A Guide to Ipe Decking: Pros, Cons, Maintenance and More

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Ipe wood is one of the hardiest, strongest and most naturally beautiful woods around.

It is popular for fencing, furniture, truck beds and decking.

However, just because it is strong and popular, doesn’t make it the right choice for your needs.

This article will examine Ipe decking and find out all the good and the bad.

We will help you understand everything you need to know about this wood type and if it is a good fit for your decking needs.

Read on to learn everything about Ipe wood desks.

Top Reasons to Choose Ipe Decking

One could make an argument that Ipe decking is the best under any situation, and they may not be wrong.

Here are the best reasons to choose Ipe over other wood types.

  • Extremely durable. According to the Janka hardness scale Ipe wood is the 9th strongest wood available.
  • Natural beauty. You can coat the deck to maintain the deep tones of the wood, or let it naturally fade into a gorgeous silver tone.
  • Easy to replace. In the event a board is damaged, it is easy to replace without compromising other boards.
  • Naturally rot and decay resistant. Even when cut and acclimated, Ipe wood resists pests, termites, rot and decay.
  • Long life. Ipe wood is generally warrantied for at least 20 years, with life expectancy ranging from 40 to 75 years.

What is Ipe?

Ipe (pronounced e-pay) is a Brazilian hardwood that has several nicknames.

You may know it as Brazilian Walnut, or by commercial names such as Diamond Decking or Pau Lope.

The wood has a rich, deep red color when new and doesn’t require treatments like pine. It is also quite strong. With a hardness that is over 8 times tougher than Redwood, it is one of the hardiest, most durable decking woods available.

The wood decking can be UV coated to preserve the natural red tones, or it can be left to fade in the sunlight to a beautiful silver color.

The hardy wood is also rot and termite resistant, making it a favorite for outdoor applications, even over composite decking materials.

Brazilian Walnut is not to be confused with Brazilian Teak, Cumaru, which is also used to make decking.

Pros and Cons of Ipe Decking

pros and cons ipe decking

Ipe has a lot of things going for it that make it stand out as a decking solution. However, not everything is as great as it may seem.

Let’s examine the pros and cons of Ipe, so you can make a better decision for yourself.

Advantages

We know Ipe is popular, and for good reason. The wood is hardy and durable. It has a lot of excellent features, too.

  • Pest resistant. Termites can’t chew it, so they stay away. Other pests and wood-burrowing creatures also face the same problem.
  • Doesn’t need to be treated. Unlike Pine and other woods, Ipe doesn’t need to be treated, so the wood you buy is the same wood from the tree itself.
  • Ideal for outdoor use. the USDA Forestry Service gives Ipe a durability rating of “very good – 25 years” which is the highest rating they offer.
  • High Janka hardness. The Janka hardness scale (measurement of wood strength) rates Ipe at 3684 pounds, making it the 9th hardest commercially available wood in the world.
  • High slip resistance. Ipe also exceeds the slip requirements from the Americans with Disabilities Act with a high static coefficient in wet environments rating.
  • Small movement. All wood will move (expand and contract due to temp and humidity). However, Ipe has a movement classification of “small.”

Disadvantages

It can be hard to see the bad side when there are so many good things to say about Ipe wood. However, it is important to understand the downsides before you buy.

  • Difficult to cut. You must use a carbide tipped saw blade to cut Ipe because it is so hard.
  • Hard to find. For the best results you want to stick to Ipe wood that is labeled as “premium” as this gives you the best uniform color and minimizes surface splintering. However, premium Ipe is notoriously hard to find.
  • Predrilled only. Because the wood is so strong and durable, it is almost impossible to screw through. Predrilling holes is the best (and virtually only) way to mount the decking.

Ipe Decking Cost

The cost of an Ipe deck will depend on a lot of factors. The size of the project is the most obvious. Boards are sold by their width and length (as well as type) and decks are measured by the square foot.

You also need to factor in materials such as nails, screws, joists, railings, end caps and finishing materials such as UV coatings and stair facings.

Another factor to consider, of course, is if you will install the deck yourself as a DIY project or hire a contractor to do the work for you.

According to Home Advisor, Ipe and other ironwood rated lumber will cost between $4 and $8 per linear foot, to up to $5.50 per square foot.

With materials and installation the total cost of a 10×15 foot deck will range between $3,500 and $9,800. This depends on labor charges in your area, and the quality rating of the wood.

How to Install Ipe Wood Decking

how to install ipe wood decking

Installing decking will have more variables than any one article can cover. However, with Ipe there are several things you need to do after you have your plans drawn and are ready to build.

In this section we will cover all the steps briefly so you understand what is involved in the process. Not only will you learn if this is something you can take on as a DIY project, but you will also see why it can be a costly professional install.

  • Get your permits. Some regions require permits before you can add onto a home. Decks fall under this requirement in most cases, so you should ensure you have the approval and permits needed for the project.
  • Acclimate your wood. Ipe needs longer to acclimate than many other woods. Depending on where it was harvested and when it shipped, the entire acclimation process can last several months. Shop for premium labeled wood to minimize acclimation time, which should last at least 72 hours. 7 full days is recommended, though.
  • Space the joists. Depending on the joist board size you will need to space your joists accordingly. 16 inches for 1×4 boards, 24 inches for 5/6×6 boards and 32 inches for 2×6 boards are average.
  • Double check the pitch or the area. You should have at least 1/4-inch pitch away from the home for every 10-feet out.
  • Install the boards, leaving a proper gap and moisture lift (at least 18-inches at the joists) when placing the boards.
  • Screws or hidden fasteners. Decide if you will screw the boards or use a hidden fastener system to secure the Ipe to the frame and joists.
  • Finish. If you plan to finish your deck, apply the finish as soon as you can. If you decide to allow the deck to fade naturally, then no finish is needed.

Ipe Decking Cleaning and Maintenance 

Ipe is susceptible to stains and discoloration from leaves, debris and other things than can retain moisture. It is important that you clean your finished deck often.

Cleaning Ipe decking is simple, though, and you don’t need more than a broom and garden hose. Sweep all the leaves and debris away then wash the deck with a garden hose to ensure no sap, dust or other remnants remain.

When it comes to maintenance, it will mostly depend on if you put a finish on the wood or not. If you did not, there isn’t much maintenance to do. You will want to check the board security and fasteners once a year to make sure the movement over the seasons hasn’t cause boards to come loose.

If there are damaged boards, you will need to replace them. This is more difficult with a hidden fastener system, but not as difficult as other wooded deck options.

For finished decks, you will also need to add in a fresh coat of finish. It is highly recommended that you refinish Ipe decking twice a year, but once is okay, especially if your deck is more in shade than direct sun.

Known Problems of Ipe Wood Decking (and Their Solutions)

known problems of ipe wood

Ipe is an iron wood and as such has some issues that stand out. However, each problem comes with a solution. Let’s take a look at those problems now.

Movement

Wood movement is the term used for the expansion and contraction of wood due to temperature and humidity. All wood will have some movement and Ipe has a rating of “small.” This means that there shouldn’t be much movement at all.

The problem, though, is that natively, Ipe is used to more tropical climates with a slightly higher humidity level. So in colder, drier climates, there is more movement. 

Solution: Proper airflow. To minimize movement ensure you have 18 inches under the joists and proper pitch below the surface. You also want to eliminate concrete or other surface material under the deck, which can retain moisture.

Improper Acclimation

As mentioned earlier, Ipe needs extra time to acclimate properly. Where pine, oak or even teak can acclimate in hours or a couple days, Ipe needs at least a week, in proper conditions. Without proper acclimation the boards can buckle, splinter or worse.

Solution: Buy only premium rated Ipe. These boards have been air dried and ship faster to your area, allowing them to acclimate faster to your specific climate. You should also allow up to 7 days minimum for acclimation before you cut the boards. For added protection, seal the cut ends as soon as they are cut to minimize moisture loss (or absorption)

Damaged Board Replacement

Ipe has one of the easiest replacement options of any decking material. You don’t even need to worry about color matching. If you finish your deck, the color will remain, if you are allowing it to fade, the new boards will catch up quickly.

However, with hidden fastener systems, a damaged board can be a hassle. While Ipe is sturdy and durable, eventually you will have problems. Replacement can become a pain, quickly.

Solution: When installing your decking, opt for predrilled screw installation. This will not only make installation sturdier, but enable simple and quick board replacement when needed.

Spotting and Staining

As tough as the Ipe wood is, barbecue grease, splatters, water retention from wet leaves and debris can cause discoloration. This is also true for natural contaminates such as sap.

You will notice dark spots on the boards when this happens and it can be a huge eye sore. However, there are preventive measures and post-event fixes for you.

Solution: In preventative mode, use a UV finish or oil finish to protect the boards. Make sure you clean the deck often and don’t allow leaves, debris and sap to stay on the wood for long. If you already have dark spots, refinishing the boards is the best option. You can also lightly sand Ipe as long as you don’t burnish the wood, to remove dark spots.

Frequently Asked Questions

faq ipe decking

In this section we will answer some of the common questions about Ipe decking. If you have other questions or concerns, please use the comment section below the article.

Q. How long do Ipe decks last?

  1. Most premium Ipe decking boards can last at least 20 years. Many high quality and properly maintained decks will see 40 to 50 or more years with minimal replacements needed.

Q. Do termites eat Ipe wood?

  1. The short answer is no. Ipe and other iron woods are too dense for termites to burrow and eat. However, over time, this won’t last. If the boards are left on the ground surface they will remain termite free for up to 15 years. As long as you actually build your deck and maintain moisture levels, you won’t have any problems with termites or other pests.

Q. Do you need to sand Ipe decking?

  1. Yes, you should always sand your Ipe decking. During install and when oiling or finishing, you  need to sand the boards. Sanding will remove rough spots and allow the stains, oils and finishes to adhere properly.

If you are finishing your deck, sanding will remove the old finish and prep the boards for the new application, which should be done twice a year.

Q. What kind of maintenance does an Ipe deck require?

  1. Ipe decks should be sealed and oiled twice a year. The UV finish will prevent the boards from fading (if you want) and the protection will also minimize the appearance of dark spots.

You also need to sweep and wash the deck often to prevent dirt, debris and leaves from holding in moisture and damaging the boards.

Conclusion

Ipe, or Brazilian hardwood, makes an excellent decking material. The wood is durable, hardy and looks great finished and oiled or left to fade naturally.

It is also difficult to work with. You must cut with a carbide blade and use stainless steel 305 or higher rated screws. Once installed, though, you will have a uniform and beautiful deck that can last longer than your house.

If hardwoods are something you like to have for a deck and you don’t mind spending a little more (both time and money) Ipe is a difficult option to pass up.

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AUTHOR

Nora has more than 5 years experience in the floor covering industry, acquiring vast knowledge about installation and material selection. She now enjoys working as a writer and an interior decorator. Her work has been featured in The Spruce, Homes & Gardens, Southern Living and Real Homes. See full biography here.

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