building with bamboo

Building with Bamboo: Comprehensive Beginner’s Guide

Ian Mutuli
Updated on

Bamboo is an excellent building material, and after learning a few fundamental skills, building with bamboo can be very simple. For example, consider a house made entirely of bamboo- natural but modern, basic yet attractive, rustic yet secure.

Many bamboo resource materials range from how-to books to intense courses to full-service architectural firms. However, finding one that focuses on the bamboo building can be a task. We are here to help.

Can Bamboo Be Used for Construction?

Bamboo houses are now being built all over the world. However, they aren't just shabby bundles of thatch roofs and wooden sticks. Bamboo structures aren't what they used to be; for low-cost housing in underdeveloped countries or elegant sustainability in more wealthy neighborhoods. 

Bamboo is traditionally connected with Southeast Asia, Central, and South America, where the climate is most conducive to its growth.

What Type Of Bamboo Is Best For Building

It is critical to use bamboo types that are suited for building. For example, some bamboo varieties are ideal for structural poles, while others are better suited to use as a wall material. You may always do an engineering test to check the loads they can manage if you don't know what types you have.

Here are a few types of bamboo you can use for a bamboo structure;

  • Bambusa Blumeana- This type of bamboo is thorny, highly sturdy, and good for building. However, it struggles to grow straight and is more susceptible to powder post battles, unlike other bamboo species.
  • Bambusa oldhamii- This type has a diameter of around 4-5 inches, grows straight and long, and has a very thick wall. It is best used for rafters and other non-structural architectural parts.
  • Bambusa Vulgaris- This bamboo grows in clumps and is found practically everywhere in Hawaii. It is mostly suitable for load-bearing holes but best used in situations where the big non-load bearing poles are required.
  • Dendrocalamus Asper- You can use this type of bamboo for structural elements of a building. It can grow to about 8 inches in diameter.
  • Dendrocalamus Asper F. Niger- This is similar to the above type, but this is black.
  • Gigantochloa Apus- These species are best used as rafters or scaffolding.
  • Gigantochloa Atroviolacea- This is similar to the one above; however, this is black.
  • Phyllostachys Aurea- This is one of the most prevalent bamboos in the united states. It is a spreading bamboo that can be used for interior design or as a non-load-bearing timber.
  • Thyrsostachys Siamensis- It is best used for non-load bearing practices by bamboo enthusiasts.

Guide to Building with Bamboo

1. Tools

With bamboo construction, the tools needed are not very complicated. Having proper tools can help you speed up the process of building with bamboo. Here is a list of a few tools that are required for the construction of a bamboo house;

  • Bamboo splitter (4X)
  • Bamboo splitter (6X)
  • 12-inch ⅜” -½” Drill Bit
  • Mallet or hammer
  • Circular saw, or hand saw
  • Bamboo carving knife
  • Corded or Cordless power drill
  • Sawzall
  • Orbital Sander
  • Bamboo splitting
  • Assorted Sized Hole Saws or Chisels

1. Preparing the Bamboo

Bamboo must be treated to get the correct form, bend, and length for structural or other reasons before it can be utilized as a construction material. The following are some of the several things that need to be done:

A). Breaking the Bamboo

The bamboo canes are broken into half or quarter portions using a special knife and separated with a wedge. You can get four to eight segments, which can be utilized as canes, strips, or battens. Canes can be peeled to produce strings and ropes up to the age of 18 months.

B). Shaping and Bending Bamboo

Although bamboos are inherently circular, if they are planted in a square-shaped box, they will take on the proper shape. When bamboo is freshly cut, it may be bent by heating it to temperatures exceeding 150° C. Even after cooling and drying, and the bamboo will keep its form.

Is it Necessary to Treat Bamboo Before Building?

Many people believe that bamboo doesn't survive for long, which is accurate if it isn't treated. However, bamboo may be treated to endure for decades!

Heat treatment, pressure treatment, soaking, or vertical soak diffusion with a borax/boric acid combination are all options for treating bamboo. The tasty starches that insects enjoy are replaced with an inedible mixture that poisons them when bamboo is treated with a borax/boric acid solution.

2. Types of Joints

Bamboo building differs from traditional stick frame construction in several ways. Bamboo must be handled differently than dimensional timber due to its circular form.

Bamboo requires specific joints to put two pieces together, but once you've mastered them, they're practically as simple as any other connection you'd build with regular timber.

Here are the common joints that are used in bamboo construction;

a). Angle Joint

A triangle is one of the most powerful geometric forms used to maintain stiffness in bamboo structures. The angle joint is used to guarantee that structures have shear strength, or in other words, that they don't feel wobbly.

b). Fish Mount Joint

In bamboo buildings, the Fish Mouth Joint is a common joint. Since the vertical bamboo member attacks the horizontal bamboo member, it's called a fish mouth joint. It's a difficult joint to construct at first, but once you get the hang of it, it's a breeze.

Once the mouth is complete, it is pinned together with a wooden dowel under the horizontal piece of bamboo. Since it can be difficult to make this joint completely secure at times, a modified form has been designed.

c). Modified Fish Mouth Joint

This junction uses a smaller diameter piece of bamboo that fits into the vertical piece of bamboo and into a hole drilled into the horizontal piece of bamboo, similar to the Fish mouth joint. The two sections are fitted together and then secured using bamboo pegs.

To guarantee a stronger connection, the smaller piece of bamboo allows for more contact between the bamboo pegs as well as the bamboo fish mouth.

3. The Foundation

Any building development's first and most critical step is to provide it with a nice pair of boots or a solid foundation. A conventional bamboo foundation comprises a concrete piling base with rebar protruding from it.

The bamboo's bottom nodes are opened and laid over the rebar on the concrete footing; roughly 2 nodes up is sufficient. Two holes are cut into the sides of the bamboo's bottom nodes so that liquid concrete can be poured in and hardened. For a bamboo home, this has shown to be the ideal foundation method.

Bamboo is hardly ever used as a foundation material since it decays quickly with dampness when it comes into touch. However, with correct treatment and the use of appropriate chemicals, this problem can be addressed.

The following are the numerous types of bamboo foundations:

  • Bamboo that is directly in contact with the ground.
  • Bamboo is fastened to rock or prepared concrete foundations.
  • Bamboo or concrete columns
  • Bamboo piles

4. Structural Design

Bamboos are cultivated in such a way that as they develop, they take on the required forms and structures. Here are some common shapes and designs;

  • Squared- A squared cross-section may be formed by compressing the developing stalk of bamboo within a square section.
  • Arched- Bamboo arch designs can also be made by compressing the growth of the bamboo into the desired shape. This would be less expensive than making the same shape out of regular wood.
  • Curved and Flattened Bamboo- Traditional bamboo shaping techniques such as pressure and temperature are used to create curved and flat shapes.

5. Walls Construction

Bamboo is often used in the dividers and walls. The basic parts of bamboo construction are posts and beams, which provide the structural framework for walls.

They positioned themselves in such a manner that they would be able to endure natural pressures. To enhance the strength and stability of the walls, an infill is employed between frame sections.

6. Roofing

Bamboo is among the top roofing materials, and it gives the building a lot of strength. It is a proven barrier against natural or animal forces, and it is quite light in weight, making it simple to build. Purlins, rafters, and trusses are all included in the bamboo roofs.

7. Scaffolding

Bamboos are one of the most widely recommended materials for scaffolding, especially for towering constructions, due to their excellent capabilities of sustaining huge loads. Cane extensions are created by connecting cane ends together with many ropes for scaffolding construction.

The ties are placed in such a way that vertical downward forces lodge the nodes in the lashing. Since the joints may be re-aligned to the proper degree, this approach is extremely important.

What Do You Consider Before Building with Bamboo

1. Bamboo Supplier

Bamboo is a strong material that is commonly used as a substitute for steel, but it is also highly fragile because it is comprised of fiber and can split along its core. Do your research and always confirm that your bamboo supplier is reliable.

2. Location

Road and topographical building conditions, water and electricity availability, local labor availability or lack thereof, and local materials availability or lack thereof.

3. Budget and Fees

What is the total cost of the project? What are the client's requirements for finishing and standards? This information is critical for the architect to begin brainstorming about the first design process and pricing.

4. Design

The bamboo house's design shape and difficulty level are more relevant and important than the overall area of the structure. Big buildings can proportionally be turned out to be cheaper than smaller structures.

5. Legalities Of Building With Bamboo

As you can see, bamboo is an excellent building material. All that remains is for it to be legalized for use in home construction, particularly in tropical areas. Bamboo can now be used to construct non-permitted constructions such as gazebos, shade structures, and furniture.

6. Quality Control

On-site quality control is critical to any project's success. For building, only use bamboo that has been fully dried and matured. Bamboo poles shrink as they dry, and as they shrink, they break and split. To be used for construction, your bamboo poles should have a moisture content of no more than 18%.

Pros and Cons of Using Building with Bamboo

Pros

  • Higher tensile strength as the fibers run axially
  • The low weight makes construction and transportation easier
  • Easy and cost-effective to use
  • Great elastic features make it a good choice for earthquake-prone regions
  • High fire resistant and can withstand very high temperatures of up to 4000 C.
  • Safe with no dangers to health

Cons

  • Preservation and treating are needed to improve durability
  • Shrinks more than other types of timber.
  • The structural reliability of bamboo buildings is questionable.

Best Bamboo Buildings

1. Sharma Springs in Bali

Image Source: ibuku.com

Sharma Springs is Bali's tallest bamboo building, with six levels and stunning views of the surrounding jungle. This magnificent mansion, inspired by the shape of a lotus flower, is both mystical and grand.

2. Kontum Indochine Cafe

This waterside cafe by Vo Trong Nghia, who was featured in our series of interviews with architects about the new bamboo trend this week, is the second most popular.

Image Source: dezeen.com

The top-heavy columns in this restaurant designed for the Kontum Indochine Hotel in the designer's home country of Vietnam are a reference to traditional fishing baskets used in the region, and the firm's designs for the country's Milan Expo Pavilion are echoed in the firm's designs for the country's Milan Expo Pavilion.

3. Bangkok Hair Salon

Image Source: dezeen.com

In his unique design of this Hair Salon, Thai designer Nattapon Klinsuwan of NKDW Studio was inspired by natural caves. Thousands of bamboo stakes were hung from the ceiling like stalactites to differentiate the different internal zones. To build columns, these "stalactites" join with "stalagmites," bamboo pegs rising from the bottom.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) on Building with Bamboo

1. Why is bamboo not used in construction?

Bamboo's major flaw is its inability to withstand the elements in its natural state. Untreated bamboo buildings don't last more than a few years since the material attracts insects and fungi, which cause disintegration.

2. Is bamboo stronger than concrete?

Bamboo has a tensile strength greater than several steel alloys. Bamboo has a compressive strength greater than many concrete combinations.

3. Can I build with green bamboo?

Building with green bamboo is not a good idea. Pests and insects like fresh bamboo make it more susceptible to mold and fungus. Furthermore, as the wood dries, it shrinks in diameter by around 10-15% and becomes stiffer. You can create with it safely and securely once these processes are completed.

Meta Description: Housing is one of the major applications of bamboo. Building with bamboo is quite common since it is a lightweight and high-strength material.

Ian Mutuli

About the author

Ian Mutuli

Founder and Managing Editor of Archute. He is also a graduate architect from The University of Nairobi, Kenya.