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Going Green with Bamboo

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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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