Get the Hard Facts About Laminate and Bamboo Flooring
Affordable options add style and function to any space
By Angela Crissman
This month, Lifestyles & Homes will take a look at two flooring possibilities that are gaining popularity among consumers as exceptional alternatives to traditional hardwoods. In addition to being durable and easy to maintain, laminate and bamboo flooring options are also affordable and stylish. Available in a variety of designs and colors, these surfaces are the perfect solution for busy families who not only want a sophisticated look in their home but also need a floor covering that is practical and resilient.
Laminate flooring has changed significantly in the last few years. By utilizing innovative manufacturing processes, today’s products accurately replicate the subtle color variations, distinctive grains, and authentic textures of not only the finest natural hardwoods, but also mimic the high-end look of ceramic, slate and stone. Other advantages include ease of installation, scratch and dent resistance, as well as high UV resistance, which protects the design from fading.
Using a direct-pressure manufacturing process that fuses four layers into one extremely hard surface, this composite flooring is designed to endure more than average wear and tear. Considered to be 15 times stronger than hardwood, laminate comes with a 10-, 15-, or even 20-year warranty.
There are four layers in laminate products: a wear layer, design layer, inner core layer, and backing layer. The wear layer protects the floor from stains and fading. The design layer is a photographic image of wood, stone or other natural visual. The inner core layer provides structural strength and keeps the laminate stable and flat. Creating a moisture barrier that protects the floor from warping is the backing layer.
The majority of “wood look” planks are 4 inches or wider, while ceramic tile looks range from 12 to 15 inches. Keep in mind the scale and size of a room when using wide width planks because they can sometimes overwhelm a small space. Many laminate styles are also available with different gloss levels. Low-gloss floors tend to hide minor surface scratches slightly better than high gloss floors.
While there are glue-down products available, laminate floors are also sold in a glueless option. Each board is connected by an interlocking design that makes it easier and quicker for the DIY homeowner to install. The tongue and groove planks “click” together to form a firmly fastened surface. Underlayment is placed on top of the sub-floor to provide a moisture barrier and supply sound reduction properties.
Resilient and durable, bamboo flooring is a sensible solution for homeowners who want a beautiful floor that doesn’t compromise the environment. A fast-growing grass, bamboo is a more economical and environmentally sound solution than traditional hardwood flooring. Moso natural bamboo, which is mature and full grown after six years, is the species of choice for flooring fabrication. Tall and straight, these stalks are superior in strength and hardness. Bamboo that is harvested prior to maturity is softer and not as structurally sound.
Composed of complex fibers that do not absorb moisture as easily as wood, bamboo flooring is ideal for humid climates like Houston. And because it is a laminated product, it is less likely to warp, cup or gap.
While there is no universally recognized grading system for bamboo, it can be categorized as either “A” grade or “B” grade by retailers. The difference in quality also makes a difference in price and durability. Grade A bamboo is fully mature at harvest, is consistent in color, and has no mold or fungus. Grade B is harvested before the bamboo is mature, making it inconsistent in color and possibly weaker.
While it may seem that all bamboo flooring is created equal because it is made of the same material, the hardness of the floor actually depends on several factors including the stalks, construction, finish and bamboo quality. Therefore, the grain type — horizontal, vertical or strand-woven — not only determines the pattern of the flooring, but is also a factor in the overall construction of the planks. Horizontal bamboo refers to planks that are placed next to each other in a horizontal direction. They are attached before being pressurized and finished, and randomly display the knuckles, or growth rings, of the stalk. In vertical bamboo, planks are placed in a vertical direction, pressurized and finished to create a smooth and uniform look. Strand-woven bamboo, however, is manufactured differently than traditional bamboo flooring. In this process, strips of bamboo are coated with resins and compressed with heat to form timbers. The timbers are milled into flooring that is twice as hard as traditional bamboo flooring.
Bamboo flooring is available in just as many colors and styles as traditional hardwood flooring. There are three main options: natural bamboo, a light blonde color; carbonized bamboo, which is darker in color because the sugars in the plant caramelize due to longer boiling times; and stained bamboo, colored with a variety of stains in various shades. It is important to note that the process for carbonized bamboo also softens the material. Another option is direct print bamboo, which offers the appearance of woods like oak, cherry, maple or exotics with the benefits of bamboo. Shades, grain patterns, and colors are imprinted on the planks before they are pressurized and sealed. Bamboo flooring is available in glossy and matte finishes as well as hand-scraped or distressed surfaces to create a more rustic look.
To further evaluate which type of bamboo is right for your space, it is important to take a look at the Janka Hardness Scale, which is used to determine the hardness and strength of a particular species of wood. Using this scale, natural bamboo typically ranks higher and thus harder than carbonized bamboo. In addition, natural bamboo is classified as harder than red oak, and carbonized bamboo is closer to the rating of black walnut, which is a soft hardwood. Strand-woven bamboo is the hardest type of bamboo, with a hardness similar to Brazilian cherry.
Bamboo is a great option for high traffic areas including the kitchen, hallways and family room, but it is not suitable for areas prone to excessive wetness such as bathrooms. While this material is dent, scratch and stain resistant, it is not immune to damage. Furthermore, the darker coloration of carbonized bamboo is more likely to show scratches and dents.
So how expensive is bamboo flooring? In most cases it is comparable to many hardwoods and can be glued, stapled, nailed or installed using a glueless locking system. Maintenance is similar to most pre-finished flooring, and can be cleaned with a damp mop and vacuumed or swept as needed.
Before selecting an underfoot surface, it is important to not only consider how the room will be used but also take into account that your flooring choice is the foundation for the room — influencing the style of the space as well as accentuating other design elements. While both of these floor coverings are tough enough to stand up to the high traffic and high-impact demands of an active household, your family’s lifestyle should ultimately play a key role in the decision process.