Bamboo Floor

October 3, 2008
bamboo floor
Bamboo floors seem to be all the rage now. It’s a sustainable building product, making it popular with the greenies and environmentalists. It looks like a traditional wood floor at first glance, but the knots and veins add an interest not found in wood floors. It’s stable so good in various climates (acclimate it well before installation though) and for floors with radiant heat.

With the convergence of high gas prices, food costs and the intensifying effects of global warming, folks are searching for new ways to “green up” their lives. Much of that movement revolves around driving less, recycling more and searching for home products that are renewable and earth-friendly. Even in high-end home decor — previously a section of the marketplace where no cost was spared despite it’s impact on the environment — designers and builders are now seeing green by offering renewable or reclaimed products to their clients while keeping an eye on sophistication and style. Bamboo flooring fits these requirements perfectly.

Made quickly and cheaply, the floor begins it’s life as single bamboo “pipes” that are split then steamed or soaked in hot water to rid them of vermin and molds. After drying flat, the split rods are cut into lengths and laminated with industrial glues to keep them straight, shiny and easy to install (many come with snap-in installation). The laminating process provides more uniformity and a more Western appearance.
Though bamboo floors have been used in homes throughout Asia and the Caribbean since pre-history, the move to using bamboo in the west is a recent development — the first floor was seen in Architectural Digest just under 10 years ago. Similar in look to traditional wood floors when processed, bamboo is actually the fastest growing plant in the world, a grass that grows up to 2 ft per day and can be planted in any area with a long rainy season and plenty of sunlight. This fact alone makes it extremely green-friendly. But it is also extremely affordable and available, costing half the price of traditional wood floors ($3.00/sq ft vs. $7-9/sq ft for basic wood) and found at any Home Depot, Sam’s Club, or neighborhood Lowe’s, as well as flooring stores. It’s currently available in a dizzying number of colors and a minimum of 10 finishes while its sheer marketplace newness makes it perfect fodder for those who must always be on the stylistic cutting edge.
There is, however, some debate regarding its durability. Though bamboo in its natural form has excellent flexibility (think of the many thatched roofs and hammocks in Asia made with bamboo fiber), when it’s processed with laminates, it becomes extremely finicky; scratching easily from moved furniture, road dirt from shoes and even heavy dust. Manufacturers across the board recommend removing one’s shoes when walking on bamboo (especially high heels — they’re prone to cracking the floor given enough pressure) and using a soft broom or cloth to remove dust and dirt daily.
Top that with its tendency to fade drastically in sunlight, requiring regular rotation of one’s furnishings to avoid light and dark patches, and it becomes problematic — especially for families with children or pets. Other manufacturers of more “traditional” styles of bamboo flooring (less laminate, more layers of bamboo pressed together with natural glues) however, insist their floors are as tough as a traditional wood floor and virtually scratch resistant. Some think the only drawback to this type of flooring is its more rustic appearance. With bamboo, it pays to research different manufacturers, ask plenty of questions and have your floor professionally installed.
However, these drawbacks all depend on what bamboo flooring you select. The hardest bamboo flooring you can buy is natural, horizontal cut bamboo that five years old before being harvested, and finish it in place. The softest bamboo flooring you can buy is carbonized, vertical cut bamboo that is less than five years old when harvested, and is pre-finished.
My experience with bamboo flooring is the pre-finished wood mars easily, but cleans up beautifully. It looks great too. As long as your installer uses sharp saw blades it installs nicely. Just be careful which flooring company you buy your bamboo from because not all manufacturer’s are “made the same”.
Though not for everyone, bamboo flooring is a smart way to dress your home in affordable, renewable style. It’s been a wonderful solution for me.

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