Bamboo Flooring: Better than wood?
Bamboo flooring is growing in availability and popularity in the United States. Although bamboo has a number of attributes that make it a suitable flooring option, one of the primary marketing points has been its perceived environmental benefits. But is bamboo better than wood?
Bamboo is a tree-like grass. There are thousands of species of bamboo that grow around the world, including some in the United States . Some species of bamboo can grow well on poor and unstable sites, which makes it useful crop alternative. Bamboo has the potential for rapid growth: shoots have been observed to grow over 3 feet in a single day. Stands of bamboo establish quickly and harvest can place in less than 10 years. Bamboo also will sprout readily from the cut stems, so regenerating stands is easy. Parts of the bamboo shoot are very hard, which makes these tissues suitable for the surface of flooring products. Bamboo also has edible parts which can provide food for people or – famously – for wildlife such as panda bears.
It is the rapid growth and natural regeneration properties of bamboo that are primarily responsible for the “green” reputation for bamboo. However, many of the environmental benefits of bamboo are shared by wood. Natural regeneration is not limited to bamboo stands; it is a viable and widely used practice in tree forestry also. The longer rotation times for trees compared to bamboo can actually be considered to be an advantage for wood. Some tree species produce as much biomass per year as bamboo, but trees store this production for longer (in the living tree) so fewer harvesting resources (fuel, machinery, labor, etc.) are required for each ton of crop collected. Most bamboo harvested for commercial use is cultivated and there are concerns about replacement of natural tree forests with bamboo plantations in some areas. Also, as with many short-rotation crops, applications of fertilizer and pesticides to bamboo may be required for optimal growth.
Finally, it's easier to make flooring from trees than from bamboo. Bamboo stems are hollow, so bamboo flooring panels are made from layers of sliced bamboo that have been glued together. Hardwood flooring consists of solid pieces of wood that are sawn directly from trees, so less processing energy and fewer materials are required. Solid hardwood flooring also provides more material that can be sanded off in future refinishing steps; the hard surface layer of bamboo flooring is relatively thin and so it cannot be sanded and re-finished like solid wood.
Bamboo is a versatile and renewable material. And the same is true of wood. For environmental impact, performance and price, it is hard to beat hardwood flooring grown in Tennessee .