Bamboo: The Ultimate Sustainable Construction Material

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Bamboo is an unbeatable plant that has been used since ancient times for various purposes. In today’s world of plastic and steel, bamboo continues to grow in its importance, and is even being used as a housing material.

The international technical cooperation organizations have recognized the exceptional qualities of bamboo and are carrying out an extensive research of its properties and uses. Apart from the qualities of the material, it is also lauded because of its potential contribution to the local economies of the bamboo-growing areas in the world. These international projects have been conducted for several years and have led to development of multiple uses of bamboo as a sustainable alternative to plastics and metals used in homes.

Bamboo has the following main features that make it extremely useful in constructions – 

  • Properties: Lightweight, flexible; usable in wide variety of constructions.
  • Cost: Low cost.
  • Tensile Strength: Very High (higher than Stainless Steel)
  • Training required: Traditional labour for bamboo constructions.
  • Equipment required: Tools for cutting and splitting bamboo.
  • Seismic resistance: Good 
  • Resistance to hurricanes: Low 
  • Resistance to rain: Low 
  • Resistance to insects: Low 
  • Climatic Suitability: Warm and humid climates.

Considerations while using Bamboo for Housing –

  • In regions where bamboo grows, the climate is generally warm and humid, and your house needs walls of low thermal capacity and designs that allow cross ventilation. Bamboo constructions fully satisfy these requirements, which explains their use in hotter areas around the world.
  • The bamboo walls can not be built to be airtight and leak proof, so cross ventilation is inherently provided, providing a pleasant and moisture-free environment.
  • The flexibility and high resistance to stress make the bamboo wall highly resistant to earthquakes, and in case of collapse, its lightweight structure causes less damage, and reconstruction is quick and easy.
  • Specialized labor is required to work with bamboo, but in areas where bamboo grows such labor is traditionally available.
  • The biggest disadvantages are due to its relatively low durability (due to the possibility of pest attacks), and low resistance to hurricanes and fire, so some protection measures are essential.

Modern And Traditional Uses:

As A Modern Housing Material:

Bamboo can be used to make all the parts of a house other than the fireplace. In most cases, however, bamboo is combined with other building materials such as wood, clay, lime, cement, galvanized iron, and palm leaves, according to their relative efficiency, availability, and cost.

The use of bamboo as a building material, whether primary, secondary, or occasional, is common in areas where adequate bamboo grows in sufficient quantity. The importance of bamboo products in any given region usually depends on the area’s economic levels and their awareness towards sustainability. Besides, there are multiple benefits of using Bamboo for housing.

As A Traditional Housing Material:

In certain cultural areas, such as Japan, Java and Malaysia; bamboo has traditionally been employed in architectural forms that are distinctive and artistic. Cohen, alludes to this recognition of the special virtues of bamboo; “Bamboo becomes the dominant part of a Japanese house as soon as the quality and construction are considered.”

For use in building houses, the structural elements of bamboo shafts are fixed to the post, and allow a properly built house to stand despite possible tectonic tremors. The bamboo has the following characteristics that make it a convenient and economical material for the construction of the house as well as for the scaffolding that facilitates the construction:

  1. The natural units, rods or bamboo canes, are of similar lengths and forms that make them manageable, storable and systematized, conveniently and economically.
  2. The canes have a characteristic physical structure that provides them with high resistance in relation to their weight. They are round or almost round in their cross section, usually hollow, and with rigid transverse partitions, strategically placed to avoid breaking when bending. Because of this build, they can act more efficiently, providing mechanical strength and forming a firm and resistant shell.
  3. The texture of the canes make it easy to cut them by hand into short pieces (sawing or cutting them), or into narrow strips (splitting them). No expensive machines are needed, just simple tools.
  4. The natural surface of many bamboos is clean, hard and smooth, with an attractive color, once the canes have been conveniently stored and matured.
  5. Bamboos have little waste and no bark to eliminate.

Examples of the use of bamboo poles instead of a conventional foundation for affordable houses, can be seen in both hemispheres. Unless treated with a chemical preservative, such poles do not last more than three to five years. Preservation and maturation is essential for prolonging the life of Bamboo Housing materials. Bamboo canes last longer with application of the chemical pentachlorophenol in an appropriate form.

If bamboo is used under the conditions of frequent wetting or in contact with moist soil, it is a better idea to use the foundations of some material that is more resistant to water than untreated bamboo, for example concrete, stone, brick, or some hard wood. Bamboo should be preferred only if the area is not continuously damp or wet.

If bamboo is used as a support in low-cost houses, the rods should have a larger diameter, thick walls and closer knots, to provide maximum resistance to buckling. When it is not possible to obtain large pieces of bamboo, it is convenient to use small bamboos, with adequate structural bindings to build the required design.

Bamboo is coming back into trend because of the global drive towards sustainability, and it is only natural that you are thinking of incorporating this eco-friendly material into your home. You can start by replacing some major plastic products for bamboo alternatives, and then move onto bigger structural changes. Rest assured, bamboo is not going to disappoint you, provided you keep the above discussion into consideration.

Natalie Blake is an environmentalist and a follower of the zero-waste lifestyle. She is a contributor at Green Building Elements and talks about eco-friendly alternatives that homeowners can use for their houses. Follow Natalie at Bamboo Hearts or get in touch with her at [email protected].