Can living in a bamboo house help solve the climate crisis?


Written by the author Julia M. Chan, CNN

Although bamboo has been used in construction for thousands of years in Asia, it is beginning to grow in the development of sustainable housing in the United States and other parts of the world.

Bamboo Living Co-Founder and Principal Architect David Sands is at the forefront of modern sustainable bamboo construction. His Hawaii-based company specializes in creating bamboo houses and other buildings, including rock star Sammy Hagar, actress Barbara Hershey, music mogul Shep Gordon, eBay founder Pierre Omidyar and Sands himself.

The following interview is lengthy and has been edited for clarity.

Why bamboo? What makes the material ideal for construction and the environment?

Giant bamboos are the fastest growing woody plants on the planet. If you go to the Guinness Book of World Records, I think they recorded it growing between two and three feet a day. So in a couple of months you end up with these plants that are 100 feet tall. In the third year, you have obtained an incredible amount of building material, and then we collect it for our houses.

As a growing plant, it is probably the fastest natural way to remove CO2 (carbon dioxide) from our atmosphere. Through photosynthesis, that CO2 is being taken in and converted into sugar and then into real fiber, a storage mechanism for atmospheric carbon. And that’s a big deal when it comes to getting CO2 out of the atmosphere quickly.

Usually when you harvest a tree, you kill the tree, and you have to start over. And with bamboo, it sends up new trunks every year, so you harvest a percentage of those trunks and it keeps growing. Plants can live up to 120 years. You know how you keep mowing the lawn and the lawn keeps coming back? It’s really like that – it’s grass. It is the largest of the grasses.

From an architect’s perspective, can you talk about the strength and flexibility of bamboo?

It is an incredibly strong material. Weight-wise, it’s actually stronger than steel, meaning it’s much, much heavier than the same section of bamboo. Bamboo has more than twice the strength of wood commonly used for construction, and has a compressive strength similar to concrete.

Our buildings have been exposed to several Category 5 hurricanes, with winds of up to 200 kilometers per hour. We have passed our buildings up to 6.9 on the Richter Scale in terms of seismic events or earthquakes. Because bamboo is much lighter and stronger by weight, it can be bent and then recovered.

Where did you build the houses? And is there a chance to go somewhere else?

We have them in the Caribbean, the South Pacific, Southeast Asia (and) Southern California now. I was in Florida working on a project. I am going to India to meet with a group that wants to build our houses there.

It is certainly possible to enter any climate. I think that stylistically the houses we have done so far have had that tropical feel. But there was a client yesterday who wants to do a project on Long Island that would be really fun.

Sands says living in a bamboo house is “like living in a piece of furniture” because of its unique craftsmanship. Credit: Jonathan Davis/Spaces808.com

Have you seen an increase in interest in bamboo houses?

Yes, there is. We have never been busier and are now ramping up production. I think the climate crisis has come to the forefront of people’s attention, and being able to make personal choices that directly affect that is a big thing.

That definitely got me going. 30 years ago I built a house for myself in Maui and tried to make it as sustainable as I could. But then they delivered the wood to build the house, and it was really a gut, like, that’s a whole forest! And this is happening every time, in every home in the United States. And I just felt, “I have to do something different.”

You live in a bamboo house now. How is it?

I love. There is a connection with nature in knowing that the home itself is helping to solve the climate crisis. But then the beauty of it, the shapes and forms we can make with it, you wouldn’t necessarily be able to make it with dimensional material; it really is like living in a piece of furniture. All the hand-crafted joinery, beautiful radiant beams and beams add a level of beauty to the building that is truly something special.