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bamboo flooringJen Jafarzadeh L'Italien

A year ago, I moved into an apartment with bamboo floors. Now that I've experienced this buzzed-about green building product first hand, one thing's for sure: I'll never live with bamboo floors again.

Ever since green building has been on my radar, there has been a huge buzz surrounding bamboo as a coveted renewable resource. From durability to aesthetics, this sustainable material has come to be known as one of the most viable eco-friendly household materials out there, used in everything from surfaces to tableware. So, when my husband and I rented a place with bamboo floors last year, we were obviously thrilled.

Now -- after a year of actually living with bamboo floors -- my view of bamboo has changed. To be honest, if I were the next person to rent my place, I wouldn't be too pleased to inherit these bamboo floors in the shape that they're in -- and they're practically new! Nor would I ever choose to use bamboo flooring if I were having a new home built. In my experience, they just don't stand up to foot traffic and everyday wear and tear.

And despite bamboo's pristine reputation, I'm not so sure it's the actually greenest choice when you consider wear, durability, and the carbon footprint involved in transporting the material overseas.

Now, to be fair, before I list my gripes about bamboo flooring, here are the things I know to be true about bamboo's green side:

- Bamboo is a fast-growing plant in the grass family, so it's a quickly renewable material. After bamboo is cut, the plant sends out new shoots so it regrows without needing to be replanted. Super sustainable.
- Bamboo grows without the use of pesticides.
- Bamboo cultivation improves soil quality.
- Bamboo is a natural material from the earth. Bamboo flooring does not use formaldehyde or any petrochemicals.

Jen Jafarzadeh L'Italien

Sounds like a dream product, huh? Not so much. Here are a few of the things that dawned on me over the course of a year of living with bamboo floors:

1. I would actually use the word "soft" in describing my bamboo floors. Not to say soft like a pillow, but soft in comparison to the sturdy hardwood floors I've lived with all my life. Bamboo floors just can't hold up to the slightest abuse. I'm not talking dropped chisels or dragging a heavy table clear across the floor, which would damage any material. I'm talking everyday wear and tear. It seems like anything from a folding chair to a dropped plate can damage these floors. And unlike hardwood, bamboo floors can't be refinished. The marks are permanent.

2. Our bamboo flooring warps very easily. In the winter, we set up a humidifier in our bedroom. During its first run for the season, it leaked out a little water, causing the bamboo floor to warp. The bubble has never quite gone away.

3. The floor always looks dirty. Our bamboo flooring is shiny and smooth; if only it would stay so clean-looking for more than an hour. Unlike the hardwood floors I'm used to, dirt just seems to sit on top of the bamboo floor until I vacuum or sweep. At the right angle, in the right light, it's easy to see the dust and crumbs with the naked eye. Gross. And yes, I do vacuum regularly (but not everyday). My husband and I both take our shoes off at the door, but we still somehow manage to track a fair amount of dirt and grit into the place. My theory is that with hardwood floors, the dirt moves into the natural grooves and crevices of the wood until it's vacuumed away. With my bamboo flooring, every little bit of dirt floats atop of the floor, sticking only to my bare feet, which track them into every other room in the apartment.

4. I worry about the carbon footprint of bamboo flooring. While there's no question that bamboo flooring is a renewable material, I think what's often not talked about is its carbon footprint. In the U.S., you can source hardwood flooring locally, as there are manufacturers of hardwood flooring throughout the country. Bamboo, on the other hand, has to get shipped over from China. The bamboo materials are then manufactured into flooring in the U.S. Think about how much oil was used to get my bamboo floor all the way to Brooklyn from China. And again when I have to replace the flooring after 5 years or so because I can't repair the damage.

Keep in mind, this is just my experience. Many people live with bamboo flooring and have no complaints. If you're set on bamboo flooring as the right choice for you, it's important to note that, like many materials, there are different grades. Traditional bamboo flooring uses 65 percent of the raw material, whereas Strand Woven Wood Bamboo makes better use of the bamboo material, using 84 percent of the bamboo harvested, notes Renee Loux in Easy Green Living.

So what flooring material would I choose if I were building my own home? If I were renovating, I would look into reclaimed wood flooring as well as Marmoleum, which is a green flooring material that is touted to be very durable. Living with bamboo floors has taught me that what sounds green and eco-friendly may not be the best choice in practice. Whether you're renting or buying, it's always smart to ask a lot of questions and do research before you dive head-first into a trend.

What's your opinion on bamboo products in the home?


  • Happy Floor Owner

    Wow - this is really good to know. Choosing the right flooring can be very complicated. I looked at wood, bamboo, tile and laminate flooring. I really liked the look of wood, but worried about warping, sun damage etc. Ultimately, I went with tile, which may not technically be green, but tile lasts forever, so if you factor that in, maybe it is environmentally friendly after all.

    Reply
  • joe the engineer

    So this woman lets water pool on the floor, and is upset because the dirt can be seen, and complains about the composition of the floor??? If you let water pool on any substance, guess what? You have problems, and a floor can only show the dirt that is on it. I have bamboo floors, and they are great.


  • bruce

    I have bamboo floor in my commerical building and sell it. The pictures are NOT bamboo. I t looks like oak or ash.


  • Dennis Patria

    If you expecting floofing in your basement do not use Bamboo or any othe wood product with out building a runner or joist system under it using pressure treared lumber


  • Cynthia

    I have bamboo flooring in my home, and I agree with the others - the floors in the picture are NOT bamboo. I love my bamboo flooring!


  • nancy

    I have bamboo flooring that I've had about a year, and I love it. However, this flooring has been specially made so it is extremely hard and durable - almost impossible to dent or damage, though it can still scratch somewhat - but no more than a normal hardwood. In fact, it is holding up much better than my hardwood. It is called 'strand woven" - don't know if that's the difference.
    Don't give up on bamboo!


  • J.

    1. Bamboo is a grass, they older plant stalks may be tough and hard, but once it's processed into flooring the planks are as soft as yellow pine. There's no getting around this.

    2. This is going to happen to any "floating" floor or one installed with insufficient groove nailing. Bamboo must be flattened with steam and pressure however, so even a small amount of water can cause it to curl again into its natural shape. It's also likely this shows the floor was improperly finished and no additional finish was put down once "factory finished" planks were laid.

    3. Sorry, this one isn't the floors fault. Either you clean wood floors each day with a minimum of a dust mop or they'll show it. Depending on the lighting sometimes darker colored floors hide it better.

    4. I'll not defend this one as it's quite valid. I can't guess how bamboo flooring and say a traditional oak flooring would compare on a carbon footprint level. The aspect that makes bamboo a worthwhile choice is its growth cycle. In five years you can get hundreds of square feet of flooring out a few acres worth of bamboo. Where-as in five years your oak saplings will up to your waste and about as big around as your thumb.

    From your pictures it looks like the surface has taken a beating. I'd suspect it wasn't finished correctly after installation and a light sanding followed up by several coats of a tough and durable polyurethane would correct most of the problems you've experienced.

    Reply
  • JaneB3

    I am 99% happy with my bamboo floors, except in one area --- near sliding door. Bamboo seems to be discolored on 8 boards directly in front of door. Would light sanding or steel wood + a coat of polyurethane cure the problem? If so could you recommend best polyurethane to buy. I doubt I need more than a pint to make the area pristine. After repair I will be putting down a rug to protect flooring. Thank you.


  • Shawn

    I have to totally disagree with you and completely agree with her. I put down Bamboo floors with the same belief that she had " Super Durable" BS. I was shocked at how easily they got scratched. My finish still looks very good but the scratches appear as little dents in the floor when the light hits them. I didn't have any gouges but a ton of little dents all over from the slightest pressure! Would never in a million years recommend this type of flooring!


  • gregg

    The pictures shown are not even a Bamboo floor.And just like everything else you get what you pay for.There are cheap Bamboo floors that don"t hold up.Bamboo by nature is hard.The finish that is applied also makes a deference.The other is how you treat it and mantain it.


  • Nic

    Did you consider using photos of your own bamboo floors and decide against it? What is that pictured, oak?

    I've seen installed bamboo flooring get soaked, about 9 sq ft. And it was back to normal by the end of the week.

    Also, with bamboo flooring, go with the 6" wide plank as thick as you can afford.

    Reply
  • DDKillerBlondie

    It does not say in the article if you chose solid bamboo or bamboo over another material? I plan to do my basement this fall in solid bamboo, there is a 90% chance the floor will see basement flooding sometime in the future.

    Reply
  • phil

    I recommend that you DO NOT put down any wood flooring material onto any floor area that might be flooded. Any laminate will buck up as water seeps between the grooves and seeks it lowest point on the sub floor. (Damage may show up 10 feet or more from the point of the water spill, or pet accident.)


  • neverme

    Don't use any wood/bamboo produce in that situation. Tile maybe.


  • PatO

    I have had solid bamboo floors for amost 6 years, and they still look great. Bamboo does not absorb moisture, and except for a few minor dings and dents, it still looks almost like new. I suspect that if the floor that is being described in this article is not bamboo at all, or a laminate. The lower layers of laminatel would tend to warp if it is allowed to stand in a pool of water, and then it might distort the bamboo. Get solid bamboo! I have 3 cats and two very large dogs. It does need to be swept every day, but what wouldn't with that many animals?


  • Tammy

    If the floors pictured are the floors in question, they are the oddest looking bamboo floors I've ever seen! The grain is all wrong (looks like cheap oak flooring) and where are the knots that are so prevalent in bamboo floors? I have bamboo flooring in three areas of my home, two of those are high traffic areas. I do agree that the wood is softer than most and you do get hairline scratches and dings or dents if something heavy falls on them but you get that with almost any wood floors. I have had oak floors before and though they are quite durable they to ding and scratch. When cleaning I use a steamer on my floors and they look great! I personally have had no problems what so ever with warping or curling of my floors. Bamboo is not a high shine floor and therefore it may be mistaken for dull or dirty but is actually not. I personally love my bamboo floors, they just need a little more care than most!

    Reply
  • Leigh

    I agree-they appear to be cheap oak boards


  • Judy

    This picture is not a picture of Bamboo it is an oak floor that appears to be a refinished floor to boot and they DO NOT PERFORM like Bamboo...I work in the florring industry and can tell you THAT IS NOT A BAMBOO FLOOR. Some people need to get their information from correct resources before posting a false story. Bamboo is a very hard wood and if it is solid real bamboo your fine. Buying floors from a box store could have also been the problem for they are not trained professionals and could have easily mistaken regular wood floors for the bamboo floors and wouldnot have known the true differance. This lady is WRONG for putting bad information in the internet when smart people can go online a look at REAL BAMBOO Floors.

    SO FOR THOSE WHO ARE CONSIDERING BAMBOO GO FOR IT..IT IS WORTH EVERY CENT...
    FROM A FLOORING PROFESSIONAL


  • j. o'brien

    When we were remodeling our house, the flooring guy said he no longer handled bamboo AT ALL, because of constant complaints. We went with oak.


  • Diana

    The pictures in this article are not bamboo - there is no grain in bamboo. My husband and I installed bamboo flooring 3 years ago and we love it! It feels great to walk on and is very resistant to accidental spills (even paint!). We just bought a new house and are looking to install bamboo there, too!

    Reply
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