Before You Install a Bamboo Floor…

This site has received many stories from homeowners about bamboo floors gone bad. Reading through the comments reveals a handful of common lessons to be learned. While it may be too late for those who have already experienced these problems, here are some tips for those who are considering installing bamboo flooring for the first time:

Bathrooms, kitchens, and other areas that could see a lot of water are big no-nos. If you are considering putting down bamboo in a place like this, forget it. The risk is too high. Here’s what one commenter had to say:

“I would not recommend bamboo flooring in a bathroom. We have it in our kitchen and moisture makes the bamboo swell and sometimes doesn’t go back down if it gets wet enough. We have one spot in our kitchen where the flooring is swelled because our water machine leaked overnight and didn’t get wiped up quickly enough.”

A second warning is to reconsider bamboo if you have dogs, cats that haven’t been declawed, or rambunctious children. Bamboo’s structural composition makes it extra susceptible to these factors. Here’s another quote from the comments:

“I really do not recommend bamboo floors for anyone that has an active family or has pets…I have had mine down and cry every day…if I had my way I would have real hardwoods or tile.”

Again, I want to stress that these are real stories from real homeowners. If you have your heart set on bamboo flooring, I recommend reading through all the comments on this site so you can make an informed decision.

Bamboo Flooring in the Real World

We received these photos from a woman who had bamboo flooring installed in her home.  The pictures speak for themselves:

How did this happen?  Bamboo flooring is supposed to be as durable as hardwood, right?  Clearly not.  Several posts have addressed the myth of bamboo’s durability, and these pictures are proof.

Bamboo Flooring & Fair Trade

One aspect of bamboo flooring that is rarely brought up is Fair Trade.  Fair Trade basically means that workers enjoy appropriate labor conditions and wages.  There is currently no Fair Trade certification for the bamboo industry, which means it is impossible to know if you are making a socially responsible purchase.  This problem is further augmented by the fact that bamboo flooring is manufactured almost exclusively in China, a country with a history of poor labor practices and abuses against human rights.

Installing Bamboo Flooring

Not all of bamboo flooring’s problems arise from the inherent qualities of bamboo.  There are several installation precautions that you need to take, and most of them are very similar to the requirements for installing real hardwood flooring.

The greatest concern is moisture.  If the bamboo is not adequately acclimated, or if the environment is too damp, then your floor will be nothing but a headache.  But you can go too far in the other direction as well.  A dry climate can be just as hard on bamboo flooring as a wet one.  Depending on your local climate, acclimation can take anywhere from a few days to a couple months.

You must be careful when securing bamboo to the subfloor.  If you are using nails or staples, it can be easy to damage the bamboo thanks to its less than stellar toughness.  For glue-down installations, care must be taken to keep the surface clean.  If glue does get on the surface of the floor, it can be carefully removed, but this is a hassle best avoided.

One installation risk that is unique to the bamboo flooring industry is formaldehyde off-gassing.  If you ever need to cut or sand bamboo flooring, you would do well to wear a mask and protect your skin.  Because bamboo flooring is often impregnated with formaldehyde, the stench alone can be unbearable, not to mention the adverse health effects caused by the pungent chemical.

If you have had any experiences installing bamboo flooring, then please share them in the comments section below.

Bamboo Flooring Pros and Cons

There’s a lot of information out there that you need to process if you’re considering bamboo flooring.  With so many important factors to take into account, it can be difficult to make a truly educated decision.  To help with the process, here’s a list of the pros and cons of bamboo flooring:

Pros

  • A rapid regrowth rate (reaching full maturity and hardness in about 7 years) gives bamboo a point in the eco-friendly department.
  • It can be cheaper than more traditional hardwood flooring.
  • Bamboo flooring comes in a variety of styles and colors.

Cons

  • Irresponsible forestry practices (clear-cutting natural forests to make room for bamboo, unnecessary use of fertilizers and pesticides) make it environmentally unfriendly.
  • Formaldehyde-based glues and finishes make bamboo flooring unhealthy for you and the environment.
  • There is no enforcement of fair trade practices or quality control in China, where bamboo originates.
  • Lots of energy must be expended to ship bamboo flooring overseas from China, another hit in the eco-friendly department.
  • Premature harvesting (as early as 3 months) doesn’t allow the bamboo to properly harden, producing soft, non-durable floors.
  • The darker variety of colors results from a special heat treatment that further softens the bamboo.
  • Bamboo flooring cannot be refinished, so a dented, scratched, or otherwise damaged floor must be replaced, which drives up the cost.

So there you have it, the pros and cons of bamboo flooring.  There are far more disadvantages than advantages, but the choice is ultimately yours.