Bamboo – Take a minute and think about it.

Settlers’ Plank Autumn Woods in an Upstate NY Residence – Hard, renewable, and full of color.

A typical day in our atypical business. Valerie puts a call through to me. It is an architect that has some questions about our flooring:

“Hi, this is Jered, how can I help you?”

“Well, I have a project that I am considering using Bamboo flooring for and
I came across your website and wanted to know how your materials compared with
Bamboo.”

These questions about Bamboo are thankfully something that we’re not getting as often as we were 3 or 4 years ago. Back then, you couldn’t even get your foot into a flooring trade show without tripping over forty manufacturers of Bamboo. But I digress.

“Why Bamboo? Is there a particular reason that you like it?”

“It is harder than wood, more renewable, and you can get it in all sorts of colors”.

“Not quite.”

I politely went on to explain how reclaimed wood is a much more environmentally friendly flooring material, despite the marketing spin put on Bamboo. In particular:

“Harder than wood” – Nope. While the hardness of the flooring varies depending on how it was processed, bamboo falls into the same spectrum as most Appalachian hardwood species, such as Oak, Hickory, Maple, & Ash. Some lower quality floors can be scratched as easy as a soft pine, and won’t last more than a few years under even the kindest of conditions.

“More renewable” – OK, there’s some validity to this. Hardwood trees take decades if not more than a hundred years to mature, whereas Bamboo grows VERY fast ( it is essentially a grass after all ) and matures in 3 years or so.

However, when land is being cleared to grow something, especially in this type of volume, you’re interrupting the groove of mother nature. The process inhibits the growth of other species, eliminates natural habitat for animals, and uses a fair amount of energy just in the preparation of the land before planting even begins.

“There’s lots of colors” – Ever been to a wood flooring showroom? You can get almost any color under the sun if you want it. After all, blue is a natural color of wood, right? While this is much more a matter of personal preference & interior design, we prefer to let the wood do the talking Why cover up the natural characteristics of a material with a stain? It is only going to change over the first few years of installation, likely get darker, and make it incredibly difficult to match should you ever need to do a repair. Skip the stains, regardless of species – you’ll save all the nasty stuff that goes into a stain anyway. If you want something unique, pick a wood with a real color like our Karri & Jarrah!

The one thing that almost everyone forgets about Bamboo – It is not made in the US. There are a variety of companies in southeast Asia that make the flooring, and there are really no environmental regulations in place to ensure that you end up with a safe product. Especially in the cheaper floors, nasty glues & urea formaldehydes abound – Since Bamboo is a hollow plant, it must be cut into strips, steamed, milled, and glued into planks to get to a actual piece of flooring. Beyond the materials used in manufacturing, there are questionable labor practices, low-paid workers in un-safe conditions, and then, after all of that, you STILL have to get to the shores of the US. Since Bamboo is not a domestic product, it is brought in via ocean freight by the container, taken off the boat and shipped to a distributor, unloaded, and then shipped out to a dealer or contractor, and then finally to your home. There s an astronomical amount of embodied energy involved in just getting the wood here!

Our friends at Treehugger.com have a great article posted on their site which dives into things even more, if you’re interested.

I’ve harped on the idea of buying a domestically made material in earlier posts, and there’s obviously much more to this particular issue than just supporting domestic labor. So before you rush off to the local megabox DIY store or flooring showroom, stay put and read up on the fastest growing grass on the planet. Think about the idea of putting it on the floor of your house. And then check out Pioneer Millworks and see what we have to offer in a true American-made flooring material.

I promise you – we have woods that are hard, renewable, and available in lots of real colors.

Thanks for reading – stay in touch.

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One thought on “Bamboo – Take a minute and think about it.

  1. How true! We made the mistake (by not doing enough research up front) of purchasing DIY bamboo flooring. It is very soft, denting from the wheels of a plastic office chair. After a year the nasty smelling VOCs are just starting to subside. We’ve agreed the floor will be coming up to be replaced by real (and USA) hard wood.

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