Friday, September 11, 2009

GREEN LIVING: Bamboo to the Rescue

by David Sands

A growing world population of 6.3 billion needs the materials of life: food, clean water, shelter, clothes, and transportation. What can humans do to co-create a healthy planet? How do we restore and maintain balance between ourselves and our Earth?

It has become clear to many Americans that bamboo is one of the most significant solutions to our planetary issues. Because of its amazing properties, it can be used to greatly improve our level of sustainability. The rest of the world has been using bamboo since the dawn of civilization. In fact, over one billion people on Earth currently live in a bamboo (green) home.

Bamboo is the fastest growing plant on Earth. It grows one third faster than the fastest growing tree. Some species grow as much as four feet a day. Thanks to its rapid growth, the yield is up to 25 times higher than that of timber. It can be used to produce flooring, wall paneling, pulp for paper, fencing, briquettes for fuel, raw material for housing and more.

Bamboo also serves as a natural control barrier. Because of its wide spread root system and large canopy it greatly reduces rain run-off, prevents massive soil erosion and increases watershed levels. Bamboo also helps mitigate water pollution due to its high nitrogen consumption, making it the perfect solution for excess nutrient uptake of waste water from manufacturing, intensive livestock farming, and sewage treatment facilities.

One of greatest attributes of bamboo is that it can be harvested and replenished with virtually no impact to the environment. Every year it can be selectively harvested and is capable of regenerating without needing to be replanted, making it a viable replacement for wood. Bamboo is also one of the strongest building materials on the planet, having twice the compression strength of concrete and roughly the same strength-to-weight ratio of steel. It withstands up to 52,000 pounds of pressure psi.

With a 10-30% annual increase in biomass versus 2-5% for trees, bamboo creates greater yields of raw material for use. One clump can produce 200 poles in the five years it takes one tree to reach maturity. In Costa Rica, 1000 homes are built every year with all of the building material coming from the same 150 acre plantation.

Bamboo plantations and farms are quickly becoming the perfect global warming adversaries. Each acre isolates up to 40 tons of co2. It eats carbon dioxide! The bamboo plant takes co2 from the atmosphere and turns it into sugars, through the process of photosynthesis, then transforms these sugars into the compounds that make up its fiber.

The co2 from the atmosphere is thus locked up in the plant fiber itself. The bamboo fiber is then used to construct green homes and buildings, leaving the carbon within it sequestered for the entire 100-year lifetime of the building. A 1,000 sq. ft. green home has over 15 tons of carbon dioxide locked up (sequestered) within its fibers.

To absorb the entire 30 billion ton carbon dioxide output of humankind, without emission reductions, would require an area roughly five times the size of Texas to be planted in bamboo. To sequester the entire carbon dioxide output of the United States would require a planted area of 174 million acres, approximately the size of Texas. Each and every green home we build contributes in our mission to help reverse global warming and restore balance on Earth.

Bamboo green homes are made with a special timber species. The poles used in the houses are three and a half inches in diameter and the wall of the pole is three quarters of an inch in thickness. The hollow tube shape gives a strength factor of 1.9 times more than an equivalent solid wood beam. How strong is that exactly? The exceptionally strapping and flexible poles are able to withstand the extreme forces imposed on a house during hurricanes and earthquakes.

Some of the bamboo homes withstood 3 hurricanes with winds at 173 m.p.h. in the Cook Islands in Polynesia in 2005. Meanwhile, most of the wood frame houses on the island were damaged beyond repair. All of the twenty bamboo houses built for the National Bamboo Foundation survived a 7.5 Richter scale earthquake in Costa Rica in April 1991. An earthquake in Colombia in January 1999 also destroyed 75 percent of the buildings in the region, however, the bamboo structures survived uniformly unscathed.

Do you believe bamboo can do all of that? Serve as the worlds most renewable resource and building material, restore native habitat, prevent erosion, protect watersheds, help to reduce global warming, and protect us from earthquakes and hurricanes. What else does our growing planet need help with? Bamboo is to the rescue.

David Sands is a renowned green building architect and bamboo advocate. You can learn more about bamboo and green homes by visiting

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