New flooring is one of the most impactful decisions you can make when considering a home renovation or a room makeover. Most people choose flooring based on its visual appeal, but there are other considerations, too. Ideally, it will stand up well to daily wear-and-tear, is easy to clean, and is comfortable to walk on. Bamboo flooring checks off all the boxes. It's also often less expensive than wood flooring options and is more friendly to the environment.
Wood may be a popular flooring choice, but there’s been a rampant demand for bamboo over the last decade. Bamboo is actually a grass, not a wood. While it takes years for a tree to grow and mature, bamboo plants grow quickly. After the producers harvest the stalks, the plant continues to grow, reaching full maturity in three to six years. The plant is incredibly strong, generates about 35% more oxygen than trees, and absorbs 12 metric tons of carbon dioxide each year.
The majority of manufacturers use Moso bamboo (Phyllostachys edulis) for flooring. This species grows in China and Southeast Asia. Of the more than 10,000 varieties of bamboo, Moso grows the tallest, reaching up to 60 feet. It can grow three feet in one day and produces the densest, hardest fibers of any other species.
Bamboo fits with any decor style but is especially attractive for contemporary interiors. It has an organic grain variation, ranging from light blonde to darker grained versions. The colors consist primarily of natural and caramelized tones. Although there isn’t huge diversity in color choices, you’ll find that most of bamboo flooring’s uniqueness develops during manufacturing. It’s the plank’s structure that provides intriguing visual aspects.
For those who love the look of natural bamboo, horizontal flooring is the closest in appearance. Bamboo strips are cut, then laminated together to form planks. Looking at the surface, you’ll see three rows with visible nodes — the distinctive joints of the bamboo stalk. These “knuckles” produce darker shadings where the planks come together. Horizontal bamboo offers a homey, textured vibe due to the neutral colors, the softness of the grain, and the unique characteristics of the knuckles. It’s not as hard as the stranded version, however, which means it’s less suitable for high-traffic areas.
For people who love clean, contemporary interiors, vertical bamboo is a perfect choice. Manufacturers begin with narrow pieces of bamboo, placed upright on their edges, then laminated together. Vertical bamboo flooring usually has less color variation and a more uniform look, making it ideal for large spaces. The consistency of the grain adds to the overall elegance of the flooring.
If you like darker-colored flooring, carbonized bamboo may be just what you’re looking for. The difference between carbonized and other types lies in the production: it is processed in a carbonized oven. The heat allows a darker, deeper color to seep throughout the entire plank, not just the top layer. While it’s comparable in appearance to stained hardwood floors, the carbonizing process is more permanent and won’t fade as quickly as a wood stain.
Denser than the other types of bamboo flooring, strand or woven bamboo is the most durable type. The construction begins with long, shredded bamboo stalks. The manufacturer then compresses them into a solid form, coats them with a resin glue, and compresses them into boards via a heat process. This process leads to super-durable flooring, but also allows for gorgeous cherry, ash, or oak finishes that are just as beautiful as any hardwood flooring option.
The least expensive option, manufacturers develop engineered bamboo by laminating an extremely thin layer of bamboo onto plywood. Some types have waterproofing solutions applied to the backs of the planks. Although the engineered creation looks like solid lengths of bamboo, because its content is much lower than horizontal, vertical, or strand types, the cost is greatly reduced. It works well in areas where there is high moisture content, such as laundry rooms and bathrooms.
You’ll find click-and-lock planks, tongue-in-groove planks, and nail-down planks in most types of bamboo flooring, making for an easier installation for DIY enthusiasts. But if you prefer to let a professional do the job, installation costs are similar to those for hardwood flooring. Most manufacturers warn not to install over radiant heating. The upkeep is similar to hardwood floors.
On the Janka Hardness Scale, a rating system that determines the hardness of wood species, horizontal bamboo ranks similarly to standard northern red oak, averaging around 1320. Quality vertical bamboo is around 1450, while strand woven bamboo flooring ranges from 3000 to 5000. Carbonized bamboo is the softest of bamboo flooring options, with a Janka Hardness rating between 1000 and 1100. Despite its hardness and durability, however, bamboo flooring can dent or scratch, just like hardwood.