Bamboo -- like other flooring products -- has both advantages and disadvantages. It's not a hardwood; instead, it's one of the more than 1,000 species of bamboo grasses. This means that not all bamboo floors come from the same species of bamboo, which can disappoint if you choose the wrong product. Some manufacturers harvest bamboo while it is still immature, which results in a lower quality product and flooring. When you know what to look for when contemplating a bamboo floor, you are better prepared to make a decision that won't have you wishing you chose another product.
Types of Bamboo Flooring
Bamboo is solid, strand-woven or engineered and comes in either a vertical or a horizontal alignment with natural or carbonized colors. Engineered bamboo flooring does not perform as well and may delaminate. Bamboo with natural blonde colors is 30 percent stronger than smoky, caramel-colored carbonized bamboo, which undergoes a longer boiling process to get its colorization. Moso bamboo, the strongest of the species, grows at least five to seven years before it's harvested. While the horizontal alignment -- the pattern goes side to side rather than the plank's length -- may be visually appealing, vertical alignment is stronger.
Pros: Sustainable Durability and Strength
The part of the bamboo trunk -- culm -- that produces the strongest materials comes from the portion closest to the ground. Bamboo has a Janka -- a scale that ranks the durability of wood -- hardness ranking of 1650, stronger than hard maple's 1450, white oak's 1360 and red oak's 1290. Bamboo, like wood, is a renewable resource, but it takes roughly seven years to mature, compared to hardwoods, which can take up to 50 years.
Cons: Quality of Manufacturing
The drawbacks of bamboo begin with a product that was imported even though it doesn't maintain quality manufacturing standards and finishes. Cheap, poorly manufactured bamboo, made from immature stalks, not only cups, but it also dents, scratches and delaminates; it can emit unsafe amounts of formaldehyde and other chemical toxins. High-quality manufacturers create products safely that follow European EO safety standards with the documentation that backs this up. While it is moisture resistant, too much water can damage bamboo, so don't install it in bathrooms or areas with high moisture content.
Choose Quality Products
To ensure you choose a quality product, look for the Forest Stewardship Council logo or ask for documentation on the chemicals used in manufacturing and the floor finishes. Select a product that has at least a 1/4-inch thick surface layer for the best results. Check the finish materials: High-quality bamboo flooring includes five to seven finish coats of an aluminum oxide product and a ceramic topcoat that resists scratches when compared with products that just have multiple polyurethane coats.
Product Cost and Warranties
The bamboo flooring's cost and the length of its warranty are both good indicators of the quality of the product, with lower-priced items typically of lower quality. The Green Building Supply website indicates that the manufacturers that have adopted high-quality finishes often guarantee their products against delamination for the product's lifetime and from 25 to 35 years for wear in warranties.