If you research tropical building materials online, you will undoubtedly run into bamboo as an option.
Bamboo is a building material that has been on my radar for 30 years.
Bamboo has big advantages as a building material
- Amazingly abundant
- Grows incredibly fast (It is a type of grass)
My Prior Experience with Bamboo
Before moving to Panama, I was already quite familiar with bamboo from my travels in Southeast Asia and while building houses in Japan.
In both Hong Kong and mainland China, I have seen bamboo scaffolding rising up 15, even 20 stories. In Indonesia, I’ve seen bamboo used for construction of airy pole buildings.
My only real bamboo construction experience has been with Tonkin cane from Vietnam. I still have some Tonkin cane stored along the side of my home in Seattle. It is left over from a fence I built 18 years ago.
Tonkin cane is solid, with literally no hollow core.
The bamboo has been stored outdoors in Seattle’s moist and mild climate for 18 years. It appears to have aged hardly at all. The fence that I built from this bamboo is in nearly the same good condition. Though it has been exposed to sun, rain, high and low temperatures for nearly two decades, I have only replaced a couple of canes in all those years.
Bamboo in Panama
We get plenty of rain and abundant sunshine here in Panama. It is an ideal combination for bamboo habitat. In fact, some of Panama’s timber species grow 20 or 30 feet annually and can reach up to 8” in diameter.
In our town of Puerto Armuelles Panama, you can typically get timber bamboo 60 feet tall and 3”-5” in diameter (see photo).
The price is wonderfully affordable. A 60’ length of timber bamboo only costs ~$1.50. Unfortunately, you wouldn’t want to use it to build your home.
Most Panama Bamboo Is Not Construction Grade
The bamboo that I have encountered in Puerto Armuelles, and generally in Panama, appears to be some strain of fast growing golden bamboo. Though the timber variety grows very large, our bamboo has a mostly hollow structure.
Panama’s most common bamboos are prone to dry out and crack in the dry season. It also degrades rapidly when exposed to sunlight and is prone to mold and rot.
Traditional Bamboo Homes In Panama
As the last 2 photos on this page show, the bamboo typically used to build homes in Panama is what is easily grown and harvested here. A fast growing golden bamboo.
It is not the type of bamboo that North Americans think about as appropriate for construction. That is because it is not. These homes are constructed knowing the bamboo will need to be replaced every few years.
Bamboo For Temporary or Interior Installations
However, sometimes a temporary building structure is just want you need.
We often use timber bamboo as temporary bracing or temporary fencing on our projects. I have made a couple of temporary sheds and a car port out of it on our own property or in situations where I am “checking out” a design idea.
Since each 60’ length of timber bamboo costs about $1.50, it is a great, low cost, temporary building material. If it is protected from the sun and rain, the bamboo appears to last several years.
As you can see in the living room photo, we even use it in our own home. The bamboo you see in the photo is about 8 years old. We have replaced the bamboo on top of the zinc roof once in those 8 years. (Note: This open air living room was added during the remodel, the rest of the house is 2 stories.)
Bamboo House in Costa Rica
I have seen photos online of beautiful bamboo structures in Costa Rica and other tropical countries.
In fact, I met a German man who has built a Bamboo house just over the border, on the beach in Costa Rica. I have yet to visit his project and find out more about it. I do know that he brought in a builder from a high end area of Costa Rica who specializes in bamboo construction for expats. It is still on my “to do” list to visit his home and find out what strain of bamboo he used.
Which Bamboo To Use For Construction
There are roughly 1500 known bamboo species on the planet. However, only a hand-full of them can be used for construction.
In Latin America, including Panama, the yellow striped bamboo, Bambusa vulgaris ‘Vittata’, is everywhere. Sadly, due to its hollow core, it cannot be used for construction.
The best construction-worthy bamboo grown in Latin America is the Guadua angustifolia. Unfortunately, it is not a popular crop. Teak is much more popular.
People have been growing teak as a income-crop for many years. Until that changes, there likely won’t be a much high-quality Guadua Bamboo available in Panama. Because there isn’t much of this bamboo for sale, it will cost you more than you probably want to pay.
Import Your Bamboo
Of course, you can import the construction grade bamboo you need. At least one of the sources I used to write this post (see below), offers to deliver construction grade bamboo to your building site in Panama. My guess is that cost of importing bamboo, relative to other construction materials, will be expensive.
Generally, I am under the impression that high-quality bamboo construction in our tropical zone would be more of a luxury, a specialty construction method, rather than a practical way to build a permanent residential structure. This is especially true if cost is a consideration.
EverythingsBamboo.com offers bamboo kit homes too.
GuaduaBamboo.com has lots of information on building with bamboo.
Learn about more building materials via links below
- Building with wood in Panama
- Use concrete to build your house in Panama
- Using shipping containers as housing