Pull up a cushion and let’s talk about our favorite sustainable home material – bamboo flooring.
Bamboo has gained tons of popularity over the past few decades as an alternative building material, and there are plenty of good reasons why. The environmental cost to grow trees for lumber is steep, but bamboo is a grass. It’s a fast-growing plant that matures in five years, versus the 20+ years it takes for trees to be ready to harvest.
So when you purchase bamboo flooring instead of wood, you’re investing in a renewable product. Bamboo plants continue to grow after they’ve been cut, so there isn’t the need to develop ever more land for growing and harvesting.
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What Is Bamboo Flooring?
Bamboo is technically a grass, but it has plenty of similarities to wood. It’s a naturally beautiful material. It’s moisture-resistant, versatile, cost-efficient, and just as hard as its wood counterparts (in some cases it’s even stronger!).
And bamboo is an excellent way to put in solid, beautiful flooring in your home, often at a lower cost than traditional wood flooring. Prices range, but you can expect to find bamboo flooring options in the $2 – $8 per square foot range. So for under $10 a square foot, you can install a gorgeous, eco-friendly, and durable floor in your interior space.
Bamboo Flooring vs Hardwood Flooring
An attractive, modern alternative to hardwood flooring, bamboo boasts most of the same qualities that wood does. It’s a natural and premium material that’s easy to maintain, long-lasting and versatile. But just like regular wood, bamboo can get scratched, and requires sealing from water.
Aesthetically, bamboo definitely has its own unique look. It’s usually a lighter color than a hardwood floor, but if you want to emulate that deeper, richer wood appearance in your space, you can opt for what’s called “carbonized” bamboo flooring.
Unlike hardwoods, the grain and texture of bamboo flooring tend to be uniform across each board, whereas hardwood grain is typically more varied.
Bamboo Flooring Pros
It’s easy to fall in love with bamboo flooring!
Here are just a few reasons why bamboo might be the perfect choice for your home or business:
- It’s a renewable resource. Bamboo stalks continue to grow after being cut, and plants grow to maturity in just 3-5 years. That’s a huge advantage over traditional trees that take 20 years or more to reach full maturity.
- It’s natural. Bamboo doesn’t require the pesticides and chemicals to grow that so many commercial plants do. The gentle impact on the environment is a key differentiator.
- Cleaning is a breeze! There’s no guesswork when it comes to maintaining your beautiful bamboo floor. Just sweep, vacuum, or apply a damp mop.
- To prolong its life, it can be refinished just like wood flooring.
- It’s resilient. Bamboo flooring tends to be more resistant to damage from water than hardwood counterparts.
- It’s affordable. On the spectrum of floor materials out there, bamboo is on the more cost-effective end.
- It’s durable. It may surprise you, especially after learning that bamboo is a grass. But it usually ranks harder than hardwood floors.
- It clears the air. Literally! When installed as a floor surface, bamboo can prevent pollen, dust, and even allergens from building up in your space. It also maintains a clean environment by keeping mildew, mold, and dust mites at bay.
So what’s not to love?
Bamboo Flooring Cons
Bamboo certainly has a long list of benefits. But we’d be remiss not to mention a few of the downsides of installing bamboo flooring.
Here they are:
- Scratches and dings. When installing bamboo in a room or space that gets heavy foot traffic, you’ll most certainly begin to see scratches. Be sure to use furniture pads to protect your bamboo floors.
- In climates where humidity changes dramatically, the planks can crack and warp.
- In very dry places, bamboo can easily shrink and crack from the lack of moisture in the air.
- Though it’s a natural product, the manufacturing process does involve adhesives, including formaldehyde. But high-quality bamboo flooring will meet the strict indoor off-gassing global standards of CARB Phase II, which require such low amounts that virtually no emissions occur.
- Bamboo isn’t waterproof. Just like wood, it can swell up with a lot of humidity.
- There are all levels of quality. There isn’t just one kind of bamboo. Do your research before committing to a purchase and make sure you get the level of durability you’re looking for.
That leads us right to…
Types of Bamboo Flooring
The appearance, strength, and overall quality of bamboo depend on the manufacturing process. After processing, most bamboo is a light blonde color, similar to birch trees. But to achieve a darker tone, it can be run through higher temperatures – a process called carbonizing. Carbonized bamboo can look great, but it does end up being softer, which can lead to scratching.
Engineered bamboo flooring is the equivalent to engineered hardwood, and is created by bonding thin layers of bamboo veneer onto a backing made of plywood or fiberboard. It’s the most cost-effective form, but also the least durable.
Vertical bamboo flooring is the end result of a process where the grasses get laminated vertically. With a much more textured appearance, it doesn’t look quite like the classic bamboo you see with horizontal bamboo. It’s a sturdy type, comparable to oak, and can do well in spaces with varying temperatures and moisture content.
This approach to flooring involves collecting strips of bamboo and gluing them together and forming planks. The long stalks create a grain look that emulates wood. Not as durable as other types, horizontal bamboo flooring is versatile in that it can be installed via either nail-down planks or floating floor planks.
Twice as hard as oak, strand-woven bamboo flooring is a premium building material, and the strongest of all types. The perfect choice for a well-trafficked floor plan, strand-woven is made just as you would imagine – strands of bamboo are woven together. They’re then compressed under heat to form sheets, and then get cut into individual planks.
What to Consider When Buying Bamboo Flooring
So you’re sold on bamboo flooring! Now what? There are a few final considerations to keep in mind as you begin to shop and plan.
- Find a reputable dealer. There’s no universal grading system when it comes to bamboo. Flooring is no small investment, so do your research, get reviews, and be sure to vet your source thoroughly.
- If you’re sensitive to chemicals or want to be sure you’re avoiding any chance of off-gassing, find a line that is labeled as formaldehyde-free. Look into brands like Cali Bamboo for ultra-low levels of VOCs (volatile organic compounds).
- Consider your placement. Bamboo does well in most rooms, except for one – the bathroom. Because bamboo flooring isn’t waterproof, there is simply too much water and humidity at play, so best to keep the bamboo to the hallways, bedrooms, and living areas.
- Check the certs. Want to make sure you’re getting verifiable eco-friendly flooring? Then make sure the seller you choose has the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification. Brands that go through this certification process are committed to responsible forest management.