Using Bamboo in Home Construction
What You Need to Know About Using This Unique Material
Prized for its warmth, durability and versatility, wood is one of the most loved flooring materials in home building. Over the past decade, however, a new challenger has emerged in the form of bamboo. In addition to boasting many of the properties of hardwood flooring, bamboo offers some unique eco-friendly, sustainable features. At the same time, it has its own drawbacks and vulnerabilities. If you’re planning to incorporate bamboo into your next build, consider the following.
At a recent University of Pittsburgh symposium, a group of academics, architects and construction experts released the so-called “Pittsburgh Declaration,” which calls for builders to utilize bamboo more widely in the coming decades. According to these experts, the material will have a key role to play in the provision of safe, affordable housing, while also posing as a key contributor to developing greener urban environments worldwide.
The benefits of bamboo have come to light recently, following catastrophic earthquakes in Ecuador and Nepal, where bamboo structures fared much better than structures comprised of conventional materials such as concrete. According to experts, because it combines renewable properties with strength, seismic resiliency and cost-effectiveness, bamboo could be an ideal driver of sustainable development in many parts of the world.
Using the Material at Home
While bamboo may well play a key role in sustainable offshore developments, its role is generally limited to flooring in the United States. For many, the material represents a wonderful alternative to traditional hardwood floors. That said, to determine its appropriateness for your project, you should consider the various pros and cons.
- Sustainability: While hardwood trees such as maple, oak and ash can take decades to grow, a freshly harvested bamboo plant takes approximately seven years to reach maturity again.
- Durability: Natural bamboo boasts twice the stability of red oak hardwood, America’s most popular flooring.
- Appearance: Bamboo flooring offers a clean, modern look to any room and is available in a variety of styles, ranging from exotic, striped designs to basic edge-grain planks.
- Affordability: At about $5 to $8 per square foot, bamboo flooring costs the same, or in some cases, less than traditional hardwoods.
- Durability: While it can be exceptionally durable, bamboo’s looks and longevity depend greatly on the variety chosen. Inexpensive bamboo can be prone to scratches and dents. For instance, while natural bamboo offers durability comparable to hardwood, carbonized bamboo is much less resilient.
- Appearance: Vintage- or antique-inspired home decor may clash with the contemporary look of bamboo.
- Safety: Some bamboo imported from China emits toxic chemicals.
In its call for builders to utilize bamboo more broadly in their projects, the Pittsburgh Declaration expressed the need for new international standards. Indeed, since most bamboo is imported from China and other under-regulated regions, it can be difficult to assess quality. Many China-based bamboo floors contain high levels of urea formaldehyde that do not meet strict standards for safety in other countries.
Currently, there are no regulations in the U.S. as to where bamboo originates. That said, because the material has become so popular, many domestic flooring distributors have established their own guidelines for products they sell. Some of these require that imported bamboo be manufactured with formaldehyde-free processing and have water-based finishes. Many distributors are also willing to disclose the material’s country of origin and harvesting techniques. Still, because Chinese bamboo flooring can contain high levels a toxic chemical, it’s best for builders to ensure the material is certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) before making a bulk purchase.
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