Flooring of Grass: Bamboo

This surface looks and wears like hardwood but it's more sustainable

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Bamboo has become a popular floor choice, thanks to its natural beauty, sturdiness, and renewability. Bamboo is a grass, so it grows much faster than trees and is more earth-friendly. Like wood, bamboo floors can be solid or engineered, and come in a variety of styles and plank sizes.


Options

Color. Bamboo comes in a variety of colors, but there are three general types.

  • Natural bamboo. With no staining or carbonization, natural bamboo is blond.
  • Stained bamboo. Bamboo can be stained any color. It is painted or applied by hand.
  • Carbonized bamboo. During production, carbon is added to dye the bamboo throughout rather than just on the surface. Colors range from tan to light brown. Carbonizing decreases a floor's strength.

Construction. Three types of construction produce three different looks:

  • Horizontal. Bamboo strips are layered and pressed together. The "knuckles" from the stalk appear in the graining, preserving the authentic look of the grass.
  • Vertical. Bamboo strips are turned sideways and laid side by side before gluing. While less durable, this floor offers cleaner, more contemporary graining.
  • Woven or stranded. Shredded strands of bamboo are compressed with resin to produce a hard surface like hardwood. This is the most durable floor and lends an interesting, exotic look.

Factors to Consider

How to Clean. Sweep or vacuum regularly, and occasionally wipe the surface with a damp mop or cloth. You don't need to seal it.

Best for: Virtually any room, though not ideal in spaces prone to standing water, like a kids' bathroom.

Pet Friendly? Extremely. The hard surface withstands pets' nails, and the surface isn't prone to stains. Provide soft mats or pet beds for added comfort.

Underlayment. The subfloor must be perfectly smooth, as bamboo will show imperfections. Because bamboo is susceptible to moisture, a waterproof underlayment is vital if it is being installed over a concrete slab.

The Lowdown

Bamboo is recyclable, biodegradable and rapidly renewable. It's harder than most hardwoods, and helps reduce dependence on hardwoods. However, quality can vary, and bamboo does tend to absorb more moisture than hardwoods.

Bamboo flooring costs about $3 to $9 per square foot, uninstalled. It's considered to be easier to install than hardwood and is generally DIY-friendly.

Keep in mind that not all bamboo is created equal. Before you buy, find out the following:

What species was used? Moso bamboo is the best choice for flooring; others can be soft and dull.

When was it harvested? Bamboo takes around six years to mature. Premature harvest results in soft floors that dent or warp and can cause damage to the plant.

How hard is it on the Janka ball test? The Janka ball test is a hardness scale that measures the force required to push a .444" steel ball halfway into a piece of wood. Though specifics vary by manufacturer, bamboo produced properly is a great deal harder than oak and maple.

Is the manufacturer reputable? Most bamboo sold in the United States is grown in China. No independent standards exist, so it's important to ask your retailer if the manufacturer employs quality control.

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