Bamboo Flooring – A Greener Option

Over the last few years, bamboo floors have become the latest craze. Environmentally conscious home owners are choosing them over traditional hardwood floors because of their sustainability and environmentally sound origins. However, some critics are raising the alarm that bamboo flooring are not as “green” as they could be.

There are different forms of bamboo floors available to consumers. In North America, the manufactured bamboo flooring that is commonly found is highly processed. The bamboo is first split and flattened, and then dried. Later it is laminated in layers with glue under high pressure. Manufactured bamboo floors are usually available in planks with either vertical- or horizontal-grain orientation.

Bamboo flooring is available in two major colors: natural (similar to beech) and carbonized (similar to oak). Bamboo flooring gets its color from a process called carbonization in which bamboo is steamed under a controlled pressure and temperature. As the bio-organisms and sugar breaks down, the color of the material changes into a brown. Natural and carbonized bamboo floors are often referred to as solid bamboo. This can be somewhat misleading as the structures are layered, similar to a plywood.

One of the main advantages of bamboo is that it is a renewable resource. The bamboo plant is a grass that reaches maturity in about three years while many conventional hardwood floors (such as oak) can take 120 years to grow to maturity. The bamboo plant also regenerates with replanting and requires minimal fertilization or pesticides. Bamboo floors are also considered to be water repellant, making them a save choice in kitchens and bathrooms.

However, some will argue that bamboo is not being managed in a sustainable fashion. While it is true that the plant regenerates, forests are being cleared to grow bamboo. Producers in Asia, mainly China, have been aggressive in their planting often at the expense of existing woodlands and their ecosystems. When the bamboo is transformed into plans, the factories often use glues with high levels of formaldehyde. Should you choose to install bamboo floors in your home, beware that, like any hardwood floors, it can be damaged by dents, scratches, etc.

The bottom line is that you will have to do your homework before you buy bamboo flooring materials. While it is a beautiful wood with a high regeneration capacity, beware of the potential health risk of the glues used to make the product. Ask questions and dont be shy to request test results. Reputable flooring companies offer glues that emit less than 0.01 parts per million of the substance. You may have to pay a little more for this option, but your health is worth it. Also, be sure to walk on an installed bamboo floor before making your final decision. The feel of a bamboo floor can vary depending on how the material has been treated and the finish applied. You want to be sure that you new floor will grace your home for decades and not have to be ripped up after a few years.