Bamboo Flooring has become a very popular flooring material in the last few years because it is a very environmentally friendly, sustainable building material. Unfortunately, because of this popularity, a large number of fly-by-night companies have started to import and sell bamboo flooring of poor quality. These companies oversell the durability and performance characteristics of bamboo floors and under-deliver on quality product. The result can be unhappy customers.
The hardness and durability of bamboo flooring depends on a number of factors, and hardness and durability are two different things.
Hardness of bamboo flooring depends on a number of factors, including where the bamboo is grown, the species, and the age of the harvested stalks. Perhaps surprisingly, color also affects hardness; natural bamboo flooring (the blonde color) is generally harder than carbonized.
Hardness refers to the amount of force needed to dent the bamboo. There is a standardized scale for this, called the Janka scale. But durability is also affected by the finish, both its anti-scratch properties as well as its sheen. Dimensional stability should be factored into durability.
So, to address those issues, not necessarily in order:
Bamboo Flooring is relative dimensionally stable. For installations in the US, especially the western US, look for a company like Fair Pacific (http://www.fairpacific.com) that kiln dries their bamboo to 8%-10% moisture. Most companies do not do this, and the result can be splitting or cracking.
Regardless of the planks you choose, be sure to acclimate them to your area for as long as possible. Fair Pacific recommends up to 72 hours for our planks, but most installations are done in as little as 36 hours with no serious issues. Allow additional time in particularly humid or dry conditions.
Anti-scratch is often confused with hardness, but it is different. A harder plank may scratch easily if the finish is junk and most bamboo sold by liquidators and the like has junk finish.
Klumpp finish is a popular brand and can be good or bad, depending on the application. Treffert is a newer finish, and we find it more suitable for bamboo flooring, as it is a little more resilient than Klumpp and tends to scratch much less. In addition, nearly all bamboo flooring sold in the US is semi-gloss, and when this scratches it can be very evident, especially on darker planks. So look for a satin finish, which shows scratches much less readily.
Finally hardness has to do with how a plank will stand up to things like high heels or dog claws. Bamboo grown in the eastern regions of China is best for flooring. The species here is nearly all Moso (also known as Mao) bamboo, and is at its peak when harvested at around 6 years. As I mentioned earlier, the natural bamboo planks are pretty hard, slightly harder than maple. Carbonized planks are softer, around the same hardness as walnut flooring. This is because the carbonization process involves “cooking” the bamboo, which weakens the fibers somewhat.
When shopping for Bamboo Flooring, especially on the internet or in discount hardware stores (Home Depot, Lowes, etc.) BEWARE of those that tell you all of their bamboo is harder than maple and will not scratch. With the information above, you’ll know that they do not know their product.
Finally, there are some things that indicate a quality plank, which you can use to judge samples.
1. Straight milling, on hydraulic and electronic equipment, if possible. Many of the cheaper brands of bamboo flooring are manufactured using hand presses and mills. This makes for inconsistency in construction and milling, and a plank which can fall apart over time.
2. Consistent use of quality materials with little or no filler. Companies that make long planks (like Fair Pacific Bamboo Flooring) must use higher quality stalks to begin with for the longer boards, so the shorter boards tend to have higher quality materials as well.
3. Crosswise layers in wide plank. Because a wide plank without crosswise construction can warp or cup, it is important to make sure that any wide plank bamboo flooring that you may purchase uses a middle crosswise layer. A few wide plank manufacturers use a cross-layer in their horizontal product, but Fair Pacific has found that a cross layer is also required in a vertical plank.
These are the basics of bamboo flooring durability. Please feel free to contact us at www.fairpacific.com. We pride ourselves on our customer support, and even if you don’t buy our planks, we’re happy to help you get the best out of your bamboo floor.
Greg Pasquariello is the President of Fair Pacific Bamboo Flooring at http://www.fairpacific.com. Fair Pacific Bamboo Flooring is dedicated to raising the bar on bamboo flooring and other sustainable construction materials sold in the US.
If you have any questions about bamboo flooring or Fair Pacific and our other sustainable building products, please visit our site at http://www.fairpacific.com
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