Bamboo - a sustainable alternative to conventional floors
by Christi Graham
What is it?
Grass! Even though it can be used like timber, bamboo is actually a grass that functions as a single plant, self-propagating as it spreads underground via a network of rhizomes. Bamboo is not harmed by harvesting and can regrow into mature fiber in three and a half to seven years. By comparison, Oak takes approximately 120 years to grow to maturity. In addition to being attractive, easy to maintain, and harder than standard hardwoods, it also represents a considerable ecological savings since it reduces the need for virgin lumber, often harvested using clearcut methods. Bamboo is gaining popularity due to it's strength, natural beauty and multi faceted uses. In fact, next time you are in the San Francisco airport - take a look at the floor of the bookstore in the international terminal!
Most bamboo is found in China, but India, Japan, Vietnam, Costa Rica and Indonesia are also commercial exporters. In China, the bamboo is raised by farmers and sent to a Chinese factory to be split, milled into small rectangles and glued into planks. These materials are then shipped to the US and milled by manufacturers.
Over half of the world's population relies on bamboo for daily
use. Among the 1500 uses applicable here include: furniture, cabinetry,
flooring, baskets, cases, screens, scaffolding, structural posts, fences,
wall coverings, mats, and much more
Most bamboo flooring uses urea formaldehyde as a binder or adhesive, which produces a negligible amount of airborne formaldehyde. However, one supplier that uses an absolute minimum of formaldehyde in their bamboo floors is:
Controlling their own bamboo groves and production, this company comes closer to sustainability than any other.
Distributor: Mari Strain, Berkeley, CA (510) 548-4914
Bamboo grass has minimal environmental impact since Bamboo can harvested after 3 years of growth in controlled forests. Compared to a fast-growing pine forest, about twice as much fiber can be taken from a bamboo forest per year.
A test as to whether the flooring is being harvested sustainably is to check for mold. Bamboo must be harvested at least 3 years after it shoots. If not, the high sugar content of the new shoot causes immediately moldy conditions, especially in humid places.
Bamboo is useful in controlling erosion, the rhizome web keeps
In Asia and South America, many cultures keep their traditions
intact because everything they need is provided by this plant which costs
The leaves are as nutritious as alfalfa, so feeding them to livestock creates no waste in the system.
Bamboo is generally available in several pre-finished colors (such as natural, amber and cherry) and since bamboo accepts many different stains it is exceptionally versatile and can be blended to match almost any interior palette.
The various available forms include woven mats, several inch wide flooring, 20 inch wide x 6 foot long sheets (Smith and Fong), strips glued to canvas for tambour or roll-top desks, and veneer.
Flooring is available where the rectangles are next to one another in single ply (vertical grain) or in 2 or 3 ply where the wide side of the rectangle is seen on the surface. Most of the pre-finished flooring comes with a slight bevel between them which emphasizes the distinction between pieces. Look carefully at the profiles of the pieces.
The product is typically factory pre-finished and can be installed like any hardwood floor is- by nailing or gluing it down. Bamboo is also available unfinished, and can be sanded and finished on site. Like other solid floorings, bamboo should be acclimated outside of the packaging in the room for several weeks before installation to get the humidity and temperature to equalize top and bottom.
The successful colors are achieved by fuming, since bamboo has such straight grain with few exposed pores, it accepts stains differently than wood. Always try potential stains on samples first.
Routine maintenance is a function of the finish applied. Bamboo flooring can be sanded and refinished like any other solid wood flooring. The "vertical grain" configuration allows more cycles of sanding than the 2 or 3 ply.
Performance / Durability
In a test where a steel ball is dropped from various prescribed heights, bamboo resisted denting better than oak, and is about equivalent to our hardest native wood, maple. The finish chosen can have a much greater impact on long-term durability and scratch-resistance. Eventually, all floors will scratch, and bamboo can easily be refinished, unlike laminate flooring.
Success Story - Soon after 2000 square feet of flooring was installed at Misugi Design in Berkeley, it was submerged for a week due to flooding. A few pieces cupped very slightly, but the floor remained intact. Any other hardwood floor would have been ruined. This story illustrates the incredible durability of bamboo!
If anyone in your family has a sensitivity to formaldehyde, you might consider sealing your floor with a non toxic sealant that minimizes the "off gassing"
Who Makes It?
Amati Bamboo Ltd.
Bamboo Flooring Intl. Corp.
BCS (USA) Inc.
California Bamboo Flooring Co.
Plyboo America Inc.
Smith & Fong Co.
For current information regarding the manufacturers and distributors of bamboo, please visit www.georgebueller'sinfo.org
Comparable in price to a standard hardwood floor.
Other places we suggest you look
http://www.4specs.com/s/09/09649.html (for a listing of flooring mfrs.)
Darrel DeBoer, Architect / Author "Bamboo Building and Culture" 1994, Berkeley Press
Natural Home Magazine, March/April 2000
Bamboo Hardwoods, Inc. Educational literature