The Basics of Bamboo Flooring

Bamboo floor, full frame
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Bamboo flooring has become popular as a residential wood flooring choice. But this is a peculiar popularity since this "wood flooring" is not a wood; its origin is often murky, its main source country is morally-challenged; its durability ranges wildly; its greenness is in question, and even its long-vaunted cheapness is eroding with the advent of premium bamboo flooring products. ​​​

But you can't argue that bamboo is lovely material for flooring.

It May Be Considered Green (Or Maybe Not)

Bamboo is quickly renewable. It matures in 3 years, at which time it can be cut for use as a floor. Oak can take up to a century to mature.

However, there are different opinions as to how green, sustainable, and "friendly" bamboo really is. For one, when you buy bamboo flooring, you're buying lots of inorganic adhesives used to bind the materials. For another, is bamboo flooring ethically correct?

Most bamboo flooring sourced from China, a place with suspect politics and notable human rights abuses.  Not only that, China's environmental record leaves something to be desired.

Definitely Not a Hardwood

Bamboo is a grass, not wood. It comes mostly from the southern Chinese province of Hunan. Because it doesn't seem to fit into other flooring categories, you'll often find it in the "hardwood" or "wood" categories.

Round Tubes of Bamboo Get Turned Into Flat Flooring Strips...

The tubes are sliced into strips. After boiling (to remove the starch), the strips are dried and laminated. After that, the boards are milled into strip flooring--just like the typical oak strip flooring that you see anywhere. Then it's treated with a preservative.

Except in the Case of Strand Bamboo Flooring

Strand bamboo flooring integrates the smaller strands--not just the stalks--of bamboo, with the adhesive, making it a stronger product.

Horizontal or Vertical Flooring--An Aesthetic Difference

Strands or stalks can either be laid out and adhere vertically or horizontally. The main difference between vertical and horizontal flooring is aesthetic. Horizontal looks the way bamboo should look; vertical looks more like a striped tigerwood.

Usually Reasonably Priced

Bamboo flooring runs $2-$4 per square foot--not as cheap as red oak, but roughly in the same range.

Though a Grass, It's Durable Enough For Daily Use

Bamboo flooring's durability varies wildly since it's the treatment of the bamboo by adhesives that give it its hardness--not any inherent quality of the grass itself. So, for the cheaper bamboo flooring, you might find softer bamboo floors around 900-1300 on the Janka scale. More numbers might be 1642 on the Janka Hardness Scale, placing it between soft Douglas Fir (660) and the extremely hard and expensive Brazilian Walnut (3800).

Requires No Special Installation Methods

Bamboo offers a variety of installation methods: 

  • Nail Down:  Just like normal hardwood floor installation, the strips of wood are nailed into place atop a sub-floor (more accurately, special flooring staples are used nowadays).
  • Floating:  Strips of wood snap into each other on top of a foam underlayment: no nails, no glue.
  • Glue-Down:  Strips of wood snap into each other and are glued down for maximum stability.

The installation method depends on the type of flooring purchased. Verify with the flooring company which type of installation method is appropriate for your flooring.