The Greenest Resorts – Built from Prefabricated, Modular Bamboo Panels

The Greenest Resorts – Built from Prefabricated, Modular Bamboo Panels
By Sam Small, Vice President – Developing Markets, Bamboo Technologies

Changing outdated notions regarding construction is like pouring refrigerated maple syrup – slow, but worth it. Unfortunately, time is tight for adopting environmentally sensitive practices; we need to do it now. Utilizing prefabrication and modular building techniques and choosing innovative and sustainable building materials like Structural Bamboo can play an important role in establishing a conservative and sustainable eco-footprint and identity for a hotel or resort development.

How to Build?

Construction utilizing prefabricated elements has been around for centuries in various designs for bridges and buildings throughout Europe, and, it can be argued, goes back to the pyramids of Egypt. The basic process was to produce some, if not all, building elements off-site in a controlled area to eliminate waste, time, theft and errors. Once completed, the prefabricated elements were delivered and efficiently installed, further saving time at the job site.

A hundred years ago the Sears catalog launched the Modern Homes program. These prefabricated kits were well respected and over 70,000 sold as an affordable choice over custom built homes. In London, many of the homes and buildings destroyed during World War II were replaced with prefabricated construction.

Common perceptions towards prefabrication suffered when London occupants remained even after the use of inferior materials shortened the prefab’s serviceable life and in the US the post-war boom afforded the public the luxury of a custom-built home rather than “just a catalog house”. Add to this the general confusion of housing terminology; “Prefab” and “Modular” are in fact quite different from “Manufactured” and “Mobile”.

A Prefab or Modular Home is assembled on a stable foundation just like a common “Stick” or “Site Built” construction, a “double-wide tornado magnet” is a Manufactured Home and a Mobile Home is a recreational vehicle. As well, Prefabricated and Modular refer to different things too: Anything that is assembled before-hand is “prefabricated”, whereas “modular” refers to a level of design standardization, whereby elements fit together in a coordinated fashion.

Prefabricated and Modular structures today adhere to the same local building codes and restrictions as site-built constructions, use the same UBC approved materials, and must be certified by a qualified building inspector prior to occupancy.
The level of finished details in a modern prefabricated or modular structure can vary per project from a pre-wired, plumbed and insulated turn-key assembly to a kit that provides only the structural shell that then requires all the same finishing work as a stick-built.

How prefab panels and modular design translate to a cost effective, eco-friendly build is elementary. Factory mass production facilitates bulk acquisition and transportation of raw materials. Only the finished product ships to the final site, which saves fuel; material overages and waste end up in other projects rather than the local landfill. Transportation of workers is greatly reduced, as are on-site theft, vandalism and weather delays.

Standardization of modular designs and engineering enhances quality control and 3D computer programs facilitate customization. Standardization of assembly techniques and thorough documentation, assembly instructions and field-training compresses on-site assembly time lessening demands on local labor and other resources.

What to Build With?

In addition to the prefabrication and design strategies employed, the choice of what materials to use in building a structure has a major impact on the eco footprint of the project. A study delivered to the 7th World Bamboo Congress in 2004 analyzed both the financial and environmental costs of using Hardwoods, Steel, Concrete or Bamboo as the primary structural element of construction in western countries. The financial costs were found to all be similar but the environmental costs were drastically reduced in the Bamboo option, especially compared to steel, and even with the inclusion of shipping Bamboo overseas from Asia.

Accordingly, Bamboo can help qualify for the LEED for New Construction MR Credit 6 Rapidly Renewable Materials (materials and products made from plants that are typically harvested within a ten-year cycle or shorter) which requires a minimum of 2.5% of the total value of building materials and products used in the project, based on cost.

What’s Old is New

The utilization of Bamboo for home and commercial building is nothing new in many parts of the world; however it is still not on the minds of as many architects and construction companies as it should be. Bamboo is the ultimate “Green” product. It is completely sustainable, renewable and recyclable.

Technically bamboo is a grass, the fastest growing multi-cellular organism on Earth. Bamboo can be harvested yearly after the first five to seven years of growth. Contrast this with a typical hardwood forest that takes twenty-five to fifty years before becoming productive.

Bamboo, in twenty-five years, on a single acre of land, will produce 1/3 more oxygen, 20 times the biomass yield and enough material for 80 structures. The economic and environmental cost savings are fantastic; a three-inch bamboo pole can replace any four-by-four post and when properly joined together, bamboo can span 165 feet just as well as steel can, but at a significant reduction in weight and environmental cost.

Bamboo became eligible for modern construction in 2004, when the International Code Council certified the Structural Bamboo Poles produced by Bamboo Technologies fully comply with International Building Code (IBC), International Residential Code (IRC) and Uniform Building Code (UBC) standards.

Structural Bamboo is vacuum-pressure treated with Borate (eco-friendly salt solution) in order to alter the natural sugars and starch rendering it inedible by insects. Properly weather proofed bamboo has a life expectance as long as any approved construction material.

Because Structural Bamboo has unique physical characteristics differing from dimensional lumber (its round), unique structural engineering and factory methods had to be pioneered to align it with modern construction methods. The primary structural elements are the UBC approved bamboo poles that get joined together to create a structural framework so strong that the finished buildings are earthquake proof and hurricane rated.

To do this each end of the pole is slotted and a steel tab gets inserted and bolted in place. The shape of the plate determines the dimensionality of the pole combinations. Four 90 degree angled steel plates tabbed into four bamboo poles create the frame for a rectangular wall panel. A steel plate with 5 spokes radiating out is the basis of a bamboo truss. Things get interesting fast when you consider that bamboo poles don’t have to remain straight.

Bamboo can be curved when still green and the curve becomes fixed as the pole is dried. Curved poles can be bolted together to create an amazing combination of flowing structural elements that would be very expensive to create using other materials.
Standardized dimensional structural elements like roof trusses and wall panels get preassembled at dedicated workstations and are brought together on the factory floor where the entire framework structure is assembled. Plywood panels with split-open bamboo laminated to the surface are added to flesh out the frame and finishing details are added.

The exterior bamboo siding gets three coats of Cetol, a marine-grade varnish, and is very effective weather proofing. Once complete, the entire structure is broken apart into individual panels and carefully labeled for reassembly later. Each panel is designed to fit into a standardized shipping container so the bamboo kit can go anywhere in the world. All necessary parts and tools are included, think: Resort-In-A-Box!

Trained assembly teams are available to support local labor. Assembly times vary with the complexity of the building, but many
of the kits come together to a structurally stable weather-tight condition in a matter of days and greatly reduce a project’s exposure to costly weather delays and vulnerability to local labor issues.

A Picture Tells 10,000 Words

There’s a strong visual appeal to exposing bamboo on exterior and interior surfaces as the natural, organic look of bamboo just screams "Green". As well, in the “green” frenzy of today’s media environment, there’s a workable high profile PR angle for the eco-sensitivity of a project that uses bamboo as the primary structural element.

However, there’s no requirement that a structural bamboo construction be limited to the look of bamboo. Surfacing, from traditional stucco, to natural earth plasters, to the new eco-friendly thermoplastic biocomposite sheets, can be applied over fitted SIPs (Structural Insulated Panels) to create an insulated structure with virtually any desired look for virtually any climate. Anything and everything from Plantation-style homes to Victorian mansions to Frank Lloyd Wright inspired buildings can be created with prefabricated modular bamboo panels.

It is easy to see why the prefabrication and modular construction industry has exploded in the last ten years in both the residential and the commercial building sectors, the cost saving can be significant. Now is the time to use available technologies in conjunction with selecting sustainable building materials like structural bamboo when developing anything from a home to a hotel to create savings in carbon consumption as well as dollars, and to present a green identity based on substance to an evermore eco-centric public.

Sam Small is Vice President of Developing Markets with Bamboo Technologies, based in Maui, Hawaii. After a successful career in mass media, culminating with 8 yrs service in the unique position of V.P. of Broadcast Production at Prudential Financial where he directed and edited over 200 national TV spots promoting the firm through one of the largest public offerings in the history of Wall Street, Sam Small has turned his sights towards promoting Bamboo as a sustainable and globally appropriate construction material. Originally a customer of Bamboo Technologies, Sam was so impressed with the product and the company that he became directly involved. He has so far supervised the assembly and finishing of three bamboo structures, and currently lives in a bamboo house on Maui. Mr Small can be contacted at 808-572-1007 or


All articles by this author:
The Greenest Resorts – Built from Prefabricated, Modular Bamboo Panels
Designing and Building Big with Sustainable, Code-Certified, Structural Bamboo
Steel…Concrete…Bamboo? Sustainable Construction With Tropical Style, For Any Climate
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