Beautiful and bountiful, bamboo has created an upswing in the green flooring market. Advertised as an inexpensive and eco-friendly flooring option, this quick-growing grass is rapidly taking place of the traditional oak floors. The emerging global bamboo market is experiencing rapid growth as well with an expected value reaching $20 billion by 2015. The question is how much of a virtuous bamboo image is authentic and how much is just a campaign by a prosperous industry. That’s why we dig into the pros and cons of bamboo flooring.
Bamboo flooring pros
Bamboo flooring has numerous and significant advantages.
- Bamboo can grow up to 3 ft per day! Thanks to this quality, bamboo is considered a rapidly renewable resource.
- To harvest bamboo, the stalks are cut, leaving the plant intact to continue to grow. Therefore, unlike with wood, the plant is not killed in the process.
- Not only it grows fast, but bamboo matures to a flooring quality in only 3-5 years unlike oak or cherry that need 40-60 years.
- Growing bamboo is considered a wise strategy against deforestation, an environmental plague of today. Not only that, switching to bamboo in construction may reduce the use of concrete and steel, both energy-intensive materials with large carbon footprints.
- Growing bamboo improves the quality of soil and helps reclaim the eroded soil. The root system of bamboo prevents soil erosion and holds water in the watershed.
- Being naturally resilient, bamboo can grow and prosper without chemical treatment.
- Bamboo flooring installs in the same way as a hardwood floor without much difference in the pattern.
- Bamboo flooring is remarkably durable. It has twice the stability of red oak and up to 90% of the hardness.
- Bamboo flooring is available in a pre-finished surface what reduces the need for coatings or sealers.
Bamboo flooring cons
Despite its extraordinary advantages, disadvantages of bamboo flooring are distinct and noteworthy.
- Most bamboo originates from Asia. Shipping it around the globe uses energy, creates pollution and aggravates climate change. That is something consumers need to consider. The good news is that local sources of bamboo are becoming progressively available.
- Of the thousand varieties of bamboo there are only a handful of varieties that are suitable for flooring. Of those handful varieties, some are superior than others in dry climates. The problem arises when unsuitable varieties are made into flooring. The outcome can be shrinking, cupping and delaminating. Thus, the investment into “cheap bamboo flooring” may not be what a financially-prudent consumer bargained for. It is smarter to choose bamboo from trustworthy companies that offer quality flooring.
- The manufactured bamboo flooring is highly chemically processed (with boric acid and other chemicals).
- Bamboo flooring uses formaldehyde adhesives in the lamination process. These emit harmful chemicals, known as VOCs. Some manufacturers claim they offer formaldehyde-free bamboo flooring. Playboo, for example, pledges that their bamboo is subject to California Section 01350 testing for formaldehyde and 35 other chemicals.
- Bamboo flooring comes in a limited assortment of colors unless it’s carbonized. Yet, the process or carbonization makes bamboo flooring softer and prone to dents and scratches.
- Most stains and varnishes are derived from petrochemicals. It is best to avoid finishes that are solvent-based polyurethanes. Water-based polyurethanes that contain aliphatic hydrocarbons are definitely a safer option.
As we’ve seen, plentiful and attractive as bamboo may be, it does come with diverse qualities that need to evaluated by a sensible consumer. Its great features are not limited to price, durability and renewability. Yet there’s lots of room for improvement especially in regulating the environmental impact and protecting the consumer. Adhering to a healthy and sustainable lifestyle creates a further push for manufacturers to look at more options for greener products.
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Johnston, D. & Gibson, S. (2008). Green from the Ground Up: Sustainable, Healthy, and Energy-Efficient Home Construction.
Playboo. (2013). Sustainable and certified: Our commitment to you and the environment.
Spiegel, R. (2010). Green building materials: a guide to product selection and specification.
Yeffery Y. et al. (2009). Green Your Home All-In-One.