Bamboo flooring: the sustainable alternative

Rob Wooldridge from Moso Bamboo Surfaces looks at the many merits of bamboo flooring – and provides some installation tips for self-builds

Bamboo flooring may not be your first thought when considering what flooring to lay in your new build house or refurbishment, especially as there is such a huge range on offer, but then again, why not choose bamboo? After all, when people are thinking about what floor to buy, they normally consider the following factors: durability, ease of laying, suitability, environmental benefits, aesthetics, and of course value for money, and bamboo has all these attributes and more.

Let’s consider these points to find out whether bamboo is really a good alternative flooring to traditional timbers or other types available.

Bamboo is one of the fastest growing plants on the planet. It can grow up to a one metre a day, taking only three months to reach a height of 20-30 metres, and only five years before it’s mature enough to be harvested. After harvesting, the mature bamboo stems are split in a longitudinal direction and the outer skin is removed. After steaming the bamboo, which caramelises the sugar to create the darker shades and drying, the strips are ready to be joined in a variety of ways to create the final product.

There are three main types; firstly is ‘plain pressed’ where strips are placed horizontally and glued together to create ‘staves’ of approximately 20 mm wide with the characteristic nodes clearly visible. Secondly, ‘side pressed’ is where strips are placed vertically and glued together, so each strip is approximately 6 mm wide and the nodes aren’t so visible. These two types are similar in hardness and durability to oak. Finally there’s high density, or ‘strand woven’ as it’s known, where the strips are roughed up into strands, and glued under high pressure to create a random grain pattern, resulting in a floor that is even harder than the best tropical hardwood species, but still after five years growth!

In terms of installation options, a common question is ‘does my floor have to be fully bonded, or can it be floated?’

The answer generally depends on the application and whether there are other factors to be considered such as underfloor heating (UFH), the type of substrate or the type of plank fixing you opt for, i.e. click or tongue and groove.

Bamboo is a very stable material, but will shrink and swell with changing humidity, so floating (not glued or nailed) can be an option, as long as it’s laid with an underlay. Generally a click edge for greater hold and more importantly a 10- 15 mm gap should be left around the perimeter, to allow the floor to expand into this space (this gap is usually covered by the skirting). Also, a floated floor area can be no more then six metres wide or 12 metres long before expansion gaps should be inserted.

A fully bonded floor is generally preferable as it expands and contracts as one surface, so movement is minimal, it tends to feel more solid and stable under foot, and the tongue and groove edge profile works well. When used in conjunction with UFH, either a wet or electric system where the floor is more susceptible to expansion, a fully bonded floor provides more stability for the changes in temperature.

As for where to lay bamboo flooring, we would say you can use it anywhere you’d lay an oak floor, so don’t be put off by thinking it can’t be used in a bathroom or a kitchen environment, because it can. The strand woven/high density option is one of the best choices for any busy family household where there are children racing around on scooters or skateboards, for entertaining and parties, or for homes with pets as the surface is harder and more durable than the likes of oak or other hardwood species.

In bathroom installations we always say good ventilation is key and surface water is to be removed when spilt as the bamboo is still prone to movement, but only if not looked after. We have a range of flooring colours, textured surfaces and effects which give choices for the use of bamboo in different rooms– so you can never have too much!

Bamboo flooring offers clear sustainability advantages and is proven to be CO2 neutral over the full life cycle from the growing phase, production, use and end of life. It’s long been known that bamboo has hypo-allergenic properties which improves the environment for allergy suffers, but more recently customers are asking about the VOCs or formaldehyde content; is bamboo a safe option for my children or my new-born? As an example, our bamboo flooring has very low emissions of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and with the use of eco-friendly adhesives with no added formaldehyde, can comply with the strictest European emissions norm of E1 or EO.

Cost wise, just because bamboo is sustainable and super-durable doesn’t mean it’s more expensive than its timber alternatives – in fact bamboo prices per m2 are very reasonable, with prices typically ranging from £20-£30 (excluding VAT), making them an attractively affordable option.

Why not choose bamboo as your durable, easy to install, sustainable and aesthetically pleasing cost-effective alternative to a traditional timber floor.

Rob Wooldridge is account manager for Moso Bamboo