What Makes It Green?
Bamboo has a high strength-to-weight ratio and is used in a wide variety of applications. As a Founding Member of the Colorado Green Building Guild, I know that many people are aware that bamboo flooring is also considered “green" – what they don't know is why.
1. You Can Clean It
First of all, any hard surface (including wood and bamboo flooring) is considered green because it can be cleaned regularly and completely. Carpeting, especially wall-to-wall, will collect and harbor dirt over time, even with regular cleaning. In fact, wall-to-wall carpeting weighs twice as much when it comes out as it does when it goes in. Gross, right? That means the dirt and dust from our daily lives gets trapped in our carpet flooring and remains there for as long as the carpet stays in place.
2. Carpet is Toxic
Another thing that makes carpet not-so-green? The glue that adheres the fabric to the jute backing is toxic. In the factory, workers are required to handle it with tongs instead of their bare hands. Actually, that “new carpet smell” we inhale daily (and that continues to off-gas for years)? It is the single most toxic element in our homes today.
This makes choosing a hard surface as a floor option look very attractive. Many people opt for wood floors... but wood floors have their own issues.
3. Bamboo is Sustainable
Because wood comes from trees, trees are being cut down all over the world to meet the current demand for lumber. Some trees are harvested sustainably, where trees are cut very selectively allowing the forest to continue to flourish and provide future trees. Other times, not so much. Sometimes, forests are strip-cut. This means entire swaths of trees are cut down and the forest is decimated and the soil erodes. Not green at all.
There is a certification called “FSC” (Forest Stewardship Council) that certifies that wood was harvested in a sustainable fashion. If you want a green home, and want to use wood floors, look for FSC certified wood flooring.
Now, bamboo is absolutely FSC certified. But what makes it more green than a traditional wood floor? Bamboo can be harvested without killing the original tree.
How? The key to bamboo is to harvest it within a very specific time period. This, like many things in the construction industry, is easier said than done. Harvest too soon and the bamboo does not have the proper strength because it is too wet at the time of harvest and shrinks up later on as it dries out. Harvest too late and it is too brittle and hard to machine and manipulate.
Choosing Reputable Bamboo
The key to a good, green bamboo floor is to buy from a trusted bamboo flooring specialist. One such company is called Four Winds and is based in Boulder, Colorado. They are committed to selling only properly and sustainably harvested bamboo.
They know that the ideal time to harvest is between 5-7 years of growth. However, to meet recent worldwide demand, some bamboo is harvested too early. I have been installing bamboo flooring in homes for over 15 years now, and I have found that the bamboo in the big construction stores like Lowes and Home Depot will shrink within a year of installation. This causes the crevices between the floorboards to become very big and collect dirt.
Since wood expands and contracts throughout the year, what happens is the bamboo shrinks because it was harvested when it was too wet, a gap opens and fills with dirt, the wetter season comes, the wood expands again, the dirt displaces the air for expansion, and the floor buckles – only to flatten out again when the air is drier.
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