Bamboo: The Better Alternative?

While Asian countries have used bamboo for years to build houses and structures, bamboo is a relatively new idea to us in the West. It is likely that you think of wood, bricks, carpets and tiles when considering to build a house. Bamboo, however, is probably allocated to a small spot on the windowsill where it can grow in a cute little spiral. So, where does bamboo fall into the mix?

Bamboo has recently been hailed as an environmentally friendly alternative to hardwood floors. Bamboo acts in many ways like wood, but is in fact a tree-like grass. It is also one of the fastest-growing plants in the world, with some species being able to grow 3 feet in just 1 day! In comparison, hardwood trees can take up to 70 years to mature. The following are some more ways in which you can compare bamboo and hardwood flooring.

Hardness: Just as there as many types of hardwoods, from pine to oak to teak, there are all several varieties of bamboo. Hardness depends on species, time of harvest and how it is manufactured. Good quality bamboo (such as Moso) can have a Janka Hardness scale rating of about 1,400. However the rating can vary greatly, and within about the same range for both hardwoods and bamboo, from about 600-2000.

Appearance: A point in the hardwoods column is that, because there are so many different kinds, you can buy woods in a rainbow of natural (and artificial) colors, depending on your preference. As where bamboo must be treated, stained or carbonized to significantly change its color. Carbonization for example makes for a darker color, however it also softens the wood.

For bamboo flooring, you have two choices: vertical and horizontal. This difference pertains to how the bamboo is stranded together. Horizontal bamboo flooring is laid out and its pattern has the typical “knuckles” you see on a stalk of bamboo, giving it a more natural look. Vertical bamboo is turned on its side and stranded together in small strips, giving the flooring a busier look.

Environmental Impact: Because bamboo grows much more quickly than hardwood trees and is able to naturally regenerate, it is a common perception that it is the more environmentally friendly of the two. However, the real picture is slightly more complicated. Most bamboo comes all the way from Asia, leading to extra fuel needed for transportation. Hardwoods produce about as much product as bamboo in the same amount of time, and the longer wait time equals fewer resources needed each year to cut and harvest the product. Additionally, bamboo is not unique in being able to grow back from its base, as this is a common practice in forestry.

There really isn’t a bad choice when you’re choosing between bamboo and hardwood flooring. A lot depends on the type of wood or bamboo. In general, look for quality in whichever you choose, as you’re likely to get what you pay for.

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