How “Green” Is Bamboo Flooring Anyway?

In recent years there has been a huge emphasis on environmentally friendly public policy. In the construction industry this trend is manifested in many areas not the least of which is the huge increase in the use of bamboo Stampede Coatings products. Within the construction industry there are programs in place which reward builders with credits towards their “green builders” certificate for incorporating bamboo products in their building projects. Bamboo flooring has been heralded as a prime green building material by the U.S. Green Building Council. Bamboo flooring has also become the darling of interior designers and architects eager to put the environmentally conscious “green” stamp on their work. The average homeowner looking for replacement flooring is just as willing to do their part for the environment while at the same time bringing that “nouveau chic” look to their home. After all, what could be cooler than a Prius in their garage and bamboo on their floor?

One doesn’t have to dig very deep to see that bamboo flooring has been vigorously embraced by the green movement without any serious attempts to determine its net environmental impact after consideration of all contributing factors. And what are the factors which determine the total environmental impact of a flooring material anyway?

Before delving into the individual factors which should be considered in the process of determining the net environmental benefits let’s first look at what caused bamboo flooring to explode on the scene in the first place. Bamboo is typically considered as a replacement for traditional wood flooring products. Hard wood flooring products such as Oak, Maple, or the more exotic and expensive woods require a very long growth cycle and the harvesting process, if not managed responsibly, can be devastating to the local environment. By now we have all seen the images of clear-cut de-forestation in various rainforests such as Brazil or the Philippines to produce Teak or Mahogany as if there was no tomorrow. Although this is the worst case representation of the problems associated with hardwood forestry the problem of the time necessary to replace hardwood trees requires considerable management. Fortunately these issues have become a much higher priority to hardwood producers throughout the world and more responsible methods and practices such as selective thinning and carefully managed harvesting cycles are now employed and clear-cut de-forestation has been all but eliminated. To a lesser degree the same problem exists with regard to soft wood flooring products such as Pine and Fir. The time necessary for softwood trees to reach maturity, although less than hardwood, is still a major consideration. This is the major advantage of Bamboo! Bamboo is not a tree. It is a grass, and being a grass it takes much less time to grow to maturity. Bamboo reaches full maturity and maximum hardness in 5-7 years as opposed to various hardwoods which require 15-25 years depending on the species.

The most important factor overall when considering a flooring material is durability. After all, if you are replacing your flooring prematurely because your flooring wore out you’re not helping the environment no matter what material you choose. Perhaps you have heard the claim that bamboo flooring is as hard as some of the hardest of hardwoods. In one respect this is true but in actual application bamboo flooring is much more vulnerable to wear. Stranded/woven bamboo has a Janka hardness test rating of 3000. When compared to other common flooring choices such as White Oak which has a Janka hardness test rating of 1360 it appears that bamboo is an obvious choice and would wear much better than oak for example. The Janka hardness test may not be the best determiner of real world flooring wear however. The test is performed by measuring the amount of force required to push a steel ball slightly larger than 3/8″ halfway into the material being tested. While the fibrous structure of bamboo is a perfect match for resisting a round ball it is more vulnerable to more common types of flooring wear such as high heels, children’s toys or objects with any sharpness. In these instances the bamboo fibers tend to separate making the surrounding area very susceptible to further wear. Under these circumstances woods with their more uniform structure perform better in spite of their lower Janka rating.

Even if you assume bamboo is as durable as hardwood flooring products, the fact that you cannot re-finish bamboo flooring is perhaps its biggest drawback. Most flooring materials are susceptible to normal wear and tear. One of the principle advantages of hardwood plank is the ability to be sanded and re-finished. Unfortunately bamboo does share this advantage. Bamboo blank is made if several strips of bamboo laminated together as bamboo is not bulky enough to obtain individual planks. The glue used in the manufacturing process contains formaldahide which releases noxious fumes in the sanding process. If you can get past the dangerous fumes from the sanding process, once sanded, the fibers in the bamboo tend to separate and individual fibers stick up out of the base material no matter how fine a grit you use.

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