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Bamboo is undoubtedly a popular flooring material out there, with more homeowners considering it for their next building or remodeling project. Do you think it is right for your next project?

Read more about the pros and cons of bamboo flooring in this article before making a decision.

Bamboo Flooring – Overview

Anyone conversant with hardwood flooring will agree that some of its features are mirrored in bamboo. Both are attractive and natural and will increase the real estate value of any home. Although the bamboo is a plant (instead of a tree), it behaves more like a tree when it is used for flooring. For instance, finishing in bamboo can be done to reflect wood flooring. In terms of physical qualities, the bamboo is as hard as most hardwoods and possesses a considerate water-resistant capability. It is also prone to scratching and cracking (especially in harsh conditions), just like you have in the woods.

Features of the Bamboo

The primary reason the latter is used as an option in hardwood flooring is the similarities in the physical features of both wood and bamboo. Another reason is the fast growth rate of bamboo. The strong points of the bamboo include durability, eco-friendly nature, water and insect resistance, and strength. For instance, a traditional bamboo flooring can be as hard as 1180 and 1380 for carbonized horizontal and natural variants, respectively. In the case of synthetic strand and woven bamboo flooring, the range is 3000 to over 5000 (results from Janka hardness test). Comparatively, the ratings of other flooring materials include 2350 – Brazilian cherry; 1820 – Hickory; 1450 – Rock Maple; 1360 – White Oak; and 1290 – Red Oak.

Manufacturing Process

There are different variants of bamboo flooring – each with a distinct manufacturing process. What determines the manufacturing process is usually the local preferences, and sometimes, the economic viability. Either way, the processing North American variant of bamboo flooring is more pronounced. Once the bamboo poles or culms are sliced into strips, they are crosscut to length before going through another slicing.

The outer skin and nodes of the resulting strips are removed. After this, they (the strips) are boiled in a boric acid (or lime) solution to get rid of the sugars and starch. The last stage involves drying and plaining the strips.

The color of the natural bamboo is close to that of the beech wood. To achieve a darker color, for instance, the oak’s color, the bamboo is subjected to carbonization – steaming under monitored heat and pressure. What this does is to reduce the final hardness to the non-carbonized bamboo’s hardness range. But in some cases, it could be softer than the pines or the common red oak.

Engineered and Solid Bamboo Flooring

If you prefer a renewable, natural material for your flooring, then the bamboo is a viable option. It grows faster than trees – the harvest time of a bamboo stalk is every six years. The commercial bamboo is a product of operations similar to that of plantations. While some are properly farmed, others are not. This is why you must buy from a trusted and certified supplier.

Advantages of bamboo flooring

Bamboo flooring is made from renewable material. The maintenance is seamless, and you can refinish it to taste. Lastly, it improves the value of real estate.

Disadvantages of bamboo flooring

If you end up with the softer grades of bamboo flooring, they will get scratched more frequently. If the weather becomes harsh or too humid, the flooring may crack. Lastly, if you buy from untrusted manufacturers that use adhesives, you may end up with a toxin-filled bamboo flooring.

Bamboo Flooring variants and how they are manufactured

As mentioned earlier, we have various types of bamboo flooring in the market. Each of these variants undergoes a distinct manufacturing process. Let’s start with the Horizontal Bamboo Flooring.

Horizontal Bamboo Flooring

When the bamboo is shredded into small strands, and the strands cut into thin strips, the strips are then glued to produce planks. The horizontal bamboo flooring is characterized by the presence of a ‘grain’ – the obvious long stalk fibers in the flooring. They are softer compared to the stranded bamboo, but the appearance is distinct. They can be used as floating floor planks or nail-down planks.

Stranded Bamboo Flooring

As the name implies, the Stranded Bamboo Flooring is the product when bamboo stalks are shredded into small strands and later compressed into sheets. The compression is achieved via heating and the use of resin binders. The compressed sheets of bamboo are cut into planks. You can use stranded bamboo as tongue-and-groove planks or the planks used in the underlayment. Either way, the stranded bamboo is a premium variant of bamboo flooring.

Engineered Bamboo Flooring

When a thin layer of bamboo is bonded onto an MDF core or plywood, the result is an engineered bamboo flooring. They are cheaper compared to other variants – as reflected in their low durability, and cannot be refinished. Like engineered hardwood, the engineered bamboo flooring is also installed using click-lock planks floating over a foam underlayment.

The color of most bamboo flooring variants is either amber or natural blonde, except when it is stained. The amber color here is similar to that of the birch or unfinished maple. Carbonizing the variant will offer darker color tones, although it reduces the hardness, thus making scratches more likely.

Bamboo Flooring is eco-friendly

The renewable and eco-friendly nature are top reasons customers prefer them to the other options in the market. The bamboo stalks grow quite rapidly with no environmental liability – a huge advantage over the hardwood trees. Even after cutting off what is needed, the bamboo stalks continue to grow on their own till the next harvest.

The eco-friendliness however, disappears when it comes to the manufacturing process. For instance, the slicing and shredding of the bamboo stalks, followed by the compression using heat and pressure, heat, and sometimes, a resin-based adhesive poses threats to the environment. The urea-formaldehyde in the resin-based adhesive can escape into the air sometimes.

The potent of the escaped toxins depends on the level of the adhesive used. If the manufacturing process required more formaldehyde, the products would be cheaper. This is because alternative resin-based adhesives are more expensive. So, if you are sensitive to formaldehyde, you should avoid bamboo flooring with formaldehyde, as much as you avoid engineered hardwood flooring and MDI sheeting. Fortunately, you can go for bamboo flooring products that are formaldehyde-free, although you may pay more.

Bamboo Flooring Costs

There is no much difference in the prices of bamboo floors and hardwood floors, as well as the installation costs. A square foot of bamboo flooring products costs between $2 and $8 (the national average is $3.84). You may spend another $4 on installation – material costs non-inclusive.

Unlike hardwood materials that can be graded for quality, it is almost impossible to grade bamboo materials. This is due to the absence of an independent rating system. The closest to a rating system is the grading system of retailers, which is subjective in most cases. This further emphasizes the need for a trusted and reliable flooring dealer when sourcing for bamboo products.

Bamboo Flooring Repair and Maintenance

There is not much to do as regards maintenance in bamboo – sweeping or vacuuming is just enough. You can go the extra mile by moping or cleaning it with a non-alkaline, non-wax cleanser.

The moisture resistance level in bamboo is slightly higher than in hardwood. The same can be said for resistance to dents and scratches, thanks to the more hardness of the bamboo. That said, do not treat your bamboo flooring as scratch-proof or water-proof. Take precautionary measures against standing water and scratches. The continuous presence of water may invite mold. You must also prevent the bamboo materials from direct exposure to sunlight – it is the fastest way to decolorize them. If you can, use a UV-resistant flooring sealer for your finishing.

If your bamboo floors get defaced over time, you can simply redo the finishing. Just sand it down and apply the sealing coats again. The only exception to this is the engineered bamboo flooring.

Hardwood is more resistant to humidity compared to bamboo. Exposure to moist air will make your floor planks buckle and swell if you live in a humid climate. An arid environment will do the opposite – shrink the planks. If the situation gets critical, your bamboo flooring will most likely crack.

Bamboo Flooring Design

As we have noted earlier, adopting a bamboo flooring design will improve the aesthetic state of your interior design. The appearance and feel are close to that of the hardwood; however, the uniqueness is clear. If you are all about making your space distinct while making a strong statement with a renewable material, go for bamboo flooring. It is compatible with almost all home styles, but most compatible with contemporary styles.

Bamboo Flooring Products

The installation process of the solid bamboo is similar to that of the solid hardwood. You can choose to glue the planks down over a concrete floor. Alternatively, you can blind-nail the tongue-and-groove boards to the subfloor via the board edge. Either way, you need the help of a professional to achieve these.

The thinner variants of solid bamboo are more suited for floating floor installation. The first option is to use a tweaked tongue-and-groove system, called the “click-lock.” Here, the boards’ edges interlock mechanically. The second option is to adopt the normal tongue-and-groove design, which requires gluing the edges of the boards together.

In either case, you end up with a floor resting over a thin layer of foam underlayment. In this case, the subfloor is not fitted with any permanent attachment. In addition to the simplicity of this installation method, it allows for easy expansion of the flooring in situations of a drop or rise in humidity levels.

The only compatible installation method is the click-lock floating method, considering the manufacturing process of the engineered bamboo (surface veneer bonded to an MDF core or plywood). You can do the installation by yourself.

The chances are that your bamboo flooring product will come with finishing from the factory. However, if it does not, you must seal it with a urethane product after installing, or stain before sealing (in the case of raw bamboo planks).

Final Thoughts

The Bamboo vs. Hardwood Flooring argument is quite subjective, especially when you consider the closeness in features and costs. The color tone in bamboo is lighter compared to most hardwoods, although carbonized variants are darker. The grain and texture in bamboo is also uniform; the grain pattern in hardwood is always distinct. Lastly, the sustainability of bamboo is striking – the bamboo stalks will always regrow after harvest, thus preventing deforestation.

Talking about similarities, both bamboo and hardwood flooring are not totally water-resistant. This is why adequate sealing is recommended after installation. They are also susceptible to scratching. But in the end, they both will add considerable value to your space as premium natural flooring materials that they are.