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Bamboo: the Greener Grass

Bamboo flooring is durable, attractive, and environmentally friendly

<p><em>This Old House</em> TV's Charlestown house project</p>

This Old House TV's Charlestown house project

Botanically, bamboo is not a wood at all, but rather a grass. Unlike the

lawn variety, bamboo is strong, hard and dimensionally stable making it

a perfect candidate for flooring. And, because it matures in three

years, regenerates without need for replanting and requires minimal

fertilization or pesticides, it's also a green building material. After

exploring traditional flooring options, the homeowners of This Old House TV's Charlestown project took all these

factors into account and chose bamboo flooring for the the rental

unit's kitchen and the house's main staircase and entryway.

Most commercially available bamboo flooring is harvested from controlled

bamboo forests in the Guangzhou Zhujiang province on mainland China,

commonly called "The Bamboo Sea." Already used extensively throughout

Asia, bamboo flooring is a competitive alternative to rainforest

hardwoods. In modern Asian cities, it's not uncommon to see a large

concrete building being constructed over bamboo scaffolding.

To make it, hollow, round shoots are sliced into strips and boiled to

remove the starch. Then the strips are dried and boiled in a solution of

water and boric acid to remove sugars (a termite attractant) and to

inhibit fungus and mold growth. The bamboo is then laminated into solid

boards, which are milled into standard strip floorboards with tongue and

groove on all four sides, so no special installation techniques are

required. The flooring comes in two colors: natural blonde and

carbonized, an amber color achieved by pressure cooking the bamboo.

Because this is not a surface stain, the flooring retains its color even

after sanding.

Bamboo flooring installs like standard hardwood. However the strips are

not nailable with a standard flooring nailer, so use a pneumatic finish

nailer instead. If your flooring is not pre-finished, apply a

water-based urethane after sanding. The floor will be extremely

durable—about as hard as oak or maple—and because bamboo is so dense

refinishing will not be required as often. Finished bamboo floors have a

rich texture with thin strips of varying color interrupted by the bamboo


There are only a few bamboo flooring suppliers in North America, but

several companies import it. Prices for bamboo flooring are competitive with

domestic hardwoods. But the grass is equally durable, attractive

and—as they say—greener, to boot.