Flooring: MATERIALS ENCYcLOPEDIA
Applications for this system
Finished flooring. Can be applied on wooden sub-floors. May require strapping or sheathing if applied on wet-poured floors.
Bamboo strips or bamboo fiber
Adhesive to bond bamboo
Surface finishes, typically petrochemical
Ratings Chart for bamboo flooring
The ratings chart shows comparative performance in each criteria category. Click on the tabs below for detailed analysis of each criteria.
- HOW THE SYSTEM WORKS
- ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACTS
- EMBODIED CARBON
- ENERGY EFFICIENCY
- MATERIAL COSTS
- LABOUR INPUT
- SKILL LEVEL REQUIRED
- SOURCING & AVAILABILITY
- CODE COMPLIANCE
- INDOOR AIR QUALITY
- FUTURE DEVELOPMENT
Bamboo flooring System
Bamboo is processed into strips or into fiber, and then pressed and bonded with adhesive to form planks with a tongue-and-groove profile milled into them. The planks are pre-finished with a petrochemical product.
The bamboo planks (with typical widths varying from 40–150 mm / 1½–6 inches) are laid in successive rows, interlocked by the tongue-and-groove fit between pieces and fastened with nails are staples driven through the tongue or groove to remain invisible on the finished floor surface.
Environmental Impact Rating
Harvesting — Low to High
As with forest products in North America, harvesting practices vary widely in Asia’s bamboo forests. Bamboo production can lead to monoculture planting and habitat destruction, clear-cutting, soil erosion and water contamination. Labor practices may also be substandard. There are third-party certification programs similar to those used for forest products, and bamboo sourced with these certifications will contribute to lower impacts.
All bamboo flooring products rely on adhesives to bind the bamboo fibers together, and impacts from harvesting materials for glues and finishes can include habitat destruction, air and water pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.
Manufacturing — High
Bamboo flooring requires a multi-stage manufacturing process, which includes the input of high amounts of processing energy. The raw bamboo is milled and steam-treated. The bamboo strips are then kiln-dried before the milled bamboo is combined with adhesives and again heat-treated. These three stages of high heat input require high quantities of fossil fuels and result in air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.
The manufacturing of the adhesives and finishes also results in significant air and water pollution.
Transportation — Moderate to High
Sample building uses approximately 1,500 kg of bamboo flooring:
2.25 MJ per km by 15 ton truck
1.4 MJ per km by 35 ton truck
0.24 MJ per km by ocean freight
All bamboo flooring is harvested and most is manufactured in Asia, and requires shipping to North American markets. The flooring may make many stops between point of production and the building site.
Installation – Negligible
Landfill — Bamboo flooring offcuts. The high quantity of adhesives in bamboo flooring renders the material non-compostable. Quantities can be low to high, depending upon the installation.
Energy Efficiency: n/a
Bamboo flooring will have no impact on energy efficiency.
Material costs: moderate
The recent expansion of bamboo flooring in the market has put pricing on par with many other options. However, bamboo flooring with sustainable harvesting certification and non-toxic binders and finishes will tend to be at the high end of the price scale.
Labour Input: moderate to High
Bamboo flooring has a similar amount of labor input as other flooring options. The majority of bamboo flooring comes prefinished.
Skill level required for homeowners
Preparation of sub-floor — Easy
Installation of floor — Easy to Moderate
A homeowner with the carpentry skills to build a wooden sub-floor structure will be able to install bamboo flooring. The installation usually requires a pneumatic nailer, which can be rented.
Finishing of floor — Easy
Pre-finished bamboo requires no effort.
Sourcing & availability: Easy
Bamboo flooring has quickly gained a foothold in the North American market, with versions widely available through most building supply outlets and flooring supply shops. Sourcing bamboo from sustainable sources and with nontoxic finishes is possible, but requires research.
Durability: moderate to High
There is no historical precedent for laminated bamboo flooring, but manufacturers typically state an expected life expectancy of thirty to fifty years. The surface of many brands can be refinished, which can extend lifespan further.
Most codes are not prescriptive when it comes to finished flooring materials, as long as the sub-floor has been constructed to code and in a manner intended to support the dead load imposed by the flooring.
Indoor air quality: moderate to high
As all bamboo flooring is made with adhesives and comes pre-finished with petrochemical products, it is the quality of these components that will determine the flooring’s impact on IAQ. Products can range from high levels of VOCs and other toxic emissions to those that are third-party certified for low emissions. In general, the lower the cost of bamboo flooring, the higher the emissions are likely to be. Careful research should be done to verify the impacts a bamboo floor may have on IAQ.
Resources for further research
Jeffries, Dennis. The Flooring Handbook: The Complete Guide to Choosing and Installing Floors. Toronto, ON: Firefly, 2004. Print.
Bamboo flooring has made rapid inroads in the North American flooring market in the past decade. At least some of this expansion has been due to the perceived “greenness” of using a rapidly renewable resource to replace solid wood, which has a much longer regeneration cycle. While this is true, it is difficult to ascertain if the energy intensity of the production process and the shipping impacts offset the renewability. Further factors to consider are the quantity and quality of adhesives and finish used in the products and the forestry and labor practices that go into making particular bamboo flooring. Third-party certification programs are starting to appear in the bamboo market, and these can give homeowners some certainty that impacts are being minimized.
The future of bamboo flooring will depend greatly on the price of fossil fuels, which are used extensively in the production process, and the economic relationship between China and North America. If bamboo remains cost-competitive with other flooring options, it will continue to grow its market share. Developments in the use of lower-energy production methods and healthier adhesives will hopefully result in more sustainable options.
Tips for a successful bamboo floor
1. Bamboo shares much in common with hardwood flooring, and construction details and installation methods are very similar.
2. Manufacturer instructions for installation should be followed.