Raised in the cold northern climate of Canada, when I think of bamboo I generally think of some tropical climate far far away. That stereotype however is completely bogus as I’ve also seen the stuff growing in the Chinese gardens off Keefer St. in Vancouver, B.C., and now that I think of it all over the East side of Commercial drive. With a little bit of reading I’ve discovered this woody reed has a rather large extended family some where between 1200 to 1500 species in the ‘grass family’. Can you imagine the family reunions? N’way they grow over most of the planet where there is moisture so the idea that it only grows in tropical regions is false and I’ll just have to get over that misconception.
Bamboo is as versatile a building material as it is virulent growing. This stuff can be used 5 years after planting it. You can use the thicker portions for framing or structural needs including floors, beams n’ rafters, and roofing whereas the small stuff goes into non-load bearing uses like wall/ceiling covers, mats and even roof shingles.
Its hard to believe that a reed can be used to construct very sturdy scaffolding or that it is awesome at pinning courses of straw bales together, but there is a multitude of uses for this building stuff and the list is growing. Although building houses out of bamboo is better known in Asia than North America its being rediscovered in hybrids as mentioned above. Overall I can see the usefulness of using bamboo in things such as indoor flooring in a northern environment, but I can’t see this building material being used to construct 100% of the exterior of a house here due to the lack of insulated qualities. Nonetheless if you live somewhere warmer and drier than I do you may find that bamboo is your new best friend.
Advantages of Bamboo
• Bamboo buildings hold up remarkably well, even in earthquake zones, and against storms and tornadoes.
• Plyboo or bamboo flooring is harder than oak but doesn’t shrink/swell as many hardwoods do
• Bamboos reach harvestable size in 4-5 years, a fraction of time to trees
• Bamboo grows very nearly world wide and is therefore accessible
• Bamboo grows like grass (no wait it is grass) so you have many to choose from
• Bamboo as a material does everything from load bearing to non load bearing uses
• Edible landscape, the shoots can be harvested without damaging them
• Reasonably strong/stiff material
• Has no knots nor radiating fibers such as those found in trees so stress is distributed more evenly throughout its length compared to lumber
• Can use simple tools to split it
• The outer skin has a high concentration of silica which makes it durable
• Doesn’t it look good? I think so.
Disadvantages of Bamboo
• If you don’t know your species don’t try growing your own to harvest for building. It can be very invasive and take over the joint.
• Bamboo’s greatest challenge is weathering. It doesn’t stand up well to water and needs chemical treatment to protect it.
• Bamboo therefore breaks down quickly if it comes in contact with wet or damp soil
• Bamboo is highly combustible
• The reed tapers making it more difficult to build with than processed lumber
• Reeds vary in size from one to another making it a challenge to build with
• Grass is hollow and round inside making it more of a challenge than identical pieces of lumber
• The outer skin contains silica with is extra hard and dulls hand tools
• The outer skin also makes it difficult to glue to other pieces
http://www.bamboodirect.ca/ in West Vancouver, B.C.
http://dreamhomefencing.com/ in Victoria, B.C.
http://www.silkroadflooring.com/ in Toronto, Ontario
Building Bamboo Shelters: The best 18 minutes you could hope to spend on this subject although it goes from English to Indonesian at the 15 minute mark and I have no idea why. Thank goodness a picture saves a thousand words.
Bamboo Living Floors: A Bamboo builder in U.S. and a gorgeous example of a bamboo home.