When you’re considering potential building materials for home construction as a society we tend to focus on two or three commonly utilized and widely accepted building materials: wood, stone or concrete. What you may not realize is that bamboo solutions can be used for much more than just food, musical instruments, medicine, paper and textiles. Uses for bamboo can also include building construction, both in exterior and interior design elements.
Widely used in Asian, Pacific Islander and Central and Southern American cultures, bamboo is a sustainable and sturdy building material. Unlike wood, bamboo (a member of the grass family) regenerates very quickly. It is, in-fact, one of the fastest growing plants in the world, with the fastest growth rate reaching 100cm in a 24-hr period1.
In contrast to tree harvesting, there is simply no comparison to the replenishment rate of growing bamboo. Bamboo can be harvested every three to six years for construction purposes (depending on the species); whereas trees range from 25 years (for softwoods) to 50 years (for hardwoods). It is important to harvest the bamboo at the right time to maximize strength and minimize damage brought on by pests.
Making more use of bamboo for common building practices would allow forests to regenerate and help to prevent future deforestation efforts.
There are also a number of other benefits to choosing bamboo solutions over wood including:
- Strength and Durability: Bamboo is heartier than oak and stronger than steel. It is flexible and lightweight, and is water-resistant, minimizing the risk for warping2 and
- Affordability: It is easily grown and harvested, making it one of the most cost effective construction materials available2.
A minor setback to implementing the use of bamboo in construction projects arises due to the locations where bamboo flourishes the heartiest. Bamboo thrives in the tropical regions of the world, which can raise prices due to importing costs. Although farmers are capable of growing bamboo in nearly every climate, creating and maintaining a viable bamboo source requires copying an environment that will allow this sustainable building source to grow and thrive year-round. That being said, a movement has arisen to bring a practicable, sustainable and profitable bamboo growing business to the United States. As Popular Mechanics writer, Harry Sawyers explains:
“Bamboo has come into vogue as a green, sustainable resource that’s used for everything from cutting boards to clothing to wood floors. But until now, almost all of the bamboo in products sold here has come from overseas. That could change soon, as new planting techniques may lead to millions of new acres of bamboo shoots in the American South.” Some wonder if a plant like bamboo can revitalize farmland on the Mississippi Delta.”3
Establishing bamboo plantations in the US has a wide array of advantages, including:
- Reducing cost per uses of bamboo
- Increasing jobs
- 35% higher oxygen emission into the atmosphere than trees
- 40% more CO2 absorption than trees
- No fertilizer or pesticides required for growth
- Establishing an extensive root system into soils, which in turn draws in and stores double the amount of water into watersheds, thus preventing soil erosion.2
Internally and externally, uses for bamboo offer a wide array of sustainable building solutions.
Internal Uses for Bamboo:
- Support columns
- Electrical wire coverings
- Interior walls
- Eco-friendly products for kitchen and bath
External Uses of Bamboo:
- Structural frames
- Corner posts
- Tie beams
- King posts
- Exterior walls
Because of the nature of the plant, it is susceptible to deterioration agents such as insects, rot, fungi, and fire. It is important to treat the structure, inside and out. Untreated, sections of the bamboo would need to be replaced every 2 to 3 years. Some of the best preventative measures include:
“Bamboo poles should be stored horizontally, laid above ground and supported to prevent sagging or bending. Bamboos should be stored in a dry, shaded and well cooled area, laid in shelving type system with the first layer not less than 50 centimeters above ground level for good air circulation. Smoking fires or heating bamboo in kilns can protect the canes from insect attack. Applying chemical coating such as are kerosene, diesel oil containing DDT and varnish can protect the canes from termites, beetles, wet rot and fungus attack.”4
Bamboo solutions are a highly sustainable, cost-effective and beautiful construction material for homes. It can be used throughout the entire structure (inside and out) and if preventative measures are utilized, can last for many years. It is no wonder that Asian and Central and South American cultures have grown to rely upon this hearty grass for so many facets of their lives. One can only wonder what other uses we will find for bamboo as North America adopts an increasing focus on sustainable building.
Sustainable Bamboo Resources
- Farrelly, David (1984). The Book of Bamboo. Sierra Club Books.
- Benefits of Using Bamboo Versus Other Wood Materials
- Bamboo in America; Glenn Meyers
- The Bamboo House: Use of Bamboo as a Building Materials, Susan Rebano-Edwards
Have you incorporated bamboo into a building or remodeling project? Tell us how you used this sustainable material, or how you think you might use it in the future.