There is a new material touting itself as a structural element in the construction industry: bamboo. It has been used for years in Asian countries, and is now making its way to the western world. In fact, it has been certified by the ICC Evaluation Service to be a legitimate structural element.
Bamboo can be used in wall, roof, and floor trusses, or as individual studs. The poles generally range in size from 2 ¾” to 3 ¼” in diameter and 10 to 14 feet long, so they will easily fit into standard western construction. According to the ICC report, they can be used in Type V non-fire-resistance rated residential and commercial construction. In commercial construction use is limited to one story and a maximum floor area of 2000 square feet.
Bamboo makes an excellent substitute for traditional wood framing because of its rapid growth cycle. The largest species, timber bamboo, grows to a whopping 120 feet with a 13 inch diameter in just three years. The stalks can be cut, then left to grow again without replanting. Growing bamboo is good for the soil as well, as it deposits minerals into the ground, and serves to prevent erosion.
The down side of this new product is the cost of transportation. Currently the only bamboo certified for structural use comes from Vietnam and must be treated with borate. Bamboo can be grown in almost any climate, so costs could be reduced as more is grown in the U.S. Locally grown bamboo would also help sales of other bamboo products such as wood flooring and veneer.
To see a building in Mexico City build from structural bamboo, visit http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nomadic_Museum.
More on bamboo products: www.bambooliving.com
More information on structural bamboo: http://www.toolbase.org/Construction-Methods/Wood-Framing/structural-bamboo
To see the ICC Evaluation Service report, visit http://www.icc-es.org/