PROS & CONS OF BAMBOO FLOORING
If you’ve done your research on bamboo hardwood flooring, you will surely have come across some controversy. There are many forum posts by disgruntled home owners displeased with their dented and scratched bamboo hardwood flooring, only to be tempered by a handful of happy buyers who say their bamboo flooring has been holding up for years. Furthermore, there’s the whole debate on just how sustainable bamboo flooring really is. So who’s right you ask? Well, that all depends. By no means is all bamboo flooring sub-par. It simply comes down to a “case by case” basis. Some bamboo plantations are sustainable and engage in fair-trade practices, while others are not. Some manufacturers use toxic amounts of formaldehyde in their processing while others do not. Some bamboo is misleadingly marketed as being harder than oak, while other brands are indeed actually harder. When all is said and done, the answer to whether or not purchasing bamboo hardwood flooring can be better for the environment is yes.
Whether or not there are more pro’s than con’s (or vice versa) essentially comes down to the cultivation of the bamboo itself and the manufacturing process that turns the miracle grass into hardwood bamboo flooring. In fact, if you go with the best brands and proper type of flooring best suited to your needs, as opposed to the cheapest priced bamboo flooring out there, you’ll find there’s no cons at all. In other words, if you don’t want any regrets about your decision to buy bamboo hardwood flooring, you will need to do some research on bamboo hardwood floor brands and retailers. Based on the seemingly countless customer testimonials (horror stories in some cases), forum posts and research we’ve done, the following guidelines are provided to help ensure you are happy with your final selection of bamboo hardwood flooring for years to come:
BAMBOO FLOORING SELECTION GUIDELINES
1) Go with Strand/Woven Moso Bamboo for Optimum Hardness
There are multiple reasons why some bamboo hardwood flooring is softer than others. One reason is the species used. For optimum hardness, ensure your bamboo flooring is made from the Moso species, and is at least five years old. Don’t settle for anything else. Secondly, there are manufacturing processes which make the flooring softer. One process is Carbonization. Carbonized bamboo actually refers to a heating process that changes the bamboo to an amber color, and in the process, lowers it’s Janka rating, which is an internationally accepted hardness rating scale for flooring. The only catch is that the Janka scale isn’t the best test for comparing different wood types. Whereas bamboo flooring can resist the pressure imposed by a steel ball (steel balls are used in Janka tests), bamboo flooring will scratch more easily than a hardwood floor with an identical Janka rating. This is because the bonding material between bamboo fibers is less strong than lignens found in old-growth wood. Traditional, natural bamboo floor has a Janka rating of 1,300 to1,600 Pounds per Pressure, and the aforementioned carbonized bamboo has an even lower Janka rating of 1,100 to1,300. Woven/Strand bamboo coupled with an aluminum oxide multi-layer finish, however, has a much higher Janka rating.
For example, Yanchi brand offers a line of strand woven bamboo with a 3,000 Janka rating.
In contrast, Northern Red Oak has a rating of 1290 and Northern Hard Maple is rated at 1450. So, while some bamboo manufacturers claim to be harder than maple and oak, if the Janka rating is in the same neighborhood, the bamboo flooring will actually dent and scratch more. In other words, if the hardness of your bamboo floor is an important factor in your purchase, and you are going by Janka ratings, make sure they are sky high (in the 3,000 range). Also, be sure the brand you are considering has been independently tested for a Janka rating. A common trick is to perform the test on the knuckle, or node, of the bamboo stalk, which is much harder than the rest of the stalk. If you go with premiere, brand names, like those listed above or further below on this page, you need not worry about misleading Janka ratings.
Completely formaldehyde-free bamboo flooring is the minority. However, you shouldn’t let that dissuade you from purchasing bamboo flooring made with urea-formaldehyde glue. Here’s why: The crutch of the matter is that non-formaldehyde glues contain isocyanate, which is non-emitting when dry (good for you and the home), but highly toxic in its liquid state, thus putting workers more at risk. In fact, European flooring manufacturers refuse to use non-formaldehyde glues because of the risks imposed on workers. If you are also concerned about social sustainability, insisting on formaldehyde-free bamboo flooring is not always the best choice. Furthermore, the best bamboo flooring brands contain formaldehyde levels far below the minimum requirements recommended by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (PPA) and imposed by the E1 environmental standard (a German standard that has been adopted in China) of 0.1 ppm (parts per million) urea-formaldehyde. How far below you ask? Well, formaldehyde is actually a naturally occurring substance found at normal indoor and outdoor levels of 0.03 ppm. The top bamboo flooring brands (at least those recommended further below on this page), have formaldehyde levels of 0.01 ppm and lower (that’s ten times lower than the minimum recommendations and half the amount found in Mother Nature). Online retailer, Build Direct, for example, exceeds EU standards and guarantees all their bamboo hardwood to contain less then 0.01 ppm Formaldehyde and have the least environmental impact of any flooring retailer. Lumber Liquidators, however, is not on our recommended list due to high levels of Formaldehyde found in it’s China-sourced bamboo flooring under the Morning Star brand name.
3) The Lower the Moisture Level, the Better
Bamboo is a grass, and as such, contains a high moisture content. It is important that bamboo flooring is adequately dried to prevent cracking and warping. Depending on the brand, moisture content can range from 7-14%. However, the ideal moisture content should be below 8%. Anything above that, especially in areas where the relative humidity drops below 35%, is prone to ripple or crack. This brings up another point. Only purchase bamboo flooring that has been made from Moso bamboo that is at least five years old. Anything younger that hasn’t fully matured and will consequently have a larger moisture percentage.
4) Opt for Brands With Commercial/Residential Warranties
Simply put, commercial grade bamboo flooring is designed to handle more wear and tear than residential grade. If you are serious about preventing dents and scratches and/or have indoor dogs, make certain your bamboo flooring comes with both a residential and commercial warranty. A good warranty is one that offers at least 25 years residential and 5 years commercial.
5) Test Bamboo Flooring Product Samples
Of all the happy customer reviews we’ve read, almost all of them involved obtaining bamboo hardwood flooring samples and putting them to the test before ordering and installing. Although you shouldn’t wear high heels on bamboo flooring anyway (due to the high amount of pressure – PSI 2000, as opposed to a full grown African elephant exerting 100 PSI), a good test is to pound your samples with a high heel (like a hammer) and see which one holds up the best. FYI, a Janka rating is measured in PSI (Pounds per Square Inch). Also, try gouging it with your fingernails or taking a seat in a chair with one leg resting on the sample. Try sliding the chair around and see if the sample gets scratched up. All retailers will be happy and willing to send samples. If not, be weary. Highly touted for their Free Sample policy is Build Direct
6) Choose Pre-Finished Bamboo & Go With the Pros
Pre-finished bamboo is ready to install, whereas unfinished bamboo will need to be installed and treated with a protective finish (and stain if desired). Without going into all the details about site finishing your own floor, let’s just say it is no easy task. Unless you are experienced at installing hardwood flooring, or know someone who is, it is advised to go with pre-finished flooring. This will save you headaches, not to mention risk breaking any clauses in the warranty. If hiring a professional, be sure they have experience installing bamboo hardwood flooring. Again, we’ve read numerous customer complaints about hiring first-time bamboo flooring installers (professional flooring contractors, nonetheless). Ensure your installer has experience with bamboo flooring – especially if installing commercial grade, which is even harder to install than residential grade. To put them to the test, ask if they have special equipment for bamboo flooring, such as a nail gun adapter. They will need it! If you do decide to finish your own bamboo floors or are having a contractor do, we recommend eco-friendly finishers.
7) LEED Credits
While bamboo flooring in itself is endorsed for use by the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED certification programs, not every bamboo flooring offers the same credits. The two most common credits, and those which are credited with the bamboo flooring brands recommended further below are:
- MR Credit 6: Renewable Materials
- IEQ Credit 4.4: Low Emitting Materials.
Always inquire with your retailer if LEED credits are an important factor in your choice of bamboo flooring.
8) Take Care and Don’t Despair!
Being a natural product, just like any other hardwood flooring, bamboo flooring is prone to the elements. Although a good protective finish will help prevent water damage, cleaning up water spills immediately after they happen will help ensure your flooring does not warp or stain. It is also a good idea to rotate furniture pieces in a room with bamboo hardwood flooring as this will help even out naturally occurring fading. On this note, be sure all furniture legs are padded and NEVER drag furniture and heavy appliances across bamboo flooring. If there is a spot on your floor that gets direct sunlight, you might want to consider screening the window or even placing an area rug (just be sure it is NOT a rubber backed rug, which may cause discoloration). Lastly, always follow the manufacturer’s recommendations for cleaning your bamboo hardwood flooring. You don’t want to risk using a cleaner that may damage your floors finish, thus voiding warranty protection.
So, where is the best place to buy bamboo hardwood flooring amongst the sea of bamboo manufacturers, distributors and retailers? Here they are based on the above criteria:
BEST BAMBOO HARDWOOD FLOORING BRANDS
As mentioned earlier, we have searched high and low for the best and safest bamboo flooring being made today. Using the selection guidelines above, we were able to narrow down the pack to 7 brands, as follows:
Premiere Brands: Yanchi, Ambient, Mohawk, Teragren, Plyboo, Cali Bamboo & Eco Timber
For quality, cost and customer ratings, our top pick from the above lot is Yanchi, which is exclusively available at Build Direct. In fact, considering the hit-or-miss aspect of a truly, high quality bamboo flooring, BuildDirect only carries Yanchi and no other brand. They offer a Lifetime Structural Warranty and 25 year finish warranty. Free samples available and 30-day Money Back Guarantee. Read our Yanchi bamboo flooring review for more info on this brand.
If you go with Yanchi, you won’t be disappointed. And if you are disappointed, we want to hear about it (Please leave your feedback in the comments section further below).
As for Lumber Liquidators, we no longer recommend this company due to weak quality controls that resulted in bamboo flooring later found to contain higher than advertised formaldehyde levels.
ABOUT BAMBOO FLOORING
It’s amazing to think that bamboo is actually classified as a grass, considering it’s use as a durable hardwood floor. Yet, it’s the grass-like qualities of bamboo that help make it the most sustainable hardwood flooring product in the world. Growing up forty feet in just four years, bamboo could actually be classified as a weed if it wasn’t so pretty! The bottom line is that bamboo lends itself to organic agricultural practices, is highly effective at absorbing Carbon Dioxide, is naturally resistant to insects (termites), bacteria, moisture and fungi, and provides a major relief upon over-forested, slower growing hardwood forests. Furthermore, it is endorsed for use by the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED certification program.
There are over 1,000 different species of bamboo, but in the case of bamboo hardwood flooring, it is the species Phyllostachys pubescens, known as Moso in Japan, that is primarily used due to its exceptional hardness and growth rate (fully mature in just three years). The vast majority of bamboo used for hardwood flooring is imported into the United States from the Hunan Province in Southern China. There are indeed some natural bamboo plantations here which meet the Forest Stewardship Council’s (FSC) criteria for environmental sustainability and social responsibility; However, the fact remains that some bamboo manufacturers are anything but environmentally friendly in their bamboo floor manufacturing process. This is why it is important to ensure your bamboo floor retailer knows where their bamboo comes from and how it is harvested and manufactured into flooring. In the case of the online bamboo retailers and brands reviewed here at BambooHardwoodFlooring.net, you can rest assured they exceed international environmental standards.
Now that you know bamboo hardwood flooring is a great alternative to other hardwoods and laminates, you will want to read up on the latest developments in flooring. Whether searching for the latest eco-news regarding flooring or great tips on how to implement new flooring in your home, check back often as we will post articles right here!
If you have any questions or would like to share your experiences of using bamboo flooring, please comment below. We may also be reached at email@example.com