Due to the increasing demand for housing, lumber—a sustainable building material—is now facing a shortage problem.
The search is on for alternatives, and bamboo wood is one option, with the bamboo vs. regular lumber debate getting traction on many industry forums.
Bamboo has a long history of use as a building material in Southeast Asia, India, and other countries.
But is it better to build with than other materials, such as regular lumber?
Both regular lumber and bamboo lumber have great qualities as building materials. Regular lumber usually lasts longer and has a lower environmental impact. On the other hand, bamboo lumber is more affordable, more sustainable, and sturdier.
Bamboo material is seismic-resistant and can withstand earthquakes and natural disasters.
To have a detailed breakdown of each material is better, we’ll share the comparison of bamboo and lumber.
Let’s jump into it!
Because of the depletion of quality timber and the threat of climate change, designers are considering bamboo as an alternative to wood.
This highly sustainable material can replace lumber or timber in almost all applications, and has its own unique look.
Bamboo is earning popularity for being eco-friendly and durable. Some would initially think it’s wood, but this natural resource belongs to the grass family, with the harvested bamboo grass stalks (or culms) being used as poles in construction.
Unlike wood, you can easily cultivate and harvest bamboo. In 3–5 years, you can have a full-grown bamboo plant, ready to be harvested, that you can use in both structural and non-structural projects.
Bamboo makes an excellent material for vertical construction thanks to its excellent mechanical properties, like its high compressive strength, tensile strength, and dimensional stability.
Bamboo is an eco-friendly material that absorbs carbon dioxide and avoids toxic chemicals, which helps to keep your home’s indoor air quality high.
Designers are now considering bamboo as a composite alternative to lumber and other materials.
Why may bamboo lumber be a better material to build with?
Here are some of the great benefits of this natural material, starting with its mechanical properties:
- Its tensile strength is greater than that of hardwood and steel.
- Bamboo has a compressive strength that’s twice as high as concrete, making it a much more sturdy construction material.
- Bamboo is fire-resistant and can withstand temperatures soaring to 400°C—thanks to its high silica content and the borate treatments used during its production.
- Bamboo lumber is affordable and can help you reduce the overall input cost.
- It’s relatively light, so it’s easy to handle, transport, store, and install.
- It’s less prone to warping than wood.
- An engineering study shows that bamboo can prevent structural damage in earthquakes and natural disasters.
- Bamboo products are the superior sustainable choice since you can harvest them without destroying the plantation, and the plants grow back quickly, voiding the problems associated with soil erosion stemming from deforestation.
If used incorrectly, bamboo lumber can have the following disadvantages:
- Bamboo fibers are susceptible to insect attacks like termites, powder-post beetles, and marine borders.
- It requires sufficient treatment before use to prevent these attacks.
- Bamboo products shrink more than wood products.
- If using bamboo poles to complement the bamboo lumber, they are usually difficult to connect.
- Bamboo wood can splinter during crosscutting.
- Bamboo materials need to be imported and thus incur significant transportation expenses.
Lumber is generally classified as either softwood or hardwood.
Softwoods come from evergreen trees such as pine, spruce, fir, and cedar. They have lower densities and are light in color.
They’re easy to work with and are much more affordable than hardwoods. You’ll often see them used for furniture, doors, and window frames.
On the other hand, hardwoods come from deciduous trees like oak, hard maple, mahogany, and walnut. They’re slow to grow but are usually longer-lasting than softwood.
They have dark-color wood and are often superior in durability and strength.
You’ll find hardwoods in high-quality furniture, flooring, panelling, and decks.
Walnut is the top choice for veneers and furniture.
Meanwhile, oak — an extremely durable wood when given proper care — is used for engineered floorings and beams.
Here are the advantages of regular lumber:
- Structures made of lumber usually last longer.
- At the end of its life, you can repurpose and use the lumber again, or if it has deteriorated, as fuel or charcoal.
- It naturally decomposes after years of serving its purpose and usefulness.
- In some ways, wood has a lower impact on the environment compared to bamboo, which needs more processing to be usable.
- Homes made of lumber have a higher resale value.
For a look at the financial aspects of bamboo homes, why not read our article “Bamboo Houses As Investment Property (Can It Work?)“
Below are the key disadvantages of regular lumber:
- High-quality hardwood floors are usually pricey.
- Regular lumber is less resistant to water and fire.
- High-quality trees are slow-growers and are now facing shortages due to deforestation, impacting the supply of quality timber.
This table will show you the key similarities and differences between bamboo and regular lumber.
|Longevity||More or less 30–50 years||More or less 60 years|
|Renewability||Highly renewable natural resource; 3–5 years to harvest||Renewable; more or less 20 years to harvest|
|Appearance||Has a limited range of diversity; appears in vertical, stranded, or flat-grain pieces; features natural tints||Available in more diverse styles and grain patterns|
|Moisture resistance||Slightly water-resistant||Less water-resistant|
|Maintenance||Easy to clean||Easy to clean|
|Strength||2–3 times stronger than timber||Less strong when compared to engineered bamboo|
|Price (bamboo flooring vs. wood flooring)||$2–$6 per square foot||$4–$10 per square foot|
There are thousands of possibilities for incorporating bamboo in structural and non-structural designs.
This material is very versatile and you can use it to build all sorts of bamboo products, including doors, bridges, furniture, and full bamboo houses.
Bamboo roofing isn’t only eco-friendly but also an effective and durable alternative to concrete and metal sheets. One good advantage of bamboo roofing is that it doesn’t create much noise during rainy days or heat up on sunny days.
You can choose to incorporate halved bamboo, flattened bamboo, or corrugated bamboo sheets into your roofs.
Aside from using concrete and wood for your fence, you can also use bamboo, as it’s affordable and easy to install.
Plus, it can provide enough privacy and added aesthetics to your backyard, pool area, or wherever you want it placed.
You can customize it according to your preference. Whether you like whole bamboo poles over split bamboo or a shorter fence over a taller fence, you can have it with this sustainable material.
Bamboo flooring is an ideal addition to your house. It can be solid or engineered and can come in different grain patterns, plank sizes, and natural hues.
Solid bamboo flooring traditionally needs a nail-down installation. On the other hand, engineered bamboo flooring comes in planks and is easier to install and more durable, which makes it suited to flooring applications in high-traffic areas.
The latter has a substrate that provides extra lateral support to prevent the floor from expanding and contracting.
Either way, bamboo flooring is hygienic and has a clean, contemporary look. Routine dusting and mopping can maintain its natural beauty.
Depending on its thickness, you can also refinish it after some time.
Recent studies have concluded that bamboo can be used as a building material for foundations.
Although this material can decay and deteriorate when in contact with damp ground, proper treatment such as the use of epoxy will help it last longer.
There are different types of bamboo foundations:
- Bamboo directly placed on the surface or buried
- Bamboo fixed on preformed concrete footings or rocks
- Concrete columns or composite bamboo
- Bamboo piles
Bamboo foundations are often used for standard and low-cost houses. Yet, designers are turning to this option to support the use of sustainably grown bamboo that can mitigate climate change.
Bamboo can bear heavy loads—no wonder it’s widely used as scaffolds for construction and renovation work, where it can replace steel.
You can use nylon straps to tie the bamboo poles together to build scaffolds.
This practice will create a temporary structure that can support the workers and construction materials and serve as a scaffold for short and tall structural projects.
As it appears, bamboo is tougher than wood. It’s also more sustainable and more resistant to water and fire.
Moreover, it can withstand lateral shocks and is a better building material in earthquake-prone regions.
With its strength, durability, and sustainability, bamboo proves to be a great alternative to the diminishing supply of regular lumber, and can even replace steel for certain applications.
Managed correctly, both wood and bamboo are eco-friendly materials, but bamboo is better for the environment thanks to its fast-growing nature and lightweight strength.
If you’d like to learn more about how bamboo stack up against other sustainable building materials, check out our article all about The Most Sustainable Building Materials: We Pick 5 Winners. Bamboo features on the list.