In recent years we’ve started getting more requests to quote on bamboo flooring material instead of hardwoods such as oak, pine, or cherry.   This is partially due to the perception that the plant is a good “green” alternative in construction.  But as with any new product that is getting a lot of attention from the mainstream press, there are a number of myths that have been created about bamboo and its use for flooring applications.

Here are four myths we’d like to dispel for our customers:

Bamboo is a Soft Material If you’re ever seen bamboo swaying in the wind, you might think that the plant which is in the grass family is actually pretty soft.  But when made into flooring, bamboo actually matches hardwoods on the Janka hardness test, which measures a material’s resistance to denting.  White oak has a rating of 1360; rock maple measures a higher score at 1450; and Brazilian cherry comes in at 2350.
It’s a little harder to determine the hardness of bamboo as the Janka test results vary depending upon the manufacturing processed used to turn bamboo plants into flooring planks.  Natural bamboo which is very light in color tests at 1380 similar to oak, while darker colored bamboo called carbonized horizontal bamboo is softer at just 1180 on the Janka scale.  There are newer techniques used to manufacture bamboo flooring material that can take test results to over 3,000 but there can be environmental concerns with these options.

Eco-Friendly Option While it’s true bamboo is a highly renewable material since it can be grown quickly, hardwood trees are also a renewable source for flooring.  The growing cycle for bamboo is 3 to 5 years, compared with 20 to 120 for hardwood trees, which does translate to absorbing carbon more quickly.  According to the World Wildlife Fund an acre of Bamboo can store 6.88 metric tons of carbon gasses per year, which is about 70% more than a similar acre of hardwood trees.  This is what bamboo advocates refer to as very high sequestration, giving bamboo a very low carbon footprint.

All of this benefit of course is offset by the fact that most bamboo is grown in Southeast Asia.  Shipping any product half way around the globe uses more energy than sourcing a local material.  Plus, in an effort to meet market demand, many old growth forests are being cut down to make way for bamboo farms, putting entire ecosystems at risk.

Indoor air quality can also be adversely affected by bamboo flooring made using new manufacturing processes.  Most bamboo flooring is a lamination of thin bamboo layers held together by urea-formaldehyde [UF], a resin that emits volatile organic compounds that are harmful to humans.  It’s estimated that bamboo flooring requires less UF than particleboard and there are non-UF flooring options but again, the amounts vary from supplier to supplier.

Less Expensive It is true that bamboo flooring can be less expensive than hardwood flooring but that is not true in all cases.  Stronger flooring made from new manufacturing processes costs $8 to $10 per square foot, similar to much wood flooring.   On the other hand, natural bamboo can be sourced for a little as $3 to $5 per square foot.  As with anything else there is usually a direct correlation between price and quality in bamboo flooring choices.

Easier to Maintain The same characteristics that make bamboo a comparable flooring material choice to hardwoods make it similar to wood flooring in terms of maintenance.  Like in any installation, the flooring contractor must have expertise in preparing the substrate and properly installing and sealing the floor, as water damage is also a concern with bamboo flooring material.

If you are considering bamboo flooring, be sure to consult industry experts such as Sequoia who can help walk you through the decision process, as well as source a flooring material that actually is eco-friendly!