Firm-Wide blog

Bamboo Building Materials: ‘Green’ Solution or Defect-Prone Disaster?

By Burg Simpson
March 10, 2016
2 min read

Certification systems represent one of the hallmarks of the green building movement. Through these systems, builders qualify for certifications based upon a number of criteria, including the building materials used to construct structures. With these certifications, developers can market projects as “green,” prominently posting their credentials to display to potential buyers and tenants that the property is an environmentally sound investment. While the accuracy and reliability of the US Green Building Council’s LEED rating system has been called into question, developers continue to seek certification.

With bamboo materials, quality is key

Bamboo building materials are among the “green” materials used in such projects to achieve certification. It is touted as a sustainable alternative to conventional wood materials for floor coverings and other uses. However, not all bamboo is reliable and manufacturers offer substandard products that can result in serious construction defects sooner or later.

Issues for the unsuspecting

In some instances, the raw materials that manufacturers select are simply not appropriate. For example, immature bamboo stalks are not suitable for flooring or most other construction applications. Raw bamboo that is not dried properly may result in premature wear and tear and even breakdown completely. Some mills use poor quality adhesives that are not sufficiently water resistant and contain levels of urea formaldehyde. Additionally, using shoddy equipment to cut the bamboo can negatively impact quality.

Is bamboo actually green?

Under the LEED Rating System, bamboo products generally qualify for the Materials and Resources credit for rapidly renewable materials, with a few bamboo products meeting the criteria for the Indoor Environmental Quality (IEQ) credit for low-emitting composite materials. If the results of a recent study by Dovetail Partners are any indication, these credits might not be justifiable. While the Chinese bamboo industry portrays itself as sustainable, it has been linked to a number of serious environmental issues.

With these issues in mind, serious consideration should be given to the use of bamboo in any building project.

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