If you are thinking about installing Ipe for a deck, fence or siding, chances are that you are aware that the wood resembles mahogany and can, therefore, last you more than 30 years without requiring to be replaced.
This is because Ipe has natural attributes that can withstand the daily problems that deck owners have to deal with like rots, fire, insects and inclement weather. The problem, however, is that Ipe is native to South America and very rare with about seven trees growing per acre.
Over the years, these trees have been overharvested and, despite the efforts put in place to promote responsible growth, most designers and architects are considering using Ipe alternation and for good reasons, as you will see.
Ipe is a rich brown with amber and red hues with an extremely dense interlocking grain that can be straight or wavy which makes it slip-resistant. With the right equipment, the installation of the Ipe deck can be straightforward. Due to its high density, you will need pre-drilling and carbide saw blades.
Upon installation, it requires very little maintenance. To keep your deck surface clean, all you need is to brush off leaves and clean spills immediately they occur. A stick vacuum can be versatile and can also be used to clean Ipe decking.
As mentioned, unlike water-resistant laminate floor and hardwood flooring, you never have to worry about mold or use of preservative treatments. While the color will fade over time to a silver patina, this does not affect whatsoever on the integrity. You can apply a coat of Ipe oil, however, to prevent fading.
What Is Ipe Decking
Pronounced as ee-pay, Ipe is a strong and sturdy Brazilian walnut flooring. It is a beautiful exotic wood that grows in South America. Ipe wood is strong, hard and resistant to abrasion, rot, insects and extreme weather. It is also twice as dense as other woods and five times harder.
It is usually medium to dark brown and resembles mahogany. As such, it not only lasts as long as mahogany but has the kind of beauty found in interior wood. Ipe lumber is allowed to patina without affecting the quality of your deck but the color can be brought back with a cleaner and brightener. Today, ipe wood continues to grow in popularity and has become a great alternative to teak lumber.
How is ipe wood lumber used? Mostly ipe is used for decking and other outdoor applications lie siding, furniture as well as fencing. When maintained well, it can last up to 75 years and 40 years in almost all applications.
This is four to seven times longer than pressure-treated wood. If you are looking to build seething that you want to last you long, then Ipe is a great choice. Ipe usually comes from the Tabebuia tree that is native to the American tropics as well as subtropics from Argentina to the Caribbean and Mexico.
Part of the reason why it’s so tough is the tropical environment that it exists in. It is naturally hard and has oils that make it a naturally treated wood that lasts long regardless of the environment.
Benefits of Ipe Decking
If you are thinking about redoing your deck or adding to it, one of the options that you might want to consider is Ipe. The popularity of this wood is on the rise especially in the United States and for a good reason.
It has amazing features that you can’t find in other flooring options like hardwood, laminate or vinyl plank. Here are 8 reasons why you might want to consider Ipe decking:
Naturally Resistant to Tot
One of the main reasons why homeowners prefer Ipe is that you never have to worry about rot once it is installed. It grows in the rainforest and, because of that, the tree has natural oils as well as dense tree fibers.
This protects it from the growth of fungi and mold which can cause rot in the wood. Wood rot is one of the common problems that deck owners have to deal with but with Ipe, this will be a thing of the past.
Resistant to Insects
Just like resistance to rot, ipe wood’s resistance to insects can be traced back to the naturally occurring oils as well as density. The tree grown in environments that are teeming with insects and has had to find ways to protect itself from these invaders and the harvested wood maintains this feature.
This is good news for any deck owner since you never have to worry about insect proofing our outdoor space.
One of the problems with other deck flooring is that during hot weather, the wood absorbs heat and becomes uncomfortable underfoot.
Compared to plastic or composite decks that tend to retain heat, ipe wood disperses this heat ensuring that your deck remains cool. Ipe has a low heat retention rate in which case it disperses the heat that it absorbs from the sun.
To increase airflow underneath your deck, you need to build it slightly elevated from the ground. This will then increase the heat dispersion of the wood.
Sturdy and Stylish
If you have decided to redo your deck, chances are that you will struggle with the dilemma of function over fashion. With ipe wood, this is something you never have to worry about.
Ipe is durable as well as beautiful making it the best of both worlds. The wood is popular because of its smooth and uniform texture. The grain is also fine with a slightly waxy texture and is known for its warm and red tones. It is highly durable and the aesthetics of the wood makes it the most ideal choice.
Depending on where you live, your fire risk may be high and the last thing you want is to build a deck that increases the flammability of your home. You want to pick a material that will decrease that risk and nothing comes close to ipe. Ipe is naturally resistant to fire and it is the most ideal choice for decks especially in wildfire sensitive areas.
It is usually a great choice for rooftop decking sine the rooftop deck is usually a major fire hazard especially in closely built urban areas. There are sustainably sourced options available.
If you are looking for a more green alternative, Ipe that has been sustainably sourced will work perfectly for you. With increased tropical deforestation, Bolivia has taken measures to protect its forests.
The Forest Stewardship Council and Rainforest Alliance are working with companies in Bolivia to protect the forests against overharvesting. As such, you can easily find ipe from a sustainable source.
Requires No Harsh Chemicals
Ipe wood that is used for decking is naturally resistant to rot and insects. This means that you never have to pressure treat the wood with harsh chemicals and preservatives which makes it the healthiest choice for families especially those that have small kids.
In terms of durability, unpressured treated Ipe will still last you long and with the proper care, the wood can last you for close to 100 years. Upon installation, the only treatment that you can opt for is sealing the wood with a rose oil-based product.
Ipe is a naturally occurring dense hardwood that requires very little care upon installation. Unlike other options, it doesn’t expand or contract when there are changes in moisture and temperature.
This means that your deck will survive years of daily use without splintering or cracking. You also never have to worry about sanding down the deck every couple of years to maintain a smooth surface and not to mention you will never waste money replacing broken or splintered boards.
You also never have to seal your decking although it will turn to a sun-bleached silver color over time. While sealing helps maintain the warm tones, it doesn’t increase the durability as well as the strength of the wood since ipe is strong and durable without it.
Most people wash down their decks in the spring with a hydrogen peroxide-based cleaning solution but other than that maintenance is very low.
13 Most Common Ipe Decking Problems and How to Solve Them
While ipe wood is durable, naturally resistant to rot and insects, has heat dispersion properties, fire-resistant, stylish and is low maintenance, it has its fair share of problems that you should be aware of before you make a purchase.
Due to its properties, this wood is very expensive which means that you should weigh your options before you spend your hard-earned cash on it. Here are a few problems associated with Ipe decking and their solutions:
1. Improper Acclimation
One of the common problems is improper acclimation. Even though Ipe is used outdoors, it still needs to acclimate to the conditions outside. If it does not acclimate properly, this increases the risk of splitting and the boards separating over time.
The good thing is that it’s harder than redwood and cedar. Because of that, it adjusts to temperatures and can withstand weather elements better than other species. It can handle humidity, dry climate as well as excessive moisture as long as it is given enough time to adjust to the site.
In its original state, Brazilian hardwood has a high moisture count. This level is brought down through a slow drying process to prevent splitting and cracking.
The wood should sit in a lumberyard or house for months to readjust to the new environment. The bad news is that the acclimation process begins again if the wood is moved to a different environment. If ipe is moved from a humid area to an arid one, it tends to dry too fast and this rapid moisture loss is what leads to cracking and separation.
One of the best ways you can deal with the acclamation issue is to ensure that you are buying Premium Grade Ipe since anything less will result in lower performance.
After you have received the shipment ensure that you leave the wood at the job site outdoors for about 10 to 14 days until the moisture level is constant. If you are not planning on installing the boards for a prolonged period, there are certain measures that you can take.
For one, place spacers in between the rows when installing to allow air movement between the boards. Two, cover the materials loosely with either tarp or plastic. Under no circumstance should you enclose the plastic since this will trap air inside and you want air to move freely in and out to prevent splitting and cracking of the boards.
Additionally, remember to seal the ends after cutting. When the rain is exposed, moisture levels change and this spreads throughout the wood. Applying a sealer will slow down this process and, in the end, will prevent separation.
2. Excessive Movement
Adequate airflow is very important in the maintenance of your deck. Woods need room to breathe and air to prevent moisture buildup. Without enough airflow, the dampness starts sinking in and your Ipe wood begins to warp. While ipe is dense, it still moves based on changes in temperature and humidity.
If moisture levels under the deck are higher than at the top, the wood will find a way of compensating for the difference when it is drying. This leads to gasps, coupling and buckling.
To ensure that this doesn’t happen, the airflow on all four sides needs to remain constant. Ensure that you space the joints evenly to allow enough room for expansion as well as drainage. Even when you are building a lower deck, make sure that you leave at least 18 inches for airflow under the joists.
If the wood happens to sit too close to a concrete slab or the ground, just like laminate underlayment reduces wear and tear of the floor, their temperature, in the end, will affect your Ipe. Consider sealing and oiling all four sides of the board.
Another way to prevent excessive movement is to create a slope underneath the deck to allow proper ventilation and drainage. You can pitch the soil at an angle away from your home.
Test it with a hose to ensure that water doesn’t pool near the foundation or the slab. There are products on the market that are specifically designed for under deck drainage like membranes, under a deck, ceiling systems and waterproof flanges that you can purchase online.
3. Staining, Spots and Sealing
If pollen, sap and leaves are left on the surface of your wood, they cause dark stains to develop. Regular cleaning will help prevent this staining.
Ensure that you sweep the deck regularly and rinse the debris off. Fading is also common, especially in areas with high sun. You can use a UV protectant to minimize the damage and, if your budget allows it, you might want to consider springing for an awning that will extend over the deck.
Oiling and sealing are the best ways of protecting the finish of your Ipe. If you would rather allow the Ipe to gray naturally, consider sanding the spots but be very careful so as not to burnish the wood in the process.
There are also brightening chemicals that are available in the market that you can use to lighten the black marks as well as discolorations. Ensure that you buy a product that is safe to use on Brazilian hardwood.
If everything fails, you might want to consider using a wood stripper and resealing the boards. Take caution like using gloves and a respirator when using these products since they contain volatile chemicals.
Ipe has a higher moisture content than other wood options out there. The wood is air-dried which gives it a moisture content of 14 to 18% then being kiln-dried.
Such moisture levels are necessary to ensure the sustainability of the product. If the boards are kiln-dried to a moisture level of below 8%, such boards tend to be moisture demanding and will absorb moisture if they are moved to a humid environment.
By using high moisture content, large swings of the moisture content are prevented which curbs the rapid enlargement of the wood. Different atmospheric conditions, however, will react to such a state which is why the acclimatization period is important.
Always ensure that you keep you Ipe decking away from direct sunlight and make sure that there is enough airflow for a period of two to three weeks at the project site.
This allows the wood to reach equilibrium if the environmental conditions are constant. The wood can either enlarge or contract to 1/8” on a 4” wide board and ¼” on a 6” during acclamation.
The best way of ensuring that moisture levels remain the same before installation is to use a sealer or a wax-based coating. This slows down the rate of moisture absorption as well as loss from the base of your boards.
Once the sealer is applied, appropriate base-side ventilation will enhance airflow through the deck. This also applies to ground level decks since airflow allows the deck boards to shrink or expand in a balanced way.
A sealant should also be applied when the boards are cut since wood is more likely to absorb as well as lose moisture at the base and when the end grain is exposed moisture levels change at the spot of cut.
The end sealant reduces the rate of moisture change, otherwise, a quick adjustment will lead to splitting and appearance of checks on the boards which are never appealing.
5. Challenges as A Result of Hardness
Most tropical woods like Tigerwood, Cumaru and Ipe are hard and thick. This high density causes them to become fragmented easily especially when proper drilling hasn’t been done. Such woods also require sharp tools to work on during installation.
One way you can deal with problems that result from the hardness of the wood is ensuring that all decking is pre-drilled before you apply any screws. Such woods, however, unlike pressure-treated woods, don’t compress with ease when you are applying screws.
It is, therefore, important that you drill for larger holes something that you can only do with drivers and big cordless drills since they provide enough force to drill a board that is six-time thicker than pressure-treated woods.
Always keep in mind that you might need more labor or time to install Ipe decking. It is recommended that you have extra drill bits while you are drilling. Also, don’t be frustrated if you break boards when you are installing your deck since this bound to happen due to the hardness and thickness of the boards.
6. Color Mismatch
In terms of color, most customers are unsure of what to expect when they purchase Ipe. Manufactured decking boards like composites and plastics are usually consistent in that they are the same.
Real natural wood, however, comes in a variety of colors from light olive-brown to darker chocolate like browns. This color variation is what makes Ipe popular since the deck looks natural and had abundant character. You should also be prepared to find interlocked grain patterns, cathedral arches as well as intermittent black striping. All these features give Ipe its beauty.
In terms of color mismatch, a majority of suppliers are willing to send free samples. Ask for samples of varying colors to choose the one that fits your décor needs.
Ensure also that the Ipe you buy is Premium Grade. Nob premium-grade Ipe tends to have knots, bug holes and sapwood. It also has varying dimensions which makes installation difficult.
Before you buy, go through the supplier’s gallery to give you an idea of what to expect from a particular supplier. Broad color variations also make board replacement possible should you need to in the future.
7. Requires Too Much Maintenance
Just like kitchen flooring should be easy to clean, technically, Ipe decking doesn’t require maintenance at all except when maintaining its natural brown color.
Without the annual oil regimen that is common with other woods, Ipe turns a beautiful silvery gray. This doesn’t affect the longevity, durability and structural integrity of the wood. It’s just a matter of appearance. A majority of deck owners prefer this grey color. The good news is that you could always restore the original color if you wish.
The best way of maintaining the brown of the Ipe decking is through an annual UV oil application and periodic cleaning depending on the conditions just like polyurethane protects wood flooring.
This maintenance puts off most people, but what most of us don’t realize is that the ability to refinish Ipe decking makes it a much more desirable decking material. Plastics and composites tend to fade over time and there is no way of bringing back the original color.
8. Replacement of Damaged Boards
This is the most overlooked aspect when buying decking material. While Ipe is highly durable, the boards can still be damaged over time. The two main ways decking boards get damaged is through scratches from heavy furniture and spilling hot contents of a grill on the floor.
When this happens, you can replace the affected boards. Replacement is easy and worry-free. However, the same cannot be said about composites and plastics since they fade over time and cannot be refinished. This means that when you replace the faded boards, the newer ones will not blend in nicely with the older ones.
When you are replacing deck boards, the most common dimensions are 1×6 and 5/4×6. Less common dimensions are 1×6+ which are harder to replace if they are damaged. Play it safe by using the most common profiles.
Also, consider the fastening method. Some clip designs make it impossible to access the screw heads. Plugging an entire deck can also make board replacement difficult.
9. Tends to Cup
Ipe wood tends to cup which is the shape that a wood board takes where one side is convex and the other one is concave. Typically, the top face of the board tends to dip in the center while the sides rise. Cupping results from improper ventilation and inadequate moisture balance.
When moisture is trapped underneath the decking boards, the face of the boards dries up creating a high moisture content underneath than on top. This then causes the bottom to expand and the top to contract hence the cupping effect.
To ensure that this doesn’t happen, allow space beneath the deck and above the ground. Consider grading the soil and use of a waterproof membrane to ensure that moisture doesn’t penetrate the soil.
When installing, leave a 1/8-inch gap between the boards to ensure that air freely moves on all four sides of the boards.
Where possible, ensure that you don’t close in the sides of the deck but leave the understructure open to allow more airflow. Also, ensure that you don’t install decking boards directly on concrete, soil, and subfloor.
10. Drying and Checking
Ipe decking tends to dry and contract which leaves cracks on the surface and ends of the boards. These cracks are known as checks. With Ipe decking, face checking is normal and is usually difficult to see. It doesn’t affect longevity, durability and water resistance of the wood.
The checking goes away once the boards absorb moisture and expand. End checking is what is problematic and it occurs at the end of board cuts where moisture is likely to escape easily.
To prevent end checking, use end wax. Most suppliers will include End Wax when you are buying Ipe. If one is not included, ask about it. You could also use Anchorseal Wax Emulsion. Simply apply the wax to the ends before installation.
11. Too Expensive
Due to its properties, Brazilian decking is usually expensive. A majority of people feel that composites and plastics are more cost-effective. While this is the case, with low-grade Ipe, this is not usually true.
The solution is to buy Premium Grade Ipe that costs around $3.20 to $4.50 per linear foot. Ipe and most Mid-grade composites cost the same. High-end composites are, however, more expensive, while plastic decking like Azek costs twice as much.
Pressure-treated woods are cheaper but will not last as long. Taking labor and longevity into account, even pressure-treated wood is more expensive than Ipe.
12. Difficult to Find
This is true especially if you are buying locally. Depending on where you are in the US or Canada, Ipe is usually difficult to find.
The best way to deal with this is to find a reliable supplier online. Always suggest that your decking be crated since this prevents damage during shipping.
13. Not Environmentally-Friendly
Ipe is one of the Brazilian hardwoods used for siding, fencing and decking. While most of Brazil is covered with natural rain forests, environmentally-minded customers might still feel like purchasing Ipe is harming the environment.
Ipe is a common tree in the Brazilian rainforests and is found at the southern tip of South America to the Caribbean Islands and northern Mexico. There is usually no legal or illegal ipe and when you purchase Ipe, you will be making a small contribution against lumber poachers. Most legally harvested ipe is sourced from regions of Brazil, Para, Grasso and Mato.
How to Install Ipe Decking
Step 1 – Acclimation
Before installation, you must allow the wood to acclimate near the installation site to adjust to the new environment.
Step 2 – Pitch
You need to ensure that the ground is slant with the proper pitch to prevent flowing during rainstorms.
Step 3 – Gap
Leave a gap space of about 3/32” between the Ipe boards. This provides the required ventilation and allows room for expansion and contraction.
Step 4 – Airflow
Design the deck for good air flor. The best way is to allow 18” of unobstructed air under the wood joists.
Step 5 – Sealing
To stabilize the wood, seal the ends with wax to prevent end checking and adverse movement.
Step 6 – Screws and fasteners
When installing Ipe decking, use stainless steel or Protech coated fasteners since other fasteners will ruin the appearance and finish of your deck.
How to Clean and Stain Ipe Decking
Step 1 – Remove outdoor furniture
For thorough cleaning ensure that you remove any furniture on the deck.
Step 2 – Inspect the crevices
Inspect the crevices for pinecones and leaves. If there is any debris, use a putty knife or scraper to clear it out. Rather than sweeping, use the best vacuum for shag carpets to suck up the waste.
A vacuum for stairs can make every area spotless, also, an upright vacuum with lots of attachments or any other device that cleans carpets with ease. You can choose the best vacuum cleaner for your Ipe deck based on the world’s best Shark vacuum reviews.
Step 3 – Choosing a wood stain
Ensure that you choose a stain that is designed for dense wood. Also, ensure that you clean the deck 2 to 3 days before applying the stain.
Step 4 – Staining
Having worn protective clothing, ensure that the deck is completely dry and there is no rain forecast. Apply the stain with a stain pad applicator starting with the railings and then moving onto the flooring. Apply with the grain of the wood and make sure that you don’t overapply.
Step 5 – Check for missed spots
When you are done, ensure that you haven’t missed any spots or drips.
Step 6 – Allow drying
Once you are sure that you have applied the stain everywhere, stay off the deck for the next 24 hours and then you can put the furniture back.
Do’s and Don’ts With Ipe Decking
- Do allow your Ipe to acclimate at the site a few days to adjust to the weather conditions.
- Do ensure that you leave gaps between the boards to enhance ventilation and allow for contraction and expansion.
- Do seal the ends with an oil-based sealer to prevent moisture buildup.
- Don’t install Ipe deck over concrete as this can lead to cupping.
FAQ About Ipe Decking
How long will an Ipe deck last?
When installed properly, it can last up to 100 years.
What is the best sealer for Ipe decking?
The best sealer is an oil-based product like walnut oil, coconut oil and teak oil.
Can you pressure wash Ipe decking?
There is always a debate as to whether to pressure wash Ipe decking. Some expert swarm against it while some say it’s okay. If you are going to pressure wash it, ensure that your pressure setting isn’t higher than 1200psi.
What is the best finish for Ipe decking?
The best finish is a wood stain that is specifically designed for dense wood. The most popular choices include Ipe oil, UV Plus for Hardwoods, Penofin Exotic Wood Stain and Defy Hardwood Stain.
What oil do you use on Ipe decking?
Ipe oil is the best solution for Ipe decking in the market.
How do you remove mold from an Ipe deck?
Mix a cleaning solution of one quart of bleach into a gallon of warm water. Use a scrub brush to work the solution into the boards and then rinse the deck ensuring that no residue seeps back into the wood.
Does Ipe expand and contract? When would it stop popping up?
Yes, Ipe expands and contracts and you can expect the popping to stop once the moisture is balanced. The best way to prevent this is to leave gaps between the wood during installation.
Ipe wood is the most durable material for decking in the market. It looks good, requires little to no maintenance and will last longer than other materials. While it’s expensive, if you are considering longevity and durability, at the end of the day, it is worth every dime. It ages well and is resistant to insects and rot and can withstand any weather elements. While it has its problems, the complaints are fewer compared to similar decking materials.
Photos from: lunamarina / depositphotos.com and NinaMalyna / depositphotos.com.