There are a lot of misconceptions about bamboo flooring and a plethora of choices on the market. There are different ages of bamboo maturity and subsequent different hardness ratings, different factory finishes and different manufacturing processes, making for a very confusing selection process. Many customers end up disappointed when they purchase a bamboo floor that is not high quality and scratches very easily—sometimes before installation is even complete.
So what qualities should you look for? Most bamboo flooring is made from bamboo pieces glued together in alternating layers and then milled into flooring pieces. Ideally, the bamboo should be at least four to five years of age in maturity so that it achieves a hardness rating of at least 1,400 psi on a Janka scale (harder than most oak flooring); some flooring is being made out of only 2- to 3-year-old bamboo that is not fully mature and much softer on a hardness scale. Some customers have even blogged that they can easily sink their fingernails into the flooring!
The moisture content (MC) should be 8 percent or less and consistent throughout the flooring boards. Consistency and even kiln drying is the key. There should be minimal color variation so that the installers don’t have to worry about drastic color patterning. The glues and finishes should be of high quality, contain at least one layer of a high-quality aluminum oxide for increased scratch resistance and durability, and have low to no VOCs or formaldehyde. Some flooring has only one or two layers of polyurethane, while others have five to six coats. Look for flooring that passes the strict CARB standards that California has set for indoor air quality.
Stranded bamboo is more of a newcomer to bamboo flooring choices but is substantially stronger than traditional bamboo flooring. Made by compressing and binding together strips and pieces of bamboo, stranded bamboo is about twice as strong as regular bamboo flooring, with hardness ratings in the 2,500 to 3,000 psi range. There are different manufacturing processes used to make this type of bamboo flooring, so, again, there are different qualities to look for when purchasing it. MC is very important for this material and should, again, be consistent throughout the batch and at 8 percent standard. Most moisture meters aren’t set for bamboo flooring, not to mention stranded bamboo, so you will need to get a meter that can be set for these types of material to get an accurate reading. The same qualities that you should look for in regular bamboo should also be reviewed for the stranded bamboo: Hardness, glues, finishes and MC are the big items to ask about.
As with any flooring, look for a good warranty in both the finish and structure of the flooring. Look for the documentation that shows FSC or another third-party certification to ensure Lacey Act compliance and look for CARB compliance.