Bamboo Flooring Problems: Moisture and Treatment Concerns

Bamboo: Grass, Not Wood

Bamboo has risen dramatically in popularity for wood flooring for both aesthetic and environmental reasons. It can be regrown very quickly, provides a range of colors and looks, and grows in almost any climate. Bamboo is used in a wide variety of products from t-shirts to toys. There are over 1400 species growing worldwide, and most bamboo (the most common choice for wood floors) grows at astonishing rates and reaches maturity in a mere three years.

Grass Floors?

Certainly.

Bamboo has proven to be a versatile and functional floor choice for homes, offices and other facilities. However, understanding some basics of the construction process can help to make the right flooring choice from the start.

Bamboo Flooring ProblemsBamboo flooring typically is constructed in one of three different forms: horizontal, vertical or strand-woven (ii). Horizontal and vertical bamboo floors are considered to be engineered products, providing the look of bamboo but significantly strengthening floors by laminating the bamboo to a stronger wood species as a sub-layer.

Strand-woven bamboo is considered to be a solid flooring product and is the strongest of the three types of flooring. It also contains lower proportions of potentially toxic adhesives. It is formed under intense pressure that makes it more resistant to moisture changes.

If properly harvested and manufactured, bamboo floors can be as durable and strong (or even stronger) than traditional hardwood floors. However, because of the variables, there are some specific moisture content (MC) precautions we recommend.

Special Moisture Precautions for Bamboo

If bamboo is the look you want, there are four things to consider in order to prevent moisture-related problems in your bamboo flooring:

  • Moisture Meter Settings When installing the flooring, the source and the construction can influence the ideal moisture level for each environment, and the species setting or specific gravity (SG) can vary greatly depending on the manufacturer’s source and process. (It’s worth noting at this point that there is no standardized grading system for bamboo.) Companies like Wagner Meters are working with specific manufacturers to determine accurate settings, but because of the many different factors involved, make sure you check the manufacturer’s recommendation for your wood moisture meters SG settings or SG adjustment tables!
  • Engineered or Strand Woven? If your flooring is an engineered product, it might be necessary to adjust the depth of your wood moisture meter readings to check both the top (bamboo) layer and the subfloor species. Both types of wood need to have reached a balance with the job site in order to prevent moisture-related flooring problems, and to not develop separation problems in the product itself.
  • Environmental Controls (HVAC) Some recommend that those in regions with high humidity not use bamboo floors (i) due to the unpredictable rate of expansion and contraction during the seasonal changes. For installers in these areas, acclimation is crucial! After installation, it is important for homeowners in these areas to carefully monitor room conditions (temperature and relative humidity) to prevent potential problems.
  • Acclimation The best way to avoid problems for any flooring product is to be sure that it has reached equilibrium moisture content, or EMC, with the space in which it will be installed. This is especially critical with bamboo. Unlike most wood floors, it can expand along its length, as well as its width, and strand-woven bamboo can take significantly longer than another flooring to acclimate. The room must be at service conditions, and sufficient time must be allowed to let the floorboards reach EMC before installation begins. Do complete checks with an accurate wood moisture meter, and don’t begin installation until the product has reached a stable MC level.

Bamboo does offer both pros and cons as a flooring option for today’s homeowner and installer. However, it is necessary to take into consideration the specific qualities of bamboo flooring in order to avoid moisture related problems.

(i) http://tlc.howstuffworks.com/home/bamboo-flooring4.htm

(ii) http://tlc.howstuffworks.com/home/bamboo-flooring2.htm

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Tony Morgan

Tony Morgan is a senior technician for Wagner Meters, where he serves on a team for product testing, development, and also customer service and training for moisture measurement products. Along with 19 years field experience for a number of electronics companies, Tony holds a B.A. in Management and his AAS in Electronics Technology.

28 Comments

  1. Ronnie says:

    In recent year bamboo flooring has become a popular option among many home builders. It holds a beautiful finish, and adds a unique element to any room. Many people who are attempting to reduce their carbon footprint have also taken a shine to bamboo flooring as it is easily biodegradable. One upside of using bamboo flooring is the renew-ability of bamboo as a resource. It is comparable to many hard woods, such as maple, but grows in a fraction of a time. It could take over 100 years for a hard wood tree to mature to the point where it can be used as flooring. One of the biggest attractions of bamboo flooring in this eco-conscious age is the biodegradability. Between its rapid growth, and the fact that it break down easily after being replaced, it is often seen as a better alternative to destroying trees that take hundred years to grow.

  2. Ada says:

    Hi Tony,

    if bamboo floor is used for ocean container, will the high humidity in environment affects the moisture level in bamboo floor?

    thank you.

    Ada

    • Tony Morgan says:

      Hi Ada,

      Anytime bamboo is placed in an environment that is higher or lower in relative humidity, the bamboo will try to equalize to the ambient RH with a higher or lower moisture content. This will also cause corresponding changes to the bamboo’s physical dimensions.

      The moisture content of the bamboo can be calculated with the tool located at http://www.csgnetwork.com/emctablecalc.html.

      Tony

  3. matthew kamenstein says:

    Hi Tony,

    What would be the optimal MC for a bamboo cutting board or bamboo utensil?

    Thanks,

    Matt

  4. Robert says:

    How do you deal with a sliding glass door and condensation buildup at the metal base and the bamboo flooring after it has been installed?

  5. Mike says:

    Hey Tony,

    My bamboo floors have bubbled to the point where 3 full boards have raised in the MIDDLE of my floor. I’ve had a dehumidifier going all summer, but the boards still haven’t come down. I’m sure they’ll go down once winter hits, but is there anything else you’d recommend in the meantime to get the moisture down? I’d love to get them down and re-glued asap. My current dehumidifier says we’re around 55% humidity.

    I’m in a condo and don’t have a fireplace. Perhaps just get some big ole’ dryers and blast the impacted area?

    Thanks for your help!

    Mike

    • Tony Morgan says:

      It sounds as though your floor may be buckling due to a high moisture problem. This can be caused by a leak or a wet slab. The best way to check for this would be to use a moisture meter to trace the area of moisture and track down the cause or source of it.

      I would recommend calling a certified flooring professional from your area to help with this issue. They can help find the cause and either do the repair or refer you to someone that can do the repair.

      Use this helpful link to find a NWFA certified inspector/installer in your area: https://www.woodfloors.org/certified-professional-search.aspx

  6. Lesley says:

    Hi Tony
    We have just had our whole house (exc kitchen & bathrooms) refloored with bamboo but we are concerned by a couple of isses:
    1. In a few rooms in certain places it looks as though the flooring has warped / risen visibly
    2. The floor is noisy / squeaky when walked on.

    Our house is not damp but the builders did plaster walls after installing the floor. The bamboo flooring was laid on a thin layer of foam ontop of tiles and floorboards (which don’t squeak).

    Can you offer any advice as to the probable causes of these issues & how we / the builder can rectify them as we love the flooring.
    Many thanks

    • Tony Morgan says:

      Lesley,

      For your first question, the likely cause is due to a high moisture problem. This can be caused by a leak or a wet slab. The best way to check for this would be to use a moisture meter to trace the area of moisture and track down the cause or source of it.

      It may be best to get a certified flooring inspector or specialist there to diagnose and suggest a solution: https://www.nwfa.org/cp-inspector.aspx.

      The answer to your second question may be related. I have heard of a number of cures for squeaky floors; screw and nail fastening systems (not for a floating floor), talcum powder, or even WD-40. You can find many of these fixes on YouTube.

  7. John Manning says:

    Hi,

    I live in AZ and my home has Bamboo floors recently it was cleaned with water on a mop and the floor now squeaks when walked on. What can I use to fix this? Thank you, John

    • Tony Morgan says:

      John,

      I have heard of a number of cures for squeaky floors; screw and nail fastening systems (not for a floating floor), talcum powder, or even WD-40. You can find many of these fixes on YouTube.

  8. Rory Barlew says:

    Our contractor supposedly completed moisture checks and acclaimated the boards. The floor warped immediately. We protested and the dealer said it was our fault…sorry about your luck(and made us pay for the re-inspection.) We have lived with it for several years. My question is: can they be sanded and refinished? The thickness and was one of the reasons we bought it. Rory

    • Tony Morgan says:

      Rory,

      It is too bad that many flooring companies will not take responsibility for correcting issues caused by them or a lack of fully checking to truly see if the site of the installation is ready.

      The question of whether the floor can be resurrected is one that can only be answered by an on-site flooring expert. I recommend that you have a certified flooring inspector come out and look at your floor. The National Wood Flooring Association (NWFA) would be a good place to start. Their website, https://www.woodfloors.org/why-nwfa.aspx is a good source to find an NWFA certified inspector or contractor to help you answer your question.

  9. Sandy Gutierrez says:

    My Christmas has ruined my bamboo floors due to water damage. Will it go back to normal once it dries up or do I have to replace my floors? Help, so devastated!

    • Tony Morgan says:

      Depending on the type of bamboo, how much water was involved and the length of time the water was present are all factors that will determine if the floor is going to rebound back or need to be replaced.

      I would recommend calling a certified flooring professional from your area to help with this issue. They can help find the cause and either do the repair or refer you to someone that can do the repair.

      Use this helpful link to find an NWFA certified inspector/installer in your area: https://www.woodfloors.org/certified-professional-search.aspx

  10. Diana Coleman says:

    Recently had bamboo flooring installed. It looks beautiful and I was very pleased with it – initially. I believe the VOC’s in the resin are making me sick. Is there anything that can be done to eliminate this problem, short of having the flooring removed?
    I purchased an air scrubber that advertised removal of VOC’s but to date that doesn’t seem to be working. Thank you for your attention to this matter. I’m desperate for an answer to this problem.

    • Tony Morgan says:

      Diana,

      Unfortunately, since much of the bamboo flooring comes from China, there are little to no regulations in regard to how the flooring is manufactured. This means chemicals and adhesives considered toxic may be used in the manufacturing process and may cause health issues after the flooring is installed. The following article outlines the problems installers and end-users can face when choosing bamboo flooring: https://www.wagnermeters.com/5-challenges-installers-may-face-with-bamboo-flooring/

      There have been many improvements in manufacturing quality to lower VOC’s and the use of formaldehyde but these practices do not apply to all bamboo flooring. Some manufacturers are very diligent when it comes to ensuring the bamboo flooring they sell is low VOC and formaldehyde free. Check to see if the flooring you had installed is California Air Resource Board (CARB) compliant.

      A certified flooring inspector may be able to help and make recommendations for resolving the issue. Please check out https://www.nwfa.org/cp-inspector.aspx to locate an inspector in your area.

  11. Ed says:

    Hey,
    Tony hope all is well, I am thinking about installing a solid Bamboo floor in my living room. The bamboo will be installed over a plywood and with an under layment. I was advised that living in NJ where the humidity can by high at times that the bamboo floor has a high probility of it warping. Have you heard of this issue ?
    Ed

    • Tony Morgan says:

      To enjoy a long lasting floor, bamboo, like wood flooring, just needs to be properly installed and maintained. In order to have any floor last, there are certain conditions that need to be met.

      1. Choose high-quality floor, price is not always an indicator of quality.
      2. Acclimate as long as possible, and use a moisture meter to check moisture content of the flooring and sub-floor.
      3. Leave adequate expansion space. Floors will expand or contract as RH levels rise or fall.
      4. Maintain consistent humidity levels throughout your home. Any wood or bamboo flooring will expand or contract with varying RH levels. All flooring manufacturers will require RH levels be maintained within a certain range in order to validate the warranty. Check with them for the range (typically 40%-60%). It would be a good idea to have a thermos-hygrometer to check the temperature and RH.
      5. A thermos-hygrometer will help tell you what the proper moisture content is for your flooring. Here is an article that explains EMC, and why it is important: https://www.wagnermeters.com/time-temperature-and-relative-humidity-the-variables-of-emc/

      Here are some articles that may help you decide if bamboo is the best choice for your home:
      https://www.wagnermeters.com/bamboo-questions-answered/

      https://www.wagnermeters.com/working-bamboo-floors-moisture-treatment-concerns/

  12. Ed says:

    Thank you , I appreciate you taken the time to answer my question

  13. Ric Lavelle says:

    Hi Tony,
    I am looking for a floor to install throughout my condo.
    I am on slab, wall air conditioners and baseboard electric heat.
    My humidity level throughout the year stays between 26% and 28%, which is very comfortable for me.
    I sell flooring for a living, so I know wood is not an option.
    I was considering 12 mm laminate flooring until I came upon a 3/8″ x 5 1/8″ locking engineered woven bamboo.
    Any thoughts on my 2 choices?
    Thanks,
    Ric

    • Tony Morgan says:

      Based on your relative humidity (RH) levels, and assuming the RH stays constant throughout the year, the flooring will equalize to between 5.5% and 5.9% moisture content (MC). This is very close, or at, unacceptable levels in regard to RH and MC for engineered floors, depending on the manufacturers’ warranty specifications.

      Please check out the following Wagner article for more details: http://www.wagnermeters.com/moisture-and-humidity-measurement-still-crucial-for-engineered-flooring/

      The same information I have listed above hold true for stranded bamboo. The best advice I can give is to get some samples (full size if at all possible) of the flooring types and place them in your home for a period of time (1-2 months would be ideal) and see if any issues with the flooring arise.

  14. Connie says:

    Hello,

    We have Cali bamboo on the lower floor of our house. I have cleaned the floor with the recommended product and any other product I can think of. As soon as the dog or a person walks on the floor, their footprint shows up……everywhere they walk!

    I admit that I am a clean fanatic and am ready to replace this one year old flooring.

    I appreciate any recommendations to get rid of footprints!

    Thank you,

    CJ

    • Tony Morgan says:

      Thank you for your inquiry, but this type of question is best answered by the manufacturer of the flooring. They can probably recommend a particular cleaning solution or cleaning process that will lessen or eliminate the foot/paw print problem. Here is their contact information: https://www.calibamboo.com/contact/

  15. Randy Pollak says:

    We just had some minor flooding occur and some water has seeped under our bamboo flooring. Is there anything we can do?

    • Tony Morgan says:

      Usually, the floor will cup when water gets under the flooring. In most cases, as long as the flooring is not permanently damaged, the floor will return to its original state. This may take some time, weeks or even months, so be patient. If the floor does not return to its original size and shape, then a flooring company should be contacted to see if the floor can be sanded and refinished.

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