A lot has been made of bamboo flooring as an eco-friendly and cost-effective choice for home remodels, and lots of people wonder if it’s the right choice for their home. I’ve heard lots of horror stories about installing bamboo in the Arizona desert, and so I’ve avoided it. While you may like the modern look of bamboo, Arizona homeowners should steer clear of this product.
Simply put, bamboo is not made for life in the desert. Here’s why:
Bamboo Is a Grass, Not a Tree
To understand the drawbacks of bamboo, it’s helpful to know a bit more about this material. From a botanical standpoint, bamboo is a grass. This means that its cellular makeup is flexible and fast growing, just like the grass in your backyard — though it can grow much bigger. Wood from trees, on the other hand, is made from cellulose that holds its shape naturally and resists compression.
In order to turn grass into flooring, manufacturers slice or shred the flexible stalks and then press the fibers back together with resin-based glues. While the types of bamboo used for timber and flooring can be just as strong as wood, bamboo’s tensile strength depends greatly on how it is manufactured. Wood, on the other hand, just needs to be cut to shape.
Bamboo Acts Like a Sponge
Because bamboo is a flexible grass rather than a cellulose-heavy tree, its fibers are more susceptible to the humidity in the air. This means that bamboo flooring will expand in humid areas — but it also means that it will contract in dry areas.
Contraction of floorboards is a big problem in arid areas like Arizona. Because it’s so dry here, bamboo floors are likely to shrink. This means they could separate from each other and leave gaps between the boards. Manufactured bamboo boards with a composite base and a bamboo veneer are also in danger of having the top bamboo layer separate as it shrinks. And then there is the Monsoon… The best way to avoid problems for any natural wood or in this case grass flooring product is to be sure that it has reached equilibrium moisture content, or EMC, with the space in which it will be installed.
This is especially critical with bamboo. Unlike other wood flooring options, it can expand along its length, as well as its width, and strand-woven bamboo can take dramatically longer than another flooring to acclimate. The room must be at service conditions, and sufficient time must be allowed to let the floorboards reach EMC before installation begins. This could be a few weeks.
Do complete checks with an accurate wood moisture meter, and don’t begin installation until the product has reached a stable MC level. Talk with a professional about this as we have super dry months and then super humid periods of the year.
If you’ve been having trouble finding bamboo flooring in Phoenix or Tucson, this is why. Lots of flooring retailers and installers won’t touch it, because it just doesn’t hold up well in the ultra-dry conditions of the desert Southwest and the liability involved with the proper care and maintenance after the installation is too great.
Some Bamboo Is Susceptible to Scratches
Stay away from low-cost bamboo flooring with a poor finish. If you are dead set on having a Bamboo floor, make sure it is with several layers of an aluminum oxide finish, as that makes it extremely scratch-resistant. Otherwise, this makes it less than optimal in high-traffic areas or in workhorse rooms like the kitchen, where pet claws, moving chairs and even high heels can cause gouges and dings.
One of the joys of living in Arizona is being able to take advantage of indoor-outdoor living year round. That means that you and your guests will be frequently tracking in sand and grit from the outside as you walk across those bamboo floors. This will cause micro-abrasions that will alter the look of the flooring over time. Bamboo can be refinished, but it’s better to choose a floor that can handle your lifestyle in the first place.
Also, those who are committed to having bamboo get a humidifier, and then your pretty much married to it. There are two kinds of humidifiers in the market; stand alone and attached to your HVAC unit. Going on a vacation? You will need to keep the humidifier and HVAC running to maintain a constant temperature range so your gorgeous bamboo flooring doesn’t expand or contract too much.
Alternatives to Bamboo Flooring for Arizona Homes
Most people who are interested in bamboo flooring like its wood-like look. Fortunately, there are several ways to emulate the look of hardwood while choosing a material that is well suited to the intensely dry air in Arizona. Consider these options:
Wood Tiles: Woodgrain tiles are a popular trend in flooring right now, and they’re ideally suited for bringing a wood look to your home. These ceramic or porcelain tiles are made to look like wood, but they don’t expand or contract with changes in humidity.
Laminate Flooring: Because laminate floors are an engineered product, they are less susceptible to the shrinkage that occurs with bamboo in dry climates. Laminate has come a long way, and there are plenty of high-quality options that look just like wood — or even bamboo! — at a fraction of the price.
Vinyl Planks: Vinyl floors are a completely synthetic flooring option. Unlike laminate boards that have a wood-product core, vinyl planks are plastic all the way through, so they’re very stable. Today’s wood-like designs are very convincing, and they’re a great choice for bathrooms and kitchens, where they can get wet without consequence.
Of course, you can also consider bamboo alternatives that aren’t trying to look like wood at all. If you’re interested in adding completely different colors or patterns, don’t forget about these desert-worthy flooring choices:
Ceramic or Porcelain Tile: A staple in kitchens and baths, tile floors stand up to stains and aren’t easily marred by foot traffic. They’re perfectly stable in wet or dry areas and can be combined to form intricate patterns for a modern look in any room of the house.
Natural Stone: Stone tiles are a great way to add texture to your home and increase its value. This natural material is available in a range of colors and adds a high-end look throughout the home.
Carpet: Nothing beats plush carpets in bedrooms to provide plenty of comfort. You’ll find any color you can imagine, plus loads of different textures from Berber to shag to get just the right look.
Shop for Flooring at Home
When you’re shopping for flooring for your Arizona home, it’s always best to view your options in the room where it will be installed instead of in the showroom. This allows you to see the colors and feel the textures in the right lighting and to experience how each material interacts with your existing decor.
Fortunately, bringing your flooring options home is easy when you choose Express Flooring — we bring the showroom to you! To get an up-close look at all your flooring options, schedule an in-home appointment with Express Flooring today. You may even qualify for a Vacation Voucher!