Here at Floor Coverings International of Oahu and Honolulu, HI, we realize that there is a vast variety of material and style options to choose from when you’re picking new flooring, and that sometimes that dazzling array of choices can be overwhelming. We’re here to help you learn as much as possible, so that you can make the choice that’s best for your needs. As such, we’ve written this post to help you get a more in-depth look at one of the eco-friendly flooring options offered by Floor Coverings International of Oahu, HI: Bamboo Flooring.

Introduction to Bamboo

One of the most in-vogue flooring options right now, bamboo is an excellent flooring choice for people who want the look of hardwood, but are trying to be conscious of the environment, and problems such as deforestation. Most bamboo flooring products are produced in China and other parts of Asia. The species most commonly used is Moso bamboo (Phyllostachys edulis). What makes bamboo so interesting, and so different from traditional wood flooring options is that bamboo is a grass rather than a hardwood. Moso bamboo originates from China and Taiwan and can reach heights of 92 ft. After the manufacturing process, bamboo flooring has comparable Janka Hardness rankings as many other common hardwoods, ranging from 1180 for carbonized bamboo with a horizontal grain orientation, to up to 3000 for non-carbonized vertical grain bamboo (don’t worry, we’ll explain what these terms mean in the next section!). These rankings are comparative to other hardwoods such as red oak, with a Janka rating of 1290, or rock maple, with a Janka rating of 1450.

Manufacture of Bamboo Flooring

The bamboo flooring we see most commonly in North America is highly processed bamboo planks that are made by adhering strips cut from bamboo stalks into manufactured boards. To get these sleek looking floor planks, a stalk of bamboo will be cut into strips, which are then cut to the desired length and width. All of the skin and nodes from the stalk’s exterior are removed before the strips are boiled in a solution of acid or lime in order to remove the starch and sugar from the wood. After being boiled the bamboo is dried and planed. The next step is optional, but will determine whether the bamboo stays its natural color (a pale tone similar to beech) or is treated to make it darker. The darkening process involves carbonized steaming the wood under controlled heat or pressure. Unfortunately, this carbonization process can reduce the bamboo’s hardness, as we mentioned above. This will be an important thing to consider if you opt for bamboo floors. Are you willing to sacrifice hardness for a darker color? The next step of the process is where the strips are adhered together. This step can be controversial because some manufacturers use urea-fromaldehydy (UF) adhesives, which can emit Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC’s) and are not environmentally friendly. While the UF resins used by bamboo tend to be less than used in the manufacture of other products, such as particle board, it is still good to know that many manufacturers use processes that avoid UF adhesives all together. After the adhesive process is complete the boards are planed, sanded, and milled before being cured with an ultraviolet lacquer. There are two ways that bamboo boards are constructed, either with a vertical grain orientation, where the strips are all laid back to back on the narrow edge making for a more uniform look to the floor, or with a horizontal grain orientation, where the strips are layered like bricks on their wide side, making it so that the nodes and qualities of the bamboo can be seen more clearly. The easiest bamboo flooring to install is locking bamboo flooring, where the planks have interlocking joints that snap precisely together. This is a great way to create patterned floors.

Sustainability of Bamboo Flooring

One of the main selling points for bamboo has been its (well-deserved) title as king of eco-friendly flooring. The biggest aspect of bamboo’s sustainability is its status as a renewable resource. As a grass, bamboo grows much faster than wood. Traditional hardwoods can take 20-120 years to mature, compare that to the 3-5 years it takes for bamboo to reach full maturity! Bamboo grows incredibly quickly, capable of growing up to 47 inches in 24 hours, or nearly 80 feet in 40-50 days. Bamboo can be sustainably harvested as well, without the need to replant, as Moso bamboo has a horizontal Rhizome root system that is left intact after the stalk is harvested. This root structure also helps to prevent erosion and spreads new growth laterally. Because bamboo has few insect enemies the need for pesticide use is removed, and in its natural environment bamboo has little use for fertilizers or irrigation. A sustainably harvested bamboo forest will have only 20% of its bamboo harvested annually, allowing for 100% harvest in a five year period, based on the bamboo growth cycle. To determine whether bamboo has been sustainably harvested you can look for products with the Forest Stewardship Council certification for environmental sustainability and social responsibility. On top of all of this, bamboo can sequester up to 70% more carbon per year than a hardwood forest, meaning it’s helping the environment even before it makes it to your floors. Unfortunately, there are some drawbacks to this rosey (or should we say green?) picture of sustainability. One study showed that with the energy expended in manufacturing and transport, someone in Denver would be more eco-friendly to buy locally sourced concrete than importing bamboo all the way from China. Luckily here in Hawaii we’re only a puddle jump from the source, so don’t let that stand in your way! Another issue, as we mentioned before, is with manufacturers who use UR adhesives, so if this is a sticking point for you, make sure to look into the manufacturing process for the bamboo you choose. Another problem is regulating production practices in China, with shady growers using pesticides and causing deforestation by building bamboo plantations. This is another reason to check the credentials of the bamboo you want to use before you buy.

Maintenance of Bamboo Floors

Bamboo flooring should generally be treated and maintained the same way as hardwood flooring, and that means with care. While slightly more resilient than most hardwoods, it still needs general maintenance, such as regular sweeping or vacuuming to remove dirt and small pieces of debris, which will cause scratches in the bamboo over time if they get built up. If you need to get stubborn dirt out of cracks or crevices try to stick to a stiff bristled brush. If you have to resort to mopping make sure you have thoroughly wrung out your mop before beginning so that it is only damp. Water can warp bamboo over time, just like hardwood. Make sure to discreetly spot test any cleaning agents before using them. Over time your bamboo may become scratched or discolored, but luckily you can refinish it by sanding it down and reapplying finishing coats. Whether or not you choose bamboo, we here at Floor Coverings International of Oahu and Honolulu, HI hope that you’ll begin your flooring journey with us.