Bamboo, what’s all the fuss?
Bamboo is one of the worlds fastest growing plants with the capacity to grow a metre a day! WTF? A metre a day! That’s astounding, and also one of the many reasons why in 2016 it is the world’s best sustainable resource. It can fully mature in 3-5 years depending on species and during it’s growth takes in nearly 5 times the amount of greenhouse gases and produces 35% more oxygen than it’s equivalence of trees. This makes bamboo the most efficient replenisher of fresh air.
Polystyrene and plastics take centuries to break down and biodegrade, coated paper products take decades. Only bamboo based products begin biodegrading immediately upon entering the soil. By promoting the growth and rapidly growing utilisation of bamboo we can begin to limit the negative impact we have on the Earth’s environment.
Bamboo is mainly found in Asia where it has been utilised for centuries, some parts of Africa and parts of America in hundreds of different varieties. Used traditionally for building homes, medicine, food, tools, furniture and in the construction of water vessels and boats. Generally when we think of a house made of bamboo the picture that comes to mind is a small hut in a tropical village. But this concept is rapidly and vastly changing because of the global demand for environmentally friendly and sustainable products and materials. Bamboo’s unique and efficient natural design make it the current front runner.
A number of things like functionality, availability and cost have to be considered when choosing building materials. The natural structural design of bamboo is unique, being hollow inside and it’s fibres running vertically hence less material mass is required when compared to timber which has a larger material mass section. Bamboo can also be shaped according to the building requirements. Bamboo which grows in a box gets a square shape and can be used for connecting items. It can also be bent after being freshly cut and will remain in that shape after drying too. A few species of bamboo have same strength ratio of steel and almost twice the compression ratio of concrete. The 1999 earthquake in Colombia witnessed the destruction of all concrete buildings but houses that were built from bamboo stood still and untouched by the earthquake.
There are several advantages of bamboo that makes it a good building material:
• Bamboo’s strong natural fibre makes it superior to hardwood
• The versatile quality of bamboo makes it a good material for flooring, roofing, concrete reinforcement, scaffolding (used in Hong Kong for building skyscrapers), piping and for walls
• Bamboo is very flexible and hence when it grows it can be defined to grow into specific shapes. Its shock absorption capacity makes it a great building material for earthquake resistant houses.
• Bamboo houses can withstand a hurricane with wind speeds of up to 273km/170mph
• It is light in weight and thus transportation of bamboo is easy. Unlike other materials which require the use of cranes and heavy machinery, none is required when building with bamboo
• When bamboo is properly maintained it can last for a very long time like wood
• Bamboo is cheap and readily available in areas where it is cultivated. Transportation of bamboo is also cheaper than other materials.
But the most important feature of bamboo is its environmentally friendly quality. It is renewable and bamboo forests can be grown in a few years. It’s naturally waxy surface does not require painting; making it safe from health hazards caused by paints (they contain toxic substances). Bamboo can be smoked in its own resin making its surface impenetrable to insects thereby protecting it from insect infestation and the atmosphere from chemical pesticides. It can be grown in a variety of climates and houses made of bamboo do not require use of other materials like concrete, steel or hard plastics. All of these incredible features of a humble grass species give bamboo the leading edge over any other natural or otherwise resource on the planet.
The cultivation of bamboo forests greatly reduces the planet’s pollution and carbon dioxide levels and produces 35% more oxygen than any other plant. Studies have shown that of all the building materials that are used in construction bamboo is the least hazardous in terms of waste as it can be recycled and does not have disposal problems. The roots in bamboo help control soil erosion as it creates a water barrier. Developing countries use bamboo to protect their crops and villages from washing away. Bamboo consumes high quantities of nitrogen and this can help reduce water pollution. Hence, it is good to grow bamboo alongside industrial areas where it converts waste water into nutrients for its own growth. Bamboo is also known to desalinate sea water.
Bamboo has been a central part of many cultures throughout history. This is especially true in Asian countries. Chinese farmers have lived in bamboo houses, sat in bamboo chairs, and eaten food stored and prepared in bamboo containers. They would have used bamboo mats for flooring, beds, and covers. Sandals would have been made from bamboo and hats woven from split bamboo. The farmer’s livestock would have been in bamboo cages and pens and other bamboo enclosures. Bamboo shoots made up part of the farmers diet and meals were eaten with bamboo chopsticks. Fisherman used rafts made from bamboo with bamboo ropes and sails of bamboo mats. Tools would have been made from bamboo or used bamboo as handles. Bamboo was used for musical instruments, irrigation pipes, water wheels – a vast number of things.
Today something new is happening. Bamboo is being seen as an important part of the “green” solution to climate change as well as being a quickly renewable resource. In the last several years bamboo flooring has literally flooded the hardwood floor market. It is advertised everywhere and there are many different types and looks. There are bamboo sunglasses , watches, lamps, furniture, kitchen utensils, and even wireless bamboo speakers and phone cases. Bamboo is being used to make shirts, socks, yarn, towels – even diapers. The cloth has a feel of silky cotton. It is a type of rayon made from the raw material of the bamboo canes. Bamboo has been used in construction of furniture for centuries. New materials such as bamboo laminates and bamboo plywood allow new designs that depend of the inherent strength of bamboo wood. Bamboo has always been used for building construction but inspired architects are designing beautiful homes, pavilions, and outdoor displays that play on the versatility of bamboo as a building material. New ways of attaching bamboo poles together have improved the strengths of load-bearing joints and made it possible for people to assemble them without special skills. The bamboo revolution is here and I’m pretty sure it’s here to stay.