Bamboo for flooring and designThis page is a quick summary of what we have found about using bamboo flooring as part of an energy efficient and environmentally friendly house. Also included is information about bamboo as a possible plant for the garden as well as general background on bamboo. Included in this page is a brief diversion discussing Green Design as well as information about the growing of bamboo, for green design includes such things as specifying renewable and sustainable building materials. The principle fraction of this page is devoted to the use of bamboo for flooring and for use in the garden.
Bamboo, although frequently thought of as a tree, is actually a grass. As such, it is rapidly growing (achieving maturity within 5 years) and is thus able to be harvested within a much shorter time span than trees. Bamboo shoots are edible and mature bamboo stalks (culms) are very strong and are used for building material around the world.
The American Bamboo Society has a very complete web page discussing the growing of bamboo. In particular, a fascinating article about growing bamboo in a cold (e.g., New England) climate. As pointed out by Barnhart, several species of bamboo were native to North America and were so prolific as to be seen as a weed to be destroyed.
Bamboo in the garden: screens and hedges
Pictures of types of bamboo available in the US may be found on the pages of various bamboo suppliers, as well as the Chicago Botanic Garden. The MidatlanticBamboo page provides photos and descriptions of bamboos organized by height, temperature, and use (e.g. hedges). Another source of information, BambooGardens, provides helpful descriptions of various types of bamboo as well as information on growing it. BambooSelect in the UK offers advice for European growers of bamboo. NewEnglandBamboo is a dealer providing both running and clumping bamboos, as well as running prevention screens. Bamboo Sorcery provides a very complete discussion of how to choose bamboo by location, the overrated threat of running versus clumping, and the appropriate season to plant (spring).
Besides dealers, there is also a web based list serve forum for people asking questions about bamboo. Although one needs to register to post to the list, anybody can read it the postings.
Bamboo, as a rapidly growing grass has been used for construction in many countries. For a discussion of the use of bamboo in Latin America and how bamboo grows and may be used, see the article in Network Earth.
Using bamboo- the pros and cons
prosShort discussion about the benefits of bamboo as a rapidly regrowing plant. From a company (bambootechnologies) that builds bamboo houses in Vietnam for use around the world.
The International Bamboo Foundation summarizes reports discussing the use of bamboo in the sequestration of C02. Report also discusses bamboo as a building material. This is an Indonesian based foundation concerned with a "multidisciplinary approach to developing bamboo as an environmentally renewable non-wood forest resource."
consIs the increase in bamboo use threatening the enviornment? Consider the "ReThink Bamboo" page which suggests that the use of bamboo for paper pulp is decimating the bamboo foress. Further discussions of the negative implications of the use of bamboo for paper pulp are available from the Earth Island Institute.
Also consider the suggestion that bamboo harvesting in China is done by slave labor in prison camps (Laogai). Part of this seems to be a confusion with the "bamboo gulag", the popular name for the system of prison camps with forced labor in China. Few of these seem to be actually involved in bamboo production although there is at least one site reported in Fujian province. Forced labor is a major problem in Burma as well.
However, a training workshop in Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province, China, had the direct purpose of improving the income of the workers and improving the environment:
"Many developing countries are rich in bamboo resources, but poor in sustainable and intensive management experiences, which result in low productivity and numerous waste of resources. Experiences in China shows that developing bamboo plantation and the rural bamboo processing industry is an important way to increase the income of rural people and improve the ecological environment in rural areas. How to fully utilize bamboo, and develop rural or household enterprises that process bamboo products of high commercial value, has become the focus of a wide range of fields. "
The Asian and Pacific Center for the Transfer of Technology is attempting to upgrade the quality of bamboo production as a way of increasing the income of the traditional bamboo workers in India. Bamboo, "the wonder grass", plays a role in the Indian economic development plan as it is both "environmental and people friendly".
Specific flooring questions
MidAtlantic Bamboo has many links to bamboo floor providers. Among others, they link to FloorFacts, which provides a list of bamboo floor manufacturers and suppliers. In addition, a quick Google search shows the following. In the bay area: Bamboo Flooring International is owned by a chinese company from Hunan, the "bamboo sea". They are the producers of Sun Brand bamboo.
BambooHardwoods sells engineered bamboo planks that are 9/16" by 7 1/2" by 71 3/4". These are rubberwood core with expansion joints and continous pine backing. In addition, they offer various bamboo furniture. Bambood Technologies, which builds houses from bamboo, is a division of bamboo hardwoods.
Silkroad Flooring advertises itself as certified by the Canadian Environmental Choice (EcoLogo) program. This program guarantees that the product is enviornmentally healthy (low VOC emissions, not manufactured using arsenic, etc.)
D & M Bamboo Flooring, in Roselle, offers 36/72 vertical and horizontal cut 3 1/2 in planks as well as 7 inch planks that are square rather than microbeveled.
Timber Grass in Seattle has multiple lengths with beveled edges. They report " Part of the TimberGrass mission is to reduce the dependence on dwindling timber resources by offering competitively priced bamboo building materials of the highest quality for residential, commercial and industrial applications. In addition, we subscribe to the tenets of "The Natural Step" which is an international organization that uses a science-based, systems framework to help organizations, individuals and communities take steps towards sustainability. We are also members of "Business for Social Responsibility"
Greenwood Products (located in San Clemente, California) claims that their bamboo comes from the best part of China and is produced using the best German presses and materials. They claim that their micro-bevels are too small to be seen. They have a long discussion about the variation in quality of bamboos, the process of making it, etc. Seem to be "green friendly". They also claim that the level of formaldehyde in their bamboo is far less than the German minimum, which is far less than the American minimum.
Conclusions. Before we order bamboo from a specific vendor, we need to assess the kind of glue used, the size of the microbevels, and the source of the bamboo.
Update: After an unsuccessful attempt of dealing with Greenwood Products, we purchased vertical grain natural from Timbergrass. It was ably installed by Ozark Flooring of Park Ridge. The flooring came in 6 foot lengths of normal tongue and groove design. Installation and finishing went very well.
Vertical press versus plain press seems to describe the way the board is cut/compressed. Vertical is narrower lines with less marking than plain press. Finished edge means rounded, unfinished edge means square.
Micro-bevel is another term for finished edge.
Further vocabulary (taken from the Longleaflumber web page) "There are two different styles of flooring: Horizontal or Flat grain flooring is laid-up with 3 layers of flattened bamboo slats adhered together to a thickness of 5/8". When you look at the floor from above you can see the bamboo nodes. Vertical grain flooring is 3/4" thick. It is comprised of stalks that are glued together vertically so you see a smaller portion of each stalk, and the nodes are less noticeable.
There are 2 colors for each style: Natural is a light blond color, similar to Maple & Caramelized is a dark amber color, similar to young Teak. This darker color is not a stain, but a process of pressure heating the fiber at the factory, which darkens the sugar compounds in the fiber.
Both styles and colors come in one width and three lengths: Thickness is 5/8" for the Flat Grain & 3/4" for the Vertical Grain. Width is 3-5/8". Lengths available are 74" , 48" and 36". The longer length can make installation easier, provides fewer end joint seams, and gives a more linear appearance. The shorter lengths provide installation flexibility.
The milling for all the flooring options includes a tongue and groove on the sides and end matching on the plank ends."
Linstedt Construction in Oregon compares various types of bamboo and points out that there are large differences in quality and in the size of the "microbevel"
Bamboo for furniture
Bamboo sticks may be used as stair railings, fence posts, or for furniture construction. See bamboofencer.com or bambooandrattan.com for examples. (There are even articles discussing the use of bamboo in an airplane designed and flown (?) in 1901.
With very thoughtful design and construction by Tor Faegre, we have used bamboo as the stair railings. .
A useful reference to the whole concept of green building from the point of view of the designer rather than the end user may be found at The American Society of Interior Designers which has an article by Susan E. Haberle about why it makes sense to do green design. The article suggests why ASID members should naturally design in green products and has links to a number of green building organizations. (These links have been corrected and slightly annotated.)