fields, we need food and fields to plant this is normal and in brazil there is a lot of space for agricultural not used yet

    flooring industry in USA is huge and there are space for everyone, dont be stupid to call the brazilian wood illegal , and try drive customers to bamboo which also is not green

    brazilian products are legal, reliable and deserve their space in the market, before you say something against it try to study it.

    loolk in las vegas if you find any player from brazil spending 500K per hand, but you will find a lot of chineses doing that, brazilian companies pay employess and invest in their business or go to malls in USA spend their money in shopping. but dont play with they money

    So Flooring is Brazilian the best choice in looking quality, price durabilty , than come the American wood which is great too but not so strong, and the chinese wood, sorry they dont have wood, but they have bamboo which is taking way from they native forests , usualy used by bears as food

  4. Kermit Johnson says:

    Hi, Jack…

    I am not against the use of Brazilian wood products as long as they are FSC certified.

    Bamboo used for building materials is CULTIVATED and not the same species that Pandas eat. If there are any Panda experts out there who will weigh in on this to correct me, please let me know.

    The dictionary defines bamboo as ” a large, woody grass.” Whether you want to call it “wood” or not doesn’t really matter. It is used for building everything from bicycles to skyscrapers, so it is probably strong enough to walk around on.

    Regarding Chinese labor practices, you have a point. Also, China has lumber operations in Brazil. Also, Bamboo is grown in other places besides China.

    Regarding “American wood which is great too but not so strong:” I have never seen an American oak or maple floor fail because the wood was not strong enough.

    As far has who plays a $500K hand of poker, I stay away from those kinds of situations, so I will defer to your expertise on that matter.

    Thanks for stopping by.

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