Bamboo is a relatively cheap yet beautiful material for making a house. But is this a feasible option for a permanent structure that you want to last a lifetime?
Take note that though it looks and feels like wood, bamboo actually belongs to the grass family. It has different properties compared with regular wood from trees. Thus, no matter how hard bamboo might look on the outside, it’s really so different inside.
Instead of having a trunk, bamboo has long stems, thin branches, and small leaves.
Bamboo grows much faster than trees, with the stems ready for harvest and use within just 3-6 years. The plants don’t require a lot of maintenance and actually grow continually, with new shoots emerging and growing after a couple of months.
Is Bamboo Good for House Construction?
Bamboo stems are rich in starch and have very low toxins or natural chemicals. Thus, while it’s a great choice for building a house, the house itself wouldn’t last long if the bamboo isn’t treated before the construction.
The starches inside the poles/stems attract a wide range of insects, fungi, mold, termites, and wood-boring beetles.
Most bamboo materials will only last around 2 years when exposed to the elements or up to 7 years if untreated but used in areas that don’t get touched by the sun or rain.
In itself, bamboo looks fantastic for house construction and could actually lead to beautiful homes with unique designs. But the designs could soon disintegrate and fall apart without proper treatment and maintenance.
Moreover, bamboo can easily shrink and lose much of its form after drying but difficult to use in building when dry because that would make it prone to more cracking.
Importance of Preserving and Treating Bamboo
Bamboo houses really look nice but without proper treatment, you’ll only be redoing your house over and over again.
So, if you want to live in a beautiful bamboo house but don’t want the hassle of having to rebuild your home every few years, it’s important to preserve and treat the bamboo before you begin building your home.
In treating the bamboo, various methods are used to remove or replace the sugars, starches, and moisture inside the poles to make the material resistant to wood-boring insects like termites, mold, and fungi.
Types of Bamboo Preservatives
The following are some of the different types of bamboo preservatives:
- Soaking method (usually in seawater)
- Heat treatment method (by baking or torching)
- Smoking treatment (smoked in the indoor fire pit)
- Curing method (stored in shade for 1-2 weeks)
- Whitewashing treatment (painting the poles with slaked lime or calcium hydroxide)
- Spraying method (bamboos are stacked in a horizontal position before chemicals are sprayed)
- Brushing method (chemicals are brushed on each pole)
- Butt end method (around 25 cm of the butt end is immersed in a chemical solution for 2 weeks)
- Dipping method (cut poles are dipped inside a tank filled with chemicals for a few minutes)
- Soaking method (poles are soaked inside a tank for up to 1 month)
- Hot and cold bath treatment (poles are placed inside the tank with chemicals and heated up to 90 deg C before allowing to cool down)
- Pressure chamber treatment (poles are placed inside watertight chambers and injected with chemical solutions for up to 10 days)
How to Treat Bamboo Against Termites
Termites are among the most destructive insects in homes. The good news is that you can keep these insects away from your home by following the treatment procedures and precautions listed above.
Also, take note of these useful tips:
- Put the bamboo materials at least 6 inches off the ground. You can easily monitor termite lines going up to your home.
- Preserve the bamboo using these chemicals:
- Copper sulfate
- Boric acid and borax combination
- Sodium Penta Chloro Phenate (NaPCP)
- Zinc chloride
- Copper chrome-boron
- Ammoniacal Copper Arsenate
- Pentachlorophenol (PCP)
- Copper / Zinc Soaps
- Trichlorophenol (TCP)
- Use waterproof sealers on all the bamboo materials before applying the paint or final coating of lacquer.
- If termites still appear after all these treatments, special insecticides might also be used to eliminate them from the bamboo material.
Best Ways to Build with Bamboo
To build with bamboo, always make sure that you keep these things in mind to avoid unnecessary damage:
- Don’t use nails to join the bamboo poles
Nails should be used unless you already drilled holes into the material. Bamboo has a unique structure that makes the fibers run along the same longitudinal direction. Driving a nail between those fibers could make the poles crack.
Screws are the better option. But it’s still best to pre-drill some tiny holes into the spot where you should put the screws in.
- Handle with utmost care
Bamboo might look sturdy but it really isn’t. Dropping a pole could make it crack the entire length! When driving a nail or screw, don’t also do it too hard or, again, it would cause the poles to crack.
- Avoid direct contact with soil
Unless they are coated with tar or special bitumen material, don’t ever put bamboo directly on the soil. That will only make it rot faster.
Sources: Bambu Batu, Bamboo Import, All About Bamboo