The choice to use bamboo seemed like a no-brainer at first. They look great, they’re super durable (often rated one of the most dog-friendly flooring options), they’re cost effective, and they’re eco-friendly… or are they?

Ray, making herself right at home on our bamboo floors.

A Bit of Background Info:

Bamboo flooring is typically about half the price of traditional hardwood floors, and can* have a significantly smaller footprint. Bamboo matures in 3-5 years, and hardwood 30-50 even up to 100 years depending on the species. And according to the World Wildlife Fund, an acre of bamboo can capture 6.88 tons of carbon per years – about 70% more than hardwoods.

*We say all that with a caveat, well, several actually. While there are a lot of upsides to bamboo: growth rate, hardness, hardiness, etc… there are also some downsides. Bamboo is an easy sell as, “eco-friendly” and “low cost”, but the true cost may not be what one might be led to think.

The Downsides

1.) Most bamboo flooring comes from China’s Hunan Province, where there is little to no environmental oversight. Of course, pandas don’t live there, so it’s not like they’re cutting down their food, BUT, chemicals are used to grow plants, then, planks are glued together, which can contain loads of chemicals including formaldehyde. Which isn’t exactly something you want in your home.

2.) Shipping. It takes a lot of fuel to ship Asian goods to America. Though modern ships are the most fuel efficient mode of hauling goods, (over trains, trucks, airplane, etc..), it’s still worth noting that it adds to the footprint.

The Upsides

Now that we’ve stated the bad, there is also a lot of good.

1.) Toughness: Bamboo is naturally tough stuff. It can be stronger than steel when used in some construction methods, and can even become stronger when it’s wet. As far as flooring goes, it’s all about the hardness. Look for a rating using the Janka Scale or Janka Hardness Rating – basically bamboo does great, but hardness varies per product. Look for “strand” “woven” for extra strength.

2.) Eco-friendly: There are a multitude of facts that we could state here, but we trust that if you’ve read this far you already get the picture. Be sure to research the company manufacturing your bamboo products to make the most eco-friendly choice. You can also qualify for LEED credits on your build by using bamboo flooring, plywood, lumber, paneling, etc…

3.) Good Looks: Gosh darn it, bamboo floors just look good. As for our tiny home on wheels, the designer at 84 Lumber | Tiny Living chose the PERFECT color for our home: it looks great, even when thousands of muddy shoes trample all over it. Dirt and grime blend in, so on open house days, our floors always look great.

4.) Animal Friendly: This is a big deal for wood floors. Since bamboo is so tough, it’s less likely to dent and scratch from big dog claws. If you get a good company, low VOC and no added formaldehyde products can make your indoor air quality great for kids and pets (and you). Lastly, bamboo is naturally moisture resistant, a good thing when it comes to animal accidents on the floor – great for us and our new puppy.

All that being said, there are some companies that are doing it right. They say that price is the biggest indicator of quality right now, so be sure to research the brand if you find a “smokin’ deal” at your local hardware store. Like they say – You can’t have quality without adding cost. Look for an Forest Stewardship Council U.S. certification, low-voc, and no urea-formaldehyde.

If you’re in the market for a good company: check out EcoPlanet Bamboo , Cali Bamboo , Smith & Fong Plyboo , or Tesoro Woods.