What is ipe? It is wood from one of 5 of the 30 species of tree in the Handroanthus botanical family that grows largely in Latin America. One of its local names is ipê but, in English we usually leave off the accent. Ipe is one of the hardest and heaviest of woods that we use for lumber. As such, it can be put to many different uses. Amazonian Indians have long used it for their hunting bows but it is the wood’s good durability out of doors when exposed to both the elements and insect infestation that is its main appeal here in the United States – particularly for furniture and decking.
Even avid environmentalists are rarely against the use of wood per se but, they do make the point that resources must not be wasted since it takes a long time to replace a tree after it has been cut down. The Amazon rain forest is a prime area for growth of the five members of the Handroanthus family that are most used for timber. The trees can be between 100 to 300 feet tall but they tend to grow in isolation (often only one or two trees per acre) and large areas of other forest vegetation have to be cleared in order to reach a single ipe tree. This is hardly sustainable forestry.
Fortunately, the timber industry recognizing both good demand and high prices started cultivating the trees so little of the wood used today will (legally) come from wild trees. Another downside of this wood’s popularity is that unscrupulous lumber merchants have been known to sell other woods as ipe. Intending buyers should look for Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification before making their purchase.
As mentioned above, the obvious advantage of an ipe wood deck is its long life with low maintenance potential. Not only is this wood largely rot proof and naturally termite resistant it also has attractive coloration ideally suited to the ambience of a domestic deck location and usage pattern.
The New York City Department of Parks and Recreation chose ipe wood for over 10 miles of the city’s boardwalks (including the beach on Coney Island) and much of it has been in service for 25 years. This should surely convince you that an ipe wood deck has to be a good choice for your domestic deck area.
These days, you can even find online timber suppliers that specialize in boards for Ipe Wood deck projects. Since there could still be some fake ipe wood on the market, make sure that you only buy from a firm that exercises strict quality control over all the wood that they import.