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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Tuesday, Sept. 2, 2014

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The pros and cons of bamboo floors


If things look a little greener around here this April, there's a good reason. Our editorial staff is busy expanding the ideals of Earth Day into a month-long celebration of energy conservation, alternative transportation, recycling tips and about a million ways you can be a better friend to the planet. Welcome to Green Month, Milwaukee.

About two years ago, we installed a bamboo floor in our kitchen. Surprisingly, we had exactly enough left over to cover the floor of our VW camper bus, too. We bought the flooring at Lowe's, and although it was more expensive than Pergo and other fake wood floors, it wasn't exorbitant.

We choose bamboo because, at the time, we believed it was an environmentally friendly choice. Although bamboo is a highly renewable resource that reaches maturity far earlier than trees, we now know that, like so many seemingly "green" choices, there's a flip side. But more about that later.

Overall, I am really pleased with our bamboo flooring, both in the kitchen and the camper. It is a very hard wood, so it holds up to the potential wear-and-tear of two active little boys, and it's really easy to clean. Basically, we just wash it down with hot water and maybe a drop of Dr. Bronner's for that extra-clean smell.

Also, I love the way it looks. Instead of the wide planks in a wood floor, bamboo flooring -- which comes in natural or a darker "oak" -- has very thin planks. You can see where the knobs were, which gives it a very distinctive look. Actually, it looks just like what it is: bamboo shoots that were split, flattened, dried and laminated.

The lamination is one of the areas where the eco-friendliness of this product is questionable because most laminates have carcinogenic chemicals such as formaldehyde. Also, the recent hyper planting of bamboo creates deforestation, and because most bamboo comes from Asia, it requires less-renewable resources to ship it to the United States.

So many eco-friendly choices are one step forward and a step –- or even two -- back. Once again, it boils down to staying off bandwagons and simply doing the best you can in whatever ways you believe are the most important.

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