Archive for May, 2007

3 Simple Steps to Remove Dents on your Bamboo (and Wooden) Flooring

One of the most common issues we face during installation is dents on our bamboo flooring.

During a renovation or construction project, flooring is usually the last item. Ideally, most of the other works would already have been completed when we are installing the flooring, leaving perhaps some light carpentry work.

That’s the theory. Due to time constraints and unforeseen delays, job sites are usually chaotic places. One of my installer half-jokingly calls them as “war zones”.

Bamboo is very hard and durable, but it is nowhere as hard as a metal hammer. Accidents do happen.

So what can we do?

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Green Business is Good Business

I remember when Star Bamboo first started production in 2001, there were concerns over the viability of the business.

People could see that our bamboo flooring product was lovely and durable, but they wondered if eco-friendly products would do well in a market where price was often the prime consideration.

Would people be willing to spend their money on eco-friendly products?

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Return to Sender

I received a bounced mail today.

It was a traditional Lunar New Year greeting card sent to an overseas associate. I had written only the street address, without the city nor postal code. This is perfectly fine in a small country in Singapore, where the city is the same as the country.

In my rush, I even omitted the country, which you could see was hastily scribbled in right before I popped it in the post:

Lunar New Year card - Returned to sender

It took 3 months to be sent back to me.

This is an incredibly slow and inefficient way of telling me that I’ve written an incomplete mailing address. With email, it will take less than a minute.

Then it struck me how much I’ve come to rely on the Internet.

Star Bamboo is based in Singapore, with our factory in China, and we sell to customers around the globe.

I rely heavily on the following to communicate with my clients and business associates:

  1. Email (Email)
  2. Web site (www.starbamboo.com)
  3. Blog (you’re reading it now)
  4. Various B2B trade web sites

All these would have been impossible without the Internet. It is vastly more efficient than letters, faxes and phone calls.

Just think about how you found Star Bamboo, and chances are it’s through the Internet.

So I will be emailing my associate above to wish him a terribly belated Happy Lunar New Year instead.

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“Selected Physical Properties of Commercial Bamboo Flooring”

What a dry and boring title, sounds like it’s from an academic journal.

Wait a minute, it is from an academic journal. Forest Products Journal, to be precise.

This was a scientific study to evaluate the properties of commercial bamboo flooring, like those made by Star Bamboo. You will need to pay to obtain the full report, but I gleaned some interesting facts from the abstract (my thoughts below each point):

1. Bamboo flooring was more dimensionally stable than red oak flooring.

No surprise, this is one of the main benefits of using bamboo flooring – it’s dimensionally more stable than many popular hardwoods.

2. The mean hardness of bamboo flooring was significantly greater than those of red oak flooring at 65 percent RH and a temperature of 21°C.

This is verified by the Janka hardness scale as well. Bamboo flooring has a Janka hardness rating of around 1500, which is about 10% higher than that of American red oak (~1350).

3. Exposure to 90 percent relative humidity (RH) and water submersion caused more hardness reduction in bamboo flooring than in red oak flooring.

Considering the high hardness of bamboo flooring, this result is surprising. It suggests that bamboo flooring is not suitable for extremely humid regions, or locations which are open to rain such as bathroom, garden and balconies.

Thankfully, there aren’t many regions with a constant RH of over 90%. I hail from hot and humid Singapore – it is impossible to get through a day without sweating.

Yet our RH is usually only around 50% to 70%. In fact, most indoor environments have a RH of only 30%, thanks to the ubiquitous air-conditioning.

Air con units everywhere in Singapore

So it’s safe to say that bamboo flooring is suitable for installation in almost every country.

In any case, we already advise our customers not to install in the bathroom or unsheltered areas (this is also the case for most wooden products).

It’s nice to have some scientific proof to back up what we say in our brochures, it’s not all just marketing talk you know. :)

p.s. If you’re curious as to how I found the above journal article, it’s thanks to a new Google feature called Google Scholar. I love Google!

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We Don’t Steal Food from Pandas

A panda walks into a restaurant, sits down and orders a sandwich. After he finishes eating the sandwich, the panda pulls out a gun and shoots the waiter, and then stands up to go.

“Hey!” shouts the manager. “Where are you going? You just shot my waiter and you didn’t pay for your sandwich!”

The panda yells back at the manager, “Hey man, I am a PANDA! Look it up!”

The manager opens his dictionary and sees the following definition for panda: “A tree-dwelling marsupial of Asian origin, characterised by distinct black and white colouring. Eats shoots and leaves.”

Something to brighten up your week.
:)

But seriously, I have received queries from concerned customers wondering if our bamboo flooring enterprise is depriving those endangered pandas of their food source.

The short answer is, No. We use a different species of bamboo from what pandas eat.

Lucy Siegle of The Observer asked a slightly different question: Will the focus on commercially viable species of bamboo result in monoculture, and lead to the extinction of the other species, including the ones that pandas depend on for sustenance?

She’s right to point out that making a product out of bamboo, however renewable and fast-growing it may be, does not automatically qualify it as an eco-friendly product. The source of the bamboo is just as crucial.

Star Bamboo only uses bamboo material that has been certified by the local Shaowu government. It has a programme in place to manage the harvesting of bamboo in the region.

It is also important to note that the species of bamboo we use, commonly known as Moso, is native to the region. It was not a species imported for commercial reasons.

Ms Siegle also remarked:

Material scientists also question the way bamboo is processed, predominantly in China, using elemental chlorine (which produces toxic dioxins) and where there are little to no standards or controls governing air emissions and liquid effluents.

Well, we don’t use a chemical as toxic and difficult to handle as chlorine in our production.

Instead, hydrogen peroxide is our preferred choice. It achieves a good bleaching effect for our Natural bamboo flooring, and the by-products are only oxygen and water.

It is costly too, which explains why Natural bamboo flooring is generally priced higher than Carbonised bamboo flooring.

So back to the question, do bamboo flooring manufacturers steal food from pandas?

The long answer is, it depends on the practices and ethics of the manufacturer. So please purchase only from responsible manufacturers, and market forces will ensure that the pandas do not go hungry.

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Price of Going Green

There are many ways of going green.

For example, you can choose to buy energy-saver light bulbs to replace your old incandescent bulbs. Or you could use energy-efficient versions of electrical appliances that typically would suck up huge amounts of electricity, e.g. refrigerators and air-conditioning units.

These products might cost you more to buy, but will cost you less to use. So they will save you money in the long run. Savings cents definitely makes sense.

However, there are other ways of going green which will not save you any money. In fact, it might even cost you more.

There are many wonderful items made from recycled and reclaimed materials. Buying them consumers less resources and reduces the impact on our environment.

RagaDog

But would (or should) you spend US$52.95 on a soft toy made from old sweaters?

Or an eye-watering £1,500 (US$3,000) for a rocking chair made from an old cinema seat?

Now, why are they charging such high prices? Is it because of:

1) high cost of materials?

Unlikely, these are recycled materials after all.

2) high cost of labour?

Maybe. Incorporating recycled materials into your products is an hands-on affair and mostly eschews the use of machines.

3) low and inelastic demand?

This would be my guess. Such products are very niche, finding willing buyers in a miniscule group of people. However, they are usually able to pay the high asking prices. Faced with such a market, it would only make financial sense to demand more for your green products.

Bamboo flooring is also a green product. So why are we not tapping into this niche market and charging high prices for our products? After all, I have come across bamboo flooring companies who charge 30% more than us for the equivalent product.

Even though the costs of producing bamboo flooring is higher than simply chopping down trees and milling the logs, my aim is to price them to wooden flooring as closely as possible.

My hope is that one day bamboo flooring would no longer be considered a niche product for the eco-conscious consumer, but a mainstream product that everyone could enjoy.

High pricing would automatically discourage the typical consumer from considering it or even finding out more. We would have missed out on the chance to educate and inform them about the benefits and beauty of bamboo flooring.

What a pity that would be.

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Bamboo Speakers

I came across bamboo speakers by a Japanese designer Fumi Masuda this morning while having my daily dose of green blogs. Sounds like a good idea.

When friends heard I was in the bamboo flooring line in 2001, a few of them audiophiles came asking for bamboo speakers and LP turntables to be fabricated.

Now, I’m not sure whether there’re any actual audio benefits to using bamboo. The high density and strength of bamboo could dampen vibrations and contribute to a purer sound.

Well, our company was (and still is) focused on producing flooring and never got around to this little project.

I did a Google search and it turns out that Fumi Masuda wasn’t the first. But there are some interesting differences among them.

Masuda made his speaker boxes using bamboo material similar to our bamboo flooring:

Bamboo speakers by Fumi Masuda

There’s also the Bird-Electron EZ-TAKEGTF2, which made clever use of a bamboo pole as the speaker body:

Bamboo speakers by Bird Electron

and even a bamboo speaker diaphragm created by Panasonic:

Bamboo speakers by Panasonic

I don’t know how commercially successful the above products will be, but it’s certainly a great showcase of the versatility of bamboo.

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Renewable vs Recycled

Yesterday, I was gushing over the Flexible Love accordion folding chair, for its innovative use of recycled materials.

Making use of recycled material is great, but it has a big image issue. No matter how you spin it, recycled materials just sounds cheap and low-rent.

The solution to that is renewable materials.

That is why the fast-growing bamboo is the ideal eco-friendly material for flooring, and furniture too.

Bamboo poles has long been used to make furniture. But the designs were traditional and stale, essentially unchanged for decades.

Then along came bamboo flooring, and manufacturers hit upon the idea of using the material for table tops.

When we first used our bamboo material to make modern bamboo furniture, we were the first company to exhibit such products at the International Furniture Fair Singapore (IFFS) 2006.

It was a radical departure from the traditional bamboo pole furniture. Visitors were pleasantly surprised to find that our furniture were actually created from bamboo.

This tremendous interest in bamboo continued to snowball.

By the IFFS show in 2007, the awareness of bamboo reached new heights with two winners at the Furniture Design Awards with bamboo-inspired creations.

I’m sure we will see even more creative use of bamboo in furniture in the coming year.

That means more competition for us, but more choices for the eco-conscious consumer. And that can only be good.

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The Coolest Chair in the World

This has got to be the Coolest Chair in the World.

Check out the “Flexible Love”, an accordion folding chair made from recycled wood and paper:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9aQxEEi7I0Q]

A translation for those who don’t understand Mandarin: Hello, this is “Flexible Love”, an expandable lover’s chair. It can seat 1, 4, 8 or even 16 people! It has also many different designs – “S” shape, “U” shape, and lastly the round shape. This is “Flexible Love”.

“Flexible Love” is the name of an amazing piece of furniture design. You can change the size and design instantly with a simple tug.

It’s been generating buzz on the Internet for a while now, before I stumbled upon it.

I simply love it.

The designer is a young Taiwanese college student, who was inspired by the honeycomb structure used in paper pallets. It doesn’t look very comfortable to my eye, but it’s strong enough to take the weight of 16 people.

With a retail price tag of US$799 prices ranging from US$300 to US$540, these were never going to sell in large volumes. Why would people pay a premium for furniture made from “widely-available, low-cost recycled materials”?

Indeed, Flexible Love is envisaged to be a line of “experimental furniture”.

Such fresh designs are great for generating interest and awareness in use of eco-friendly materials in furniture production.

And it has accomplished that wonderfully.

Update (3 May 2007): A reader alerted me (thanks Marc!) to a Canadian design company Molo Design, which has an entire range of flexible products. They’re not eco-friendly, but are at least recyclable. This probably provided the inspiration for Flexible Love, but hey, don’t we all borrow ideas from one another? ;)

Update (8 May 2007): Pinzaan, the company behind Flexible Love, alerted me that the prices for their Flexible Love series are actually more affordable than I had thought. The original link in my blog wasn’t an authorised Flexible Love reseller, which explains why they couldn’t get their grubby hands on it!

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Appearances Count… For Little in the Long Run

I came across a newly opened doughnut shop the other day. You couldn’t miss it because there was a long queue snaking outside.

Wow, it must be good.

So we joined the queue and started waiting patiently.

When it finally came to our turn after more than 30 minutes, we had already decided on the flavours we want.

It dawned on us that the queue was caused by slow service rather than popular demand.

The simple matter of packing up 12 doughnuts took the assistant more than 3 minutes. She had to fold the boxes from its flat pack form, put the doughnuts into the box, and shuttle between the counter and kitchen for the flavours that have run out.

I counted six helpers in the kitchen preparing the doughnuts, but only one serving the customers. With a simple reshuffling of workers, the wait could have easily been halved.

Yet unsuspecting people were joining the queue all the time. But treat your customers like fools, and they will eventually wise up and take their business elsewhere.

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