Bamboo Flooring

Bamboo is relatively new to the flooring industry. Compared to tile, stone, carpet, wood, laminate, and linoleum floors, it has lots to offer. It’s a renewable resource and good on radiant floor heating systems.

 

Have you thought about using grass for your flooring? Well, you can do just that, if you select bamboo.

 


Bamboo is grown in latitudes between 40 degrees south and 40 degrees north, mostly in Asian forests, though Central America has bamboo forests as well. It’s a grass with a tree-like or shrubby form and woody stems. The strength of the bamboo comes from its growth structure; it’s a hollow stem with rigid internal internodes, like a collection of solid-ended tubes, one on top of another, running the length of the stalk. Bamboo matures enough to use for quality flooring in five to seven years; Bamboo younger than five years old isn’t strong enough to make a long-lasting floor. After harvesting, a new batch of bamboo grass re-grows from the remaining rhizomes and “trunk”. Not only is bamboo a fast growing resource, but it also takes much less space than a hardwood forest to get the same amount of flooring product.

 
This flooring material may seem a bit unusual at first glance, but it can really be a great option for those wanting a hard-surface floor. The positives of bamboo flooring are numerous.

 

    • Fire, mildew, and naturally insect resistant.
    • Health issues (being a hard surface, it’s a good option for those who suffer allergies because it doesn’t harbor dust and dander).
    • It can be stained to match your decor
    • It is a renewable resource, known for its hardness and durability.
    • Good on radiant heat floors.

 

Negatives around bamboo are few, and mostly relate to preferences, not the material itself.

 

      • Noisy (being a hard surface, it reflects rather than absorbs sound).
      • Bleaches in intense, direct sunlight.
      • Construction (engineered versus solid material).
      • Short history in the market (it has only been manufactured as a flooring product since 1993, meaning we don’t have the history to tell us how it will wear in the long run).

 

Bamboo is an engineered floor, with the processed grass strips layered and glued to make a dimensionally stable flooring product. It can be cut and glued horizontally or vertically, giving different looks and hardness results. And given its native climate where moisture ranges widely during the growing season, it can be used in places wood floors are usually avoided, like the in bathroom and kitchen and on radiant floors, because it is used to moisture fluctuations.
Bamboo flooring’s hardness rating, usually gauged by ASTM 1037 (also known as Janko Hardness Rating) is higher than most wood floorings. According to ASTM 1037 tests, bamboo shows an average hardness of 1642, making it 21 percent harder than white oak and 13 percent harder than hard maple. Bamboo is amply hard enough to use as flooring. One example of its strength is illustrated by the fact it’s used for scaffolding in even high-rise buildings in China.
Bamboo normally comes in two styles and two shades, though some manufacturers also make tinted floors. The styles include vertical and horizontal cuts. The horizontal, or flat grain, cut is the broad pieces glued side by side, and then several layers glued on top of each other to attain the 5/8″ thickness. Both show the “knots”, but the vertical cut is narrow slices glued side by side to achieve a 3-6″ plank width (both style of construction have thick enough slices that repair and refinishing are readily done). The shade options you have are natural (a soft, golden blonde color) and caramelized, or carbonized (a rich, caramel or amber color). Flooring of horizontal grain with natural shade is the hardest of the bamboo products, followed by vertical grain with natural shade, then horizontal grain with caramelized shade, and finally vertical grain with caramelized shade being the least hard, but still harder than white oak.
The question of whether bamboo can be used with radiant floor heating systems is discussed a lot. My analysis is that given its durability and being engineered, that if the radiant temperature in the heating element (electric wire or water pipe) doesn’t exceed 105 degrees (85 degrees being what my plumber subscribes to), there’s no problem installing acclimatized bamboo on a radiant floor. Your flooring installer can help you decide which installations style — floating, glue-down, or nailed-down — is best for your situation.
Live dangerously and buy grass for your new floor. It may be the best option for you, given all that it has to offer, as your choice in a hard-surface floor.

38 thoughts on “Bamboo Flooring

  1. The only reason I can think of as to why somebody would tell you that is because sunlight does bleach it, but that doesn’t have anything to do with humidity. Anybody ever give you an actual reason *why* it’s not suitable for humid areas? Is it possible that a salesman was trying to steer you towards a more expensive flooring?

  2. I had to laugh when I read your post: I was told I bamboo was better in humid areas and I shouldn’t put it in my arid-region home.
    My thought is that bamboo grows and is generally processed in humid climates and would be great in similar climates. Mold could be an issue, but then it would be with almost anything!
    I love my bamboo floor (but I’d get unfinished flooring if I had to do it again so I could have a smoother finish without the seams between boards). My one suggestion is to be sure to let it breathe outside the packaging — inside the rooms it’s going to be installed in — for several days, if not weeks, before putting it on the floor so that it’s had time to adjust to your living space.

  3. I live in a very dry, desert climate, and have been told that bamboo flooring will crack over time because of the humidity difference? Should I stay away from it?

  4. Hi Jen,
    Bamboo flooring has only been around for a rather short time (since 1993), so who really knows what will happen in the long run in a desert climate? I haven’t personally heard of complaints like this. I would think it should be fine. Chances are, you’re buying somewhat locally, so it’s already going to be in this ‘desert area’ for a while before you bring it home…then of course, you should acclimate it to your home before laying it. This is something you should do with any wood flooring before it’s laid, just to prevent issues associated with shrinkage/expansion due to temperature and humidity.

  5. Jen,
    My wife and I live in a high desert climate and have bamboo floors, going on three years now. We were told the same thing but proceeded anyway. Our approach was to acclimate the bamboo flooring for several months to make sure it had dried out throughly before laying it on our radiant heat floors. It was a bit inconvenient going through that process but has been worthwhile.
    We have liked the floors enough that I’m going to install them in my office this winter, after they have acclimated to the office space.

  6. I’m researching bamboo flooring these days, which is how I found this site. But also I found on a manufacturer’s site that they recommend applying a coat or two of water-based polyurethane on their pre-finished floors. Their logic is that it adds a bit more protection than their finish coats and fills in the gaps caused by the beveled edges of each plank.
    They say that at the very least high traffic areas should get extra coats. And watch out for high heels!
    I see several people have wondered about that on this thread so wanted to let you know it’s a recommended practice, at least by one flooring company.

  7. Thank you Chris, and yes, I agree with the info you’ve found. The bottom line too, is to make sure that this isn’t going to void your warranty. Most manufacturers have certain products (or types of products) they recommend for this, which is why it’s important to give the flooring manufacturer a call or email to find out what’s recommended.

  8. I was told not to use bamboo because in my humid area (Houston) the humidity would cause the floor to warp and buckle. Specifically if I didn’t keep my house temperature controlled and windows shut. Is this true?

  9. Hi Kathy,
    “Who” told you this? How are you planning to install it? I would cerainly think floating it would work just fine as this method allows more for contraction/expansion due to humidty and temperature variances. I would suggest calling the manufacturer(s) of the product(s) you like and getting info straight from them. Always be sure to check out the warranty info thoroughly too.

  10. Can bamboo flooring be glued down to concrete?
    Would this application be less noisey? Also would it be OK to install it this way in the humid Southeastern US?One more question Have you ever seen a bamboo floor that has been refinished?

  11. Hi Debbie,
    Yes, some can be glued down — I’m pretty sure this has been covered in this thread. There is also a great, environmentally-safe(-ish) glue listed too.
    I don’t think that the glue down method would be any quieter. Most of the noise comes from walking
    on the floor, though of course not all. I do recommend putting cork under it for insulation. If you have the headroom, one of those moisture-barrier floating floors would be a good first layer because you could insulate then. Many floor companies recommend humid over dry climates. I haven’t seen a bamboo floor that has been refinished, but most of them can stand several refinishes before you are through the first layer.

  12. I would like to install bamboo flooring in my sunroom. When I am away, the temperature can rise to 140 degrees and below 0 degrees. Can a bamboo floor take these extreme temperatures? Thank you

  13. I would like to install bamboo flooring in my bedroom. My contractor is recommending unfinished versus finished, claiming that unfinished will provide a tighter fit resulting in less problems. Do you have any thoughts on this?
    I’m in Colorado where it’s very dry, will I have issues with shrinking? We had a very humid summer, which is rare.
    Also, my downstairs kitchen and hallway flooring is red oak. Is it a faux pas to install a different wood and color upstairs? The paint in the bedroom is the same as downstairs (green). The natural bamboo (light) would really go well with my paint and furniture in my bedroom.
    Thanks for your thoughts!

  14. A contractor is trying to sell me a little different variety of horizontal bamboo flooring. Instead of the full 5/8″ thickness, it has a much thinner top layer (about 1/4″) on top of other wood material similar to many types of engineered wood flooring. This would be installed in a high humidity beach environment. Do you have any comments on this type of flooring?

  15. David,
    I would use what looks best to you, regardless of what is downstairs. You could also stain the bamboo to be a color you’d prefer. I do usually recommend using finished products, or sealing the floor after staining because it will offer better protection for the floor, and will last longer.

  16. Bill,
    Bamboo is an engineered floor, with the processed grass strips layered and glued to make a dimensionally stable flooring product. Given its native climate where moisture ranges widely during the growing season, it can be used in places wood floors are usually avoided, like the in bathroom and kitchen and on radiant floors, because it is used to moisture fluctuations. If you are unsure about the choice, make sure to ask you contractor questions, and have it covered in your warranty or contract.

  17. Don’t do it!! We were very excited about installing bamboo and hate it, hate it, hate it! No, you can’t dent it…but it scratches from the slightest sideways movement! It scratched while being installed, it scratches from sliding any furniture, floor lamp, rug, etc. It looks and sounds like we are walking on formica, lacking the warm look of a wooden floor. The product we used is Ambient.

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