What You Should Know About Bamboo Flooring
When I was a student majoring in Environmental Sciences (well before we got married and bought our townhouse), our university professor took us on the Passive House tour. Besides many other “passive house” features, it had beautiful bamboo floors - they looked very stylish, contemporary and unique. I had never imagined that floors could be made out of bamboo, but immediately fell in love with them. When I came home that evening and told Dmitri what I saw, we lit up with an idea that one day we would install those floors in OUR house. Though bamboo is the oldest building material in the world, it has been on the US construction market for only a couple of decades!
Anyways, back to the floor. The day finally came and we installed our bamboo flooring. We love it!
However, during the installation and after, we discovered some things that next time we would do slightly differently. As you know, the devil is in the details. And while some minor mistakes are inevitable, we just want to share with you everything we learned from our experience.
Types of bamboo flooring
Before we continue, here is a quick educational moment. There are three types of bamboo flooring:
1. Solid. Slices of bamboo are bonded together using special adhesive, heat and pressure. Can be horizontal (or flat) and vertical.
2. Engineered. It only looks like solid bamboo floor. In reality there is a thin bamboo veneer atop a backing material – usually plywood.
3. Strand-woven (the hardest one). It is made from the fibers of the bamboo. This is the type of flooring we have.
Bamboo flooring mainly comes in two modifications:
1. T&G (tongue & groove) this option is preferred for contractors who have a whole arsenal of tools to complete installation. This is very typical for solid bamboo flooring.
2. Click Lock. Better for DIYers. This type is more typical for engineered and strand bamboo flooring.
While T&G can be glued down, nailed down, or allows floating installation, Click Lock allows only floating or glued down installation.
As DIYers, we chose the Click Lock floating option, which means the floor is not attached to the subfloor and is “floating” on top of foam-rubber underlay.
Advantages of Bamboo Floors
Natural. Of course! Because it is a plant. But it is a different type of bamboo than the one that grows in your garden. It is called Moso and grows mainly in China.
Sustainable. Bamboo is a fast-growing plant that matures in 5-6 years versus about 30-70 years for a tree.
Relatively inexpensive. Pricing starts at around $1.79 per sq.ft. We got ours for $2.69 sq.ft. In general, the price will depend on methods used for curing, processing, and staining the bamboo.
Super durable. Depending on the way it was manufactured, bamboo flooring can be as strong as red oak or even stronger.
Variety of finishes. It comes in many finishing styles, from contemporary to traditional. Bamboo can even be stained to mimic exotic types of wood - like tigerwood, for example. The price for those styles is on higher end though.
Bamboo can be re-finished if desired. In case of damage or if you’d like to change the color, for example. This, however, requires some serious equipment and not an easy DIY job.
Stain- and water-resistant.
Disadvantages of Bamboo Flooring
Sensitive to humidity. Like any hardwood floor, bamboo can be sensitive to humidity. But this problem can be partially or completely (depending on the climate you live in) solved if you let the floor acclimate in the house before installing. Bring the floor inside the house and leave for several days (some types of bamboo floors like strand-woven require up to 30 days). As content moisture stabilizes, the floor will be less prone to shifting.
Can be prone to scratches. Again, like any hardwood floor. The glossier the finish and darker the color, the more visible scratches are. We have a dark matte finish and scratches are barely visible, though. To avoid them as much as possible, we recommend using self-adhesive felt pads on furniture and avoid pointy heels on a regular basis. Also, our bamboo floor is slightly distressed, which makes those tiny scratches even less noticeable.
Choosing the bamboo floor
We found our floor in Lumber Liquidators store - they have a great variety of floors of many types - traditional hardwood, cork, bamboo, laminate, and more. In case you are wondering what color we chose - Peking Antique Click Strand Bamboo. It is strand-woven bamboo. Meaning bamboo fibers are put together under high heat and pressure with some adhesives. It is the strongest of bamboo flooring.
When you choose a type and color you like, take a sample. The samples should be conveniently located near the display. If not - ask a store associate for one.
Take it home and test it - do the following:
- spill coffee, tea, red wine, or other staining liquids that you regularly use in in your house.
- drop items over it - keys, forks, spoons, etc.
- spill some hot water on it.
- step on it with the heels.
- put it underneath the furniture and try to move it over the sample
- think of any other activities that might potentially damage the floor and try to replicate them over your sample.
If you are satisfied with how the sample responds to everything you tried, you are good to go with your choice.
Installing bamboo click lock floating floors
Installation is pretty easy and straightforward. Just make sure to carefully read the manufacturer’s instructions and specifications.
There are a couple things to remember.
Since we are talking about floating floor and, as we mentioned above, bamboo (as any hardwood) is sensitive to humidity, it will expand and shrink depending on the humidity level, thus there are three things we would do differently next time:
1. Avoid installing it under heavy equipment – the fridge, in our case. We installed the floor at the beginning of summer when humidity was normal. When the heavy heating season hit in winter, we noticed a crack in between the planks right in front of the fridge (marked with an arrow where it used to be).
Dmitri pulled out the fridge and moved the planks to close the gap, but as winter progressed, the crack appeared again. So we had two options:
a. Remove the floor underneath the fridge and replace it with tile (not really an option for us at the time. Life is too busy!)
b. Maintain normal humidity (near 50%). Have we talked enough about HUMIDITY? :) This option is good not only for our floor, but also for our health. To maintain normal humidity during the heating season, we use a humidifier. It works great, and the area in front of the fridge is like an indicator of humidity for us. No crack - the air is humid!
Speaking of humidifiers. We used this particular one for over 7 years and it still works great, so we just bought two more. One for our master bedroom and one for the guest room.
2. Install quarter-rounds. Before installing the bamboo floor we removed all baseboard, because they were in a bad condition and we had to replace them anyway. Then, after the floor was installed, we put down new baseboards and they covered the gaps between the floor edges and walls. Little did we know that over the time the floor would slightly shrink, and the thin baseboard would not cover that gap. You need to use quarter-rounds if you are planning for any floating floors - hardwood or bamboo. So, if your baseboards are in good shape and you are not planning to replace them, don’t bother to remove them! Use quarter-rounds to conceal the gaps. We installed the quarter-rounds eventually, but we could have saved so much time on moving furniture away from the walls to accomplish that mission.
3. Safety first! Always wear protective gloves during installation. Dmitri got a couple of splinters while installing the floor. The bottom layer may not be perfectly polished, even though it looks pretty smooth. And safety eye-glasses of course, especially when cutting the planks.
Bamboo Floor Maintenance
We love our dark bamboo floors. However, a dark color will show more dirt. If you like to walk bare-foot or wearing just socks, the floor will be scattered with foot prints. So be prepared to clean a dark floor frequently. The solution to cleaner dark floors is to keep your shoes at the door and wear slippers in the house.
Maintenance is super easy. We just use Bona Hardwood Floor Spray Mop. It has a refillable cartridge and reusable (machine washable) microfiber cleaning pads. Bona also sells a refill size of the cleaner.
However, if you want super healthy cleaner for your beautiful hardwood floors, try this home prepared recipe:
- 1 gal of water
- ¼-½ cup of plain white vinegar
- 1 tablespoon of Castile soap
- 8-10 drops of your favorite essential oil
Mix everything together, refill the cartridge and here you go – a super eco-friendly hardwood floor cleaning system for a super eco-friendly floor!