03 May Bamboo 2011-Style
Demand for traditional bamboo fizzles while strand draws attention
It’s official: traditional, vertical- and horizontal-grain bamboo flooring is dated. Despite its popularity five years ago, it appears this fad was destined to fade. Strand bamboo, on the other hand, is here for the long-haul, flooring experts say.
“There is almost no interest in traditional bamboo in our store,” says John Hill, ecological coordinator at Interstate Flooring in Portland, OR. “It seems to be, been there, done that. When people are looking at bamboo, they want a more evolved look. Strand, stained and hand-scraped bamboo give them that.”
This sentiment is not limited to the west coast, which is always on the cutting edge of green-product style.
“Traditional bamboo has become a tired look,” says Joe Byrnes of the Allied Flooring Group in Cincinnati, OH. “Consumers are disenchanted with it. It was oversold, treated sort of like it was the second coming of Christ.”
But the sales presentation being used to push strand is much the same as the one used years ago to position a few companies as leaders in traditional bamboo flooring. It centers on quality and proper manufacturing techniques. It also is a bit more complicated, because there now are many more reliable bamboo manufacturers. And the important terms to understand — hot press, cold press, dimensional stability, proper conditioning and relative humidity – can get a little blurred.
Some like it hot
“From high-quality manufacturers, the differences between hot- and cold-press techniques may not be that substantial,” says Mark Buckwold, commercial sales manager for Wanke Cascade, a Portland-based distributor that carries Bamboo Fusion. “However, the cold press allows fewer variables that can adversely affect the quality of the finished product.”
The product Wanke Cascade distributes, made by Style Limited Products of Australia (pictured left), is strand bamboo manufactured with a cold press process. Bamboo Fusion currently lists a Janka ball hardness measurement as high as 3562 – harder than Brazilian Cherry – for some of its products. Style’s product was first introduced by Teragren bamboo about six years ago. In 2009, Teragren switched to a hot-press product.
A hot-press process can use more adhesive, up to 27 percent of the product’s content, to bond the bamboo strips together while the adhesive content in a cold-press product is about 6 percent. Proponents of the hot press say it can create products that are superior in strength, in addition to dimensional stability, because the extra adhesive fills all voids in the strand blocks, leaving it virtually resistant to moisture.
But problems can result when a hot-press manufacturer’s presses do not operate at optimum pressure levels.
“When combined with higher adhesive content, lower pressure levels during manufacturing can result in flooring material that will be more susceptible to expansion, contraction and overall structural stability of strand woven flooring,” Buckwold says.
Once the strand material is pressed into blocks or sheets, the material also has to be conditioned properly to bring it to the correct moisture level before it is cut into flooring.
“It sits for 30 days,” says Byrnes, a sales representative for Green Choice Flooring, which sells a hot-press strand product with a Janka hardness measurement of 2900 (pictured left). “It is very, dimensionally stable. The polymers are injected into even microscopic capillaries. There’s no place for moisture to go.”
Consider your climate
Relative humidity is another important consideration with strand bamboo in addition to hardwood, and regions with cold winters and dry summers deserve extra caution. The humidity within a home or building needs to be maintained at 35 to 55 percent, and before installation, the flooring should be acclimated on site for at least 72 hours and the temperature should be between 65 and 75 degrees, Buckwold says.
“We believe that a successfully managed job site is the key, and some job sites are tougher than others,” he says.
Don’t forget about indoor-air quality
In Seattle, “most consumers are looking for low-VOC or formaldehye bamboo-made materials,” says Mark Thompson, sales manager for Major Brands Floor Supply/Abbey Carpet & Floor. “Strand bamboo is a breath of fresh air for me. The customer can get a durable and good-looking product.”
Teragren and Bamboo Fusion top the list of what Thompson recommends.
In Portland, USFloors and Teragren still stand out as the bamboo leaders, but Bamboo Fusion and Higuera are supplying quality products that appeal to customers, Hill says.
Many customers remain focused on price, in addition to wanting the evolved look of strand.
— Nancy Kibbee is editor at naturalinteriors.com