Ipe Wood Decks
Building an Ipe deck will not only add beauty and extend your living space; it’s also a great investment and will increase the value of your home.
One of the biggest challenges for homeowners who plan to add a deck is deciding what type of wood to use. There are pro’s and con’s to every type of wood, budget issues, and where you live in the U.S. is also a big factor in determining the wood you choose.
What is Ipe?
Ipe is an exotic wood from South America with olive brown to blackish coloring. It can grow as tall as 150 feet making it one of the tallest trees in the Amazon region. It has the durability and strength of teak, but for a lot less money. As a deck wood, Ipe is close to perfect. Not only beautiful in appearance it’s also hard, strong, and resistant to rot, mold, termites, abrasion, and weather without the use of any toxic chemicals. When left untreated it turns to a natural silvery gray color that can be restored to its original color with minimal effort. Ipe lumber comes in long lengths and is virtually knot free, with very little to no warping. If you’re one who likes to walk barefoot you won’t have to worry about splinters.
- Family name for Ipe lumber is Tabebuia of family Bignoniaceae.
- Common names for Ipe wood are many: Ipe Brazil, Amapa, Cortex, Guayacan, Flor Amarillo, Greenheart, Madera Negra, Tahuari, and Lapacho Negro.
- Trade names for Ipe are: Ironwood™, Pau Lope™ and Brazilian Walnut. These are commercial names given to Ipe lumber by large Brazilian exporters.
Should you use Ipe wood on your deck project?
If you want a beautiful deck that all your friends will envy and you want it to last over 25 years, then Ipe is definitely top choice. The U.S. Forest products laboratory classified Ipe as “very durable 25+ years” and expects that ipe wood decking will last much longer; this is the highest category available for classification. Thus you won’t have to worry about replacing your deck for a very long time.
Working with Ipe
Ipe lumber is somewhat difficult to work with. It can wreak havoc on hand tools and have quite a blunting effect on cutting edges. However, the upside is the wood finishes and sands quite smoothly with no splintering. Ipe boards can have a fine yellow dust on the surface that may cause dermatitis in individuals who have skin sensitivities. It can also cause an allergic reaction if inhaled; wearing a dust mask is highly recommended.
Costs of Ipe Wood Decking
To compare Ipe wood decking to pressure treated lumber or knotty cedar would be like comparing a Hyundai with a Lexus.
Cedar and pressure treated lumber can usually be purchased for under $2 per board foot. Clear grade western red cedar is around $4 per board foot and is in a closer proximity to the price range of Ipe.
Ipe decking is usually priced in the $5 to $7 per board range, but that can vary drastically by geographical location; worth every penny as you won’t be replacing your deck every 10 years or replacing boards as you would with softer woods that crack over time. Ask your contractor about reducing the thickness to help save on costs. Often times you can down size your lumber from 1 ½ thick to ¾ thick planks and still attain the same structural integrity yet saving some big bucks on your project.
Bottom line about Ipe as a possible wood choice for your new deck: if you plan on living in your home for many years to come and quality, beauty, and durability are important to you – go with Ipe!
For more information follow the links below:
- US Forest Products Laboratory: Ipe Wood Fact Sheet
- USDA Forest Products Laboratory-Wood Handbook, 1999Ed
How does Ipe wood compare with Red Cedar or Pressure Treated exterior decking applications?
Durability of wear surface:
- Ipe - Extremely hard & dense.
- W. Red Cedar - Very soft surface that scratches & dents easily.
- Pressure treated - Soft surface. Typical knots & imperfections result in poor surface condition and appearance.
Decay & Insect Resistance:
- Ipe - highest natural rating for rot & insect resistance with NO treatment -rated by the US Forest Lab for 25+ years.
- W. Red Cedar - Only the highest grade of Heartwood is rated “acceptable”, sapwood & second growth is significantly less decay/insect resistant.
- Pressure Treated - Impregnated with toxic chemicals. Knots may not be thoroughly treated and may be more likely to rot or be destroyed by insects.
- Ipe - Does not accept preservative well.
- W. Red Cedar - Application of chemical preservative recommended.
- Pressure Treated - Treated chemically, warranty usually good for 20-30 years.
- Ipe - Solid hardwood look with little or no knots, long lengths, very refined look. Resistant to shrinking, splintering, twisting, cupping, and checking.
- W. Red Cedar - Rustic softwood appearance. Lesser grades contain knots Resistant to splintering, twisting, cupping and checking.
- Pressure Treated - Very rustic appearance. Pressure treating increases brittleness and makes pine more susceptible to splintering, shrinking, and checking.
- Ipe - Turns to a soft silver patina with time. Little to no maintenance is required.
- W. Red Cedar - Difficult to maintain original color. If left natural, blackens and grays.
- Pressure Treated - Weathers to a pale green, with knots showing strongly.
- Ipe - Superior fastening with stainless steel screws or nails. Will not pull loose or pop-up.
- W. Red Cedar - Galvanized nails often split wood, starting decay from water penetration. Tannic acid may react with galvanized nails, corroding fasteners & causing black stains. Nails can pop up.
- Pressure Treated - Galvanized nails often split wood, causing decay from water penetration. Chemical treatment may react with nails, corroding fasteners and causing black stains. Nails can pop up.
- Ipe – Extremely strong and offers natural fire resistance: Class A=1 NFPA and UBC.
- W. Red Cedar - Limited strength. Burns easily.
- Pressure Treated - Copper chromated arsenate treatment is toxic and banned in many areas. Splinters and saw dust should be avoided. Not for use around pools, except as substructure. Burning produces toxic fumes.
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