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 last as long over time. 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 -- called the "culm" -- produces the strongest materials, and comes from the portion closest to the ground. Bamboo is rated as one of the hardest woods, perfect for flooring that sees a lot of foot traffic. In fact, bamboo is rated as stronger than hard maple, white oak and red oak. It's a practical and sustainable renewable resource, as 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 are the products that do not meet or maintain quality manufacturing standards and finishes. Cheap, poorly manufactured bamboo made from immature stalks can "cup" under pressure, and is also easily scratched and dented. It can emit unsafe amounts of formaldehyde and other chemical toxins. (High-quality manufacturers create products safely that follow European EO safety standards with documentation.) Another con: while it is moisture resistant, too much water can damage bamboo. 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. Some manufacturers have adopted quality finishes, and will often guarantee their products for the product's lifetime or for 25 to 35 years for wear in warranties.