Despite the fact that bamboo isn’t really timber (it is a grass), bamboo flooring has become a great alternative to hardwood floors. We are going to provide a review of bamboo flooring and discuss the pros and cons of this material so that you can make an informed decision on whether it is right for you.
What is Bamboo Flooring
Bamboo is a plant that is native to China and other Asian countries. When it is manufactured into flooring, it resembles coveted hardwood floors. Bamboo is strong and durable and is not affected by moisture in the same way that solid hardwood floors are. While many manufacturers are quick to promote the eco-friendly nature of bamboo flooring, that is not always the case.
Bamboo flooring mostly comes from China, where it is grown and processed into flooring. The bamboo is harvested from fields, which are renewable by nature, unlike forests. The fact that the bamboo does not need to be replanted is a positive thing, however, with the popularity of bamboo floors, farmers in China are bulldozing forests in order to create more farmland for bamboo.
Since Bamboo poles are long and cylindrical, they are processed into thin strips. The outer skin is removed from the strips and then the strips are boiled in acid or lime to reduce the starch in the bamboo. These strips are then glued together to form boards which can be used as flooring. The glue used in the process is a formaldehyde based glue which can make the boards a health concern. Over time some of the bamboo floors can release some of the formaldehyde compound into the air causing respiratory issues. Some companies are claiming to make formaldehyde free bamboo boards, however, those companies are not required to provide evidence of their claims.
Bamboo flooring can come in a number of different colors. In its natural color, the boards are quite light and similar to beech wood. To make the boards a darker color, the bamboo is introduced to a carbonizing process that causes the wood to become darker. The downside to the carbonizing is that it makes the bamboo boards much softer than they were originally. Softer wood can mean less resistance to damage such as scratches and dents. The color of the floor can possibly fade over time due to ultraviolet light. Direct sunlight in areas of the floor can make it lighter than areas which do not get as much ultraviolet light.
While a light colored bamboo floor may hold up better to damage than a darker, more processed, board, the wood still is not the best for high traffic areas. Bamboo does not have a wear layer like engineered hardwood or solid hardwood floors have. If the top layer becomes damaged, it is not an easy fix to sand the top layer and refinish it. Typically the damaged bamboo boards will have to be replaced, which can be costly.
Below we will discuss the pros and cons of bamboo flooring. While there are some great benefits to the material, there are also some strong detractors.
The Pros and Cons of Bamboo Flooring
- Bamboo is a very eco-friendly material. It grows much faster than trees and can reach full maturity in about 3-5 years depending on the type. Unlike trees, bamboo can be harvested without the need to replant. Since the top is cut off and the roots remain in the ground, the bamboo regrows after it is cut. Bamboo also grows exceedingly well in its natural environment and does not need fertilizer or pesticides which make it very friendly for the environment.
- Bamboo flooring is typically cheaper than solid hardwood floors or engineered hardwood floors.
- Locking bamboo boards are very easy to install for any home owner.
- Various colors and styles can be made from bamboo depending on how it is processed.
- Bamboo is hypoallergenic and recommended by allergists.
- Although environmentally friendly, the large use of bamboo has led to deforestation in parts of China. Farmers are clear-cutting forests in order to make more land available to grow bamboo fields.
- Since most of the bamboo flooring is manufactured in China, a great deal of expense is required to ship the boards to the USA, which is the primary customer of the material. This reduces the eco-friendly nature of the material.
- Some manufacturers use formaldehyde as an adhesive for bonding the strips of bamboo which can possibly make them a health risk.
- Over time, bamboo boards can fade in color due to direct sunlight. Areas of the floor which do not receive direct sunlight may not fade as much resulting in a floor that is different colors.
- Bamboo flooring is not as resistant to damage as other wood flooring. Since there is no “wear” layer, the floor must be replaced if damaged, or left as is.