Ipe Decking Vs. Trex Decking: Exotic Wood or Composite?

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ipe decking vs trex decking

If you are considering building a new deck there are several material options to consider. Two of the most popular options are hardwoods and composite wood. Of those choices, Ipe wood and Trex composite are at the top of many lists.

If your consideration (or initial research query) brings you to these two choices, you are in luck. In this Ipe wood vs. Trex composite decking review, we will take a good long look at both options and help you decide.

Best Decking Material Options

Aside from iron wood and composite, you still have decking choices. Should you find that you want something more exotic or for a different reason (allergies, pests, etc), here are the top choices.

  • Aluminum Decking. Aluminum is affordable, durable and long-lasting. In some cases, even for life.
  • Vinyl Decking. Vinyl is known for indoor flooring options, but is also great outdoors. Cover a patio easily with vinyl.
  • Stone Flooring. If you want to stay more natural you can use stone and brick to create your new space.
  • Tile and Mosaic. If you have unsightly concrete as your base, tile and mosaic work will make it stand out and be attractive once again, for cheap.
  • Rubber Decking Tiles. Highly affordable, safe and easy to replace if needed, rubber tiles are used for a lot more than just playgrounds.

Ipe Decking Quick Look

ipe decking quick look

Ipe is a natural hardwood found in Central and South America. The majority of all Ipe wood is harvested from Brazil. Coming from the Tabebuia tree, each production tree has a unique appearance and coloring.

Ipe is regarded for its natural beauty, color and density. As an ironwood, Ipe is among the hardest lumbers (janka hardness 3510) you can use, which make it ideal for outdoor applications like decking.

This wood is also more dense and durable than redwood (Janka hardness 450), cedar and red oak (Janka hardness 1220). It also costs a lot more than these other natural options, too.

Trex Decking Quick Look

Trex is a wood-plastic core (WPC) composite material made from 95% recycled plastics and wood pulp. The result is a long-lasting durable decking that is simple to install and easy to maintain.

Trex, as a brand, began in 1996 and has grown in popularity since. Today they offer three main collections known as Transcend, Select and Enhance (a best, better, good system). Because of the ease of install and low maintenance, composite decking from Trex is also well warrantied.

Unlike natural wood, you won’t need to stain or seal the decking and it is resistant to insects, scratching and rot. However, like Ipe and other ironwoods such as Cumaru, Trex decking is not a cheap product.

Ipe Wood Vs. Trex Composite Review

ipe wood vs trex composite review

Ipe wood, also called Brazilian Walnut, is a popular choice among deck builders. It can be hard to work due to its density, but the results are nothing short of spectacular. On the other hand Trex composite is much easier to work with, but doesn’t have the natural wood look down just yet.

Let’s take both Ipe and Trex through the biggest decision making factors of a new deck and see which one stands out as the best option for you and your needs.

Board Selection

When it comes to selecting the decking material, Ipe is a little easier because you don’t have a lot of choice. You can select the width and length of the boards, but as a natural lumber, Ipe can’t be categorized by board profiles, or have cuts to minimize weight.

Trex decking, on the other hand, has three collections to choose from, each with their own color palettes, board profiles and sizes. Solid and grooved edges allow you to use standard deck screws or a hidden fastener system while the scalloped profiles reduce both weight and cost.

With Ipe, you will have a standard lumber board for your decking material that will require specialized tools and drill bits to properly handle. However, the natural fragrances, appearance and fading are seen as positives, where they are negatives with Trex.

Color Options

As mentioned above, Trex has a larger color palette compared to Ipe wood. Trex comes in 22 total colors, depending on the series or collection you choose. Everything from light and dark brows, grays and reds are included. The names given to the board colors also indicate the look the deck will give off (Island Mist or Spiced Rum, for example).

With Ipe things are a bit different. You can select your color to some degree, by getting your lumber from the same batches. However each tree has a slightly different color palette of its own and can range from a hearty, deep red to a yellowish olive. In many cases there will be drastic and alluring dark contrasting dark streaks in the heartwood.

One of the biggest draws to Ipe though, is the color over time. When you first install Ipe it will have a reddish brown hue to it that many find the most fascinating. With proper UV sealant and maintenance, you can maintain this color for decades.

However, left untreated, Ipe will fade to a silvery gray in a few years which is the final look many homeowners are after. The choice is yours.

Durability and Resistance

Composite decking, like Trex, is known for its durability and resistance. Because of the plastic composite, the deck is not attractive to insects and burrowing pests. It also comes with a natural water resistance and with the capped options you won’t have to worry about splintering, cracking or fading.

With Trex they even warranty the fading and stain resistance for 25 years (more on this below). Because of the manufacturing and production processes, Trex decks are highly durable and won’t splinter, crack, warp, bow or break in most cases. This gives you and your family a solid surface for years at a time.

For Ipe, we know how tough it is. One of the hardest milled woods in the world, Ipe is as durable as it comes. Not only is it more dense and tough than oaks and mahogany. In fact, Ipe is so dense that it prevents burrowing insects from entering. This also makes it hard for tools and screws to enter, too.

As for the durability test, Ipe was used as the material for the boardwalk in New York’s Coney Island. This attraction brings millions of feet all year long. The Ipe boardwalk was eventually replaced after finally showing signs of wear 25 years later. If you can imagine the weather conditions and traffic that happened over that time span, you can see how durable Ipe is.

Installation Options

installation options

When it comes to installation options and recommendations they are the same for both options. With Ipe and Trex you can perform a DIY installation and save some money over the cost of a professional installer’s labor fees.

However, in both cases, professional installation with a well qualified contractor is highly recommended. For Trex composite decking this recommendation is for the warranty. While not required, improper installation is the number 1 cause for a claim dismissal. You could be out the cost of your entire deck if something goes wrong during your DIY project.

For Ipe, professional installation is recommended because the wood is so difficult to work with. It requires specialized tools, drill bits, saws and other tools that you may not have on hand. Rental and buying costs for these tools can easily equal the cost of labor.

For both Trex and Ipe wood, finding a well qualified and experienced (as well as local) contractor can be tough. Check out our free tool that will bring the results of deep research to you. With our partner Netwox, they do all the heavy lifting finding you local, licensed and highly rated professionals right to your inbox.

Environmental Concerns

As a 95% recycled material, Trex composite is a green company that houses their own recycling plant. The entire manufacturing process is kept in-house and they even recover and recycle their own factory waste.

By reducing greenhouse emissions, recycling plastics (they are a top recycle plant in the US), and practicing green manufacturing processes, Trex is highly environmentally friendly.

Contrarily, Ipe wood comes from the Amazon rainforest areas in Brazil. Or, at least it used to. In the 1920s, Ipe, Cumaru and other hard- and iron-woods of the area led to illegal logging and up to 17% of the rainforests disappearance over the last 50 years.

However, today, Ipe is farmed and harvested in a much more environmentally friendly way. With specialized tree farms and other non-Amazonian areas growing and supplying the rest of the world with the wood. Still, cutting down trees will never be as green as recycling plastics, so it is less of a toss up in that regard.

Warranty Coverage

Warranties range in coverage and duration from brand to brand and product to product. With Trex, you always know what you are going to get. All Trex composite collections come with a 25 year limited warranty for structural integrity and defects and a 25-year warranty against fading and staining.

These warranties go into effect on the date of install and will continue for 25-years as long as you maintain the decking properly. 

Ipe is not a brand or company and is instead a product. Because of this you won’t get a warranty from the wood or from the vendor you buy from. However, most contract installers will offer a labor warranty that can last 20 years and will protect against damage and rot in most cases. This will vary from location to location as well as the contractor who does the installation.

Pricing

Cost is a major decision factor and there are a lot of variables. Your price can fluctuate because of your location, region, time of year purchased, supply and demand levels, production levels, vendor fees or even because it happens to be a Wednesday.

On average, though, we can find some common numbers to work with and get a decent estimate. For example, Trex has three price ranges for their three collections. If you have a 100 square foot deck (10 x 10) your price will range between about $2000 and $3500.

That cost, though, is only for the decking itself. That doesn’t include labor fees, deck preparation or other cost factors.

On the same side, a 100 square foot deck with Ipe would cost about half that. You can get enough Ipe wood material for a 100 square foot deck area for about $1500. The true cost will be higher, as with Trex, and you may not get the warranty coverage to go with it. In the end, though, Ipe wood is a cheaper alternative to composite decking.

Ipe or Trex, Which Is Best For You?

ipe or trex which is best for you

Ipe or Trex? Which is best for your deck? That will depend on your needs and expectations. Trex is best suited for homeowners that want to spend their time enjoying the deck instead of maintaining it.

With low maintenance requirements and simple cleaning methods, composite decks are easy to care for. And with a 25-year (or more) life expectancy, the initial cost can pay for itself over time. It is also best for those that have demanding color requirements or want a different finish that natural wood provides.

Ipe, though, is best for those that want an aesthetically pleasing deck that will stand the test of time. That test, though, usually comes out of your pocket book. While Ipe may be cheaper upfront, the overall maintenance costs, adjustments and resurfacing fees will eat away at those savings quickly.

Conclusion

A new deck is something to look forward to, not to dread. However, with so many material options, types, styles and colors to choose from, it can be a daunting task for many.

When looking at decking options you will come to a point where you consider hardwoods over composite materials. In this Ipe decking vs. Trex composite review we showcased two of the most popular decking options outside of treated lumber.

Which one is best for your deck? Only you can decide that. But hopefully now you have a better idea if you are going to choose Ipe wood or Trex composite.

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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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