Are you considering bamboo flooring for an upcoming renovation project? Well then, you’ve come to the right place. As of late, bamboo flooring has made quite a stir in the design industry. It’s been around for ages – but trendy magazines, blogs, and home improvement shows have lifted this flooring to a new level of popularity.
- Alternatives & Comparisons
- Quality Guidelines
- Pricing Guide
- Installation Methods
- Brands & Reviews
- Final Thoughts
Unfortunately, finding and selecting bamboo flooring isn’t as easy as it looks on television.
There are many factors to consider before you hit the stores. So, we’ve put together a guide to help you narrow down your options and make a well-informed decision.
Let’s start with a detailed list of pros and cons.
- Easy maintenance
- Less Expensive
- Radiant Heating
- Termite Resistant
1. Bamboo flooring is easy to maintain.
Bamboo floors are a snap to clean. For light cleaning, all you’ll need is a soft-bristled broom and a dustpan. If you prefer to vacuum be sure to use the hard floor setting (or buy a hardwood floor-specific vacuum), or you’ll risk scratching and scarring the floors.
For weekly cleaning use a hardwood floor cleaner and warm water. Wring the mop thoroughly and watch out for signs of over saturation. Excessive water can cause the bamboo to warp and buckle.
If you spill something on the floor use a sponge to soak up the liquid immediately. Follow up with a damp rag and a dry cloth. If you need to rid your bamboo of scuff marks, a mixture of wood cleaner and warm water should do the trick.
2. Bamboo is a renewable resource.
Unlike some species of hardwood, bamboo is a renewable resource. After planting, this thick grass takes 3-10 years to mature into usable flooring material. Every year the bamboo plant grows new shoots. These shoots can grow up to a foot per day.
Additionally, farmers can re-harvest bamboo every three years, without damaging the plant or disturbing the surrounding grove. It is also the preferred choice for anyone concerned with deforestation, as it is the fastest growing plant on earth.
But, harvesting bamboo is tricky. The rainy season brings the threat of cracking, while the dry season encourages fungi growth. To harvest the most durable bamboo poles, farmers must wait until the timing is perfect, usually the beginning of the dry season.
That’s why it’s important to check your labels to ensure the flooring you purchase has been properly inspected and responsibly collected.
3. Certain types of Bamboo are durable.
Strand woven is the densest type of bamboo flooring. A heating process using resin and adhesives bond the grass into tightly woven strands that are 3 times stronger than any other form of bamboo.
If you’re looking for a durable bamboo floor, choose a light natural tone. Manufacturers darken bamboo through a process called carbonization. While these caramel-colored floors are beautiful to look at, they are 30% weaker than their uncarbonized counterparts.
4. You can refinish bamboo.
If your flooring only shows minor surface scratches, you can use a refinishing pen or crayon. These inexpensive blending tools use wax to fill in gouges and cover minor imperfections. But, the effects aren’t permanent – every few months you’ll need to re-apply the wax.
If your bamboo floor has excessive signs of wear, you can sand and refinish it. However, the process is tedious, and you must be careful not to dig into the top layer while sanding. It may be worth the investment to hire a professional floor refinisher.
5. Bamboo flooring is stylish.
Do you love the sleek contemporary look and clean lines of modern design? If so, bamboo flooring is perfect for your home.
The natural pattern striations and unique characteristics of each board will automatically add depth and interest to your space.
6. Bamboo is less expensive than most hardwoods.
Bamboo can be an affordable alternative to hardwood floors. As with any material, price depends on the brand and thickness.
It’s common to find bamboo planks for less than $3 per square foot, but at that price point, don’t expect high quality. If you’re looking for maximum value, aim to spend $5-6 per square foot. Not exactly cheap flooring, but slightly less than the cost of solid oak or maple flooring.
You can also buy engineered bamboo for approximately $2-4 per square foot. If you choose this multi-layer flooring, look for a top layer that’s ¼ inch thick or more.
7. You can install radiant heating under bamboo.
Radiant heating systems work well with bamboo flooring. However, there are a few conditions.
You must adequately acclimate your bamboo before installation and monitor the floor temperature closely. Remember to store your bamboo indoors for at least 5 days to ensure proper acclimation.
Additionally, If you plan on installing radiant heating under bamboo, be sure to check with the manufacturer for guidelines. Not all manufacturers design their flooring with in-floor heating compatibility.
8. Bamboo flooring is termite resistant.
The chemicals used to treat bamboo flooring makes digestion impossible for termites. If they try to chew on your flooring, they’ll starve to death.
And since termite damage accounts for approximately 5 billion dollars in property damage each year, you can relax knowing that these little pests won’t wreak havoc on your bank account.
9. Allergy sufferers love bamboo.
If you’re like millions of unfortunate souls who suffer from seasonal allergies, you can put away the tissues after installing bamboo floors. Bamboo is inhospitable to dust mites, repels dust and pollen, and resists mold and mildew.
When shopping for bamboo, make sure the manufacturer’s packaging states the flooring is formaldehyde-free and contains low VOCs. Otherwise, your bamboo may release chemicals that can cause allergic reactions and respiratory illness.
1. Bamboo floors are prone to scratches.
While it’s true that bamboo can be up to 3x harder than oak, scratches happen. In fact, it’s quite common to read reviews from disappointed homeowners who felt misled by advertising tactics.
If you have an active household, opt for strand-woven bamboo. It’s the thickest.
Additionally, be sure to look for manufacturers that point out the durability of their flooring lines & offer at least a 25-year warranty.
2. Bamboo is susceptible to water damage.
Unlike the grass found in your front-yard, bamboo does not thrive when watered. In fact, too much water can leave unsightly spots and even cause your flooring to warp. Over time water damaged flooring will grow bacteria and mold between the planks.
That’s why bamboo is better left for dry areas of your home. It’s not a desirable choice for kitchens or bathrooms. Even if your flooring has a protective coating, it’s best to use caution when cleaning, and to try to wipe up spills as quickly as possible.
3. Bamboo hates humidity.
When installing bamboo in your home, it’s important to consider humidity levels. Like most organic materials, moisture can wreak havoc on bamboo. If the air is too dry the boards may crack; and if there’s too much moisture, the boards will swell.
The suggested humidity level for rooms with bamboo is the same for most hardwood floors: 30-50%. If you’re investing in a bamboo floor, be sure to install a humidity monitor and make adjustments for seasonal temperature shifts.
4. Some bamboo flooring contains toxins.
Low-quality bamboo floors can contain urea-formaldehyde. Additionally, check the label on any adhesive or glue you use to install your flooring. Urea-formaldehyde can cause health problems such as respiratory difficulties.
To minimize the chances of buying hazardous products, make sure the bamboo you purchase has been tested by an independent third-party laboratory, preferably located in the United States. The highest quality bamboo flooring is labeled both VOC and formaldehyde-free.
5. Bamboo flooring is contemporary.
Because bamboo lacks the natural knots and graining found in hardwood, it appears cold and trendy. Some homeowners may feel this material is devoid of character and charm. Bamboo can look out of place in rustic or traditional designs.
If you’re still deciding between bamboo flooring or another material, here’s a list of side by side comparisons to help.
Alternatives & Comparisons
Bamboo Vs. Hardwood
Bamboo is up to 3x harder than oak flooring – 4000-5000 on the Janka scale. Strand woven bamboo varieties are even stronger than many exotic Brazilian hardwoods. The caveat? Darkened bamboo is 30% softer than natural coloring due to the carbonization process.
Many flooring manufacturers treat bamboo with several coats of sealer to enhance scratch and water resistance. Bamboo also has distinct graining characteristics depending on the variety. Some consumers may feel bamboo has a trendy and artificial appearance.
Bamboo flooring averages between $3-10 per square foot, dependant on quality and location.
Hardwood flooring has numerous species to choose from, each with a different level of hardness. Pinewood is the softest and with a rating of 600-900 on the Janka Scale, while Brazillian Walnut scores a whopping 3650. Depending on your usage requirements, hardwood flooring can be an excellent investment in your home.
Hardwood flooring offers an unbeatable variety of grades, tones and graining patterns. You can find this flooring in hundreds of colors, textures, and sizes. Additionally, many manufacturers sell prestained hardwood with several layers of protective coatings.
The average price of hardwood flooring swings wildly between $3-15 per square foot.
Both hardwood and bamboo are natural resources, but bamboo grows up to 15x faster than the trees used to make conventional hardwood flooring. Additionally, bamboo can be re-harvested every 3 years without causing damage to the plant or surrounding grove.
Bamboo Vs. Carpeting
Bamboo is much cleaner than carpeting. It doesn’t hold allergens or trap dust and dirt. If you spill something in bamboo, it’s unlikely to stain if wiped up quickly. Bamboo can last 20 years or more, and when it starts to look worn, you can sand and refinish it (at a cost, of course).
However, carpet is softer to sit and stand on. It feels comfortable underfoot and holds the room temperature on chilly mornings. The downside? Even with regular steam-cleaning, most carpets will need to be replaced every 5-10 years.
Bamboo Vs. Tile
Tile is suitable for every area of your home. It comes in many shapes, colors, and varieties including natural stone and wood-look. Tile is easy to maintain, especially for pet-owners looking for a pet friendly flooring, and can last for many years without looking tired or worn.
While moisture is a concern with tile flooring, a regularly applied coat of sealer will keep moisture and staining at bay.
The average price of tile is between $2-15 per square foot depending on composition.
Like tile, bamboo flooring is durable and can withstand an active household. Pricing hovers within the same range as tile. Bamboo is a bit softer to stand on and can be more comfortable for playful toddlers and four-legged friends.
Bamboo Vs. Vinyl
Vinyl plank flooring can be very affordable at $3-$8 per square foot. It’s tough enough to handle the demands of everyday life (if you buy the right thickness), and soft enough to feel warm and comfortable under-foot. Additionally, you can install vinyl in basements and other damp areas.
The downside to vinyl is that it cannot be refinished if scratched or gouged. And if you’re tired of the color or pattern, you’ll have to live with it or replace the entire floor.
Bamboo can be refinished multiple times. It’s as affordable as vinyl and requires the same amount of maintenance. Bamboo is much harder than vinyl, and it’s better at resisting scratches and dents.
Additionally, bamboo flooring will have a significantly higher impact on resale value compared to vinyl plank.
Bamboo Vs. Cork
Cork floors are as environmentally-friendly as bamboo but have a slightly better air-quality rating due to the manufacturing process. Fewer chemicals are used to construct cork floors.
Both materials are renewable resources, but cork comes from the bark of a cork tree while bamboo is technically a grass. Both products are susceptible to humidity and dampness, but bamboo stands up to liquid a bit better. Maintenance wise, the two materials are both user-friendly, and cork is easy to clean – but must be resealed annually.
Cork insulates sound and retains heat better than bamboo. It’s soft underfoot and almost feels bouncy. Bamboo is much harder to stand on, but will not gouge as cork can.
Both products are priced within the $3-10 range, but many consumers find cork’s unique look off-putting.
Still in the market for bamboo? Ok then – let’s move on.
Shopping for Bamboo flooring can be a bit daunting. The differences in quality, selling points, and pricing will make your head spin. That’s why you need to do your homework and watch-out for — too good to be true — deals.
Here’s a list of what to look for when searching for high-quality bamboo flooring.
Bamboo Quality Guidelines
Flooring hardness is evaluated by a chart called the Janka Hardness Scale. Until recently, bamboo wasn’t listed on the Janka scale. Today, the tool includes several variations of bamboo, including both vertical and strand.
Strand woven is the densest form of bamboo flooring. It has a hardness rating of between 4000-5000 on the Janka Scale, which means it’s twice as hard as Brazilian Cherry and Tigerwood.
Strand Bamboo is constructed of ultra-thin shredded fibers combined with resin and compressed into planks. This type of bamboo also has a tensile strength higher than many construction grade timbers.
If you install strand bamboo, you will not have to worry about heavy furniture or accidental drops denting your floors. But hardness isn’t the only factor – make sure your flooring also features an aluminum oxide coating to prevent scratches and scuffs. Most quality bamboo comes prefinished with 7-10 coats of preventative sealer.
Vertical & Horizontal
Vertical and horizontal bamboo flooring resembles traditional hardwood species. The difference between the two refer to the way the planks are constructed.
Horizontal bamboo closely resembles the plant. It features prominent knots and a distinct grain pattern. Alternatively, vertical bamboo has a less obvious grain pattern and a textured appearance. Both are equally durable and have a strength rating similar to oak flooring.
Keep in mind: natural color, or un-carbonized bamboo is more durable than carbonized bamboo. The carbonization process used to darken bamboo weakens the flooring up to 30%. If your heart’s set on dark flooring, pair un-carbonized bamboo with a mahogany or walnut stain.
The next determiner of quality bamboo is the moisture level. It’s essential to ask your flooring representative for a written guarantee that the bamboo you’re purchasing has a moisture level of between 6-9%. That level is the industry standard, and there’s a good reason for it.
The moisture levels in the bamboo will directly impact the longevity and performance of your floor. If the bamboo flooring was assembled under poor quality conditions, it will not hold up over time. Milling factors such as improper drying, dull equipment, and inadequate packaging can cause cracking, warping, and delamination.
Harvesting practice also plays a crucial role in determining quality. Look for Bamboo that is at least 6 years old, and harvested from a lower section of the trunk.
Our next factor is warranty length. You’ll want at least a 25-year structural warranty and 10-year protection against surface wear. It’s also important to note whether labor and removal are included in the coverage.
Remember a warranty is only as good as the manufacturer behind it. Make sure you buy flooring from a well-respected and established brand.
The final way to evaluate the quality of bamboo flooring is by the air-quality rating and health & safety certifications. Although many manufacturers claim their bamboo is environmentally-friendly, few put it in writing.
You’ll want actual proof that the flooring you choose will not impact your family’s health. The reason being: some manufacturers use adhesives and finishes containing hazardous chemicals and solvents in the production of their flooring. These products can release toxic fumes into the air and cause devastating side effects.
A good way to tell is by asking to see the FloorScore paperwork and FSC certification. These certificates are issued by both the independent labs and government entities responsible for developing and maintaining safe building and environmental practices.
The best manufacturers use water-based, solvent-free finishes that contain little to no volatile organic compounds. These brands may cost a bit more, but hey – we’re talking about your family’s health. The added peace of mind is well worth the extra cost.
Now that we’ve hammered out the quality guidelines, let’s discuss price. While flooring retailers and advertisers love to remind us that bamboo is cost-effective, that’s not always the case.
Bamboo isn’t the cheapest option out there, but when compared to the cost of solid hardwood, it’s an affordable choice. Use this next section as a tool to help prepare your budget and prevent sticker shock.
Bamboo Pricing Guide
Bamboo flooring ranges from $3-10 per square foot, not including installation. Pricing depends on several factors, including: manufacturer, rating, and style.
Horizontal and vertical bamboo costs strand approximately $3-5 per square foot, while strand varieties run a bit higher: in the $4-10 range. If you’re trying to keep costs down, consider buying engineered bamboo (just as you’d consider engineered hardwood). You can find quality engineered planks for less than $4 per square foot.
Another factor to consider? Installation costs. If you are going the DIY route, be sure to assemble all the materials before you start your project. And, if you’re opting for a professional install, expect to pay approximately $30-45 per hour for a licensed and insured flooring company.
Remember: installation prices vary by location, job complexity & room dimensions. Don’t forget to get a couple of estimates before settling on a contractor.
Which install option is right for you? Let’s take a look at your choices.
This method is best left to a professional as it requires years of knowledge and practice to master. Nail down installation entails using a pneumatic nail gun to secure the bamboo to a plywood sub-floor.
The boards must be measured and laid out correctly to ensure a tight fit, even rows, and an aesthetically pleasing design.
In addition to nailing your floor, professionals must prep your subfloor correctly to prevent lifting and shifting over time. They may also advise the use of a moisture barrier to keep liquid and dampness from becoming trapped beneath the planks and causing irreparable damage.
If you’ve done a few DIY projects before, and you’re confident enough to take on installation, gluing your bamboo is a viable option
This process requires you to adhere the planks to your subfloor using beads of ultra-strong glue. You must be careful to line the seams up correctly before applying the adhesive. It dries fast.
As a rule, lay out the entire floor and adjust coloring and patterns before applying a single drop of glue. Another preparation guideline? Make sure your subfloor is even and free of rot or moisture damage.
The floating method is by far the easiest way to install your bamboo flooring. If you’ve purchased click-lock planks, you’re in for a treat. These boards are made to lock together at the seams without the use of nails or glue.
Simply lay out the pattern and fit the planks together, working in rows. Just remember to leave room for expansion and pre-plan your layout to allow for minimal cutting and waste.
Within a few hours time, you should be done with the install, smiling and admiring your brand new bamboo floor.
Ok, time to delve into the review section. The following manufacturers have solid reputations in the flooring world. This list represents the most popular brands among both consumers and professionals.
Bamboo Brand Reviews
Cali Bamboo is one of the leading bamboo companies in the marketplace. Founded in 2004 as a fencing company, Cali has grown considerably and has recently expanded its offerings to include flooring, decking, and underlayments.
This strand woven bamboo flooring is available in both engineered and solid varieties in over 33 colors. Additionally, you can choose between easy to install click-lock planks, or traditional tongue and groove styles.
Cali bamboo floors come pre-sealed with a 10-layer scratch resistant coating and carry a 50-year residential warranty. You can obtain free samples online or by calling Cali’s toll-free number and speaking with a representative.
Trinity has been in the bamboo flooring business since 2003. The company imports their Moso bamboo flooring from the People’s Republic of China. Trinity is committed to selling responsibly sourced, quality flooring for affordable prices.
All Trinity products are FloorScore Certified and Clean Air Verified by independent third-party laboratories. The company sells solid and engineered bamboo, directly from their website and offers free samples for the cost of shipping.
Smith & Fong Plyboo
Headquartered in San Francisco, California, Smith & Fong began selling its Plyboo line in 1996. These flooring products are manufactured in China and sold worldwide through independent distributors and on the company’s website.
Plyboo bamboo is offered in 4 lines and over 25 colors and tones. The Stiletto line is the company’s flagship collection and is 100% FSC certified. Stiletto is available in 6-foot lengths and installs as a floating floor with a click-lock system.
Ambient BP has an excellent reputation both with homeowners and professional designers. The company’s eco-friendly flooring has been featured on television and in various architectural magazines. All Ambient products come backed by a lifetime structural and finish warranty.
At an average of $3.99 per square foot, Ambient bamboo is an affordable option. To keep pricing down, Ambient sells directly to consumers and doesn’t charge sales tax on purchases outside of Maryland. Ambient bamboo is available in 36 colors and is sold in both click-lock and tongue & groove styles.
Teragren bamboo flooring comes in both solid and engineered varieties. The company carries 12 lines of both floating and traditional planks in various widths & lengths, and more than 25 shades and patterns.
All Teragren floors are responsibly sourced and independently tested for health and safety compliance. The company offers a 25-year structural warranty and a 10-year guarantee on all commercial finishes.
You can purchase Teragren bamboo for an average of $5-8 per square foot at flooring retailers across North America.
Ecofusion is one of the world’s leading manufacturers of bamboo flooring. You can find Ecofusion products in prestigious hotels and universities throughout the United States.
The company sells several lines of strand woven bamboo in engineered and solid varieties. Solid bamboo lines are a ½” inch thick and come in 4-5” widths. You can purchase Ecofusion bamboo online or through your local flooring dealer.
Tesoro Woods features easy-to-install affordable strand woven bamboo in 7 colors and patterns. However, what sets Tesoro apart is its patented Super-Strand collection. These boards are designed and tested for maximum stability.
In fact, the company advertises an expansion rate of only 10%, even in extreme temperatures, making Super Strand Bamboo a popular choice for both homeowners in arid and damp locations. It’s the perfect compromise between logic and design.
Tesoro Woods bamboo flooring is manufactured in China and carries FSC and FloorScore certifications.
Now that we have covered the basics let’s recap what we’ve learned.
Bamboo flooring is an excellent choice for those who desire the look of hardwood at a slightly better price. It holds up as well as hardwood and can last 20 years or more if taken care of. Most bamboo flooring also carries generous and extensive warranties.
Like hardwood, you can refinish bamboo flooring to refresh the look or repair unsightly scratches and dents. Bamboo is available in both tongue & groove and floating varieties, and can be installed by DIY renovation-savvy consumers.
There are a few drawbacks to this environmentally-friendly flooring, such as: moisture sensitivity and wear resistance. Additionally, poorly sourced bamboo can lead to health problems due to the chemicals used in the construction of this flooring. If you choose bamboo over hardwood, be sure to shop for high-quality planks with proper health & safety certifications.
To sum it up: high-quality bamboo flooring balances nicely between sensibility and style.