Wood is the oldest construction material known to humanity. Before man had made advances enabling him to use brick and mortar, wood presented the viable stating place because of its relative abundance and ease of working.
Almost all cultures have a history of working with wood for various applications. In ancient times, the Chinese stand out as experts on wood technology. However, all civilizations claim equal stake in developing wood applications in their localities.
Hardwood grows naturally in different parts of the world. It is the main raw material for hardwood flooring. Woodcutters obtain the wood from forests and saw it into planks for use as a flooring material. Natural properties of wood limit the size of each plank because wood naturally expands and contracts when there are variations in temperature and humidity.
Wood grows naturally in most parts of the world. Different climatic conditions favor different species of wood. Therefore, each continent has certain species unique to it, classified as either hardwood or softwood.
In general, hardwood provides a more durable material because of its density and best fits as a material for wooden floors. It take longer to mature thereby making its sustainable management more difficult compared to softwood.
Wood is a renewable resource. Hardwood trees take much longer than softwood trees to mature. This makes their sustainability more difficult to establish compared softwood trees. Nevertheless, with good management, hardwood stocks are a sustainable resource that can last for many generations.
In the world, America has the best sustainability practices for its hardwood stocks (American Hardwood Export Council). Wood is sustainable because it is possible to grow them afresh after harvesting. “The U.S. hardwood sawmilling and processing industry, the largest in the world, depends upon the hardwood forests of the United States for the widest range of temperate hardwood species in the world” (American Hardwood Export Council).
Hardwood forests constitute forty percent of all forest cover in the United States. The forests provide raw materials for different applications including flooring. The species used for making hardwood-flooring boards include, oak, walnut, pine, cherry, teak, and maple.
The possible applications for any type of wood depend on its density and its physical appearance. Denser woods provide an ideal material for heavy uses such as flooring on high traffic areas, construction of external doors and durable furniture among others. Softwood trees on the other hand lend themselves for use as materials for lighter uses. While softwood timber is useable for flooring, it wears out faster making it is less attractive as a flooring material.
The installation of a wooden floor is a skilled job. They key pre-installation advice is, “store flooring where it will be installed” (Peterson & Engel 15). This ensures that the wood adapts to the humidity in its surroundings. Otherwise, the floor may buckle if the wood has lesser humidity during installation, or it may develop gaps if it has at a higher humidity.
Asphalt felt, put between the flooring base and the wooden flooring, provides appropriate protection from humidity for the wood. The wood may be pre-finished or requires finishing after installation.
One of the materials very similar to hardwood applicable to flooring is bamboo. Bamboo is actually a grass or reed-type plant and not a wood despite its classification as a type of wooden floor.
It has very good sustainability credentials because it regenerates after five years and its cultivation results in very little environmental damage. The comparison of wood and bamboo brings to the fore some of its superior natural qualities.
Bamboo “offers both hardness and resilience and is both dimensionally stable and moisture resistant” (Bonda & Sosnowchik 133). Compared to maple, its hardness is thirteen percent higher, while it exceeds the hardness oak by twenty seven percent. Bamboo has much better moisture resistance because of its natural structure.
Cost, availability, durability, and ease of maintenance influence the choice between hardwood flooring and bamboo flooring. Depending on the production process, the cost between the two materials may be significant.
Bamboo offers better durability especially for heavy use areas while it also requires less maintenance because of its resilience. However, depending on preference, wood provides more options for design in terms of color, finishes, sizing, and remains more adaptable than bamboo. Hardwood flooring and bamboo have the same maintenance requirements.
They require vacuuming after the removal of loose dirt. Good maintenance practice requires the immediate drying of water or liquids that spill on them. New finishing coats and polishing may be necessary from time to time to maintain their natural look and ensure their long-term protection.
The main advantages of hardwoods are flexibility of design and variety. Since hardwoods come in large pieces, their shaping may be into any number of shapes and sizes, within design limits.
They do not handle humidity changes very well though. Bamboo on the other hand has very attractive natural qualities with good moisture resistance and admirable durability. The main limitation of bamboo is that its natural shape is very limiting to design.
American Hardwood Export Council. U.S. Hardwood Species. 2002. 19 March 2010
Bonda, Penny and Katie Sosnowchik. Sustainable Commercial Interiors. New York, NY: John Wiley and Sons, 2007.
Peterson, Charles and Andy Engel. Wood Flooring: A Complete Guide to Layout, Installation & Finishing. Newtown, CT: Taunton Press, 2010.