October 9/16, 2017: Volume 32, Issue 9
By Reginald Tucker
When it comes to selling bamboo, a big draw is the category’s well-known environmental, aesthetic and performance attributes. But achieving consistent success in retailing the product also requires educating the consumer or end user about the product’s attributes, advantages and limitations.
FCNews recently rounded up several bamboo experts—including David Keegan, president and CEO, Bamboo Hardwoods; Philippe Erramuzpe, COO of USFloors; and Laura Nieto, communications and marketing specialist for Cali Bamboo—to get their advice on dispelling popular myths and misperceptions about the category.
1. All bamboo is the same.
Keegan: Not all bamboo is manufactured with the same high-quality standards that veteran companies like ours insist on. Secondly, bamboo is a natural material just like oak, hickory, etc. Not every board will be identical in tone. A consumer who desires homogenous, zero-tone-variation flooring should be steered toward carpet, tile, laminate or WPC. With any natural material like wood and bamboo part of the beauty is the natural tone variation and infinite uniqueness of every plank. Like any hardwood, a good installer will rack out the wood from several boxes at once to create the best aesthetic result. Enjoy the beauty of natural bamboo produced by reputable, quality companies.
Nieto: When you think of bamboo floors, chances are the image in your head is of light-colored planks with uniformly cut strips and visible nodes. But that’s the bamboo of yesteryear. With Cali Bamboo’s fossilized process, flooring is not only much stronger but it’s also able to take on a huge variety of styles. Planks come in every color from intensely dark ebony browns to rich coffees and even grays and whites. Planks can also be distressed using hand-scraping, antiquing and French bleeds to give them a more weathered, rustic look. With the variety of looks available in bamboo flooring today, it’s difficult to determine whether you’re looking at bamboo or traditional hardwood.
2. Bamboo is not stable.
Erramuzpe: While many manufacturers have been taking shortcuts in the manufacturing process—mainly by reducing the density and therefore the amount of bamboo used to produce a beam, or by using inferior adhesives or reducing the immersion time in the adhesive just to save money—the majority of these factories are out of business today. Bamboo flooring expands and contracts, but no more than any other wood floor when manufactured properly.
Nieto: This may have been a valid concern years ago—or even today if you go with the wrong manufacturer—but the production process has now been perfected to the point that, in the case of Cali Bamboo’s fossilized flooring, these are the world’s hardest floors. According to the Janka hardness test, Cali Bamboo scores upwards of 5000—well above Brazilian ipe and four times harder than oak.
The bamboo flooring of yesterday was made by slicing poles into uniform strips which were then boiled, dried, coated in adhesive and pressed together in horizontal or vertical rows. The resulting planks bore a distinct bamboo look but were not much harder than oak. Today, strand bamboo flooring presents a much harder product by shredding the bamboo into fibers which are then pressed into planks. The Cali Bamboo fossilized process takes this one step further by shredding the raw material even finer and compressing 30% more into blocks using increased pressure. The result is a much harder floor that is better protected against dents and damage.
3. Bamboo scratches too easily.
Erramupze: Some bamboo flooring scratches easily, but that’s due to manufacturers using inferior finishes to sell at a low price. There’s another misperception that a scratch on a bamboo floor leaves a white mark, when in fact there might be a flaw in the coating system.
Nieto: A bamboo floor’s ability to resist scratches depends on the quality of the manufacturer’s finish. Not all bamboo flooring is created equal, and many producers cut costs by opting for a thinner or weaker top wear layer. This makes the flooring susceptible to scratching from high heels, furniture and pet claws. Cali Bamboo avoids this by using a 10-coat aluminum oxide sealing system on all solid bamboo flooring, and 13 coats on the Engineered bamboo flooring line.
If two floors appear similar, but one is significantly cheaper, there may have been corners cut that you can’t see—often affecting the finish and the adhesives used to bind the bamboo fibers. The flooring may look fine now, but after years of use you can bet it will show its age and require far more upkeep. A good way to ensure a floor will hold up under everyday wear and tear is to use a key or other hard tool to scratch test a variety of samples from several different companies.
4. Bamboo can’t be installed in extreme climates.
Nieto: Homeowners who experience harsh seasons, very dry climates or high humidity are often hesitant to install bamboo, thinking it will warp or buckle. However, thousands of Cali Bamboo floors have been installed successfully everywhere from Florida and Hawaii to Arizona and Minnesota.
With bamboo—like all hardwood flooring products—it’s all about controlling a space’s temperature and relative humidity. This is especially important during acclimation, when the environment should be set to typical ambient living conditions. Flooring should acclimate until its moisture content reaches an equilibrium with the home’s environment and no longer increases or decreases. In most cases, if a space can maintain 40%-60% humidity indoors, then bamboo flooring will work.
5. There are high claims rates with bamboo.
Keegan: Less than half of 1% of our sales have claims, and most of those turn out to be installation or maintenance errors. When manufactured properly and installed following manufacturing or NWFA guidelines, bamboo performs extremely well both in terms of dimensional stability, finish and durability.
When bamboo was first becoming popular, everybody opened a factory in China as the Chinese government was giving out capital loans like candy on Halloween. The result was that for a period of time, the industry was flooded with poor-quality materials made by factories that didn’t have a clue. We have always vetted our sources extremely carefully. Nowadays most of those fly-by-night factories have gone out of business leaving a core of quality producers. There are some long-standing reputable manufacturers like ourselves that have always been producing fantastic high-quality bamboo flooring. Bamboo is an amazing quality resource.
6. Bamboo harvesting depletes the primary food source forpandas.
Keegan: The bamboo we harvest comes from the temperate zones of China, not Sichuan and Shaanxi where the pandas are. Furthermore, the bamboo flooring industry preserves bamboo forests, not eliminates them. A sea of mountains covered by indigenous bamboo groves survive and thrive all across Zhejiang and other regions of China most popular for bamboo production. If there was no industry revolving around this resource they would likely be removed.
But in bamboo regions, skies are blue and air is clean. Bamboo is never clear-cut. Every year new shoots reach their full height in one growth season of several months. When the culm is 5 years old, they are harvested. This means that the harvesting practice pulls out one of every five poles leaving the natural groves flush with leafy bamboo culms and an incredible rhizome system interconnected underground. It is truly a [prolific] plant in that it turns sunlight into biomass more efficiently than any other plant, it requires no pesticides to maintain. Plus, it is never clear-cut, it is evergreen and therefore constantly producing oxygen while sequestering carbon. It is a sustainable material that produces some of the most durable and beautiful hardwood floors available today.