Americans pretty much live by Frost’s maxim that good fences make good neighbors.
Depending on the neighborhood, we mark our territory with clear-cut boundaries of chain link, cedar plank, brick, hedges or iron rails.
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But what makes a good green fence? That’s another question entirely. A windbreak of trees is a bonafide green, carbon-gobbling way to lay partial boundaries in a neighborhood where fences are optional. But in the vast oceans of suburbia where wood or iron fences are virtually required, the new sustainable fence might just be a bamboo fence. It can provide privacy, last for decades and comes from a tree that is highly, amazingly renewable.
Bamboo has been widely used in Asia for housing and fencing. In America, however, it has been rather typecast, first confined to “Tiki bars” and decor in “Asian-inspired” interiors.
Lately, however, bamboo has been creeping out of it’s designated confines (something it tends to do quite well in nature also), turning up as flooring, woven blinds and in furniture.
Bamboo fencing has not saturated the market like those woven blinds, which now come in dozens of mutations from as many manufacturers. But those in the bamboo industry expect bamboo fencing to take firm root in the marketplace because it holds up surprisingly well when compared to the standard cedar plank fence.
As you may already know, bamboo, a woody grass, is hands down more renewable than cedar or any timber used in construction. Bamboo poles for fencing can be harvested every three to five years compared with waiting decades, possibly even 30 years, for cedar and hardwoods to mature. And when bamboo is cut, the base plant remains alive to put out new shoots the next growing season, whereas trees require new plantings of saplings.
“The bamboo plant will just keep on growing and keep enlarging,” says Kinder Chambers, spokesperson for the American Bamboo Society and an officer with the Texas Bamboo Society. “The plant continues and the canes get bigger, wider and taller every year for four to six years.”
Not only is it prolific, it’s durable. Bamboo that’s “hardened off” or matured has tremendous vertical tensile strength and also holds up well against moisture, even better than cedar does.
“This is a 20 year fence,” says Mike Knox, tapping on a gleaming golden-colored bamboo panel that he and his partner, Jeff Waller, have just installed at a home in East Dallas.
Knox and Waller opened Bamboo Builder’s Supply in Frisco, Texas, in 2006, to sell bamboo fence panels, flooring and other bamboo products. The two men say their customers are discovering that bamboo is an effective privacy screen and is built for the long term, especially compared to the typical cedar fence that can need repair or replacement after as little as seven years. Customers also are realizing the versatility of bamboo fencing, which can be wrapped around curved edges and trimmed to meet special screening needs, they said.
Bamboo fencing will weather like cedar, fading to a silvery gray over time, but it can also be sealed to retain its golden tan color. And the weathering, according to Knox, does not weaken the poles. The fence pickets should retain their upright posture and not bow or bend over time.
There’s only one thing about bamboo that’s not as green as it could be, and that’s the fact that it must be shipped from Asia. Certain bamboo varieties can and are cultivated in the United States, but those bamboo nurseries sell the plant for landscaping purposes. The bamboo that makes good fencing grows in a tropical environment and is not cultivated in the United States, Knox said.
The 8 x 6 foot bamboo panels that Knox and Waller sell cost about one-third more than cedar fence panels. But amortized over the 20 year life of the fence, the cost is actually less than that for cedar.
- For more information on bamboo fencing, see Bamboo Builder’s Supply or visit their showroom at 110 Rose Lane, Suite 201, Frisco, Texas.
- The Massachusetts distributor Bamboo Fencer also includes instructions and tips about installing bamboo fencing.
- For more on bamboo and its many uses – as the primary component for houses, fabrics and even bicycles – visit The American Bamboo Society website.
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