In the search for the best flooring solution for your home, you’ve probably often came across bamboo flooring. Although it’s relatively new to the US market, it’s becoming more and more popular every day thanks to it being both eco and budget friendly.
The increase in the demand for this very sustainable flooring has created a very competitive market, with an abundance of styles and colors to choose from at bargain prices.
Being so cheap and marketed as the “greenest” type of flooring you can get, it’s easy to assume that your home and bamboo flooring are a match made in heaven. However, as wonderful as it may sound, bamboo floors don’t come without their disadvantages.
Even though bamboo is a type of grass, it still has many of the same characteristics that hardwoods have – and that includes both the pros and the cons.
The key to having a good floor, bamboo or not, is making a thoroughly thought-out and informed decision before installing it. Gathering info from all over the internet is pretty tiresome job, so we’ve composed a guide to all things bamboo flooring related to help you get to know more about it.
Bamboo Flooring Pros
- Environmentally friendly. Bamboo is a highly renewable natural resource, thanks to it being the fastest growing plant on Earth (some types of bamboo can even grow up to three feet per day).
Most hardwoods usually take 20-25 years to gain full maturity before they can be cut down and used to produce flooring planks. That’s almost five times what bamboo shoots take, which reach full floor-producing maturity in just five years.
Another great benefit of bamboo shoots is that their root remains intact after they’ve been cut down, and a new shoot can grow from the same root over and over again. And that’s the thing that significantly cuts down the cost of running a bamboo farm or plantation, making it a great source of income for people living in underdeveloped parts of Southeast Asia.
- Easily maintained. Although it shares many characteristics with other hardwood floors such as oak and cherry, bamboo flooring is much easier to maintain.
Bamboo grows all across Southeast Asia, which is a very topical and humid environment, and that makes bamboo more resistant to humidity and moisture related damage. Of course, that doesn’t mean it should come anywhere near your kitchen, or God forbid your bathroom.
There are many cleaning products available that are designed specifically for bamboo flooring, and you can always opt for that if you want to be sure you’re cleaning it right. But a regular combo of vacuuming and mopping with a mild soap a couple of times a month should be sufficient to keep your bamboo floor looking shiny and new.
- Able to be refinished as many times as necessary. Bamboo is a natural material, and is thus prone to all kinds of damage associated with it – scratches, dents, discolorations, you name it.
When bamboo floors get installed, there are always multiple layers of finishing coats added to protect the plank. While applying dozens of layers of urethane can seem like an overkill, it’s done for very specific and useful reason.
Any number of these coats can be sanded down and refinished, making the floor look brand new again. It’s a thing that really puts your mind at ease if you decide to go with bamboo flooring – knowing that an hour of sanding can repair just about any surface damage.
- Modern and stylish. If you’re up for taking risks when it comes to interior design, and want your home to have that certain je ne sais quoi about it, then bamboo flooring is the way to go.
It manages to retain the durability and sturdiness of much more pricey hardwood floors while giving a room a very airy and exotic look.
Thanks to the very complex manufacturing process, this type of flooring comes in a variety of colors of textures that are exclusive to bamboo.
- Cheaper than most hardwood floors. An “imported” label usually makes everything more expensive, but luckily it’s not the case when it comes to bamboo flooring.
Keep in mind that the prices can vary depending on where you live, but an average price of mid to high range solid bamboo flooring is about $4 per square foot. If you compare it to the price of other popular hardwood floors such as American oak and pine, it doesn’t seem like that much of a difference.
What makes bamboo flooring a much more budget-friendly solution than other hardwoods is the low installation price. Installing bamboo floorings is quick and easy because the planks already come with a finishing coat, requiring little effort other than just placing them on a smooth surface.
You can also opt for planks that come with a clicking mechanism, which makes the installing process a breeze. In fact, it’s so easy that many people with a bit of home improvement experience under their belt decide to install it on their own.
- Reduces allergens in your home. When installed properly, bamboo flooring is perfectly smooth and doesn’t contain any synthetic fibers.
The smooth surface doesn’t trap mites, dust, pollens, spores or any other airborne allergens, which makes it an ideal flooring option for people suffering from allergies.
Bamboo is probably the most natural solution to having an anti-allergenic floor, and many organizations that focus on the health and wellbeing of allergy sufferers recommend using this type of floor.
Bamboo Flooring Cons
- Some are more eco-friendly than the others. Don’t get me wrong, taking only three years to mature makes bamboo flooring the unprecedented winner of the eco-friendliness category.
However, there are certain brands whose manufacturing processes and transportation methods completely mitigate the sustainability that comes with bamboo farming.
Some manufacturers harvest bamboo shoots that have been heavily treated with pesticides and use highly toxic chemicals when treating the bamboo planks.
Make sure you know where your floor comes from to avoid buying it from an unsustainable and possibly dangerous source.
- Can emit VOCs. VOC stands for volatile organic compounds, and it refers to a group of organic chemicals that naturally have a very low boiling point. A low boiling causes a high vapor pressure, and it can result in a large amount of potentially toxic molecules evaporating into the air.
Bamboo flooring planks are made by sticking thin slices of bamboo shoots together with an adhesive. Over time, most types of adhesives will start emitting potentially toxic molecules.
The amount of the molecules released depends on a lot of different factors – the type of the adhesive, the amount of it used, the quality of the planks, etc.
And even though those chemicals are organic and abundant in nature, many health and environmental protection agencies warn about the impact they can have on your health 2.
- Prone to scratches. Although bamboo and hardwood flooring share many characteristics, bamboo floors are more prone to dents and scratches.
Despite its hardness and easy maintenance, bamboo floors are not a very good option for high-traffic areas, as they will get beat up pretty quick.
You have to be very careful when it comes to bamboo floorings, and it can prove to be a mission impossible if you have kids and pets, or if you’re just really into moving your furniture a lot.
- Not as hard as you think. There are many different ways to process bamboo planks, and carbonization is one of them. Despite its name, carbonization isn’t used to strengthen the bamboo, but rather to color it.
To make the bamboo planks darker, manufacturers can either boil or steam them, a process which heats up and caramelizes the sugars in the bamboo. However, bamboo planks don’t just become darker after carbonization – they also become more brittle.
Brittleness is never a good trait when it comes to floorings, as it makes the planks absorb water more quickly which makes them change their shape and become less stable.
- No unique grading system. Even though bamboo flooring has been around for quite a while now, there still hasn’t been a single, unified grading system set.
It might not seem like a big deal, but having no grading system leaves much room for all kinds of retail scams. Many retailers sort their bamboo planks into two or three random categories, which don’t do much in terms of reflecting the actual quality of the planks.
Some retailers intentionally classify lower quality planks as high-grade or first class flooring, counting on the customer’s lack of knowledge to sell it for a huge profit.
To avoid poor quality planks, make sure you buy them from a reputable retailer or buy the flooring directly from the manufacturer.
How to Find a High-Quality Bamboo Flooring
If you decide on installing a bamboo floor, there are a few things you should keep an eye on when buying.
First, you have to decide on how do you want your planks installed – vertical, horizontal or strand woven. The way the planks are put together is the thing that will determine the overall look of your floor.
The most common way to install bamboo planks is horizontally, which shows off the natural features of bamboo. Vertical installation is not quite as popular, as this method requires both more time and more material. I don’t recommend installing it this way if you’re on a budget.
However, strand woven bamboo planks are the most popular. They’re made by shredding bamboo shoots and compressing them into solid blocks. These blocks are then sliced into individual planks, making them harder and more durable.
Another thing you should consider when buying bamboo flooring is its finishing coat. The price of the planks mostly depends on the amount and the quality of the UV top coat.
The best quality planks will usually have at least six or seven coats of an aluminum oxide finish on every side, while the low-quality ones won’t have more than a few coats of cheap lacquer that contains formaldehyde.
Determining the overall cost of installing a bamboo floor in your home is a pretty tricky task, due to the sheer number of factors you have to take into account. Keep in mind that prices can vary a lot depending on where you live and the amount of work that has to be done.
We’ve managed to come up with an average cost of each step of the installation process by comparing the prices at major bamboo flooring retailers such as Lowe’s, Home Depot, Wayfair and Build Direct. You can get a similar estimate on any number of cost calculators online.
Price of the material only (without installation)
A mecca for everything home improvement, Home Depot has a huge variety of styles and prices to choose from. Its mid-range bamboo planks range from $2.99 to $3.99, but they also stock planks from more high-end manufacturers such as Home Legend and Islander. These higher-end planks average at around $5.
Lowe’s bamboo planks are limited to mid and high-range, as the cheapest one they offer comes at around $3. Most of the flooring they have in stock averages at $4.29, but they also sell a luxurious planks from Cali Bamboo for $5.99.
If you’re up for spending some extra cash to really get a floor with a wow factor, you should make Wayfair your next stop. They have the widest selection of luxurious engineered bamboo planks ranging from $6.95 to $9.25, or you can opt for lower-range products from well-known brands they represent for an average of $2.8 per square foot.
There are many more factors that determine the price of the installation than the actual cost of the material. It depends greatly on where you live and the availability of experienced floor installers.
Another thing that can affect the price is how much extra work there has to be done – does the old floor need to be removed, does the surface need to be smoothed and dried, is there molding that has to be protected, etc.
What you have to keep in mind is that the average cost of labor is anywhere from $20-$30 per hour. So, any work outside of actually installing the floor will significantly add up to the overall cost.
Bamboo flooring has a pretty bad rep when it comes to its durability. However, it’s mostly the case because it was either badly installed, or installed in a busy commercial area where it failed to withstand the wear and tear that comes with high-traffic.
A good quality bamboo floor should have the same life expectancy as any other mid-range hardwood floor. That is to say, it should last a solid 20-30 years.
Apart from you caring for it properly, the quality of the finishing coat is what determines just how long-lasting and durable your floor will be.
Top manufacturers always give a 30-year warranty on the floor and at least a 10-year warranty on the top coat.
Bamboo flooring is still pretty new on the US market, so there’s very little info on how it stands the test of time. That’s why the best way to determine the quality and durability of the plank isn’t its price, but the warranty that comes with it.
Bamboo Flooring Reviews
- Plyboo – Founded in 1989, Plyboo was the first US-based bamboo floor specialist company.
Since then, they’ve managed to stay the top bamboo floor manufacturer thanks to their innovative and sustainable approach to designing bamboo floor planks. They’ve developed a new type of soy-based adhesive that’s more safe and environmentally friendly than the traditional, formaldehyde-based one.
They cater to the more high-end, eco-conscious customer with planks averaging at $5.59 per square foot. However, their hefty price tag is justified by their very unique and diverse offer.
- Ambient bamboo floors – On the market since 2005, Ambient’s products manage to deliver best of both worlds – great quality at a reasonable price.
They’re one of the few companies whose planks come with a lifetime warranty, and they use an alternative plank adhesive that’s completely formaldehyde-free.
They offer a range of strand bamboo flooring that can be installed over underfloor radiant heating, and come in all kinds of different finishes. Most of their products are low to mid-range when it comes to price, with some types of planks going for as little as $2.89.
- Cali Bamboo – This San Diego company could be the greenest flooring manufacturer in the US. They take great pride in the sustainability of their manufacturing process, and vouch all of the materials they use are completely recyclable and renewable.
What sets them apart is the fact that they offer outdoor decking that’s 60% bamboo and 40% recycled HDPE plastic.
This company also manufactures the hardest bamboo flooring available on the US market, and it has a Janka score of more than 5000. All of their flooring also comes with an easy click system that significantly reduces the time it needs to be installed.
- US Floors – US Floors is another company that focuses on the sustainability of its products. Their goal is to manufacture unique and sustainable floors at an affordable price and make them a popular flooring solution.
They have three main bamboo collections – Traditions, Expressions and Corboo, but they also offer cork and brushed hardwood flooring. The Corboo line is what sets them apart from other flooring manufacturers.
The line features bamboo strands mixed with seams from natural cork, which makes for a very unique, rustic look available in six different colors.
- EcoFusion – Eco Fusion is a US-based flooring manufacturer that’s starting to use more and more recycled materials in their manufacturing process.
They’ve experimented combining hardwood recycled from old furniture and traditional bamboo strands, which resulted in the Color Fusion and Strand Woven – their most popular bamboo flooring ranges.
None of their planks use any urea formaldehyde-based adhesives, and all of them come with a 35-year warranty. Not bad at all, when you consider their products average at $6 per square foot.
- Teragren – Established in 1994, Teragren is another pioneer when it comes to bamboo flooring. They’re the first company that emphasized the importance of fair trade with Chinese bamboo farmers and factory workers.
They currently have eight ranges of bamboo flooring, with each one having different colorways and finishes. Every range has its accompanying molding.
We strongly recommend checking out Teragren’s website, as it’s incredibly helpful and user-friendly. You can find all kinds of easy to understand technical information about their product, as well as detailed installation guides.