Sometimes, certain lumber species are faddishly popular for no good reason. Not so with Ipe. This remarkable hardwood decking species is truly second to none. Yet it does come with its unique set of potential problems, particularly during the installation process. Most of these are connected to the very characteristics that make Ipe such a sought-after decking species: Ipe is extremely hard and dense.
Planning for Wood Movement in an Ipe Deck
In addition to allowing for an acclimation period prior to installation, you also need to plan your Ipe deck in a way that reduces the degree of lumber movement after installation. Sometimes, people assume that because of its inherent stability, Ipe cannot warp; such an assumption would be a mistake and could be quite a costly one. In any species, wood movement is unavoidable, but it can be reduced and anticipated.
First, plan for proper ventilation, particularly on the ground side of a first-story deck; by doing so, you will allow the entire board to expand and contract at an even rate, throughout the shifts in moisture levels that naturally occur throughout the year.
Second, apply a wax-based end sealant such as AnchorSeal to any cut ends of boards. By applying an end sealant, you’ll slow the absorption and loss of moisture, as inevitable seasonal shifts in moisture levels occur in an outdoor environment. (You can purchase this decking product and have it shipped along with your Ipe decking order, from J. Gibson McIlvain Lumber.)
Color-Matching Ipe Decking Boards
Color-matching decking lumber is often complicated when people compare real, natural lumber with manufactured decking products. Even the highest grade boards in most premium tropical hardwood decking species will include a degree of color variation, The biggest way to compensate for this issue is to adjust expectations to reality; that’s not all you can do, though. When it comes to Ipe in particular, color variation can be quite significant due to its wide growing area. When Ipe is brought into distribution centers from various areas, boards from many locales are often combined into a single order.
As with all lumber species, oxidation and exposure to sunlight will allow these differences to mellow over time. Your Ipe decking can also be treated with stains and brighteners in order to create a more cohesive match. With age, like any lumber species, Ipe will naturally become bleached and turn gray without treatment. One more simple trick is to simply turn over each board to see if the other side would better match the boards surrounding it and then to try to lay out the boards in a way that allows for more subtle shifts in coloring.
In Part 3, we’ll consider a few more issues to keep in mind before you install your new Ipe Deck.