Bamboo flooring is probably the most eco-friendly and durable hardwood out there. But other than that, what are the pros and cons of installing bamboo flooring over using the more traditional hardwoods out there such as oak?

Compared to carpeting, there is no comparison. Hardwood floors add a certain elegance to any room and can actually make the room look bigger than if you were to stick with carpet. All wood flooring adds a very organic and natural feel to any home and there is a reason why most home buyers have hardwood high up on their list of wants.

All of this said, there are environmental impacts and concerns that comes with adding hardwood to your home. For example, some believe that the maturation time for a tree that is used for its hardwood (like maple or oak) is over 100 years before you can use the wood for flooring. And given the fact that there are only so many trees out there to use, there has to be a better alternative than simply chopping down the trees for the wood that doesn't rely on laminate flooring with its toxic materials.

Bamboo is the alternative. Compared to the 100 years that it takes to grow a tree that is ready to produce floors, bamboo takes 3-5 years before it is ready to be used for flooring. And since, technically, bamboo isn't a tree but grass, it requires no planting to replenish its stock; it grows again from the rhizomes in the ground. And best of all, bamboo doesn't need pesticides to protect it as it is hardy enough to withstand the environment.

Also, by laying bamboo, you would be helping families in third world countries that rely on the bamboo industry to support their families. Sounds like bamboo would be the way to go, right?

Is Bamboo Flooring Durable though?

I struggled with this and had to research and bamboo flooring to other hardwoods recently because I was about to replace my floors. As a homeowner, I had to take several things into consideration. Would Bamboo scratch easily? Is bamboo flooring good for pets? Does Bamboo hardwood dent and scratch easily?

What I found was surprising. Comparatively speaking bamboo can be compared to two different hardwoods. The darker bamboo is a lot like walnut hardwood and the lighter bamboo is very similar to maple. Both of these woods would be considered to be the softer of hardwoods meaning that moving heavy furniture, high heels and dog claws could easily dent or scratch the hardwood. And the more important thing is that bamboo is not easier or harder to take care of.

I was looking for darker bamboo flooring. What I discovered is that the color of the bamboo itself will be a good indicator of how strong it is. The darker the color, the more it has had to go through a heating process and the softer it gets. In other words, if you are worried about denting and scratching your hardwood and want to go with the eco-friendly bamboo, understand that you should go with the lightest wood you can as this will be the strongest.

Determine how durable your bamboo is....take the scratch test....

One of the ways to determine how strong and durable your bamboo flooring is, is to take the scratch test. Before buying, take a sample and press the wood firmly with your fingernail or coin. If it gives, you will know how it may react in your home.

Types of Bamboo Flooring

Just like all hardwood, bamboo comes in many different types and choosing the right floor for you will depend on your wants and needs. Bamboo is hollow naturally and as a result is different than traditional hardwood floors. Bamboo is normally a lot like laminate as thin strips are laminated to the top forming what you will see when it is installed.

There are two different terms for this type of bamboo:
  1. Horizontal
  2. Vertical
Horizontal shows the actual growth rings and the strips are laminated together.

Vertical Bamboo will give you the look of long thin wood panels across your floor.

Of the two, most will choose horizontal and go with the six foot strips as they look better when installed (the other option for horizontal bamboo is the three foot panel).

Engineered Bamboo...what does it mean?

Another option you can look at is a flooring type called engineered bamboo. Technically, engineered bamboo is not 100% bamboo. Basically, the top (or what you see) is a bamboo strip. The of the wood plank could be composed of cork or plywood. Engineered flooring planks are pressed together in "plys". The more sections you have, the more stable and durable it will be.

Engineered Bamboo is a great choice for homeowners are eco-conscious but need a stronger, more durable flooring because they have children or dogs and want to preserve their hardwood as long as they can. Another positive attribute to engineered bamboo is that it can be installed in places with a higher humidity giving more options to those living in places like the deep south in the United States.

Stranded Bamboo Floors- Perhaps the strongest and most durable of all bamboo hardwood

If you are looking for bamboo flooring that can stand the test of time and that is even more durable and stable than the engineered wood, then stranded bamboo flooring may be an option for you. Stranded bamboo is made with the fibers of the bamboo plant and is then shredded, blended with a durable adhesive and pressure treated. It is the hardest of all bamboo types.

However, if you are planning on laying your own floors, understand that stranded bamboo floors, while durable are also the hardest to install.

Is Bamboo flooring REALLY that eco-friendly?

From a sustainability viewpoint, bamboo flooring really looks like it could be a better choice than traditional hardwood. But other than that, is it really as eco friendly as the bamboo flooring galleries would have you believe?

The answer is yes and no. Because of the rising popularity of bamboo, many companies are now clearing forests once reserved for trees to harvest bamboo for export. And when it comes to money, companies will do anything to increase yield to make more money; this includes adding toxic fertilizer to increase production.

And because forests are being clear cut, other problems are on the rise such as erosion which in turn creates more tilling, more clear cutting and a less rich soil to grow bamboo. The result is a changed habitat for the plants and animals that call the areas their home. In other words, if you are concerned about the environment, then bamboo flooring may not be as eco-friendly as you think.

Other problems that aren't talked about in connection with bamboo and the environment include the formaldehyde binders in the adhesives they use and there isn't a fair trade certification for the bamboo industry.

And while bamboo is championed as environmentally friendly, strangely enough there is not one bamboo company that is certified as environmentally friendly. Compare this to other hardwood that are listed and monitored by environmental watchdogs like FSC.

There are a few companies that are compliant and use environmental control but they are few and far between.

Benefits of Bamboo

Bamboo does have some benefits over traditional hardwood flooring. For one, the cost of bamboo is much less than hardwood; in some cases, bamboo can cost 50% less per square foot over hardwood.

Bamboo flooring is also fire resistant and in some cases, bamboo companies will choose safer, more eco-friendly resins.

Bamboo hardwood can also be installed over many different subfloors and can be done in more humid climates much like laminate. Bamboo hardwood can be nailed, glued or used to "float" over an existing floor.

The bottom line is that choosing a flooring is an involved choice and really depends on your needs and expectations that the floor will be for you. If you have dogs or kids and want to install bamboo hardwood, then you may want to look at engineered or stranded bamboo flooring. If you are searching for a greener alternative to hardwoods, then you will want to research your flooring company and look for certifications that are eco-friendly.

Bamboo hardwood is a great choice for some but not so great for others. The key is to do your homework and find the flooring that is the most right for you.

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