Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Bamboo flooring: how does it really stack up to traditional hardwood?

The popularity of bamboo flooring in home building and remodelling has grown tremendously over the past decade and now occupies a large share of the North America flooring market. More and more of my clients at Projekt Home consider skipping traditional hardwood and opting for an eco-friendly alternative with equal aesthetic appeal. But is bamboo flooring really as attractive an alternative to wood as some believe?
Bamboo is a highly renewable and sustainable source of material. This grass (yes it’s a grass not wood) grows exceptionally rapid reaching its maturity in just 4-6 years, while common hardwoods can take 50 years or more. Clearly these characteristics make bamboo an apparent green choice and its usage can earn you valuable LEED credits. At Projekt Home sustainable living is rooted in our values and with bamboo there are other, lesser known environmental realities. Unfortunately, the majority of this flooring sold in North America is shipped from half way around the world from China and Vietnam. Ecologically this is irresponsible and with locally produced and manufactured options available, we at Projekt Home strive to obtain materials from within 100km of the site of installation. In addition to fuel consumption, the formaldehyde popular in the adhesives used to attach the stripes of bamboo together is a known carcinogen. For obvious reasons these environmental factors greatly erode bamboo’s green appeal.
In terms of durability and hardness these two floors have the potential to stack up equally. But from experience at Projekt Home the difference between higher quality bamboo and its lower counterparts cannot be overstated. Also consider that its durability will be affected by which of the two distinct varieties – carbonized or natural - you chose. You can expect the carbonized option to have gone through a process that includes heat which consequently softens it, while the natural is comparable to maple in hardness. Paul Kenning Stewart stresses that one of the biggest drawbacks of some bamboo is how easily they warp and become damaged with dents and scratch even from just high heels.
Just as with hardwood, bamboo is an aesthetically pleasing flooring option and is available in a wide variety of choices and finishes from its pale natural hues to darker stains. But for those concerned more with their ecological footprint, bamboo is not the right option. Based on the (largely ignored) facts, its green stamp is more of a marketing ploy than reality.

Paul Kenning Stewart is a Toronto based designer with over 25 years of experience and the founder of PROJEKT HOME.  He has managed both residential and commercial design projects and specializes in  kitchens and baths. He also has extensive experience with exterior enhancements such as landscaping and curb appeal and is a member of NKBA.