What Is an Ipe Deck? (Pssst, It’s Pronounced Ee-pay)
Ipe decks are made of wood from trees of the Handroanthus genus -- a group of about 30 tree species found in Central and South America. Also called Brazilian walnut because it’s found in the Amazon rainforest, ipe wood is a gorgeous and extremely hard type of hardwood popular for use in high-end, custom decks.
In fact, ipe wood is probably the hardest wood you will ever encounter. It’s so hard that it neither burns nor floats. I didn’t believe this when I heard it, so I tested it myself. We were building an ipe deck at a home next to a lake, so I chucked a scrap piece of ipe wood in the water. Sure enough... that thing went straight down.
It’s extreme density also makes it fire-resistant and very durable. These characteristics lend it well to use in boardwalks, benches, and other wooden structures in parks and public areas. For example, ipe wood is sometimes used for boardwalks in brushy areas. That way, they’re free to burn the brush to control its growth without having to worry about the dense ipe wood catching fire.
But most people fall in love with its look: Ipe is a dark, walnut-looking wood with rich variations in the grain. It’s absolutely stunning. Take a look at the photos of a couple of the ipe decks we’ve built. The wood wasn’t stained that color -- it’s naturally this dark and rich-looking.
Prior to installation, we coat all sides of the ipe deck boards with ipe oil and wax all the cut ends to prevent cracking. To further preserve its beauty, we install ipe decking with hidden fasteners, much like we do with composite decking. Ipe decks are truly gorgeous, and we do install them in many high-end communities in Northeastern Ohio. But you should consider four factors before setting your heart on building an ipe deck of your own.
The trees are fairly uncommon and difficult to harvest, so the cost of ipe decking boards is the highest of any decking option we offer. In addition, the density and weight of the wood makes it more difficult to work with, so the cost of the labor required to install an ipe deck properly is much higher.
To keep that rich walnut-brown color, you’ll need to oil your ipe deck as often as twice a year in sunny locations. I don’t recommend staining the wood to preserve it longer. It’s like your teak furniture or a wood cutting board -- you need to treat it with oil or the wood will degrade. It’s the same concept with ipe decks, but with the added demand that being outdoors all day, every day, in every sort of weather adds to it.
The oiling takes some practice to perfect since the shaded areas will not need as much oil. You need to blend the amount of oil you apply in transition areas between sunny and shady zones to keep the coloring even.
Of course, if you want your ipe deck to turn a silvery gray, no maintenance is required. But since the dark coloring is one of the main reasons most people build an ipe deck, most homeowners need to either roll up their sleeves regularly to apply the oil, or pay for regular deck maintenance services.
Ipe decking boards are a natural product that will have variations and inconsistencies, just like any wooden deck. Over time, some wood grain will lift and there will be some checking -- or lengthwise cracking -- in the boards. Ipe decking boards also expand and contract with temperature and moisture variations, so the decking will become even less uniform as the seasons pass.
If you're the kind of person who wants your deck to look 100% consistent, today and every day in the future, you might want to consider one of the higher-end composite decking materials instead.
Building ipe decks requires harvesting the wood from the Amazon rainforest and transporting it through the various stops in the supply chain before it reaches your home. If you are going to choose ipe wood, please make sure that it’s responsibly harvested.
Still want an ipe deck? Ask us to recommend a place where you can see one of our ipe deck projects so that you can see and feel the decking material in person. It’s always best to fully understand what you are going to get when you’re designing the deck or outdoor space that will last for so many years to come.