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Bamboo: The Ultimate Construction Product

Mar 24, 2008
In the U.S., most people probably think of bamboo in terms of a thin reed used for decorative purposes, such as a houseplant or rug for your living room. But the reality is that bamboo is a fine resource for use in construction. Bamboo is not really a tree; it's a grass - a grass that can grow 120 feet tall and 13 inches thick. That's quite an impressively growing grass, and one that can be used very effectively for building things.

Thick bamboo poles harvested from giant bamboo as described above are much stronger than comparably-sized wood - two to three times stronger, in fact. Even more impressive is the great multiple of building material that can be harvested from a single bamboo plant as compared to a wood tree. Whereas a tree generally requires anywhere from 10 to 50 years to become mature enough to harvest, a bamboo plant can be harvested in only 7 years, resulting in a total lifetime output of up to twenty times that of wood. In fact, in the time it takes a single bamboo plant to mature, its clump, which will include multiple stalks, can produce 200 poles. In the same size area of land, a bamboo crop can produce 20 times more timber than wood.

Bamboo can be used in the creation of flooring, structural beams, fencing, and wall paneling, among other construction-related items, not to mention its use for thousands of non-construction products, such as furniture, fuel, food, and musical instruments. One caveat to the use of bamboo in the U.S. for structural purposes is supplying materials that meet American building codes, which relate to issues such as having adequate strength to withstand wind, rain, and fire. In recent years, bamboo manufacturers have worked on new products that meet these standards. As technology continues to improve, the acceptance and use of bamboo as a structural material should only increase.

Building panels made from bamboo are sometimes reinforced with steel brace panels. These brace panels can be dressed with bamboo covers to hide the reinforcement. The steel plates are bolted to wood or concrete foundations. In addition, bamboo poles can be joined using mortise and tenon joinery, which involves two bamboo pins. The resulting structure, given bamboo's increased strength relative to wood, is very strong and resistant to hurricanes and other forms of severe weather.

One interesting aspect of bamboo is that it can be molded much like a metal. A bamboo rod is normally very stiff, but if heat is applied evenly to a particular area, it can be gently bent. After cooling with air or water, the bamboo regains its stiffness with the new shape intact. This is definitely an art, as the heat must not be so great that it burns the plant fibers.

Though the focus of this article is on bamboo's use in construction, it is definitely worth mentioning that bamboo is very good for the environment, generating 30% more oxygen than trees. Bamboo is an excellent resource for improving air quality, as it can reduce carbon dioxide by up to 12 tons per hectare (100 acres). So...bamboo is excellent for the environment, grows quickly and in abundance, and can be turned into building material that is much stronger than wood. Without question, in the coming years bamboo will grow in popularity as an environmentally friendly construction material in widespread use.
About the Author
For more information about bamboo or bamboo flooring, visit www.WorldFloorsDirect.com, a company specializing in wood flooring that originates from managed sustainable forests.
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