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Hardwood flooring: Eco-friendly models dominate line

Output of engineered models is on the rise. Bamboo designs are also making headway in the US.

China suppliers of wood and bamboo flooring are focusing on environment-friendly designs amid growing ecological awareness in the key markets of the US and the EU.

Engineered models lead selections in the first category, accounting for 65 percent of output. Making far more efficient use of resources than solid wood versions, such products come in at least three layers. The uppermost segment is made of timber from broad-leaved trees, including beech, teak, ash and birch. Soft lumber such as pine and poplar constitute the middle part. Rotary cut poplar, birch and pine veneer serve as bottom layers.

Hardwood flooring
  This engineered wood from Jiangsu Shunhe is composed of carbonized oak and birch plywood. The price is $28 per square meter.
Flooring in sustainable and fast-growing bamboo, meanwhile, is making headway in the US.

Customs statistics show the country imported 58.3 million kilograms of bamboo flooring worth $103.6 million between January and October 2009. This represented half of China's outbound shipments during the period. The market also absorbed about 50 percent of exports in 2007-08.

According to featured suppliers, the US' demand for the line is actually higher than that for wood versions primarily because bamboo designs are 30 to 40 less expensive.

In addition, some of their physical features are also favorable. Flexibility, for example, is two times better.

Abundant in China, phyllostachys is the species used specifically in flooring production. Models can have a horizontal, vertical or strand structure.

Generally, strand designs are priced higher than the other two types because only plants that are five years old and above can be used. Positioned in the midrange and high end, they are also abrasion-resistant and more visually appealing.

As for the surface treatment, natural, decolorized and carbonized models are available. The first retains the original bamboo color. Decolorized designs are bleached, while carbonized versions feature a brownish tinge after having gone through high-temperature processing.

When installed, natural and decolorized designs yield a brighter look, making them suitable for modern homes. Carbonized versions, on the other hand, create a rustic or classical style.

Imported paint is applied on both wood and bamboo floors, as this meets the E1 or E0 safety standard required by the US and the EU. Germany's Treffert is one provider.

Ordinary varnish is adopted in low-end models, while upscale releases feature UV-resistant coatings. High-end designs can have more than five paint layers to withstand abrasion better.

On the whole, wood models account for 35 percent of China's flooring output, while bamboo designs make up 10 percent. The rest consists of laminate versions.

Products & prices
Industry snapshot
Products & prices

The material, surface treatment and manufacturing technologies adopted are the factors influencing pricing and market positioning in China's wood and bamboo flooring line.

Solid wood models come in mulberry, birch, beech, teak, ash, poplar, pine and oak. Designs in mulberry go for between $35 and $40 per square meter.

Three-layer engineered wood flooring consisting of oak, teak and birch is from $30 to $50 per square meter. Versions with five or more segments comprised of the same species are priced at $25 to $30.

Three-stratum models made of expensive wood types such as maple, walnut and cherry generally go for between $40 and $80, while designs with five or more layers of the same materials are from $30 to $55.

The thickness of each layer for three-segment models is 3 to 5mm, while that for designs with five or more tiers is 0.3 to 0.5mm.

China-made bamboo flooring is priced from $12 to $40 per square meter. Low-end models have a horizontal or vertical structure and come in their natural color.

Products for upscale markets have a horizontal, vertical or strand structure. Midrange versions are available in natural or decolorized versions, while those for the high end can also have carbonized surfaces.

Much of the material requirement is domestically procured. Wood is usually sourced from Northeast China. Bamboo is often purchased in Zhejiang province.

The cost of most wood species has increased by about 40 percent from January to November 2009. Outlay, however, is expected to be stable in the next 12 months.

In December, birch from Northeast China cost approximately $300 per cubic meter. Oak from the US was about $600.

As phyllostachys comes entirely from domestic suppliers, outlay was not badly affected by the economic crisis and has remained steady in past months. Spending for the material in December last year was from $70 to $100 per ton.

While wood and bamboo costs are forecast to stay at current levels in coming months, flooring prices will likely increase due to rising freight costs. Interviewed suppliers are poised to implement a 5 to 10 percent upward adjustment.

Industry snapshot

Before the economic crisis, China's output of wood flooring grew 13 percent annually. Production rose only 9 percent in 2008, with yield totaling 120 million square meters.

Approximately 30 million square meters of bamboo flooring, meanwhile, is manufactured each year. More than half of this is sent overseas, with shipments having CE, WWF and FSC certification. About 80 percent of exports are under OEM contracts.

Over 1,000 companies comprise China's wood and bamboo flooring industry. More than half are exporters.

An estimated 80 percent of the supplier base runs small and medium-scale operations.

Zhejiang is the biggest sourcing hub for the lines. Of China's top 10 wood flooring companies, half are based there.

For bamboo designs, an estimated 45 percent of the country's output comes from the province, particularly Anji and Lin'an counties. Contributing about one-fourth to national turnout, the former was designated China's bamboo flooring production center in 2006.

This article "Hardwood flooring: Eco-friendly models dominate line" is originally posted in Global Sources.

Note: All price quotes in this report are in US dollars unless otherwise specified. FOB prices were provided by the companies interviewed only as reference prices at the time of interview and may have changed.

Disclaimer: All product images are provided by the companies interviewed and are for reference purposes only. Those product images featuring products with trademarks, brand names or logos are not intended for sale. We, our affiliates, and our affiliates' respective directors, officers, employees, representatives, agents or contractors, do not accept and will not have any responsibility or liability for product images (or any part thereof) which infringe on any intellectual property or other rights of a third party.

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