Choosing the best way to upgrade your home is never easy, and flooring is one of the most critical aspects of an upgrade, especially if you are hoping to increase the value of your home. Although they are very different from each other, both bamboo flooring and polished concrete are attractive and robust flooring options. But, as Sherlock Holmes famously said, “Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth,” so perhaps, after all, it is merely a matter of elimination.
Unfortunately, elimination isn’t always so easy, at least not without a detailed and maybe a mathematical approach. To help you out, we are creating a series of side-by-side comparisons between bamboo floors and viable alternatives. Here, we spell out all you need to know to choose between bamboo flooring and polished concrete so that you can eliminate one of them. We suggest you add up all the scores for the various categories, taking into account those that are most important to you, and eliminate the flooring option that ends up with the lowest score.
So, let’s get started.
KEY DIFFERENCES BETWEEN BAMBOO FLOORING AND POLISHED CONCRETE – A GUIDE
HARDNESS (Resistance to Denting)
Strand woven bamboo is exceptionally resistant to denting, so it won’t be damaged even by heavy furniture. Resistance to denting of wood can be assessed using the Janka Hardness rating. We determine this by measuring the force in pounds needed to drive a small steel ball with a diameter of 11.28 mm halfway into the wood. The test was devised by Gabriel Janka to assess what kinds of wood are suitable for flooring. Strand woven bamboo has a higher Janka rating than any hardwood and is up to three times harder than solid oak. On a scale of 1 to 10 for resistance to denting, it achieves a maximum score of 10.
There is no denying that polished concrete is hard; even harder than bamboo and will never dent even with the heaviest furniture. Some people consider it to be too hard for comfort. If you drop anything breakable on it, it is entirely unforgiving. And falling down on it is no fun at all. However, regarding resistance to denting, we award it full marks of 10 out of 10.
ECO-FRIENDLESS / DAMAGE TO THE ENVIRONMENT
Bamboo is one of the most sustainable building materials on the planet. Self-regenerating and fast-growing, bamboo plantations improve the environment rather than harming it. It has a fantastic carbon capture profile too as it absorbs five times more carbon dioxide than a tree and pumps out 35% more oxygen. Because bamboo flooring doesn’t need much water, it doesn’t even deplete the planet’s precious water reserves. Also, it is naturally resistant to pests, thus eliminating the need to use pesticides. Bamboo’s eco-friendliness rating is 10 out of 10.
Polished concrete is more eco-friendly than you might think. We know that producing concrete creates a great deal of carbon dioxide and that the concrete industry produces 5% of man-made greenhouse gas emissions. However, most polished concrete floors are made from the concrete used to build the dwelling, so a polished concrete floor uses no new materials apart from the products that are used to harden, polish and color it. While not being quite as environmentally friendly as bamboo, it gains 9 out of 10 points.
INDOOR AIR QUALITY, OFF-GASSING, & FORMALDEHYDE EMISSIONS
The quality of air in our homes and workplaces can have an adverse impact on our health and is affected by volatile organic compounds (VOCs) emitted from the fabric of our homes. These pollutants can be particularly damaging to people with asthma and other respiratory problems. There are many things we can do to improve the air quality in our homes, and the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) advises how to protect indoor air quality in your home.
Of course, the best way is to avoid materials that are susceptible to off-gassing and replace them with materials that don’t produce pollutants. Fortunately, bamboo flooring produces very few, if any, contaminants. The only pollutant emitter is the small amount of adhesive used in its manufacture. Because of this, its overall score for indoor air quality is 9 out of 10.
Polished concrete is also an extremely low emitter of VOCs. None at all are emitted by the concrete, though some are emitted by the hardening agents used to prepare the concrete for polishing and the various stains used to color it. As with bamboo, it also scores 9 out of 10 for air quality.
COMFORT FOR WALKING / WARM UNDERFOOT
Bamboo flooring feels naturally warm underfoot, even on a cold day. That’s because it doesn’t drain away the heat from your body. If you think back to when you took science in high school, they probably tried to teach you about the second law of thermodynamics which says that heat always flows from a warm body to a cold one and never the other way round. That’s what’s happening when you step onto a floor that is colder than you are. But there is another factor: the speed at which heat flows from a warm body to a cold one. When the thermal resistance is high, heat flows slowly; when it is low, heat flows quickly. Now, the thermal resistance of bamboo is very high, so heat flows into it very slowly, which is why it feels warm to the touch. Enough science for now. In a nutshell, bamboo scores 9 out of 10 for comfort for walking.
Step onto a polished concrete floor barefoot in the early morning, and it feels like it could freeze your toes off. As we describe above, this is because its thermal resistance is very low, and it rapidly drains away the heat from your body. Brrrrr – positively icy – it scores just three points out of 10 for comfort for walking.
Bamboo is water-resistant, but it isn’t waterproof. As long as you clean up puddles within 24 hours, they will leave no trace behind. But if your bamboo floor is subject to frequent contact with water such as in a shower room, then it may show signs of swelling, which is precisely why we don’t recommend it for such applications. In normal use, however, it is unlikely there will be any problems. For water resistance, we give it 8 out of 10.
Polished concrete is so highly water-resistant that you can even use it in your pool. In fact, it’s completely waterproof. You can’t get better than that; it scores the full 10 out of 10.
PRICING & AVAILABILITY
Bamboo flooring is a steal. You can get much-sought-after wide planks at a much lower cost than hardwood wide planks and expect to only pay from $3 to $5 a square foot from stores online. The bonus is that it looks just as good as hardwood but is three times harder and is eco-friendly. It scores 9 out of 10.
Most polished concrete floors use existing concrete floors, so the price depends entirely on the polishing process which is relatively complicated. Naturally, if you need to lay down a new concrete layer, it will cost more. The price also depends on the area as there are certain fixed costs you will have to pay. Typically, prices vary from $4 a square foot up to $8 a square foot, though you can spend more for elegant finishes. Pricewise, it is similar to bamboo flooring, so it also gets 9 out of 10.
ORGANIC, NATURAL MATERIALS VS SYNTHETIC
Bamboo is a fast-growing grass and a member of the Poaceae family of true grasses. Large Bamboos look very much like trees and are often referred to as “bamboo trees,” though they are grasses. Whatever you want to call it, there is no disputing that it is entirely natural. If you are looking for an environmentally-friendly, natural flooring material, then you can’t do better than bamboo, It scores 10 out of 10.
Of course, concrete isn’t organic. However, it does use natural and abundant materials. As we have pointed out, manufacturing concrete is harmful to the environment, though most polished concrete floors make use of the same structural concrete that forms the existing subfloors. After much deliberation and discussion, we are awarding it a score of 5 out of 10 for this comparison.
NATURAL VARIATION IN THE GRAIN – LOOK AND FEEL
As you are now aware, bamboo is a grass rather than a hardwood. So, unlike wood, it doesn’t have growth rings. Wood grain is created by the growth rings which occur due to the variation in wood color and texture produced by differences in its seasonal growth. However, bamboo is fibrous in nature, and this provides it with a highly attractive natural grain that is different from hardwood yet looks and feels at least as good. You will never find two identical bamboo planks, so every bamboo floor is unique. We score it 10 out of 10.
You can produce an extensive variety of finishes to a polished concrete floor and create large areas without any repeating patterns. But, as attractive as they are, they entirely lack any natural variation. Because you can create a concrete floor devoid of repeating patterns, it scores 5 out of 10 in this category.
EASE OF INSTALLATION
One of the attractions of bamboo flooring is that anyone with reasonable DIY skills should be able to install it easily. There are several different options, and you will find detailed instructions for those options here. It is essential to ensure the integrity of the subfloor, and the guide covers this too. If you would prefer not to do it yourself, there will be no difficulty in locating a qualified installer who can do the job at a reasonable price. For ease of installation, we award it 8 out of 10.
If you have a concrete subfloor, you should be able to polish the surface yourself, and the video below shows how you can do so. However, as you will see from the video, this can be a little difficult, and most people would prefer using a specialist contractor. If you need to pour additional concrete before polishing, it isn’t usually a job you can do yourself; you will also need to let it set for several days before you can start polishing it. Overall, we award it 6 out of 10 for ease of installation.
EASE OF MAINTENANCE
Maintaining a bamboo floor is relatively easy and requires little more than usual housecleaning procedures. There may be times when your bamboo flooring requires a little extra maintenance, and this guide provides a link to detailed instructions on doing so. But as long as you clean regularly and use felt pads under sharp furniture legs, there should be no problems. For ease of maintenance, it scores 8 out of 10.
Polished concrete flooring is also easy to maintain and requires little more than standard house cleaning. However, in high traffic areas, it may lose its shine and need specialist attention. It is essential to avoid over-acidic or alkaline floor cleaners which may damage the surface finish. We also give it 8 out of 10 for ease of maintenance.
THE FINAL ANALYSIS
We hope that the above information helps you eliminate another possibility. We have nothing against polished concrete floors; they can look great. But, let’s face it, in most respects, bamboo floors are better. The choice, however, is yours to make.
Bamboo: 91 points
Polished Concrete: 74 points