Jo Scheer has been deeply involved in working with bamboo for about two decades, having lived in Rincon, Puerto Rico, where he built a home for his family with mainly bamboo components. He has been designing, building, and marketing a wide range of beautiful bamboo creations that can be seen at his website tropical-treehouse.com, where you can also find rental information on various accommodations in this tropical paradise. Jo has recently authored a book, How to Build with Bamboo, that outlines some 30 bamboo projects that elegantly demonstrate the beauty and functionality of bamboo. One of the more inventive of his designs is what he calls a "hooch", which is a small elevated abode made almost entirely of bamboo. The grounded footprint of this inverted pyramidal structure is roughly one square foot, since the entire weight is born on a small pedestal, while the room above is stabilized with guy wires. This hooch has been featured on TV and at conferences. With a background in science, Jo has been a teacher, technician, inventor, builder, contractor, sailor, agriculturist and artist, and thus is eminently qualified to field your questions about building or living with bamboo.
Q: I am interested in the engineered bamboo floors, e.g. horizontal, vertical, strand-woven. Are you aware of any durability/maintenance issues with these products compared to standard timber floors.
A: I have heard that the quality of various types of bamboo floors varies quite a bit, depending on the manufacturer. Many bamboo manufacturing enterprises have popped up recently, with concomitant idiosyncratic/proprietary methods. Some are better than others. You should check out the track record of a possible source. A reputable dealer in the US is a good sign. The advantage of bamboo floors, besides the renewability and beauty attributes, is that they are purported to be harder than oak or maple, as well having a more stable temperature/dimensional stability.
Two issues: The bamboo floor may darken with time. If this is fine, okay. Just beware of that possibility. I heard one testimonial that catastrophic impacts, ie, dropping a sharp edges, heavy object on the floor, may cause a dent, yes, but it may bend the fibers such that they may protrude from the floor. Basically, a rough spot that may require sanding or re-finishing. This is just one report and I have not heard anything like that before. Considering the damage would occur with a conventional floor, it may not be a big deal.
Q: I live in an 160 year old home that has a covered screened porch that needs to de redone. I am interested in using bamboo on the floor. The floor does get wet with rain and a small amount of snow each winter. Would bamboo be appropriate?
A: In a word, "no". It will swell and warp, just like wood. Keep the interior away from the elements, and its okay.
Q: We live in Sydney, Australia, and want to build a deck at the front of our house. We would like to use as 'green' a material as possible to do so, are considering bamboo or recycled hardwood. In your experience, how does bamboo rate as a material used in outside decks which are exposed to rain, wind, sun etc?
A: Bamboo will not endure exposure to the elements - crack, turn grey, & possibly rot.