Bamboo Building Materials: Benefits And Issues

Posted on: 8 August 2016

Bamboo is popular for many types of residential and commercial building materials: flooring, walls and trusses can all be constructed from this strong and lightweight material. But how do you know if bamboo is the right building material for your project?

Benefits of Bamboo

Bamboo has been used in building materials in the U.S. for more than a decade. It's mostly popular for flooring, although there are many potential uses for bamboo instead of hardwoods, including support columns and interior walls.

  • Environmental impact. Bamboo regrows quickly. In fact, bamboo can be harvested without killing the plant; most wood products are derived from trees that are completely felled. Newly planted replacement trees can take anywhere from 20 to 50 years to grow enough for harvest, while bamboo plants can be harvested every 4 to 6 years.
  • Strength. Bamboo has a tensile strength, or ability to withstand being pulled apart, that is higher than steel. It also compresses less than concrete.
  • Attractive look. Bamboo has a more uniform appearance than hardwoods because it doesn't have knots and irregularities. It can be used with a natural look or stained as desired.

Issues with Using Bamboo

There are some downsides to using bamboo as well. 

Environmental issues

While there are many environmental positives to using bamboo for building, there are some negatives, too. Bamboo plantations tend to be located in China and other Asian countries, where production is more important than the environment. As a result, more bamboo is being planted, leading to a lack of biodiversity, and bamboo is being overharvested. 

Vulnerability

One problem that bamboo has is that, while it may be strong, it is susceptible to damage from insects, fungi and rot if it is not treated with protective sealants. Bamboo typically does not last more than 5 years when exposed to the elements without chemical treatment. There are natural ways to treat bamboo against rot and insects, but these techniques typically are not used when mass producing bamboo products for the US market.

Import costs

Bamboo can technically be grown in most climates, but it thrives in tropical climates. This means that it must be imported to the U.S., with the additional cost and use of fossil fuels for transportation that this entails. However, most building materials are going to have some costs associated with transportation.

Many builders feel that the positives of bamboo outweigh the negatives. If you have specific concerns about the way bamboo is harvested or treated, talk to a company like Hanover Concrete Company to locate bamboo building materials that meet your needs.

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