Is Bamboo For You?
Westhollow Bamboo Installation
Is Bamboo For You?
By Steve Simonson – email@example.com
Bamboo is one of the hottest trends in flooring today; captivating consumers with its beauty, durability and earth-friendly story.
This article provides basic information on bamboo flooring, tips on how to choose a floor that’s right for you and what to avoid when making your purchase. This is a general summary of bamboo flooring and will cover some of the basic questions or, as we say in Internet lingo: Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs).
I come in daily contact with flooring manufacturers and sales reps from all over the world and without exception, each one claims that his or her product is of the finest, highest quality. Over the years I’ve developed a talent for discerning the truth hidden in the marketing doublespeak. It is this expertise, coupled with many hours of study and hands on experience, that I am happy to share with you in this article.
Bamboo is actually a grass. It grows at an astonishing rate of one to three feet a day during its peak growth cycle, reaching heights of 125 feet or more and sometimes with diameters of two feet. Once the bamboo reaches maturity at five to six years old, it stops growing and is ready for harvest. Bamboo also regenerates at about the same time so it does not need to be replanted.
The forests of China, Indonesia, Vietnam, Philippines and Korea are the main sources of bamboo used in manufacturing flooring and other related products. China is the largest producer of bamboo products in the world, and the Chinese government owns most of the bamboo forests. It issues harvesting permits to companies and individuals concerned. To the readers concerned about the well being of China’s endangered panda population, you can take comfort in knowing that BAMBOO FLOORING DOES NOT DEPRIVE GIANT PANDAS OF FOOD.
Giant pandas do not eat the species of bamboo used in flooring and other bamboo products. Pandas live at much higher elevations and in different provinces than where the majority of bamboo forests are located. Most of the best bamboo is found in the eastern provinces, which is a non-panda dwelling area for the most part.
Shopping for Bamboo
There are two basic colors of bamboo available, natural and carbonized (fumed). Natural bamboo looks just like it sounds, although it actually receives a bleaching treatment to accomplish the light tone. Carbonized bamboo, on the other hand, undergoes a heating process. This darkens the wood and produces a rich caramel color. Both colors have WIDE variations in the actual shades.
For the more adventurous type, there’s a new breed of stained bamboo floors that is being offered by higher end bamboo flooring lines. Availability of these new colors adds a whole new level to the bamboo story.
And, if you are lucky you may also find the really premium hand-scraped bamboo floors. It combines the rustic beauty of hand scraping with some interesting stain and finish techniques. This is a breakthrough in bamboo flooring when done right!
Solid bamboo is available mostly in three or six foot lengths, although it’s sometimes possible to find a company that offers random lengths as well. Solid bamboo has pre-milled tongue and groove on all four sides and can be installed by gluing down, stapling or nailing. Only solid bamboo over 4″ should be considered for a floating floor application.
Longstrip bamboo typically comes seven feet long and approximately eight inches wide. It comes with a standard tongue and groove system built primarily for a floating installation; however, you can staple or glue this down as well.
One style differentiator is the look of the floor and how the individual bamboo slats are constructed. The two most commonly available looks are referred to as horizontal and vertical. This, essentially, is just the difference in how the individual bamboo slats are put together to make the flooring. The direction of the slats, changing from laying the flat horizontal to the lengthwise vertical assembly, transforms the entire look and feel.
Strand Woven is yet another style available in the bamboo market. This bamboo is literally shredded, glued together, and cured to get it to stick together again. This technique produces a very HEAVY floor in sheer weight. The floor itself is capable of moderate to high traffic. However, due to the quantity of glue required to put the floor together, many manufacturers use inexpensive glue containing levels of formaldehyde. At present I do not recommend strand woven bamboo until it can meet appropriate formaldehyde emission levels and NONE of them presently do.
Solid Versus Longstrip
Bamboo grows in high, narrow stalks that are cut into individual strips, glued together in many layers and made into flooring planks by applying heat and pressure. This method produces a structurally strong and solid bamboo floor. Solid bamboo floors are typically 5/8 of an inch thick. CHEAP BAMBOO IS OFTEN THINNER THAN 5/8 INCH SO THIS IS A CLUE TO ITS LOW QUALITY.
The other type of bamboo is most commonly called longstrip, and is also considered an engineered floor. Longstrip flooring has bamboo on the surface, a wood core board, and a balancing wooden back layer. This floating floor offers better expansion and contraction than solid bamboo.
Durability is always a sought-after quality in any flooring. In the Janka Ball Hardness test, natural bamboo scores higher than northern red oak and northern maple. Carbonized bamboo scores about five percent lower than its natural counterpart in hardness, yet is still rated higher than northern red oak. Vertical grade is typically harder than horizontal grade because of the way the bamboo is constructed on the planks themselves.
The Janka test can be manipulated or misunderstood based on which tests are being run on the product. An example of this is when there are different results for species that may sound the same. Teak will be half as hard as Brazilian Teak. So don’t assume the numbers you see are always accurate.
In addition, resistance to indentations should not be the only factor to consider when choosing a floor. For instance, laminate flooring exceeds a 4,000-pound Janka rating. This rank is higher than all real hardwood floors and is nearly four times higher than a northern red oak. If this were the only test of durability we would all have laminates in our homes, right?
While bamboo is tough, when it comes to indentations this does not mean that it is impervious to dents, scratches, discoloration or other damage. NO FLOOR IS. The ability to resist scratches is tied more to the quality of the finish, its application and number of coats.
Bamboo can be installed over concrete floors using glue down method, or it can be installed on plywood using the nail down method. If you use a floating method of installation, you can go over concrete, vinyl and other stable hard surfaces. Thanks to advances in flooring technology, bamboo is now available in easy to install glueless systems that any homeowner can install in one weekend. As you know, the beauty of the click together system is its ease of installation. Since there is no glue being used, you have less of a mess and faster installation time. Overall, this makes the job go smoothly and effortlessly.
There are hundreds of bamboo flooring manufacturers. But when you walk into any flooring retail store in North America or Europe and ask to see samples of bamboo, you’ll find that only 20-30 percent of stores have samples available. Of that percentage only ten percent of the sales staff will be knowledgeable about bamboo flooring. It’s not because bamboo has just been recently offered outside Asia, it just hasn’t achieved that “critical mass” as yet. Worse, retailers who have recently started to introduce this option in their flooring departments don’t even know the basics about bamboo. BUYERS BEWARE!
However, as North American mainstream manufacturers like Mannington have started to introduce bamboo flooring, one could expect to see this beautiful product becoming available everywhere.
Words to the Wise
When shopping for bamboo you’ll often hear a sales pitch that goes something like: “Bamboo is as tough as nails, stronger and cheaper than oak and maple, environmentally friendly, great looking and it can leap tall buildings in a single bound.” Although there is nothing inaccurate about this statement (except for the tall buildings claim), I caution you to look beyond the marketing hype. Trust is always the number one factor in buying a big-ticket item and you should find a company you can count on.
Now, let’s recap:
Upside to Bamboo
- Bamboo is a durable product with an aesthetic appeal that’s becoming increasingly popular with American and European consumers. With the proper finish bamboo makes a durable floor AND brilliant fashion statement.
- Bamboo is affordable. Back in the nineties, if you’d come to my retail store and asked about bamboo flooring, I would have quoted you prices of eight or nine dollars a square foot. That’s double or triple what you’ll pay for now.
- Bamboo can be installed in most areas of the home, including over concrete floors. It’s available in both the solid and longstrip versions, and in easy to install click together systems.
Downside to Bamboo
- Colors and styles are limited. Bamboo is available in only two colors – natural and carbonized. The vertical- and horizontal-grained versions are available in both colors. Still, this limits you to a total of four options. There are a few companies that offer a wider choice of stains and other innovations like hand scraping, but these options are not available in most stores.