What is Bamboo Flooring?

Brendan McGuigan

Bamboo flooring is a popular hardwood flooring used throughout the world. It is made from bamboo grass, which is flattened and covered with a laminate to make a solid surface. Bamboo flooring is considered by many to be an environmentally-friendly alternative to traditional hardwood floors.

Bamboo stalks.
Bamboo stalks.

Bamboo is a subfamily of grasses, found natively primarily throughout Asia, with some bamboo also found in southern parts of the Americas and Africa. Although technically a grass, bamboo can become enormous, making it appear to be more of a tree. Some species of bamboo can reach heights in excess of 100 feet (30 m), and it can grow very rapidly – in some cases as much as a foot (30 cm) per day.

Bamboo flooring is seen as environmentally-friendly because bamboo grows quickly.
Bamboo flooring is seen as environmentally-friendly because bamboo grows quickly.

It is because of its rapid growth that bamboo is viewed as an environmentally-friendly form of flooring. While traditional materials for hardwood floors usually take many decades to mature, the material for bamboo flooring may be cultivated within only a few years. This makes bamboo flooring a much more renewable resource than, for example, oak flooring. Additionally, because of its grass root-structure, bamboo does not need to be reseeded after each harvest and will continue to grow in an area with virtually no need for pesticides or fertilizer.

Critics of bamboo flooring point out that, although in ideal circumstances it may be very environmentally-friendly, in the current climate, this is far from the case. Because of the increased demand for bamboo, enormous swaths of non-bamboo forest have been cleared to make way for monoculture planting of bamboo to be used in bamboo flooring and other situations. Also, while bamboo does not require the same level of chemical support that many traditional wood crops do, a number of planters have found that yields can be increased by the use of chemical fertilizers, and so have used them extensively.

Pragmatically, although bamboo flooring is often touted as equivalent to traditional hardwood floors, it should be noted that, in terms of hardness, it falls on the soft side of things. The darker bamboo flooring that is most widely used has a hardness comparable to that of black walnut, with lighter colors being slightly harder, more akin to maple. In spite of its flaws, however, bamboo flooring offers at least the potential for environmental sustainability, with qualities that are at least able to compete with traditional hardwoods. A number of companies specialize in addressing issues of monoculture and chemical use, as well as concerns of fair trade and local production.

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