Some recent updates for this blog post…
An article I wrote for Networx.com on floor finish types.
And a Scientific study on the high embodied energy of bamboo flooring transport (its worse than concrete)
What everyone needs to know about bamboo flooring. Lots of Americans have been brainwashed with the “green-washing” of bamboo for its use as flooring. It is advertised as being “green” and durable, more durable that most other types of hardwood flooring. It’s neither green nor durable.
Here are some facts to set the record straight. Bamboo is not a hardwood, it’s a grass. To convert the grass into “boards” a multi-step energy consuming process is required. The bamboo is harvested and the hollow, round shoots are sliced into strips and boiled to remove the starch. (Major energy input #1) Then the strips are dried and then boiled again in a solution of water and boric acid to remove sugars (a termite attractant) and to inhibit fungus and mold growth. (Major Energy Input #2 and Chemical Input #1)
If a darker color is desired the bamboo will go through a carbonizing process of steaming the bamboo under controlled pressure and heat. (Major Energy Input #3) The bamboo will change to a brownish color. Carbonized bamboo is softer than the non-carbonized variety. The carbonizing process can reduce the floor’s final hardness significantly, Rendering it softer than some pines and softer than more common red oak.
Most bamboo is then Pressure laminated into solid boards (Major Energy input #4) using carcinogenic chemicals like urea-formaldehyde (UF) adhesive. (Toxic Chemical addition #2)
If working with a local hardwood all of this previous energy and chemical input is not required,
The bamboo “boards” are then milled into standard strip floorboards with tongue and groove profiles, sanded and readied for finishing. (Energy Input #5) The input for this step would be equal if working with an alternate hardwood. Most Bamboo is then pre-finished with another chemical, and then shipped half way around the planet to US markets. (Energy Input #6 and Chemical addition #3)
Comparing the durability of bamboo. It ranges from 1180 (Wikpedia Janka Hardness) in its more common carbonized form, Softer than all of these woods:
Australian Cypress 1375
White Oak 1360
Tasmanian Oak 1350
Ash (White) 1320
American Beech 1300
Red Oak (Northern) 1290
Caribbean Heart Pine 1280
Yellow Birch, 1260
Heart Pine 1225
Natural Bamboo’s higher 1380 (Janka Hardness) is still below all of these woods:
Lignum vitae 4500
Brazilian Ebony 3692
Ipê / “Brazilian Walnut” / Lapacho 3684
African Pearlwood / Moabi 3680
Bolivian Cherry 3650
Cumaru / “Brazilian Teak” 3540
Brazilian Redwood / Paraju 3190
Red Mahogany, Turpentine 2697
“Southern Chestnut” 2670
Spotted Gum 2473
Brazilian Cherry / Jatoba 2350
“Golden Teak” 2330
Santos Mahogany, Bocote, 2200
Brazilian Koa 2160
“Brazilian Chestnut+ Walnut” 2140
Goncalo Alves / Tigerwood 1850
Hickory / Pecan 1820
Afzelia / Doussie 1810
African Padauk 1725
Black Locust 1700
Highland Beech 1686
Wenge, Red Pine 1630
True Pine, Timborana 1570
Sapele / Sapelli 1510
Sweet Birch 1470
Hard Maple / Sugar Maple 1450
Caribbean Walnut 1390
Coffee Bean 1390
In doing some research for this article I found a string of comments about the durability of Bamboo in many flooring applications at this website
Here are some of the more lively comments:
“I just had bamboo floors installed into my new home. The product came with an aluminum oxide urethane finish. The flooring industry has been touting bamboo floors and this coating as the hardest wood available with a coating just about impervious to anything. Wow, were they wrong! It’s brittle and scratches more than oak. Has anyone out there had similar problems? And if so, what can I do? I’ve asked my installer to ask a manufacturer’s rep to pay a visit. Outside of that, I fear I’m stuck putting booties on my dog’s paws!
Severna Park, Maryland
“I had bamboo installed throughout my home in March and the very next day after installation, we had multiple scratches – even gouges in the floor. Every thing has scratched this floor, dogs, my vacuum cleaner, even a plastic hamper my husband pushed to the side to clean under. We have been fighting with the manufacturer ever since. Today, we are sending a sample of the bamboo to a forensic lab for testing. I cannot believe the coatings they say it came with are actually on it. I’m not giving up.
Fort Lauderdale, Florida
“We just had a natural bamboo floor installed and selected for the very reason that it was advertised as very hard. The very day installation was complete I found an extraordinary number of shiny scratches and also many deep gouges. Needless to say, I am very unhappy and in dispute with the installer about the installation and waiting to hear from the manufacturer’s rep about this finish and what can be done to 1) repair it, and 2) make the finish hold up to normal wear and tear. We had planned to get a small dog, and now I don’t think any dog could live on it without causing extreme damage. I never intended to have a floor I had to tiptoe on in booties.
Cary, North Carolina
“Just had a black bamboo floor installed. It was totaled within a week. Deep scratches even with a finger nail. Manufacturer is replacing but I’m not confident the new floor will be better. The samples of the new floor certainly were not.
Melbourne Beach, Florida
“My wife and I had the caramelized bamboo flooring installed throughout a 2400 square ft house. indentions and scratches result by the least amount of friction or weight upon the floor. We had the dealer visit our house and he offered a bucket of commercial grade finish which the installing company agreed to apply. Now we have shiny scratches and indentions. I may seek legal counsel.
“I installed bamboo throughout my home this past year. And as many others are saying, all of the advertising, research and phone conversations were misleading. I asked about dogs & scratches & was assured my two beagles wouldn’t do damage. I some parts of the floor there are more scratches than not. I am at the point I have to replace my whole house. The manufacturer recommends I refinish it in a commercial grade finish, even though when I ordered it they told me the finish was the hardest out there. I am wondering if anyone else out there is interested in participating in a Class Action Lawsuit. My old maple floors held up better than this!
architectural designer – Royal Oak, Michigan
“I would like to join a class action law suit. I experienced the same problems. I can’t wear my shoes in my unit because the wood scratches and dents so easily. In addition, at least half of my boards are cracked. I feel I was mislead as well. I was also told that the product is extremely hard. Any pressure results in dents and scratches as well as cracks.
– Winchester, Massachusetts
“Just installed 2200 sq/ft of carbonized Bamboo and the finish can be scratched off by my finger nail. Dents and scratches everywhere! Class action let’s go!
North Berwick, Maine
“My husband and I just built a brand new 4200 sq ft house and installed natural bamboo throughout the entire downstairs. We were told it was the toughest wood flooring out – commercial grade – the first week we had several large scratches. If there is any dirt, sand, etc. on floor – watch out – major scratches. We moved a rug from our entry which has been down 2 weeks and already major bleaching of the non covered wood. What a disappointment! What a waste of money – beautiful yes – worthless yes – it’s only good if you don’t walk on it, live on it, breath on it. Water leaves marks – horrible floor!
Little Rock, Arkansas
These type of comments continue with about 4 more web pages….about 95% are negative, and the term class action lawsuit makes a few more appearances.
In regards to the “green nature” Bamboo does mature more quickly than other species that are more often used for flooring. If these dissatisfied homeowners replace their bamboo with maple Hickory or Oak. Then the “green-ness” of the bamboo is more drastically compromised. The old flooring will likely end up in a land fill and additional flooring installed in its place. Two floors are never as green as one.
I quote here from the Wikpedia article on bamboo flooring. Some interesting points are covered.
Some research has shown that bamboo may not be as environmentally-friendly as it could be. The following are statements made in a report by Dr. Jim Boyer in a research paper for Dovetail partners.
“Recently, bamboo expansion has come at the expense of natural forests, shrubs, and low-yield mixed plantations . . . It is common practice to cut down existing trees and replace them with bamboo.”
• “As forestlands tend to be in hilly and mountainous areas with steep slopes, clear-cutting has resulted in an increase in erosion until the bamboo becomes fully established . . .”
• “Natural forests in the vicinity of bamboo plantations have sometimes given way to bamboo as a result of deliberate efforts to replace them or because of the vigorous natural expansion of bamboo in logged over forests. This process has also had a negative impact on bio-diversity.”
• “The intensive management practices employed involve manual or chemical weeding and periodic tilling of the land to keep the soil clear of undergrowth. These practices increase erosion and result in single-species plantations over large areas.”
• “The intensive use of chemicals (pesticides, weed killers and fertilizers) [associated with growing bamboo] also affects the environment . . .”
So to meet the growing demand for perceived “green” resources. Native diverse tropical forests are being cut and replaced with “farmed” bamboo. These plantations now require the application of pesticides and fertilizers. Once harvested the bamboo is processed using lots of energy and a collection of toxic chemicals, it is then shipped to the opposite side of the world to be installed and admired for a short time before the likelihood of getting replaced for its inferior durability.
The Better Option
Locally sourced FSC certified domestic hardwoods. Milled and air-dried to your local climate. Installed by local craftsmen, and finished with natural plant based oil finishes. I have seen many old homes that have hardwood floors that are living into their second century.