Bamboo as a Construction Material

Veronica R
Bamboo as a construction material is traditionally associated with the cultures of Central and South America, Asia and the South Pacific. It can be used to build entire homes and other structures that are earthquake-resistant and can survive strong winds and storms. Only a few of thousands of known bamboo species can be used for construction purposes. It is important to choose a species of bamboo that is suitable for construction, which includes species of the genus Guadua, most of which are concentrated in the Amazon basin; Dendrocalamus, which are found in the Indian subcontinent, China, and Southeast Asia; and Phyllostachys, commonly known as "timber bamboos" and found in Central China, northern Indochina and in the Himalayas.

Bamboo, which may be cut and laminated into sheets and planks, is an ideal construction material as it is durable, sustainable, and environmentally friendly. It is as strong as steel in terms of tension, and because it is cylindrical and hollow, it is stronger than concrete in terms of compression, thereby giving it a high strength-to-weight ratio. It also weighs much less than traditional building materials such as wood, concrete, and steel. As a flexible material, bamboo may be curved or flattened by the application of heat and pressure. It is also naturally water-resistant, so unlike wood, it does not have the tendency to warp due to heat or dampness. Bamboo may be treated with borax and boric acid as a fire retardant, fungicide and insecticide.

Unless treated, bamboo attracts fungi and insects such as termites, ants and beetles because it contains high levels of starch. In order for bamboo to be sustainable it is important that it is properly harvested -- usually when the bamboo culm is 3 to 5 year old -- and cured and dried properly. Harvesting bamboo too early results in bamboo that is not as durable as those harvested at the right time. Bamboo has poor fire-resistance and limited durability when exposed to UV rays and humidity. This can cause excess swelling and the lack of humidity can cause shrinking and/or cracking. In the United States, bamboo is not as readily availability as in other countries. Therefore, finding a reliable bamboo supplier that provides a quality product may be a challenge. If the bamboo is imported, this usually equates to higher costs.

Technical Aspects
One of the difficulties of building with bamboo is joining them together. Since bamboo is prone to splitting, it can't be joined with many of the traditional techniques like bolts, screws, and nails as compared to building with wood. Bamboo that are lashed or pinned will eventually come loose due to the expansion and contraction loosening the joints. Moreover, since bamboo is available in different lengths, sections of bamboo have to be joined with reinforcement bars and concrete mortar to create lengths that are needed. Special fastening techniques, such as the use of nylon, steel or vegetal cord, are required when joining bamboo.

However, one technique is to use bolts at the joints, followed by filling the area around the joints with mortar, which then becomes solid. This keeps the bamboo from breaking when a heavy load is placed on it. Bamboo has nodes at varying distances and these should be used in construction. Columns or beams need to have a node at both ends to prevent the pressure of a structure from crushing the bamboo. Other important techniques when using bamboo as a construction material include properly splicing bamboo poles and joining horizontal and vertical elements.

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Bamboo as a Construction Material

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Comments (1)

Lucia, Architect • 2016

What about toxicity? To make bamboo planks (for flooring, facades, etc) they sometimes use toxic urea formaldehyde resin adhesives, which are highly volatile, and can be detrimental for the inhabitants' health.