Bamboo flooring is a flooring option available widely today, which is not only stylish and practical -- it is also an environmentally friendly option to hardwood floors and laminate tiles. One of the hardest natural materials available for flooring today, bamboo can grow wood faster than any tree. It can be harvested every 3-5 years, unlike 15-25 years for most tree wood. This makes bamboo an eco-friendly product for flooring.
Nearly all bamboo flooring sold in North America is produced in the southern Chinese province of Hunan, in an area known as “the bamboo sea” for its extensive bamboo forests.
Why should I be aware of this?
The significance of bamboo flooring lies in the fact that it makes use of the world's fastest growing sustainable resource, bamboo, to create floors that are beautiful and easy to install too.
To many, bamboo floors conjures up uncomfortable surfaces made of strips of uneven cane. But this is not so. Today's bamboo floor is a sleek surface with a beautiful grain, made of strips of cane which have been melded together in such a way that the floor surface is as smooth as that of a hardwood or laminate floor.
All about bamboo floors
The harvested bamboo goes through a process to rid it of starch and bugs and to turn it into small squared off wooden like strips. The small strips are then laminated into one of two types of bamboo flooring planks, namely horizontal or vertical. The planks make ideal flooring for homes and offices alike and a range of finishes are available.
In Vertical bamboo floors, a vertical plank will have each of the component pieces stood vertically on their narrowest edge and then press laminated side to side. The effect is a lined, almost uniform look to the surface of the finished floor plank.
In Horizontal bamboo floors, individual slats are arranged in a horizontal direction, on their widest edge, and then joined side by side with adjacent pieces using a high pressure laminate system. The look of the finished horizontal surface is one where the characteristic nodes of the bamboo are randomly visible.
Locking bamboo flooring is another name for a click lock, click or snap together bamboo floor. The individual flooring planks or panels are manufactured with interlocking joints that simply click snugly and precisely into place. The system was designed to simplify the installation process and therefore make it easier for homeowners to install a floor themselves. This type of bamboo flooring usually eliminates the use of glue which would otherwise make installing it a messy job.
Just like some other wooden floors, processed and machined cane comes in short laminated strips, planks or tiles, therefore installation is conducted in much the same way to any other similar type of flooring. Bamboo has a very high tensile strength, and is thus able to withstand heavy weight and pressure. This makes bamboo floors tough and durable. However, to ensure that they last really long without showing the ravages of age and use, it is important to follow some basic maintenance guidelines (see section on maintenance).
The installation of a bamboo floor is much the same as the installation of any other hardwood floor. It may be done by an installation expert or even by a DIY enthusiast. Here are some basic precautions to bear in mind --
- To ensure that the bamboo does not warp or buckle after installation, let the bamboo planks acclimatise before actually laying the floor. To do this, let then rest in the room where they will be installed for a few days. If the room is going to be permanently airconditioned, then the air conditioning will need to be on for the duration of the acclimatization.
- Ensure that the base surface is clean, smooth and dry before the floor is laid. Otherwise, the bamboo plank/tile may not stick to the base effectively.
Bamboo flooring and environment
Environmentally, it’s hard to argue with a wood-substitute that matures in three years, regenerates without need for replanting, and requires minimal fertilization or pesticides. In fact, these larger species of bamboo have been used in construction for thousands of years, and even in modern Asian cities it’s not uncommon to see a large concrete building being constructed from a bamboo scaffolding.
People interested in conservation have often expressed the concern that harvesting bamboo from the forests of China might strip away the natural habitat of endangered species like the giant pandas. Contrary to their concerns, the harvesting in these forests is not a threat to Pandas, as they live at much higher elevations and eat a different species of bamboo.
What can I do about it?
Tips for choosing bamboo flooring
- Consider lighter, natural colors in bamboo floors. Reviews from people who have used bamboo floors for years indicate that bamboo floors that have been darkened are more likely to have problems with dents.
- Check to see which part of the plant was used to make the plank/tile: Bamboo flooring, made by binding strands of the Asian grass together with adhesives and compression, can be harder than oak, experts say -- but only if it doesn't come from the base or the top of the stalk.
- Check the age of the bamboo: Although bamboo can reach its full height in three to six months, it can take about six years to harden, or lignify. A floor made from bamboo that has not lignified will dent more easily.
How to maintain bamboo floors
- Bamboo flooring needs to be kept free of dust, dirt and grit, which can cause minute scratches on its surface.
- Sweeping regularly with a soft broom will ensure that dust doesn't do any damage. Vacuuming is even more effective.
- High heeled shoes can damage a bamboo floor. The load pressure of stiletto heels on the floor can cause dents.
- Avoid rubber backed rugs as they may cause discoloration of the flooring because the floor is unable to breathe through the rubber.
- Place protective pads under the ends of legs on chairs, tables and cupboards, etc.
- Under no circumstances be tempted to drag any heavy furniture items across a bamboo floor. This could leave deep gouge or scrape marks, rendering it beyond economical repair.
- Change the position of the furniture and rugs periodically so that the entire floor weathers equally.
- Direct sunlight can fade the colour of bamboo. If the bamboo floor is in a room which gets a lot of direct sunlight, ensure that the windows have heavy screens.
- Spills should be cleaned up immediately. If liquid spills are left for a long period of time they may seep into the floor, staining it deeply.
Problems with bamboo floors
The problems with bamboo floors are quite similar to those faced with hardwood floors. However, since bamboo flooring is a relatively new product, its manufacturers use a lot of hype to sell it. It is important to cut through this, to make an informed choice about the flooring best suited for one's home
- Bamboo flooring needs regular maintenance to be long lasting. Contrary to what many manufacturers say, bamboo floors get dented, stained and discoloured if they are not properly cared for.
- Bamboo is quite susceptible to moisture and damp. Too much moisture could cause either expansion or contraction of the planks, which would spoil the look of the floor.
- Many homeowners who have installed bamboo floors, say that they have noticed some shrinkage, especially during winter months.
- Staining is also a common bamboo flooring problem that a lot of people have experienced. Note: This can be prevented easily by coating bamboo flooring with wax or polyurethane.
- Botanically, bamboo is not a wood at all, but rather a grass.
- Bamboo is attractive as a building material because it is very hard, strong, and dimensionally stable.