Bamboo is one of the most widely used and versatile plants on the planet. It’s strong and durable, with the ability to retain its shape and be carved into creative pieces.
What many people don’t know, though, is that bamboo isn’t actually wood. Because of its versatility — the fact that it can be used in almost all scenarios in which wood is used — sometimes people don’t make the connection.
If not, is bamboo an acceptable substitute for wood if you’re in the middle of a termite-infested or high-risk area for termites?
Bamboo is most famous all over the world for having a high level of flexibility. The material is used in the construction of buildings, furniture, and houses. But the versatility doesn’t stop there. Unlike wood, bamboo is a go-to material for sculptures, decorations, and even bicycles and clothes.
What Are the Advantages of Bamboo Construction?
Bamboo has the following benefits, many of which give it an edge over traditional wood construction:
- The material is more environmentally friendly than most woods and other construction materials; no waste is left behind after it’s processed
- Bamboo resists cuts and stands up to pressure, making it preferable above wood in multiple construction situations
- The flexibility allows for the construction of shapes, lines, and curves
- Bamboo floors have easy maintenance requirements; all you need to do is vacuum, which is far less maintenance than a hardwood floor requires
- Bamboo is slightly resistant to water, keeping it from having damage from water absorption
- Bamboo can sometimes be resistant to ants and termites, depending on the way the bamboo is treated and processed
- Bamboo can also become fire resistant and slip-proof depending on the manner in which it’s processed
Bamboo and Termites
The short answer to this question is: yes and no. It’s a complex question that requires us to look at the elements of bamboo, the ways bamboo is processed, and what a termite is looking for when they eat wood.
What Termites Want
Termites have innards which contained single-celled organisms called protozoa. These creatures, along with bacteria found inside termites, produce a variety of enzymes which break cellulose down into sugars. Termites then consume these sugars as food.
They also extract their water supply from the wood that they eat. It’s possible for termites to feed on wood with only three percent moisture, but they do prefer wood with a ten percent moisture content.
Elements of Bamboo
Sometimes people believe that bamboo is a safe alternative to wood because it technically isn’t wood. Mistakenly believing that termites only eat wood, rather than plant material in general, can cause you to overlook infestation risk factors.
Bamboo can be broken down using the same processes that termites use to digest wood. Through these processes, the termites extract sugar and starch from the material. This means that bamboo which has not been processed in a certain way is susceptible to infestation.
The most common termite species to go after bamboo is the drywood termite. This is because their nests are built inside the culm parts of the bamboo. You’ll only see the termites when the bamboo starts to break apart, and by this time, it’s already too late.
That said, it’s not impossible to have risk-free bamboo. The difference is the way that the material is handled and processed prior to its use in any kind of construction.
When bamboo is treated and processed, it’s boiled. This removes all traces of starch and sugar from the material. After this, the material is dried in a kiln to rid it of moisture.
This treatment will make the bamboo untenable to termites. They won’t even consider the bamboo a potential food source, because the sugars they need are no longer available. Even if a termite attempted to chew through the bamboo, it would be stopped by the lack of moisture.
The best treatment for termite-proofing your bamboo is a borate treatment. This is especially true regarding bamboo floors. Experts recommend purchasing bamboos that have been previously treated with borate. If your bamboo isn’t borate-treated, you can provide a clear coat of borate.
Boric acid, in addition to rendering bamboo useless to termites, also has the added bonus of actively killing them. The acid targets the protozoa found in the stomach of the termite. When the protozoa die, the termites cannot break the sugars down into a potentially processed form. They’ll starve to death after attempting to break through the bamboo.
Borate treatment is toxic to multiple forms of fungus and other insects as well. It slows the weathering process, which means that your borate-treated bamboo will last for a longer period of time. Boric acid also has a low toxicity level, so it’s safe to work with provided you use the appropriate safety gear.
Concrete Foundations and Bamboo Flooring
If you intend to use bamboo flooring, it helps to place termite-resistant materials below the floor itself (whether or not you use a borate treatment for the floor’s upkeep).
Steel, concrete, and other physical barriers are recommended by pest control experts. As these manufactured materials have no sugars or starches that might interest the termites, there’s a much lower risk of potential infestation.
You should have some kind of barrier between your bamboo flooring and the ground itself. Termites will crawl up from the ground and chew through your flooring; you don’t want to have to replace your entire floor with a new foundation.