Are you considering building a new home or structure but struggling to choose between bamboo and concrete? It’s a common dilemma that many homeowners and builders face.
On the one hand is concrete, a durable and reliable material that has been used for centuries. On the other hand, there’s bamboo – a natural and sustainable building material for eco-conscious homeowners and builders.
When comparing bamboo and concrete, some factors you may consider include strength, durability, availability, and eco-friendliness.
However, these factors can be confusing, especially if you’re new in the construction industry. That’s where a direct comparison of bamboo and concrete comes in handy.
In this article, I’ll compare bamboo vs. concrete as construction materials. I’ll also discuss the pros and cons of building with each to help you make an informed decision between the two.
Let’s get started!
The strength of a building material is crucial to withstand compressive, tensile, lateral, and shear forces that act upon buildings. This is why you must consider a stronger material for a stable building.
Is bamboo stronger than concrete? To answer this question, we must compare them in terms of the different types of strength mentioned above.
The strength of building materials is measured in terms of tensile and compressive strength.
- Tensile strength: The maximum pressure a building material can withstand when being pulled apart — the material fractures beyond this limit.
- Compressive strength: The maximum pressure a building material can withstand when being compressed or pushed together.
The higher a building material’s tensile and compressive strengths, the stronger it is in those dimensions.
Bamboo is stronger than concrete because it has higher tensile and compressive strengths.
While bamboo has an average compressive strength of 14,000 pounds per square inch (psi), concrete has a compressive strength of 2,500 psi at the low end.
On the other hand, the tensile strength of bamboo is 1,400 psi, while concrete has a tensile strength of about 300-700 psi.
From the above, it’s clear that some types of bamboo are stronger than certain forms of concrete in terms of tensile and compressive strength.
Durability is another factor that distinguishes bamboo and concrete.
According to Science Direct, concrete is a durable building material due to the following reasons:
- It’s highly impermeable.
- It’s frost-resistant.
- It’s corrosion-resistant.
- It possesses anti-carbonization properties.
- It has anti-alkali reaction properties.
Is the same true for bamboo? Absolutely not.
Since bamboo is an organic material, it’s highly susceptible to decay when exposed to the elements. It’s also prone to insect infestations, rot, and mold growth.
Bamboo is also highly permeable to water. This explains why it’s not used in concrete – bamboo is a hydrophilic material that absorbs a significant amount of water. Consequently, it can absorb more water when used in concrete, lowering the wall’s structural integrity.
Unlike concrete, bamboo requires a lot of treatment and preservation with chemicals so it can last longer.
Therefore, concrete takes the lead in terms of durability.
The availability of construction materials impacts the project’s cost.
Bamboo is widely available in tropical and subtropical areas such as Asia and North America. However, it’s not as widespread as concrete.
Bamboo also requires specialized skills for harvesting and preparation that most people don’t possess.
On the other hand, since concrete is readily available worldwide, most people have the expertise to prepare and use it in construction projects.
Hence, concrete is more available and easy to use than bamboo.
The construction industry accounts for up to 50% of climate change due to the emission of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide. For this reason, eco-friendliness is a significant factor when comparing building materials.
Bamboo is an eco-friendly material that’s renewable and biodegradable. It also absorbs more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere than hardwood trees–making it the ideal sustainable construction material.
Concrete, like many other conventional building materials, is destructive.
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the cement industry is the third largest source of industrial pollution. It’s responsible for more than 500,000 tons of carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, and nitrogen oxide annually.
Therefore, bamboo is a more eco-friendly construction material than concrete.
The cost of construction is at an all-time high. As a result, we’re all looking for ways to lower the cost, including going for cheaper construction materials.
Cost is a significant factor when contemplating the pros and cons of bamboo and concrete.
Bamboo is inexpensive compared to other construction materials such as steel or concrete.
However, it’s worth noting that the cost of bamboo is affected by availability. For instance, while the cost is lower in Asia and North America due to the abundance of bamboo, it may be higher elsewhere due to the limited availability.
Although concrete is more expensive than bamboo, it’s more widely available and easier to use.
Hence, bamboo may be a more cost-effective option in some cases.
Overall, both materials represent good value for money for different reasons.
Maintenance is vital for a building’s longevity.
Different materials require different levels of maintenance. Therefore, you must know how much maintenance will be needed if you build with bamboo or concrete.
Bamboo requires high maintenance since it’s prone to insect infestations and rot. It also needs constant cleaning, covering, and chemical treatment, adding to the construction and maintenance costs.
Concrete, however, doesn’t need as much maintenance once cured properly. It’s easy to clean and does not require special treatment or covering.
Therefore, concrete is the better option when it comes to maintenance.
Finally, you need to consider the material’s handling and storage because it affects labor requirements, construction time, and handling equipment.
Bamboo is lightweight and can be easily transported and stored. However, its delicate nature means it requires special transport vehicles for efficient shipping and storage, which can be costly in the long run.
Concrete is heavier and requires specialized handling equipment. For instance, its bulky nature requires cranes and trucks for efficient handling and shipping. It also needs a temperature-controlled environment between 60 and 80°F (15.56 and 26.67°C) for optimal curing.
Overall, bamboo is the better option for transport, storage, and easy handling.
Bamboo is an easy-to-use material.
Since bamboo is a type of grass, it’s easy to cut, repair, handle, maintain, and reposition without the need for sophisticated equipment.
Moreover, bamboo is highly flexible, thanks to its fiber and parenchyma cells. Bamboo’s excellent flexural properties make it suitable for curved structures because it’s easier to shape.
It’s easy to bend bamboo into any shape without impairing its structural properties for a stronger building. This is why builders like to work with bamboo.
As already mentioned, bamboo has high compressive and tensile strengths.
High tensile strength means bamboo creates structures that are highly resistant to lateral shocks and vibrations.
On the other hand, its excellent compressive strength makes it suitable for vertical and horizontal structures.
Therefore, bamboo can be used as a load-bearing material due to its excellent compressive and tensile strength.
Bamboo’s lightweight nature makes it ideal for handling and transportation. You don’t need heavy machinery to lift or transport bamboo around the site.
Moreover, its lightweight nature makes bamboo ideal for construction in seismic zones where earthquakes are frequent. Its high strength-to-weight ratio makes it suitable for safer buildings in seismic areas.
The construction industry has a substantial environmental impact, from the high consumption of natural resources and energy to the emission of greenhouse gasses.
Bamboo is a natural resource that has a lower environmental impact than concrete.
It’s renewable and grows relatively quickly, which reduces the need for large-scale harvesting of forests. All these properties make it an eco-friendly material suitable for sustainable construction projects.
Bamboo is cheaper than concrete because it’s a naturally occurring material. Unlike concrete which must undergo processing and mixing, bamboo is available in its raw form.
Additionally, bamboo has a high strength-to-weight ratio; therefore, you can use less material for the same structural load compared to concrete.
Bamboo’s availability can be an issue for some regions due to unfavorable growing conditions. The cost may also vary depending on the availability in a particular region, making it difficult to estimate its budget accurately.
As mentioned, bamboo needs special treatment and high maintenance due to its delicate nature.
It needs regular treatment with specialized sealants and protective coatings to protect it from fungi, pests, and ultraviolet rays.
Also, its high maintenance requirements mean the cost of repairs can be higher than other construction materials like concrete.
Bamboo is highly susceptible to the elements like high humidity, cold temperatures, and rain.
It must be protected from extreme weather conditions like high winds or hail storms.
The high water absorption rate explains why bamboo is not used as concrete reinforcement in most projects. More water absorption reduces the bonding strength between bamboo’s surface and concrete.
How long do bamboo homes last?
Bamboo homes can last between 6 months and more than 30 years, depending on the treatment, harvesting, and preservation of bamboo poles. Well-preserved and maintained bamboo houses can last up to 100 years.
Generally, bamboo structures have a lower lifespan than concrete.
You only need cement and aggregates to make concrete, meaning it’s readily available in any region. This is why concrete is the most widely used material after water.
Moreover, different types of cement and admixtures are available to meet specific requirements. They include:
- Normal strength concrete
- Reinforced concrete
- Precast concrete
- Prestressed concrete
Since concrete is readily available, it’s easier to find and estimate its construction cost accurately.
Concrete is highly durable and resistant to weathering, abrasion, and chemical attack. This means that structures built with concrete can maintain their desired engineering properties longer.
It’s the ideal material for structures with an expected lifespan of more than 100 years, such as dams, bridges, and power plants.
Additionally, concrete is a suitable material for reinforcement due to its excellent water resistance and bonding strength.
The important point is that concrete remains durable if its cement paste structure is dense and has low permeability.
Unlike bamboo, which needs regular maintenance, concrete structures require very little maintenance.
It doesn’t need additional treatment or protective coatings to protect it from the elements. Therefore, it’s an ideal material for construction with long-term durability in mind.
Concrete has excellent fire-resistance properties compared to bamboo. Besides being unable to burn, concrete has very low flame spread and smoke generation.
Concrete is the best material for fire-safe construction projects, with the ability to offer up to four hours of fire resistance. It’s also ideal for fire protection in buildings, tunnels, and other structures.
Did you know that producing 1 m³ of concrete consumes 2,775 MJ of energy?
This high energy consumption means concrete is unsustainable. You need an enormous amount of energy to produce sufficient concrete for construction.
Concrete accounts for up to 8% of the earth’s carbon dioxide emissions. This makes it one of the largest sources of greenhouse gas emissions. Therefore, reducing the amount of concrete used in construction projects can help reduce carbon emissions significantly.
Producing and transporting concrete is expensive. This makes it a costly construction material, especially when compared to bamboo or wood.
Moreover, the high energy and cost requirements during production translate into higher prices for the end user.
Producing concrete contributes to soil erosion and pollution of rivers and streams because the process requires quarried resources. These quarries strip away vegetation and topsoil, leading to soil erosion and pollution of streams and rivers.
The use of concrete creates hard surfaces that contribute to rapid runoff of rainfall, resulting in an increased risk of flooding.
What’s more, the dust created by concrete production can lead to respiratory problems in people living near these sites.
The heat island effect refers to a situation whereby cities become hotter than the surrounding rural areas. This is because cities have many hard surfaces, such as concrete, which absorb and re-radiate more heat than vegetated surfaces.
This increased heat can lead to higher energy costs for cooling in buildings within these cities. It also increases air pollution and health issues associated with extreme temperatures.
Concrete is a significant contributor to the heat island effect, the consequences of which include:
- Increased energy consumption for cooling.
- Higher daytime temperatures.
- Higher air pollution levels.
- Health risks associated with extreme temperatures.
Although bamboo has high tensile and compressive strengths, it can’t replace steel and concrete for larger projects due to its hydrophilic nature. Its ability to absorb more water tampers with structural integrity.
It’s also less durable than steel and concrete, so it is not as good for structures that are designed to last a long time.
In most cases, bamboo is not used in construction due to its poor durability. The material needs treatment and preservation before being used in construction.
Bamboo is stronger than rebar due to its high tensile strength and can withstand greater lateral shocks than rebar.
In the battle between bamboo and concrete, there are compelling arguments to be made for both sides.
Concrete may be stronger and more durable, but bamboo is more sustainable and environmentally friendly.
Ultimately, the choice between the two materials depends on factors such as availability, cost, and personal values. However, this debate is just one example of the larger conversation around sustainability and the environment.
As we continue to navigate a rapidly changing world, it’s essential to consider the long-term impacts of our choices, both in terms of building materials and beyond.
Now that you have a detailed comparison between bamboo and concrete check out these cool bamboo houses to get inspiration for your next build.