Bamboo and Wood Flooring

A Side-By-Side Comparison and Contrast

Family room with open French doors
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At first glance bamboo and hardwood flooring materials may appear to be basically the same thing. They have a similar look, feel, and share many characteristics between them. However Bamboo is a type of grass, whereas hardwood is harvested from lumber and trees. Because of this, there are some very specific characteristics that set these two flooring choices apart.

Hardness Ratio Of Bamboo and Wood

  • Bamboo: In its natural untreated state bamboo is relatively hard compared to most wood flooring choices. However, darker materials will tend to be less durable. That is because the darkness is attained through a process known as carbonization. This is achieved by placing the bamboo under extreme heat and pressure, which causes the hue to shade but also somewhat weakens the material.
    In general, carbonized bamboo will have a hardness rating somewhere from 1000-1100, whereas bamboo in it’s natural state will have a hardness of 1300-1400. This will be affected to some extent by the process used to make the material, and the amount of carbonization applied to it. Darker bamboo is almost always softer.
  • Hardwood: There are dozens of different species of both hard and soft woods that can be used as flooring materials. On the low end, you will have woods such as pine and Fir that have hardness ratings of 600-900, while on the upper end you have materials such as Red Walnut and Brazilian Teak which can get as high as 2500-3500 on the relative hardness rating.

    Appearance Differences

    • Hardwood: Once again, you have numerous species to choose from when selecting hardwood flooring, and each will have its own unique look, feel, and patterns. This is compounded by the fact that different cuts will also produce different levels of grain consistency. Finally, you also have varying grades, which will lead to either congruous or disparate pieces in a lot.
      Because of this hardwood actually gives you a lot more freedom to choose exactly the look that you want. You can pick through a variety of species and options, and find something that will perfectly match the style of your environment.
    • Bamboo: While there are various species of bamboo, they all generally produce a consistent looking end product. This is similar in appearance to hardwood, while also being distinct, in that it features very apparent horizontal lines running through its surface. The color of bamboo is also a unique, soft golden color; however, that can be tempered to a darker tone by the carbonization process.
      However, they do not grade and sort various pieces of bamboo flooring for color or feature homogeneity. Because of this, you will often find more variation from plank to plank with bamboo. Some people consider this more visually interesting, while others dislike the scattered nature of such an inconsistent look.
      bamboo or hardwood flooring
      Illustration: © The Spruce, 2018 

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      The Price of Wood and Bamboo Floors

      • Hardwood: Roughly $3-$5 per square foot for standard materials. Softwood and plywood can go as low as a dollar, and more exotic hardwoods can cost upwards of $10 per square foot.
      • Bamboo: This material is consistently priced at $2 - $5 per square foot. You can sometimes find it for less, but with cheaper material, you run the risk of having a lower quality floor.

      Environmental Concerns With Hardwood and Bamboo

      • Bamboo Floors: In recent years bamboo has gotten a lot of attention for being an incredibly green, eco-friendly building material. This is because bamboo grass stalks can grow very rapidly, attaining full height in just 3-5 years. Further, when it is harvested the roots do not need to be cut, so it can continue growing without the need for replanting. Bamboo is also all natural, can be recycled, and is biodegradable.
        However, there are also environmental drawbacks to Bamboo. For one, it is generally grown in Southeast Asia, and therefore requires a significant energy expenditure to get it to certain locations. It is also harder to manufacture bamboo into flooring than it is to prepare wood logs for use, which means more CO2 expenditures and environmental impact.
      • Hardwood Floors: Compared to bamboo, a tree can take upwards of twenty years to reach full maturity, and be ready to harvest. This means that the materials used take far longer to regenerate. At the same time, logs are sawn to produce planks and boards, which means that there is a certain amount of waste involved in the production of wood floors.
        However, the fact that trees take much longer to grow is offset by the fact that they make much more material available when ready to be harvested. At the same time, they only have to be cut down once every twenty years, rather than every 3 to 5. Trees are also able to grow in a much wider variety of regions, allowing the wood to be more readily sourced from local mills.

        More About Bamboo

        Moisture Resistance

        • Bamboo Floors: This material suffers from many of the problems that hardwood does. However, because it is a grass, it will be slightly more resistant to moisture damage than hardwoods will. In addition, bamboo naturally tends to repel mold, and mildew, acting as a hostile environment that can limit their ability to grow.
        • Hardwood Floors: The bane of a wood floor is moisture. Although it can be sealed and finished to make it resistant to liquid penetration, allowing water to sit on it for a long period of time can still cause irrevocable damage. A flood will generally ruin a hardwood installation. At the same time, moisture seeping up from below can cause the growth of mold, mildew, and rot the building from the inside.

        More About Hardwood

        Quality Control Issues

        • Hardwood: These materials are rated for size, shape, moisture content, evenness, consistency of color, and the prevalence of features found on their surface by several independent organizations, most notably the National Oak Floor Manufacturers Association. This means that you can rate the relative quality of any wood flooring material that you purchase.
        • Bamboo: For various reasons, bamboo is not currently rated in any official way, to guarantee the quality, source, or consistency of the product. Because of this you never know quite what you are going to get when you purchase these materials. You also can’t be sure if they were sourced in a socially and environmentally friendly way. The only assurance you can have is to try and find a reputable dealer.