Canadian Contractor

John Bleasby   

Flooring options beyond hardwood (2)

Canadian Contractor

A look at bamboo flooring, which can be harder than oak, significantly less expensive than engineered wood or solid hardwood - and a terrific option for your clients.

Contributing Editor John Bleasby continues his investigation of alternate flooring materials.

The hardwood industry has a lot to say about bamboo flooring, most of it not good. Perhaps it recognises a serious competitor to their long-standing dominance in residential installations. Many of the hardwood industry’s arguments concern bamboo’s claim of eco-friendliness. The fact is, bamboo is worthy of consideration in new or renovated homes. Bamboo plants grow many times faster than hardwood trees, bringing the material to the attention of eco-conscious designers and builders around the world. Bamboo is LEED certified and the most reputable manufacturers are IEQ (Indoor Environmental Quality) recognised, ISO-audited and FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) approved.

How It’s Made
Bamboo flooring is a manufactured product, constructed by treating, cleaning and then soaking individual strands of bamboo in a binder and then pressing or weaving the components together under high pressure. The woven strand planks are typically many times harder than oak. The resulting plank is for all intents a solid piece of bamboo. Bamboo is usually seen in lighter shades, allowing its fibrous grain pattern to show. Colours vary from light natural to very dark by means of a carbonisation or heating process. Carbonisation does, however, soften the surface by about 10%. Bamboo’s appearance is usually ‘edge grain’, a very linear look; or ‘flat grain’; a wavier pattern resulting from the exposure of the bamboo knuckles. Hybrids of colour and grain are now also available, as are stair nosing and trim pieces to complete a bamboo installation. The hardwood industry suggests that the harvesting and milling of tree logs is more energy efficient, uses more of the actual raw material, is safer in the home, better regulated for quality, comes in more colours, and has a longer useful life span. These eco-arguments can be actively debated, and style will always be subjective and eco-friendliness debated. The key factors driving the increased popularity of bamboo are Price and Durability.

Price: Bamboo can cost significantly less than solid plank or even quality engineered hardwood flooring. However, beware of bamboo flooring at ridiculously low prices; it’s a red flag. The price difference between a clear-out special at big box store and bamboo flooring products available through quality importers is not that great. You get what you pay for, so do your research. Low cost is often an indication of two things: 1) A low quality factory-applied coating, and/or 2) Potentially unsafe levels of formaldehyde, a known carcinogen, used in the manufacturing process. Some importers offer 3rd party certification that ensures your lot number meets or exceeds European standards for formaldehyde (0.05ppm or less). Others use a chemical-free soya adhesive in their process.


Durability: Depending on the manufacturing process, some bamboo flooring can be many times harder than oak, confirmed by Janka tests. Like hardwood, there are pre-installation acclimatisation procedures and post-installation maintenance requirements. The factory applied finish is the biggest factor when it comes to scratch resistance and long term durability. Aluminum oxide is popular because of its durability, but it can be damaged by cleaning products containing mineral spirits. The manufacturers’ recommendations must be followed lest the warranty is invalidated.

Suitability: A high quality bamboo floor with a top quality factory finish can be successfully installed in many areas of the house, including kitchens. However, bamboo may not the best choice for entrance halls, mudrooms or bathrooms unless rated for commercial high traffic areas. It is available as a solid plank or as an engineering product and floating floor formats. All can be installed like their hardwood alternatives over a number of sub floors, even over radiant floor heating when installed under manufacturers’ guidelines.

Next up: Cork floors: Are they tough enough?


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