When bamboo first arrived on the floor covering scene, it was akin to that third cousin you never see suddenly showing up on your doorstep, suitcase in hand: you nod, smile politely and let him in, believing it’s just for a few days, and then he’ll be gone.
Eighteen years later you’ve put an addition on the house, and he’s got personalized coffee mugs in the dishwasher.
To sort out the what and wherefore of the bamboo market, we asked Mike Boshart, president of Teragren, Strategis Inc. Vice President Bill Friend and USFloors Inc. Product & Marketing Manager Gary Keeble, LEED AP, for a little insight on the forces behind the surge in this grass among woods.
National Floor Trends: In a relatively short time, bamboo has gone from what could be called a fringe specialty to a mainstream staple. Briefly, to what do you attribute its rapid rise in popularity?
Bill Friend: Bamboo’s unique contemporary style and ability to be made into other styles like brushed, hand-scraped, exotic etc give it a wide appeal. Its eco-friendly and renewable resource features make it a feel-good purchase. In the case of strand-woven bamboo, its exceptional hardness and overall performance place it at the top-of-the-class for value and quality.
Mike Boshart: Teragren was a founding pioneer of the bamboo flooring industry in North America, back in 1994. It’s true that since then the industry has seen exponential growth, due in large part to both the variety of design aesthetics that are now being produced in bamboo, as well as to an increasingly informed customer who is actively pursuing more sustainable options for their home.
In addition to the beauty of many bamboo flooring products, the consistency of product performance in the category has also improved in recent years.
Gary Keeble: The development of strand woven bamboo has certainly contributed to the growth of bamboo flooring. The hardness of strand translates to durability, coupled with a grain pattern that more closely resembles the grain of a hardwood floor, and gives it more mass appeal than a traditional horizontal or vertical bamboo floor.
There has also been much more emphasis on green products such as bamboo. Over the last decade, the word sustainability has been inserted into the American lexicon and more consumers are familiar with what it means to be sustainable. Even if they don’t know that bamboo is rapidly renewable and mature plants can be harvested every 6 years, they do know that it is an environmentally responsible product. The growth of green building programs such as LEED and the International Green Construction Code have also helped accelerate the growth of sustainable products like bamboo floors.
NFT: Technically speaking, how would you compare the bamboo floors of, say, 10 years ago with today’s products?
GK: Today’s bamboo is much more advanced than products of 10 years ago. While the traditional horizontal and vertical products are still great products, the strand woven products are considered much harder and more durable. With that come challenges such as nailing an extremely dense, hard product to the subfloor. The glueless fold down or drop and lock installation profiles have helped us overcome this challenge and turned what could be a challenging installation into a fast and easy installation.
BF: It is like comparing the Edsel to the latest BMW. Ten years ago, bamboo was a cool new product of very limited quality; today, it is top-shelf, available in many styles and second to none in quality and features.
MB: Ten years ago bamboo products were limited to unfinished and prefinished traditional bamboo. Today, our product lines include strand bamboo, which comprise the large majority of our sales and which can be manufactured to resemble all manner of exotic hardwoods, as well as finished in various colors and stains. The category now has more options, colors, and textures to offer. The basics remain the same however, with superior resource selection, and manufacturing and quality control methods winning the day.
NFT: What are, in your opinion, bamboo’s three best attributes?
MB: Performance, beauty, and sustainability.
BF: Beauty. Quality. Eco-friendly.
GK: The sustainable, rapidly renewable nature of bamboo. The distinctive visuals. The hardness and durability of bamboo. While Janka ratings on traditional bamboo are similar to oak, the Janka ratings on strand woven bamboo can be more than twice as high as oak.
NFT: Let’s talk applications: where might you suggest bamboo not be installed, and why?
MB: Bamboo performs exactly the same as traditional hardwood. Therefore, traditional bamboo can be installed almost anywhere not in direct contact with water. Strand bamboo, because of its density, should only be installed into environments having relative humidity control systems able to maintain a consistent RH no lower than 35%. Like hardwoods, if the environment gets drier than that, customers will likely see some dimensional change. Proper installation is of course a factor as well.
GK: I would put bamboo anywhere that I would put a hardwood floor.
BF: Bamboo may be installed anywhere in the home; the key is buying the right structure or format for the application. The only questionable areas where I would not recommend it are bathrooms and very high-humidity sub-grade areas.
NFT: What are the most common questions you get regarding bamboo floors?
GK: Probably the most common question is about the formaldehyde content of the floor. Since adhesive is a component in the assembly and production of the floor, the consumer wants to have a comfort level that the product is safe for their home and their family. All of our bamboo products meet the newest CARB 2012 requirements and are certified to the GREENGUARD Children & Schools standard.
MB: “How is bamboo similar to /different from hardwood?” “ Can bamboo floors be refinished?” “What’s the difference between strand and traditional bamboo?”
BF: “Does it install differently than hardwood?” The answer is, follow the instructions and install it just as you would any comparable hardwood product. “How do I maintain it?” You treat and protect it just as you would any comparable hardwood floor.
NFT: What’s the biggest myth or misconception people have about bamboo?
GK: I think there are some perceptions that bamboo is not a durable floor. As with any floor, there are certain natural attributes that can affect the performance of a product and bamboo is not exempt from this.
In speaking particularly about traditional bamboo, it is important that the bamboo has a minimum of 5 1/2 – 6 years of maturity at the time of harvest in order to develop the natural density that is required for performing in a flooring application. Immature bamboo that has less than 5 years of maturity can be prone to performing below expectations, and is usually cheaper than a quality bamboo floor made with mature bamboo.
BF: That it is 100% bulletproof and nothing can harm it. All floors need some TLC, protection from abusive damage and common sense! MB: Concerns about green-washing of the product’s sustainability attributes because of its transportation footprint. How can it be green when it is being transported halfway around the world?
We use the Moso Bamboo species, which largely grows in China, exclusively. Our analysis shows that no more than 25% of the carbon locked-up in our bamboo is released during product transportation to almost anywhere in the world. This means that if we’ve locked up 100 pounds of carbon, we’re releasing no more than 25 pounds of that carbon in emissions released by ship and other means of transportation.
NFT: Looking ahead, where do you see bamboo floors in 5 years? How about 10?
BF: In 5 years it will represent 5%-10 % of the total market, give or take. In 10 years it will occupy more than 10 % of the total market.
MB: Bamboo products will just keep getting more sustainable through the continued evolution of adhesive and coating technologies, including the use of components that are both made of bio-based ingredients. Domestic North American based production is also an idea whose time has come – we are anticipating that eventuality.
GK: As there is more pressure on supply of traditional hardwood species and exotics, in particular, the demand for bamboo will continue to grow. Species with short harvest cycles, like bamboo and cork, have a long-term advantage over species such as oak, hickory, and maple that have harvest cycles of 50-60 years.
For more information:
Strategis: email national sales manager Jeff Feller at firstname.lastname@example.org
US Floors: usfloorsllc.com