Along with solar panels, so called “green” bamboo floors are another stereotypical material that people latch onto when thinking about green homes. In the same way that those solar panels won’t make your house green all by themselves, neither will calling in a flooring contractor to install bamboo floors, unless, of course, you do everything else right.
No product in itself will make a home green, and, in fact, you don’t necessarily need to use “green” products to make a home green. With the exception of a few very toxic materials, almost any common building products, when used properly as part of the whole house system, can contribute to a green home. You can put in all the green materials you want into a house, but if you don’t build it right, it will never be green.
Generally, bamboo floors are a good, sustainable product. Bamboo is a grass that grows very fast, so harvesting it instead of using old growth wood can be a good thing, but not always. In some countries, forests are being cut down just to grow bamboo to meet market demand. This isn’t good - retaining old forests is better for the environment than creating new bamboo plantations. On top of this, most bamboo flooring is glued and finished before it arrive son the jobsite, often with adhesives and sealers that contain urea formaldehyde, an irritant and carcinogen that you need to keep out of a green home. There are bamboo floors made with materials that come from sustainable plantations and have no urea formaldehyde in processing, but they are not always easy to find.
The real reason bamboo won’t make your house green is that the finish flooring is only a small part of a green home. Green building includes energy efficiency, indoor air quality, durability, resource efficiency, water efficiency, reduced impact on the community and the site, and educating homeowners so they know how to manage them to remain efficient, healthy, and durable.
Bamboo, (without urea formaldehyde) can help improve the indoor air quality because it is easy to clean and doesn’t collect dirt like carpet. If it is harvested from a place that didn’t replace a forest, then it could be an efficient use of resources. If it is made in a factory that treats their employees well and is a safe place to work, then it can have a positive impact on the community where it is made. But it won’t have any impact on energy efficiency, water efficiency, or the local site conditions. So, if you install bamboo in a house that isn’t efficient, doesn’t use materials or water efficiently, and negatively impacts the building site, no matter how sustainably that bamboo is harvested and manufactured, your house will never be green.
Remember, green building is all about the process. The building needs to be designed and built properly, taking into consideration all the aspects of green building. Products are secondary. If the process is bad, no amount of green materials will make it better.