Wood is one of the most loved flooring material in the home building and buying universe. Prized for its exceptional good looks and warmth, wood is highly versatile and sustainable. In the past 10 years, however, there has been a great disturbance in the force, and now wood has an able and extremely popular challenger: bamboo. Though bamboo has had a limited history in the U.S. construction market, it has been widely used in East Asia and the South Pacific. One of the oldest building materials known to man, it has been used to build fences, houses, and furniture, and has even been known to hold up suspension bridges.
Pros and Cons
Pros for Wood
Beautiful.A wood floor is inherently beautiful, and it enhances any room. Plus, it only gets better with age and patina. Even wood’s idiosyncrasies are highly prized. No two floor boards are the same, but it’s this variation in appearance, color, and grain that make the products so attractive and exciting.Dependable.Builders and consumers know and trust wood because they know the material lasts a long time. It’s not unusual to see commercial structures with original wood floors dating back 100 years. With the availability of long-lasting finishes, today’s flooring-new or salvaged-could well last for another 100 years.Affordable.Once a pricey option, wood floors today can be had for a relatively low price.
Cons for Wood
Does not mix well with moisture. Wood is a durable material, but unless a moisture-resistant species is chosen it does not handle standing water and constant wetness very well. Though manufacturers have developed finishes and coatings that make this less of a problem, it’s a good idea to keep it out of master bathrooms and moisture-prone areas.
Prone to color changes.More UV coatings and finishes help prevent discoloration, but constant exposure to the light will eventually affect the finish. The color change is merely aesthetic, but it can be unsightly depending on the location of the floor.
Use over radiant heat can be problematic.Using wood floors over radiant heat is possible, but it has to be done very carefully to avoid cupping and extreme contraction
Low maintenance, but …Wood floors are not that hard to maintain, but when it does get damaged the repairs can be problematic. Deep scratches and dents from heavy objects are not easily repaired. Plus, the repaired areas don’t often blend seamlessly with the factory finish.
Pros for Bamboo
Hard and stableIn general, bamboo falls at about 1,200 to 1,400 on the Janka Hardness Scale, which means it’s a little harder than oak and ash. Some manufacturers claim the product is 12 percent harder than North American maple, but that’s hard to say. Either way, the material’s hardness results in a much more stable floor that better resists expansion and contraction.
Bamboo grows exceptionally fast, so plants reach maturity faster than trees and can be harvested in less than 10 years.
Installs just like woodAnything wood can do, bamboo can do too-at least where installation is concerned. The two products can be nailed, glued, or set as a floating floor.
VarietyIn the old days, you could have any color bamboo you wanted, as long as it was natural or carbonized. Manufacturers have moved way beyond that now, offering products with a variety of stains, colors, and looks. One manufacturer even offers bamboo that looks like typical wood floor.
Cons for Bamboo
. Despite it rapidly renewable street cred, most of the bamboo flooring in the U.S. has to be shipped great distances such as from China or some other Asian country. Some green experts say this fact kills the sustainable mojo the product has. The good news is that FSC-certified bamboo does exist.
Not a solid product. Unlike wood, which can be solid or engineered, all bamboo is made from laminated strips that are glued together. While this does not necessarily mean the product is inferior, it opens the possibility for delamination; manufacturers say this is unlikely.
Inconsistent product quality. Bamboo is manufactured in many ways so performance depends on process and varies from product to product and company to company. “Some bamboo floors are more durable than others or emit varying levels of volatile organic compounds such as formaldehyde, depending upon how they are manufactured,” Teragren says.
Questionable refinishing data. There probably aren’t that many bamboo floors installed in this country over 15 or so years, the data of refinishing such a floor is incomplete.