There are so many different options when it comes to flooring for our homes, you need to know as much as possible about the advantages and disadvantages of all of them. Only then will you be able to make a really good balanced choice in terms of price, sustainability and price.
Generally you will probably be looking at the best hardwearing options available, as well as options that are more sustainable than others. You may be looking for solid hard floors – tiles on concrete, timber boards and so on – or you may want a flooring product that you can lay on top of a solid surface. Either way, bamboo flooring has advantages you really do need to consider.
So what are the advantages of bamboo flooring, and why should you consider using bamboo rather than wood?
Why invest in Bamboo Flooring?
Bamboo floors are made from material that is obtained from various bamboos plants, most of which originate in Asia and China. Unlike trees, bamboo grows rapidly which is why it beats lumber hands down in terms of sustainability. In fact it matures to a height of at least 65 feet in as little as three or four years. Like grass, it continues to grow rapidly after it has been cut. Some say it is the fastest growing plant on planet earth.
Another incredible fact about bamboo is that it can be even harder than wood. For example some varieties are said to be 13% harder than maple and 27% harder than oak. At very least it's as tough as black walnut, another hardwood.
Provided it isn't harvested too early, the natural fibers of bamboo generally don't absorb moisture as easily as wood does – particularly softwoods that grow relatively quickly, like some types of pine. When you buy wood planks or wooden floorboards, it is always essential to make sure that the wood is not defective. After wood has been sawn it dries out, and if there are knots in the wood these often drop out leaving unsightly holes. You may also find that planks are slightly bowed (bending slightly along the length) or cupped (bending across the width of the plank). This makes the wood extremely difficult to work with. Good quality bamboo, on the other hand, is guaranteed not to cup or twist. If it does, chances are it was cut when it wasn't mature enough. Happily this doesn't happen if the boards are manufactured by a reputable company.
But the increasing popularity of bamboo flooring is not just because it is sustainable; bamboo also offers a brilliant alternative to conventional hardwood flooring. Bamboo floors are strong, durable and as resistant to insect infestation, moisture and many other elements as hardwood flooring.
What is bamboo flooring?
In South East Asia, bamboo floors are made by cutting bamboo stems as flat as possible and then using these in a similar way to floorboards. The bamboo is nailed to wooden (or sometimes even bamboo) beams, to form a floor.
Commercialized bamboo flooring takes this a whole step further. In North America and other parts of the world, bamboo is used to make floors that look just like wooden floors. The manufacturing process negates the rounded bamboo shape so that you have typical planks that are both horizontal and flat. Individual slats are joined side-by-side so that adjacent pieces meet neatly and look like wooden planks.
Like wood, bamboo should have an FSC certification so that you are assured it comes from a bamboo plantation that is truly sustainable. Another accreditation to look out for – in the form of credits – comes from LEEDs, the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, which has a Green Building Rating System accepted as the benchmark for the design, construction and operation of high performance green buildings in North America.
When laying bamboo flooring, some companies recommend laying natural cork – another sustainable resource. This provides both thermal and acoustic insulation.
Which companies offer bamboo flooring?
Bamboo flooring is available from manufacturers, distributors of imported products, as well as from specialist flooring outlets that sell a range of different products.
Teragren (www.teragren.com) is a US-based manufacturer of bamboo products, including flooring. All their raw materials are sourced in China, and their products are sold not only in the US and Canada, but are also exported to Australia, New Zealand and to parts of Africa. Teragren's very first product was traditional, solid-strip bamboo flooring, but today the company also manufactures wide-plank and floating floors with a range of finishes – natural, caramelized and stained. They also make flooring parts for stairs. You'll find their products at exclusive flooring distributors and at a range of retail flooring outlets.
Another top North American producer of bamboo flooring is K&M Silkroad (www.silkroadflooring.com) which also sources its raw materials from China. Boasting sales of more than 2-million square feet of bamboo hardwood flooring in the US and Canada since their launch in 1994, they manufacture pre-finished and unfinished flooring, that is either engineered solid, as a composite, or as a floating floor. They also manufacture bamboo plywood and bamboo veneer.
Smith & Fong (www.plyboo.com) is another leading producer of bamboo flooring in North America. This company has an impressive selection of products that incorporate as many as 75 solid and plywood finishes. The company prides itself on offering formaldehyde-free bamboo products with the FSC certification. It is available from distributors throughout North America and Europe without a finish, or stained brown, grey or white. You'll also find their products at select trade shows and you can buy online.
While you might imagine that all imported bamboo comes from China, it doesn't. Doug Lewis, owner of the Seattle-based Bamboo Hardwoods (www.bamboohardwoods.com) sources his bamboo from Vietnam, where he has a factory. This company manufactures plywood and bamboo flooring in countless styles and colors – aiming to compliment all types of interior design. They also manufacture a range of other bamboo building materials. Products are both FSC certified and CARB-compliant.
Their motto is one that anyone in the bamboo flooring industry is sure to endorse:
"Notice that the stiffest tree is most easily cracked, while the bamboo or willow survives by bending with the wind."
This is, of course, the key to one of the leading advantages of bamboo flooring.