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Beyond Bamboo Basics: Gain a Deeper Understanding of this Flooring

By Dan Harrington
August/September 2012
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photo of bamboo trees
Photo courtesy of Cali Bamboo

People in our industry have a lot of questions and concerns about bamboo. I’ve been selling and working with bamboo flooring since 2001, and I have been working directly with Chinese factories since 2004, but I’ll be the first to admit that I still haven’t figured bamboo out. It’s a tricky material, and my experience with it has been a lot like my experience with wood—the more I learn, the more I realize I don’t know. But I have had plenty of opportunities to see how things actually play out in the field—the good, the bad and the ugly—when people install different types and brands of bamboo flooring.

To start, I’d like to emphasize three points. First, the most important thing you have to remember about bamboo is that it is not wood. When you’re dealing with bamboo, leave all of your wood habits and assumptions at the door. The only things it really has in common with wood are that it grows from the ground, and that it’s hygroscopic.

photo of bamboo trees
Raw bamboo canes that will be used for flooring. (Photos courtesy of Cali Bamboo.)


photo of bamboo trees
Compressed blocks of bamboo that will be turned into strand bamboo flooring.

Second, strandwoven bamboo is really not like wood. It looks a little more like wood than traditional bamboo flooring, but the similarity goes only that far. Because it is infused with glue, strandwoven material has unique characteristics that make it even less like wood than traditional bamboo.

And third, not all bamboo is the same. There is a huge range in quality among the many different factories in China, and a huge range in the level of knowledge among the people who run those factories. Unfortunately, most bamboo flooring looks more or less the same out of the box, so buyers are easily tempted by low prices. In general, bamboo flooring is like anything else—you get what you pay for.

Overall, quality has improved in the bamboo flooring industry, and many of the quality problems that we see nowadays are from manufacturers who are cutting corners because of pressure from us, the buyers, to keep costs as low as possible. So, it’s not really fair to blame the species for all of these problems, except insofar as it truly is a bit trickier to produce a quality flooring product out of bamboo than it is out of wood. Let’s look at why.

Bamboo’s Biology

Bamboo differs from wood in some of its basic biological structures. Lignins are the natural resins that concentrate in the tissues of wood and bamboo that give them strength and density. In bamboo, those lignins are heavily concentrated in the vascular bundles. The strength of the fibers in these vascular bundles is incredible—it actually rivals steel. But the tissue between the vascular bundles, called the parenchyma, is much weaker than the tissues in most hardwood species.

In bamboo, the strong fibers are clustered more densely at the outer wall of the stalk and get less dense as you move inward. This is very different from wood, where the strong fibers are distributed more evenly throughout the log. In bamboo, the average density of the outer half of the wall may be twice that of the inner half.

photo of traditional horizontal bamboo flooring construction photo of vertical bamboo flooring construction photo of strand bamboo flooring
Types of bamboo construction include (from left): traditional horizontal construction, vertical construction (in bamboo’s natural color), and strand bamboo. All photos this page courtesy of Cali Bamboo.

To make bamboo flooring, rectangular strips are cut from the wall of the stalk, so each strip has a dense side and a less-dense side. The inner portion of the wall is more stable than the outer portion, so one side of the strip expands and contracts more than the other. So, every strip of bamboo is inherently imbalanced, and this is one of the biggest challenges manufacturers have to overcome.

Bamboo is different from wood in another crucial way: It expands and contracts along its length (longitudinally). In most woods, longitudinal shrinkage doesn’t really affect flooring installations, but in bamboo it is 2-3 tenths of a percent—enough to start being noticeable.

Another challenge is that the density and dimensional stability of bamboo change as you move up the stalk. Material taken from the base of the stalk will be less dense and more stable than material taken from higher up.

Now, in case things weren’t complicated enough, here’s a twist—along the length of the stalk, we have the same type of stability imbalance that we do through the thickness, but it’s reversed! The soft inner wall is more stable than the outer wall when it comes to expansion and contraction across the grain, but it is actually less stable than the outer wall in the longitudinal direction. When a strip of bamboo goes into the kiln, it will shrink more across its width on the dense side, while at the same time it shrinks more along its length on the soft side. One side wants to cup while the other side wants to bow in the opposite direction. You can imagine the tension this creates.

Making Bamboo Flooring

With all of these inherent imbalances, one of the keys to making good bamboo flooring is to create uniformity through the plank by orienting the strips in ways that counteract or average out the imbalances.

In vertical-grain flooring, the strips on the left side of the plank are oriented with the denser portion toward the left. Then in the exact center of the plank, they switch directions and are oriented with the denser portion toward the right. If all of the strips were aligned the same way, the tendency of the soft sides to expand or contract more along the length of the plank would cause the planks to crook or “banana.” By switching direction halfway across, they get the two sides to pull evenly on each other and cancel themselves out.

Horizontal bamboo is more dimensionally stable than vertical, because laminating the layers bonds the more stable and less stable portions of the strips together and helps cancel some of the movement. In my experience, you see fewer cupping claims on the horizontal material, I think in part because of this horizontal lamination, but also because of the way it is assembled in three layers. They always orient the hard side of the strips toward the surfaces, which creates a pattern that results in having more of the soft, stable material in the bottom half of the plank. So, as the humidity comes up from below and the plank starts to expand, the bottom expands less than it normally would relative to the top, counteracting some of the tendency to cup. In this case, with a wet subfloor, the imbalance of the bamboo actually works in our favor.

Janka Ratings & Bamboo

Hardness in bamboo is determined by a variety of factors, especially the age of the stalk. The tissues in bamboo harden as they grow older. Typically, horizontal bamboo gets a higher average Janka rating than vertical products because the soft sides of the strips are protected, whereas in the vertical material, they are exposed at the surface.

The Moisture Reading Issue with Bamboo

We often hear complaints about huge variability in moisture readings with bamboo flooring. Moisture readings on bamboo have to be taken carefully, and even then it’s hard to be sure you’re getting accurate data.

The first step is to make sure you are armed with the best information available from your moisture meter manufacturer. Some have done extensive testing and have correction guidelines, but the recommended corrections differ from one manufacturer to the next. In my conversations with meter manufacturers, even those that have done a lot of work on this have been a bit mystified and frustrated by the wide range of results they get. There are several reasons for this, among them variations in age and density among individual strips, variations in density from different strand glues and processes, and possible changes at the cellular level caused by heating, but we don’t yet seem to have a clear handle on how important each of these factors might be.

Make sure to verify with the meter manufacturer whether their correction numbers are for traditional or strand bamboo. For traditional bamboo, pin meters work fine, but always insert the pins parallel to the grain and to exactly the same depth. This helps make sure you avoid crossing a glue line, which can throw off the reading. For strandwoven bamboo, my experience suggests that you’re best off using a surface meter; the factories in China that work with strandwoven products don’t use pin meters at all.

Drying bamboo at the factory is tricky, in part because it’s so hard to measure the moisture content. Most of the factories don’t dry the bamboo down to a target moisture content as we do with wood. Instead, they rely on a predetermined schedule, because checking the moisture content of individual strips can be misleading due to the density variation.

Even with careful drying, consistent moisture content seems to be a problem for all manufacturers of strand bamboo. I have tested material from well-known brands with moisture content ranging from 6-15% right out of the box. With its extreme density and fibers sheathed in glue, acclimating strandwoven bamboo at the job site can take a long time. I would say as a general rule that strandwoven should be treated with the same caution with which you would treat the densest tropical hardwoods like ipé and cumaru. Acclimation times should be thought of in weeks, not days.

While age is important, be careful not to give too much credence to claims from some manufacturers that their products are superior because the material is older. Most of the moso bamboo used for flooring is harvested between its 5th and 6th years simply because it makes the most economic sense for the growers. After a point, older is no longer better—if you go much beyond the 6th year, the stalks become more brittle and are prone to cracking.

photo of dents in bamboo flooring
Claims about bamboo’s Janka hardness can lead customers to be surprised by dents like these. (Photos courtesy of Doug Foucault, Hefeng USA/ECOfusion Flooring)


photo of strandwoven bamboo flooring failure in a glue line
This engineered strandwoven board shows failure in a glue line.


photo of traditional bamboo horizonal flooring failure in a glue line
Glue line failure in a traditional horizontal engineered floor.

Other factors that determine hardness include altitude, latitude and soil conditions. Bamboo grown at higher elevations, further north, and in drier conditions tends to be more dense. In my experience, a majority of the bamboo flooring being sold by the premiere brands in the U.S. has material from the prime moso growing region in and around Zhejiang province in East Central China.

Where or when the bamboo was cut only tells a part of the story, because the genetics of the individual plants often play an important role in hardness. You can see fairly large variation in size and density even among stalks cut at the same age from the same farm, and even within the individual stalk there is significant variation in density. The better manufacturers buy only the best portion of the best stalks. This is one of the main reasons cost is a big determinant of quality in bamboo flooring.

For years we have seen bamboo flooring advertised as being harder than oak or maple. This is definitely true for strandwoven bamboo, but manufacturers consistently publish Janka hardness test values for traditional bamboo in the range of 1300-1800, like oak to hickory. Yet we’ve all heard from disappointed consumers who say that their bamboo floor doesn’t hold up nearly as well as their old oak floors. So how can this be?

In some cases it may be inferior or immature raw material, but even quality raw material doesn’t seem to hold up as advertised. I believe it goes back to the fact that the material’s strength is in its vascular bundles, and the material between them is weak. When we test bamboo using a blunt object like a Janka ball, those strong fibers don’t break. But when you hit bamboo with something sharp enough to cut through those fibers, there’s little strength to resist the gouging. So, a rock in a shoe can make a much deeper gouge than it would in oak with the same Janka rating.

Carbonization’s Effects

Another reason consumers sometimes feel misled about the hardness of bamboo is that the marketing often fails to point out that carbonized color is on average 20 percent softer than the natural color, and the published Janka test results are usually results from the natural color. The carbonization process involves cooking the bamboo at very high temperatures, which literally caramelizes the bamboo’s sugars. This weakens the material, making it softer and more brittle, and it increases the bamboo’s capacity to absorb water, making it less dimensionally stable. This is true for both traditional and strandwoven bamboo.

The Newest Version: Strand

While traditional bamboo flooring may not be quite as tough as it’s cracked up to be, its newer cousin, strand bamboo, is extremely hard and holds up well in high-traffic settings.

 

Grading Bamboo

Unfortunately, there currently are no useful quality or grading standards for bamboo flooring. People in our industry who have been frustrated by the problems they’ve been seeing have asked NWFA to develop standards, and the NWFA has formed a committee, which I’m involved in, but it has proven to be a difficult task to come up with much beyond the HPVA rules that are already in existence for engineered flooring. These rules relate mainly to things like machining tolerances, moisture content, formaldehyde, and glue bond integrity, which are all important, but they don’t speak to many of the issues explained here. In bamboo, you have tremendous variation in the quality of the raw material itself, and then there are many early steps in the manufacturing process that allow for human error and corner-cutting. In my opinion, to really create effective standards for bamboo, we would have to monitor the whole process from start to finish.


Strandwoven bamboo is made of small strands of bamboo that have been soaked in phenolic glue, re-dried, and then compressed into a composite. The result is a product similar to OSB except that the strands of bamboo run the full length of the plank, making it look more like natural wood. As a composite, it is much harder and, in most cases, more dimensionally stable than traditional bamboo flooring.

Some may doubt the statement that strand bamboo is more stable because many people have seen problems with it, but it’s important to not confuse dimensional stability with reliability. Dimensional stability tells us how much the material will expand and contract, but it does not necessarily predict how well it will stay flat.

Because of the unique process involved and the glue that binds it together, strand bamboo can be difficult to dry and acclimate properly, can be prone to cracking, and is more susceptible to cupping than traditional bamboo when glued to a slab. And quality matters even more with strand bamboo than it does with traditional bamboo—the process and the glue are critical to its performance and there are many more ways to make mistakes and cut corners.

There are two types of manufacturing for strand bamboo: cold-press and hot-press. Manufacturers of both types claim that theirs is the superior method. Based on my testing and field experience, I’d say the jury is still out and that it really depends on the individual factory.

Engineered Issues

photo of bamboo trees
Great caution must be taken with strandwoven bamboo glued directly over a slab due to its tendency to cup in that situation. (Photos courtesy of Doug Foucault, Hefeng USA/ECOfusion Flooring)


photo of bamboo trees
This solid strand floor was acclimated under normal conditions and then a large fountain was installed in the space; the increase in humidity caused the floor to expand in every direction, resulting in cupping as well as crushing and lifting at the ends.

In my experience, it’s much more difficult to make a reliable engineered bamboo than it is to make a reliable engineered hardwood. Since making a bamboo top layer usually involves gluing together smaller strips, there are more opportunities for glue bond failure. However, more often than not, it’s the bamboo itself that fails. When that bamboo top layer is locked by a glue bond to a layer of plywood (or other wood) running in the opposite direction, and it’s not able to shrink, it has a tendency to tear itself apart more readily than most woods. Again, the weakness of the parenchyma is the problem. Most of the failures that you see with engineered bamboo are in out-of-warranty conditions. Properly made material used according to the manufacturer’s guidelines is usually fine. But in my experience, when conditions get extreme, even well-made engineered bamboo is not as reliable as engineered hardwood flooring made with similar care.

Avoiding Mold

A problem you may have seen in traditional bamboo floors is grayish, streaky discoloration in some planks. This is fungus that has attacked the bamboo during the first few days after it was harvested. Raw bamboo rots quickly and has to be treated with borate solution within two days of being cut in order to prevent this. If mold has set in before the treatment, it may still be visible in the finished floor even though it has been killed.

Unfortunately, I have seen cases where mold actually spread in the floor after it was installed, even under dry conditions. As a general rule of thumb, if you see this in a plank, it’s probably safer not to install it. I have not seen this in carbonized bamboo, probably because of the heat from carbonization and because the darker color masks any mold. I have seen hints of mold in natural strandwoven bamboo, but it is much less visible and does not present the risk of spreading because the glue and curing process should kill any spores.

Other Job-Site Problems

There are some other common issues people encounter with bamboo on the job site. Most installers are in the habit of leaving expansion space along the sides of the planks but not where the boards end by the wall. With solid hardwood, you generally don’t have to worry about it. With bamboo, because of its greater longitudinal instability, you do. You might also see the opposite problem when things get too dry, where the ends will pull away from each other. Gapping at the butt joints can happen with both traditional and strand bamboo.

The growth in the popularity of strandwoven bamboo has been a big boost to the inspections industry; cupping claims on installations over concrete are a huge problem. Many strand jobs have mystified claims inspectors and glue manufacturers because the slab was within allowable limits and the vapor retarder was properly applied, yet still the floor cupped. It has led people to believe that strand bamboo is highly sensitive to moisture, but from what I’ve seen, strand bamboo has done just as well as similarly dense species of hardwood when installed over a crawlspace. The problem is that when it is installed on a slab, the density and the resin in strandwoven bamboo make it hard for the vapor to escape, causing moisture to slowly accumulate and condense on the surface of the slab. The strandwoven bamboo is itself a vapor barrier, but one that will absorb water slowly over time. This explains why some of these cupping claims over concrete are very slow to develop. The condensation of water under the strand bamboo also may account for the relatively large number of so-called “glue failures” that we’ve seen in these installations.

To prevent cupping, the perm rating of the vapor retarder would have to be equal to or lower than the perm rating of the strand bamboo itself, which is apparently extremely low, so you need an excellent vapor retarder. So, with strandwoven bamboo, it’s even more important than with other materials to thoroughly test and seal the concrete, and to avoid installations where there is any sign of a moisture problem.

Another problem you may see with strandwoven flooring is a phenomenon I call “rippling,” where you get tiny ripples or wrinkles in the face. Many strand installations have this problem, but it’s often so subtle that the end-user hasn’t noticed it. There are a couple of factors likely contributing to this. First, inconsistent or inadequate drying of raw material means that when the product acclimates at the job site, some strands are lifting or sinking relative to others. Second, there is a rebound effect—strands that have been compressed together have a tendency to want to bounce back against the direction of the press, especially with moisture.

The cracking problems that happen with engineered traditional and strand bamboo also show up with some solid strand products. Like with wood, drier conditions seem to bring this out more, but I’ve seen cracking develop in samples from lesser-quality manufacturers even at sea level in San Francisco. The causes of these cracks are often related to the same factors that cause the rippling—the rebound effect and inconsistent drying. But cracking can also sometimes be a symptom of a poor quality resin and/or improper curing.

Two other problems that you’ll sometimes encounter in strandwoven installations are dimpling and edge crushing, which may look the same but are caused by different things. Dimpling usually occurs when the installer is using cleats that are too thick—strandwoven manufacturers recommend 18-gauge cleats, but many installers are in the habit of using 15.5-gauge cleats. Because this material is so dense, the fasteners will push it up and create a lump at the surface.

Edge crushing is a trickier problem. Strandwoven bamboo is very strong but brittle, and if the installer bangs his nailer too hard, he can create fractures in the side of the plank that may not be visible right away. If the planks later expand and pressure is exerted at that seam, the fractures get worse and can travel up through the face. You should be able to tell the difference between dimpling and edge crushing by the fact that on a dimpled floor, many of the lumps won’t have cracks, and they will be visible right away.

The Takeaway Highlights

The truth is that if bamboo is properly made and installed, it can make a great floor. I have been involved in countless commercial and residential jobs that have gone off without a hitch and left the customer very satisfied. The strand bamboo floor that I put in my kitchen in 2006 still looks brand-new today.

To summarize, remember a few key pieces of advice:

1) Avoid using traditional bamboo in demanding settings where you have high traffic, big dogs, etc. It’s really just not as hard as the Janka test results indicate.

2) Be sure to thoroughly acclimate and carefully measure the moisture content of strand bamboo before installation. You might be surprised how long it takes to acclimate properly.

3) If you plan to install strand bamboo on a slab on-grade, do careful testing to make sure there are no moisture issues, use the best vapor retarder possible, and be extra cautious with carbonized material.

4) Whenever possible, buy from a company with a good reputation, preferably one that has been importing bamboo flooring for many years. The quality problems and the corner-cutting some bamboo manufacturers engage in usually can’t be seen with the naked eye, so you have to be careful. Like with anything else, be wary of a really good price.

The information in this article was adapted from a presentation at the NWFA’s Bamboo/Strand Workshop earlier this year. For more information on NWFA classes, go to www.nwfa.org.


Dan Harrington is a San Francisco-based senior product specialist at Galleher Corp. (www.galleher.com); he can be reached by email at dharrington@galleher.com.



Moisture meters            Installing wood flooring    Moisture testing wood floors    Wood floor acclimation        Cracks    Cupping        Bamboo flooring    Exotic wood flooring           

 Comments:

Nice article.
grooving  contractor  8/15/2012 11:39:18 AM

Great Article....but not one comment on the different types and qualities of finish... That has scared me the most!!
TDMAC  owner  8/15/2012 12:00:55 PM

Thanks for a every informative article. Its great to have someone give you the whole picture about a product.. Other flooring products have eccentricacies too... but its knowing whta they are and how to handle them(or not install them) that is critical. I attended the presentation you gave at Surfaces last January. Good information then... and gald to see your article published for a wide audience.
john chapman    8/16/2012 9:36:30 AM

BAMBOO IS A PRODUCT WITH MORE PROBLEMS THAN BENEFITS!! ESPECIALLY IN HUMID CLIMATES!!
BILL MATNEY  MANAGER, TRINITY HARDWOOD   8/20/2012 3:21:28 PM

Let's keep in mind as the article says not all bamboo is created equally. Although wood and bamboo are not created equal they do have similar restrictions as some products shouldn't be installed in some areas. If the consumer or retailer isn't going to adhere to NWFA guidelines regarding moisture then the product any product is going to fail. This industry tends to paint with one brush, education equals a happy customer and increased profits.
Jeffrey C. Feller  National Sales Manager @ Strategis Inc.  8/22/2012 2:55:59 PM

Not really the whole picture, but good article on properties and use of bamboo. How and where exactly is bamboo grown? What used to grow/live there in it's place? I would prefer to support American forests and American jobs and buy domestic woods from sustainably managed forests that promote plant and wildlife habitat and biodiversity. At least you know with certainty that your domestic hardwoods are not grown on monocultural plantations that replaced natural forests and displaced wildlife to feed a new luxury market.
Ben Hull, Hull Forest Products    8/22/2012 3:01:21 PM

I too salute the article for it's inclusion of the foibles that can be inherent in the material regardless of who the manufacturer is. Our company has been actively selling bamboo since Dan S. brought S&F products to the market, which had to be pushing 15 or so years and as with all unique products, the marketing at times outweighed the efficacy of what was billed as the "latest/ greatest" with an early venture into Starbucks with the issues of not resealing the cut ends at walls to minimize moisture intrusion, to a Nike space that incorporated mixed specie with sheen issues that were not the fault of the manufacturer. This being said, my Don Quixote mission is to get the fact across that Janka is based on .44" diameter bearing intruding .22" into LUMBER, not flooring. I defy anybody to drop a 6" closed end crescent wrench from standing knee height onto ANY specie of wood or bamboo and not see that the dent is virtually identical on Ipe or Maple or Fir. It would just take 4x the force to drive it deeper into the material. We sell furniture you walk on, not impenetrable surfaces. Thanks for the soapbox.
Eric C. Jensen  Senior Territory Manager  8/22/2012 3:02:58 PM

P.S. to my post from above: Solid strand natural with patina shows negligible marring from the crescent wrench, engineered carbonized with HDF center core has a small impression and the same on engineered with a plywood platform. Certainly more resistant to denting than many wood products we sell for flooring. I wanted to amend my exercise from above for accuracy sake.
Eric C. Jensen  Senior Territory Manager  8/22/2012 5:10:49 PM

This is a very information article about the technical properties of bamboo flooring, but it does not address any environmental issues. Bamboo in general is marketed as a "green" product because it grows so quickly, and thus products manufactured from it (such as flooring) do not require logging from longer-growth forests, thereby reducing carbon emissions. Though I don't have any statistics handy, this environmental calculus does not take into account the enormous amounts of energy and petroleum-based glues required to manufacture the finished product - to say nothing of the potential ecological damage of single species plantation farming (palm oil, anyone?). The hardwood industry needs to do a better job of explaining to the consumer that hardwood products from sustainably managed forests are not only environmentally-friendly, they are actually significant carbon traps, and much, much better for the environment than bamboo, glass, steel, or plastic.
Garner Robinson  VP, Robinson Lumber Company  8/22/2012 7:04:08 PM

Great article. The way I track bamboo MC on various manufacturerd products is keep some at my house, inside and outside. That way I know what my meter should be reading when I go out to jobs or inspections.
grooving  owner/contractor  8/22/2012 8:39:28 PM

As an inspector I find myself constantly trying to learn more information about Bamboo as a flooring as I primarily only inspect Bamboo failures. The Bamboo manufacturer says it's not their fault, the adhesive manufacturer states it's not their fault, as do the homeowner, installer and builder. I know of no labs that currently offer any specific testing, (of Bamboo) as the product has no industry standards with which to be tested for: specifically related to moisture failures. I have spoken to inspectors all across the country and all agree, we do not advise this product to ever be glued down to a concrete substrate, it's just to disheartening when it fails and everybody denies any/all responsibility.
Timothy Chavey  Inspector/consultant  8/25/2012 3:54:36 PM

Funny, I have see engineered fall apart in dry environments, I have seen ot work in dry environments with humidification Just 2 days ago I walked into a 3 year old job of mine, engineered finger jointed verical long plank I floated with T&G glue. It was also a spray on stain and finish for you finish guys. Came in generic white boxes and bought on the internet. Not a split, check or anything worng with this floor and it is not humidified either. Large house with only two people living in it out is the Ole Puelbo. I say it is a crap shoot.
grooving  installer/contractor/inspector  8/28/2012 10:06:40 PM

and is then transported over water, whereas Oak flooring is usually trucked to CA from the Great Lakes or Appalachia. Ocean freight is vastly more efficient than trucking, far off-setting the difference in distance. 5) Of course, if you live in Wisconsin and buy a locally-grown, locally-milled hardwood floor, that's the best environmental alternative, But keep in mind that many of the domestic wood floors on the market are processed in Asia, particularly if they're engineered. Many American companies sell even solid Oak flooring that is harvested here, sent in log form to China, dried, milled, and sent right back to a store 10 miles from the stump. And sometimes that White Oak or Birch put in a box with an American brand on it was actually harvested in Siberia, from what is shaping up to be one of the greatest ecological catastrophes the world has ever seen. It's not about what species we buy (including Bamboo), it's about what's happening at the source, and every step thereafter in the supply chain. There are domestic hardwood products coming from egregious practices here in the U.S., from landowners that are clearing and converting sensitive forest ecosystems like some of the Red Oak coming from the Cumberland Plateau in TN, and there are sources for Brazilian Cherry in Bolivia and Brazil that are doing exemplary sustainable forestry, helping prevent the Amazon from being cleared for cattle.
Dan Harrington    8/29/2012 4:55:07 PM

Regarding the comment re: the environmental impacts of Bamboo flooring. I'm a big believer in using hardwood products from sustainably-managed natural forests, and I agree that our industry needs to do a better job of educating the consumer about the environmental benefits of responsibly sourced hardwoods. I've looked at this question very closely over the years, have toured forests here and Bamboo plantations in China, looked at land use histories on both, and done carbon footprint studies. The answers are complicated, but I can say with confidence that it is inaccurate to make a blanket statement that domestically produced hardwood flooring has a smaller environmental impact than Bamboo flooring, for several reasons. 1) Bamboo grows unbelievably fast, and Bamboo plantations absorb far more carbon than any hardwood forest. 2) Contrary to what many here in the U.S. believe, there is very little clearing of natural forest to make way for Bamboo planting - far LESS than there is clearing of natural forests here to make way for tree farms, development, mining, and other uses. In fact, most Bamboo is being grown on land whose topsoil was badly depleted by centuries of agriculture, and the Bamboo actually helps prevent erosion and help the topsoil recover. Most of China's natural forests were cleared centuries ago.
Dan Harrington  Galleher  8/29/2012 4:55:54 PM

Sorry guys - these posts got put up in the wrong order. This is the second of four. It should be preceded by the one starting with "Regarding..." and followed by the one starting with "and is then..." 3) There isn't much more energy used in the production of Bamboo than there is in most engineered hardwood products, although with carbonized Bamboo and StrandWoven Bamboo, which require sustained heating, there is some value to this argument. However, that energy use is more than offset by transportation impacts... Many folks assume that because it is transported from China, Bamboo has more embodied carbon than domestic hardwoods, but in fact, in most cases it's reversed. A Bamboo floor installed in California has roughly 1/7 the embodied carbon of an Oak floor installed in California. Most Bamboo is grown and processed within a 4-5 hr. drive of Chinese ports,
Dan Harrington  Galleher  8/29/2012 4:57:41 PM

final portion of this long-winded comment: . ...... So these issues are complicated to say the least, and there are rarely clear answers unless you can trace your product step-by-step through every company that handled the material in the supply chain, from feller to log broker to sawmill to flooring mill to distributor to retailer, and we rarely have access to that kind of information. So it's simply not fair to make generalizations about a particular species or a particular type of material. The only method we really have at this time for tracing where our wood comes from is FSC. As imperfect and inefficient as it may be, it's the best we've got.
Dan Harrington  Galleher  8/29/2012 4:58:55 PM

Unfortunately, though, FSC can't tell us anything about energy use, carbon impacts, adhesives, etc. They only deal with forest impacts at the point of harvest. But it's a start.
Dan Harrington    8/29/2012 5:00:32 PM

I would like to congratulate you Mr Harrington on the most comprehensive article I have ever read concerning bamboo flooring. I have spent the last five years specializing in this field for the South African market and many questions still go unanswered. While much is speculation I would think your findings are closer to the truth than many factories and supply chains would care to admit. I would welcome and encourage further investigation and support into this beautiful flooring alternative as it is clearly not going to go away. We need to welcome and explore viable alternatives to hardwoods as the consumption of hardwoods does not end with the American market but extends to much of the world. If 1st world countries create the market, 3rd world countries aspire to be and consume like them. Unfortunately if this happens we do not have enough to meet the demand encouraging illegal harvesting. Concerning factory quality standards and marketing campaigns, it is very difficult to discern good from bad unless you are a serious expert. Most installers and retailers are not which makes your job so important concerning education and investigation. While price remains the main motivation behind product choice there will always be failure claims and rantings. The key is not to get stuck on the failures and shortcomings but rather focus on the many successes and possibilities of future technologies that are encouraging sustainability. I look forward to your future articles.
Barry Doveston  Ex Installer, Ex Distributor, Ex strandwoven bamboo manufacturer sales manager, current flooring specialist  9/5/2012 1:55:00 PM

Very in-depth information. TDMAC, you are right to be very worried. Lots of Chinese factories are using really low quality domestic UV finishes and passing them off as "imported UV finishes". The final surface is also very important. In term of wear resistance ( real life, not just S33 or S42), the possibility to do re-coating and also the companies that made such coatings, should at least have a proper Safety Health Enviornment SHE procdedure and ISO14000 certification to ensure they are providing good qualtity products and not at the expense of their workers, their customers' workers and end consumers health.
Jon L  Sales / UV Coatings  9/7/2012 3:12:49 AM

Beautifully penned down article. Good piece of information has been shared. Thanks.
Amit    7/19/2013 12:37:18 AM

Have not read all the comments but, it has been found out the only accurate method for MC is OD, the meters just don't work on bamboo. Or, so I have been told from the latest research.
E. T. Bass  inspector  7/22/2013 4:23:02 PM

I am an imported of wooden flooring and bamboo into South Africa and am also an inspector. We have seen many problems with bamboo but mainly cupping. All our floors are laid on cement bases. We are also the importer of Elastilon installation system into South Africa. We have installed over the last 10 years tens of thousands of square meters of bamboo flooring T&G on Elastilon with a 250micron plastic over the cement and to date have not had one bamboo floor failure with this method. All failures that I have see have been click system bamboo flooring or glued together. What are your feelngs on click systems with Bamboo and or gluing the boards together. With Elastilon there is no glue in the T&G.
Steven Suntup  MD Suntups Wooden Flooring  7/25/2013 6:26:20 AM


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