Timber & bamboo flooring: Beauty personified

by Tania Wannenburg
Timber feature Jnl 4 16

Benefits of bamboo & timber flooring explored.

Timber or solid wood flooring has, throughout the decades, continued to flourish as a popular installation choice for its numerous properties, most aptly for its ability to transform any space into a warm, cosy environment, not to mention its numerous performance characteristics. In turn, the demand for bamboo flooring continues to increase at a rapid rate, as they result in beautifully strong floors that maintain their looks and performance qualities for as long as is desired or needed.

Characterising these floor types

Bamboo is a natural surface covering material that has many of the properties of hardwood flooring, even though bamboo is actually a type of giant grass. As such it also shares several of the benefits of hardwood flooring. An immediate and broad distinction that can be made between types of trees and wood is the label of hardwood and softwood. Hardwoods (angiosperms) have broad-leaved foliage and tend to be deciduous, which means they lose their leaves in autumn.

However, many tropical hardwood species exist which are evergreen, and as such maintain their leaves year-round. Additionally, hardwood trees tend to have a branched or divided trunk, referred to as dendritic form. Softwoods (conifers) tend to have needle or scale-like foliage, though in some uncommon instances, they can have broad, flat leaves. They also tend to have a single, dominant, straight trunk with smaller side branches, referred to as an excurrent form.

The confusion in labels arises from the fact that the wood of angiosperms is not always hard, while the wood of conifers is not necessarily soft. However, as a rule of thumb, hardwoods are generally harder than softwoods, which is useful to distinguish between two broad groups of trees and certain characteristics of their wood. Unlike a mostly homogenous piece of foamboard, or other man-made material, wood is an organic material and has many distinct characteristics.

Hardwoods are classified as dicotyledons, or “dicots” for short, as they have two embryonic leaves. However, with the division of angiosperms there are also plants that only have an embryonic leaf, called monocotyledons, or “monocots” for short. This important group contains all true grasses, to name a few. In the woodworking world, the most notable monocots are bamboo and palm and anatomically, the “wood” of monocots is diverse from both hardwoods and softwoods.

Unlike trees, bamboo grows initially at full width, with no tapering or horizontal growth. After just one year, bamboo reaches its full height, and in subsequent years, the stem (called the culm) continues to harden. The strength of the bamboo continues to increase for the next two to four years, with most species considered mature in just two to three years.

Although many prefer the aesthetics of bamboo for its unique appearance, the real unique attributes of bamboo lie in its mechanical properties. Bamboo possesses some of the best stiffness/strength characteristics as well as strength to weight ratios of any wood material in the world.

6 Benefits of Bamboo Flooring
1.    There are certain types of bamboo that can be extremely strong, hard and durable. Natural, uncarbonised bamboo that was properly harvested and manufactured can be as durable as red oak. Strand woven or density bamboo can be manufactured to be even harder.
2.    Bamboo is made from natural vegetation and is a highly renewable source that is able to grow to maturity in as little as three to five years. This is much faster than hardwood trees, which can take over 50 years to reach maturity.
3.    Bamboo flooring just requires regular sweeping or vacuuming to remove small particle debris. You can use an occasional damp mop or clean it with a non-wax, non-alkaline, hardwood or bamboo floor cleanser.
4.    The usage of natural material will always be in trend, which makes bamboo and hardwood flooring timeless. As people are becoming more ecologically conscious, they are demanding products that reflect these values. They are also seeking materials and designs that focus on individual personality and natural evolution.
5.    Bamboo is priced at about the same level as hardwood floors. Be aware of cheaper options as they are often of a lower quality.
6.    Bamboo is a trendy flooring material that can elevate the elegance of a space almost instantly. It has an appearance and a feel that is similar to hardwood, yet is still distinct and different.

7 Benefits of timber and bamboo flooring
1.    Besides longevity, wood floors are durable and resistant to wear and tear.
2.    Unlike man-made flooring, they retain heat and will be warm underfoot.
3.    Hardwood floors are also excellent for people with allergies as they are not a breeding ground for mold, mildew, dust or mites.
4.    They are easy to maintain, requiring vacuuming or damp mopping. Hardwood flooring should however, never be exposed to excessive moisture.
5.    Pre-finished hardwood flooring requires no sanding, and since the wood is already finished, there is no drying time, saving a significant amount of time.
6.    Using unfinished hardwood makes it easier to ensure that all gaps and joints are completely sealed before the finish is applied to the surface. This uniform seal guards against moisture which can lead to damage.
7.    There are several surfaces and stains for finishing the floor available, which can transform the look of any hardwood surface to match the design needs of any given space. Hand-scraped hardwood is becoming popular among installers, as it is made using planks that have been scraped by hand rather than machine, giving the wood a more lived-in, rustic finish.

Both timber and bamboo flooring have the ability to fulfil the needs of any specification, not only to achieve the sought after physical properties desired by the client, but to also fulfil an array of performance requirements, which both flooring options achieve beyond expectation. No matter which man-made flooring development abound, it’s comforting to note that these natural flooring options have lasted the test of time for a reason.  We look forward to see how their many benefits will evolve over the years to come.

Acknowledgement and thanks go to the following for the information contained in this article: FloorworX; MOSO Africa; www.wood-database.com; www.professorhouse.com; http://flooring.about.com; and www.flooring-professionals.com.

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