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Bamboo Flooring

By: Hsin-Yi Cohen BSc, MA, MSt - Updated: 3 Oct 2012 | comments*Discuss
Wood Floor Alternatives Bamboo Flooring

If you’re looking for truly sustainable flooring, it would be hard to go past bamboo. As the fastest-growing woody plant on earth, bamboo is the ultimate renewable resource and probably one of the most environmentally-friendly types of flooring material you can install.

Hard Grass?

Bamboo is actually not a tree at all but a fast-growing grass – almost like a weed – which is replenished so quickly, it can be renewed every 5 years (compared to hardwood trees which require 30 years or more). Some species shoot up 3 feet a day and reach heights of 60 feet within the first few months of growth. In fact, if bamboo is not cut down within 5 years, it would fall of its own accord – therefore, it must be used or lost. (For once, a natural resources that’s asking to be used!) Even when it is cut and harvested, it will send out new shoots again and continue to grow as rapidly as before.

Bamboo also grows in large volumes and adapts easily to a regular cycle of harvesting every 5 to 6 years. It is prevalent all over Asia and is essentially, one of the most abundant and renewable resources on the planet. For centuries, it has been used extensively all over the Far East to make flooring, building structures and furniture as people have appreciated its extreme hardness and durability. Despite its graceful, willowing appearance as plant, it is harder and tougher than some hardwood varieties and provides a wonderful eco-friendly alternative to traditional hardwood flooring.

From Grass to Flooring…

Bamboo stalks are normally cut into strips and then boiled to remove sugars and any insects, followed frequently by drying in a kiln. The strips are then glued together to form a solid surface and in most cases, bamboo is available as a type of engineered flooring, i.e. the strips of bamboo are formed into 3 layers which help to provide additional stability and also compensate for the natural expansion properties of bamboo. This enables the flooring to be stable enough to be nailed down or glued down.

Be aware, however, that manufacturing quality can vary so always check the finish and in particular, the adhesives used to glue the bamboo strips together. Some manufacturers will actually use adhesives that contain toxic urea-formaldehyde, which totally destroys its eco-friendly flooring credentials. Generally, cheaper bamboo products are more suspect. Always check with the manufacturer or supplier to see which kind of adhesive is used and that they are complying with Europe’s E1 standard. This limits formaldehyde concentrations in materials to 0.1 parts per million (ppm).

Benefits of Bamboo Flooring

Despite not being a “proper” wood, bamboo is actually one of the hardest natural materials available and superior to traditional hardwood flooring, like oak and maple, in many ways. First of all, it has incredible tensile strength – exceeding that of several grades of steel, in fact! – and a much higher fibre rating than any hardwood, so it provides a durability that is hard to match. Secondly, it does not suffer from contraction and expansion extremes as much as hardwood, so it can often be installed in areas of high moisture with lesser problems. It also copes better than traditional hardwoods with temperature changes, showing less warping, bulging and cupping.

Like hardwood, bamboo is available in a range of beautiful natural colours, ranging from light tans to dark caramel hues that have been created by heating the bamboo strips during production (and literally “caramelising” the sugars within). Bamboo can also be pre-stained and thus available in a wide range of colours and shades.

Care and Maintenance of a Bamboo Floor

Again like hardwood, care and maintenance is relatively simple. Regular sweeping with a soft-bristled broom, cleaning with a dust mop or attention from a soft-bristled vacuum cleaner should maintain good condition. Spills should be mopped up immediately as it is unwise to allow liquids to soak into bamboo flooring. Stains should be wiped away with a damp cloth and then the area dried with a soft towel or cloth. Be careful of using oils, waxes and abrasive cleaners on the floor surface – the best thing is to follow manufacturer’s recommendations.

A Great Choice!

A material that has been deservedly gaining recognition and popularity in recent years, bamboo is an ideal choice for anyone wanting eco-friendly flooring. Not only is it truly sustainable but it also provides a unique look that matches everything from urban, contemporary to more classic, traditional styles. While it is still a relatively “exotic” and new flooring option, it can be more expensive than traditional materials but its many practical and environmental benefits make it a worthwhile investment.

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