Bamboo Building: Good or Bad for the Environment

November 27, 2011

Introduction

These days everyone is talking about bamboo. From walls to flooring, bamboo is regaled as the environmental answer to wood. Bamboo flooring is commonplace from showrooms to homes, and the building community expects that it will be used in plywood next. Just think, tomorrow your garage doors could be constructed with the renewable source.

In This Article

In this article, we’re going to give you all the basics that you need to know about bamboo as a building material. We will cover the basics of bamboo construction and bamboo design, including why it is so popular and what types of things you can build. Then, we will shift our focus to the environmental factors concerning bamboo. We will let you know how bamboo is environmentally friendly, and some ways in which it is not.

Bamboo is a popular material for good reason, but as with anything in construction, there are upsides and downsides. Read on to learn more about this wildly popular type of grass.

Building with Bamboo

Bamboo is a very popular building material. The primary reason it is used so frequently is because it is quite strong. Bamboo is very strong and sturdy for how lightweight it is. This makes it very easy to build with, and eliminates a good deal of heavy lifting.

Additionally, bamboo is very plentiful. It grows quickly, and is found very commonly in many regions of the world. It grows mostly in Asia, and that is where the majority of bamboo construction is done. However, its use is seen all around the world.

Typical projects that can be built with bamboo include bamboo buildings such as houses, storage buildings, commercial use buildings, and more. Typically, bamboo is used as a supplementary construction material for support poles. It is heavily used in scaffolding at construction sites, or to support the frame of structures or bridges.

Bamboo is also quite a stylish design element. Bamboo architecture will typically implement bamboo on full display as a design choice. It is used in landscaping, as well as in the design of various decorative pieces or aspects of a home’s interior and exterior design.

Bamboo wood is also strong and durable, and can be used as a substitute for other types of wood in woodworking items. Items such as chopsticks and wooden plates are often made of bamboo, but its use extends to many other types of products as well.

As you can see, bamboo is highly durable and flexible. Its usages around the world are incredibly varied, and you will see it in many construction and design projects all over the place. Next up, we will examine the environmental impacts of bamboo growing, harvesting, and construction.

Bamboo and The Environment

One of the main benefits of bamboo for many is how it is often touted as a sustainable building material. Bamboo products and bamboo construction are regarded for their environmentally conscious nature. In this section, we will look into the validities of that claim.

While bamboo is overall quite good for the environment, there are definitely some valid considerations to ensure that you are using it in a sustainable manner.

Positives

Environmentalists love bamboo for its quick growth and for the fact that it can be harvested without harming the environment. This remains its top benefit in terms of sustainability. Bamboo is so fast growing that it can quite easily be replaced after it is harvested. This makes it quite sustainable overall, and bamboo farms can be replenished quite quickly.

Bamboo is technically a grass and is native to South America, all parts of Asia, as well as Northern Australia and areas of the Southeast United States. It’s touted for its strength, hardness, and fast growth rate. For builders, bamboo has more compressive strength than concrete and the same strength-to-weight ratio as steel in tension. Also, it grows much faster than trees.

Almost all of the bamboo used in the United States is grown in China. Some of the bamboo plantations there date back hundreds of years, and most of the world’s population uses the grass in some form. The fact of the matter is that bamboo is flourishing.

A positive aspect of bamboo is that it can be harvested without killing the plant. A decade ago farmers cleared virgin forests in order to plant their bamboo farms. The profitability of bamboo surpassed the profit of rice and other kinds of farming. This hasn’t been the case in recent years, but a bamboo plantation doesn’t have the biodiversity of a natural forest. Given its invasive nature, bamboo can also quickly take over a nearby forest.

The clearing of forests has also incited concerns over soil erosion as did newly planted fields, especially on steep slopes. Researchers found, though, that planting bamboo along river banks helped decrease erosion. Once the grass was established on farms, erosion decreased there as well.

Negatives

The downsides of bamboo are now being scrutinized as its popularity grows and expands throughout the world of home construction. Some of those concerns include biodiversity, soil erosion, and chemical use.

The downside to bamboo lies in its construction. Instead of being cut and used whole, like wood, bamboo is sliced into pieces and glued together. There are serious questions regarding health and safety surrounding how the bamboo is handled and the chemical components used to glue and seal it. Currently there are no standardized requirements for its construction or the glue holding it together. In fact, rates of strength and hardness vary from one end of the spectrum to the other depending on supplier, and the glue can contain formaldehyde and be harmful to the environment.

Although planting and harvesting bamboo may not impact the environment negatively, the handling of it certainly can. In six years there has been little done to ensure that it’s safe for handlers or the people that manufacture it. There is still lots of room for improvement and debate of bamboo.

Overall

As you can see, with bamboo, its harvesting and cultivation process is quite environmentally friendly. It is a very sustainable material, and it can be quickly replenished once it is cut down. This is the main aspect which makes it so environmentally friendly.

The main concerns surrounding bamboo is how it is handled and how bamboo products are made. The use of hazardous chemicals is a concern. There is certainly some work to be done in this area, but the same can be said for the production of many products.

Overall, bamboo is quite sustainable, but there is certainly progress to be made in certain areas.

Conclusion

Thanks very much for reading our outline on bamboo construction. We hope you have learned all about the building process with bamboo, and to what extent it is an environmentally conscious option. As you can see, bamboo is quite a practical, durable, and environmentally safe building material. However, there are some valid considerations as to the actual construction of bamboo products.

Join in the discussion in the comments below and/or share the piece.

Photo credit: AttributionNoncommercialShare Alike Some rights reserved by mike lowe


«

»

Chris Keenan

is a green and general blog writer. He also maintains a personal cooking blog.
×