Not All Bamboo Is The Same

Like Soy, the wonder-vegetable, Bamboo is proving to be the wonder plant.  It is used for textiles, cutting boards, laptop casing, furniture and most commonly, flooring.  But not all bamboo is the same and this is especially true of bamboo flooring.    If you’re looking for bamboo flooring, here you’ll find a list of specs that should enhance your ability to make a good decision, because not all bamboo is the same.  I’ll begin with concerns of quality and durability and finish with the more specifically green concerns such as air quality.

But first…a little background.  Bamboo flooring is all the rage right now, with good reason, but ten or more years ago few manufacturers besides those concerned with sustainability were interested in the product.  Since then, a whole slew of manufacturers have jumped on the bamboo train, with varying levels of interest in quality and sustainability.  (Note: if it is not quality, it is not sustainable.)  At Greenovations (www.seacoastgreenovations.com ), were happy to offer two of the most experienced and definitely the most sustainable manufacturers of bamboo flooring, Plyboo (www.plyboo.com) and EcoTimber (www.ecotimber.com).   These two companies began manufacturing bamboo flooring in the early nineties for one simple reason: they saw the sustainability of harvesting such a rapidly renewable material.

The Quality Checks

Species:  Moso is the hardest, most uniform and workable species of bamboo.  People choose bamboo for its look and its hardness.  Make sure the bamboo flooring you buy is Moso.

Age:  Though rapidly renewable, Bamboo does not reach maturity until 5 ½ to 7 years.  The best bamboo flooring material is harvested at this time and only the bottom half of the stalk (grass) is used.  The greenest companies will sell off the remaining material for use in other products such as clothing and sheets.  Many customers complain that they have purchased bamboo from one of the larger box stores and it did not meet their expectations of hardness.  You get what you pay for.  Most of the major manufacturers harvest their bamboo to early.  Why?  Profits and lowered overhead, naturally.  Unfortunately, the cost of properly harvesting the bamboo is externalized to the consumer such as you – by selling you a soft floor.  An added side effect, this level of rapid harvesting weakens the life cycle of the soil, leading to a need for more frequent and longer resting periods.  You can be certain that companies that have earned the FSC certification (www.fsc.org ) for their bamboo harvest responsible.

Curing:  To properly cure and dry the bamboo stalks and rounds used for your flooring, a manufacturer needs patience and time.  How many large companies do you know that are willing to be patient?  Look for companies that take the necessary time to ensure your bamboo is ready to be a floor.  There are multiple points in the manufacturing process when bamboo should be dried.

Sustainability

Glues and Resins:  As with wood flooring (bamboo is grass), most manufacturers use high voc resins and glues, often containing the known carcinogen urea-formaldehyde, to bind the various pieces of a bamboo floor together.   Look for manufacturers that product low VOC, guaranteed formaldehyde free products.

Stains and Colors:  Bamboo reacts very well to “carbonizing”, a heat process that darkens the product, giving it a caramel color without using stains or dyes.  If it is a product that has been given a non-“natural” color, look for a product using natural dyes, such as EcoTimber flooring.  Most stain and dyes used in flooring are highly toxic.

Farming Bamboo:  Bamboo is a wonder-plant.  Given the right climate, it will grow a foot a day.   Despite this, many flooring manufacturers will contract with plantations that unnecessarily use pesticides.  These pesticides do nothing to improve the quality of the bamboo, yet the damage they do to the environment is immeasurable.

I could probably go on a while longer, but suffice it to say, these benchmarks will help you identify a quality bamboo floor.

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