A year ago, I moved into an apartment with bamboo floors. Now that I’ve experienced this buzzed-about green building product first hand, one thing’s for sure: I’ll never live with bamboo floors again.
Ever since green building has been on my radar, there has been a huge buzz surrounding bamboo as a coveted renewable resource. From durability to aesthetics, this sustainable material has come to be known as one of the most viable eco-friendly household materials out there, used in everything from surfaces to tableware. So, when my husband and I rented a place with bamboo floors last year, we were obviously thrilled.
Now, after a year of actually living with bamboo floors, my view of bamboo has changed. To be honest, if I were the next person to rent my place, I wouldn’t be too pleased to inherit these bamboo floors in the shape that they’re in — and they’re practically new! Nor would I ever choose to use bamboo flooring if I were having a new home built. In my experience, they just don’t stand up to foot traffic and everyday wear and tear.
And despite bamboo’s pristine reputation, I’m not so sure it’s the actually greenest choice when you consider wear, durability, and the carbon footprint involved in transporting the material overseas.
Now, to be fair, before I list my gripes about bamboo flooring, here are the things I know to be true about bamboo’s green side:
- Bamboo is a fast-growing plant in the grass family, so it’s a quickly renewable material. After bamboo is cut, the plant sends out new shoots so it regrows without needing to be replanted. Super sustainable.
- Bamboo grows without the use of pesticides.
- Bamboo cultivation improves soil quality.
- Bamboo is a natural material from the earth.
- Bamboo flooring does not use formaldehyde or any petrochemicals.
Jen Jafarzadeh L’ItalienSounds like a dream product, huh? Not so much. Here are a few of the things that dawned on me over the course of a year of living with bamboo floors:
1. I would actually use the word “soft” in describing my bamboo floors. Not to say soft like a pillow, but soft in comparison to the sturdy hardwood floors I’ve lived with all my life. Bamboo floors just can’t hold up to the slightest abuse. I’m not talking dropped chisels or dragging a heavy table clear across the floor, which would damage any material. I’m talking everyday wear and tear. It seems like anything from a folding chair to a dropped plate can damage these floors. And unlike hardwood, bamboo floors can’t be refinished. The marks are permanent.
2. Our bamboo flooring warps very easily. In the winter, we set up a humidifier in our bedroom. During its first run for the season, it leaked out a little water, causing the bamboo floor to warp. The bubble has never quite gone away.
3. The floor always looks dirty. Our bamboo flooring is shiny and smooth; if only it would stay so clean-looking for more than an hour. Unlike the hardwood floors I’m used to, dirt just seems to sit on top of the bamboo floor until I vacuum or sweep. At the right angle, in the right light, it’s easy to see the dust and crumbs with the naked eye. Gross. And yes, I do vacuum regularly (but not everyday). My husband and I both take our shoes off at the door, but we still somehow manage to track a fair amount of dirt and grit into the place. My theory is that with hardwood floors, the dirt moves into the natural grooves and crevices of the wood until it’s vacuumed away. With my bamboo flooring, every little bit of dirt floats atop of the floor, sticking only to my bare feet, which track them into every other room in the apartment.
4. I worry about the carbon footprint of bamboo flooring. While there’s no question that bamboo flooring is a renewable material, I think what’s often not talked about is its carbon footprint. In the U.S., you can source hardwood flooring locally, as there are manufacturers of hardwood flooring throughout the country. Bamboo, on the other hand, has to get shipped over from China. The bamboo materials are then manufactured into flooring in the U.S. Think about how much oil was used to get my bamboo floor all the way to Brooklyn from China. And again when I have to replace the flooring after 5 years or so because I can’t repair the damage.
Keep in mind, this is just my experience. Many people live with bamboo flooring and have no complaints. If you’re set on bamboo flooring as the right choice for you, it’s important to note that, like many materials, there are different grades. Traditional bamboo flooring uses 65 percent of the raw material, whereas Strand Woven Wood Bamboo makes better use of the bamboo material, using 84 percent of the bamboo harvested, notes Renee Loux in Easy Green Living.
So what flooring material would I choose if I were building my own home? If I were renovating, I would look into reclaimed wood flooring as well as Marmoleum, which is a green flooring material that is touted to be very durable. Living with bamboo floors has taught me that what sounds green and eco-friendly may not be the best choice in practice. Whether you’re renting or buying, it’s always smart to ask a lot of questions and do research before you dive head-first into a trend.