Most homeowners today go one of two ways when it comes to decking – wood or composite boards. If you’re looking for a material somewhere between those two, IPE decks may be the best solution for you. While you still have to deal with some of the disadvantages of wood, this tropical hardwood has several natural properties that make it ideal for decking.
What is IPE Decking?
If you’ve shopped for new hardwood flooring or have been browsing decking materials, there’s a good chance you’ve heard the term IPE. Wondering what it stands for? Well, IPE is short for Brazilian Walnut, an exotic species of tree that comes from South America.
Before you stroll into a hardware store looking for this type of wood, you will want to know its pronounced “ee-pay” and that it’s imported which automatically makes it more than domestic species.
IPE Decking Pros
The list of IPE pros is long as it’s one of the best woods when you need something durable for the outdoors. Like many tropical species, it has a natural resistance to things that would destroy a wooden deck including insects and rot. Worried about termites? That won’t be an issue, and neither will the heat.
Some forms of decking get hot underfoot when summer rolls around, but IPE stays relatively cool compared to composites and PVC decking. If you’re looking for a unique grain pattern and hue, you won’t be disappointed with either of those areas although durability is what this wood is best known for. Well that, and its excellent fire rating…
Every hardwood species has a rating on the Janka scale, which gives you an idea of how durable flooring or decking will be. IPE or Brazilian Walnut is towards the top of that list and is the most common form of exotic wood that high on the scale. While other woods can be harder, they aren’t used in decking which makes IPE king of the hill when it comes to durability. Here’s how other common woods stack up against Brazilian Walnut.
IPE (Brazilian Walnut)
Pine (Pressure Treated)
Cedar & Redwood
350 - 450
IPE Decking Cons
Having a hard deck that can last 50 years is never a bad thing, but IPE has a few serious cons. The biggest issues are the fact it can be expensive, and it’s harder to work with than other forms of decking. Due to its hardness, the overall cost of installation can be high on this already pricey product.
IPE is dense and heavy, which can be an issue if you plan to install the decking yourself. It also tends to go grey prematurely, so it has to be sealed more frequently than other types of wood. In other words, get used to yearly maintenance. Alternatively, some consumers prefer the natural weathered look, which is an option although you’ll still want to seal it once it’s faded.
How to Choose High-Quality IPE Decking
If you’ve settled on IPE decking, it’s time to talk about a few areas you’ll want to keep in mind when looking for the best IPE deck boards. In our opinion, it all starts with quality control, which is directly tied into grading systems.
As Brazilian Walnut is a tropical wood, there are no set standards, which means there is no official grading system for quality control. Decking companies and lumber yards can use their own grading scales, although most stick to common terms to avoid customer confusion.
Whether it’s rated as a B grade, Character grade or “seconds,” you don’t want to get stuck with cheap IPE, so pay close attention to the details if it’s not a premium grade board. The lower grade could be due to variance, holes or knots which are cosmetic, but there are plenty of other reasons planks end up in the budget pile at the mill.
Is IPE Decking Eco-friendly?
If you’re trying to use green building materials or qualify for LEEDS credits, it’s important to know where your wood came from. With IPE, that’s an easy question to answer although not all wood is harvested in a responsible fashion… especially species as popular as IPE.
Brazilian Walnut is one of the rarer woods and an in-demand product among builders due to its hardness and fire-resistant properties. It’s not a “protected” species, but if you want to ensure your decking was responsibly harvested, you will definitely want to look into FSC Certified IPE decking.
IPE Decking Profiles & Sizes
IPE planks come in standard lengths just like wood or composite deck boards, and the widths are in-line with traditional wood as well. As it’s a specialty product not typically sold in hardware stores, you will get a bit more of a selection when it comes to profiles along with longer and wider boards direct from the manufacturer.
Standard 4-sided or S4S boards are common with a solid profile, and most companies offer a form of grooved IPE decking. Eased-edge and Tongue & Groove are also available, however, along with custom milling from the top shops. Custom lengths and widths are a huge bonus with this type of wood considering it’s harder than most wood and difficult to work with.
DIY or Professional Installation?
Deciding to go with an IPE deck is a wise choice, but an expensive one, and we are not just talking about the material itself. Before you settle on a size or decide on a finish, you’ll need to think about who will install your deck if you don’t plan to do it yourself. If you want to hire a contractor, this tool will make things simple.
Installing your own deck can be relatively easy if you’re handy with tools, but IPE is a different type of wood. As it’s very hard, you will have to pre-drill every hole before sinking the screws. That’s extremely time-consuming, and you will want to double check each board to make sure it’s straight before ever laying it down.
IPE doesn’t bend like other woods, which is one reason we stressed buying a good grade of decking. You also have to consider the cost to rent tools unless you have them along with extra material in case you make a mistake. Unless you plan to hire someone to seal or finish your decks, you will need to do that as well.
The Best IPE Decking
While we love Brazilian Walnut, it can be harder to find that other types of tropical hardwoods. You won’t find boards at the usual places like Home Depot or your local hardware store, but you can still find it online at a few major retailers like the ones below.
The top option in our opinion for IPE decking is Advantage Lumber, especially if you need to shop online. Their decking is sold in odd and even lengths up to 20 feet and available in three profiles with standard, pre-grooved and tongue & groove. They also have a +Plus format and carry one-sided pre-grooved boards as well.
If you’re interested in dimensional IPE lumber, they have you covered, but also sell trim and a wide array of matching accessories for your deck. You can also have an “anti-slip” profile added to your boards for an additional charge or pick up B-grade flooring if you need to save a few bucks.
Another great place to buy IPE decking online is Build Direct. While they have a fine lineup of hardwood flooring, they also carry Brazilian Walnut decking and have some of the lowest prices around for certain profiles and lengths.
This decking is under the Yard & Home brand and is just as sturdy as IPE decking from other brands – you just can’t get it in tongue & groove. Standard and pre-grooved decking is available by the linear foot, however, and they have a count on each listing to let you know how many feet they have left in stock.
While those are just two of the main places to buy IPE planks online, there are plenty of smaller shops that ship across the U.S. as well. Everlasting Hardwoods carries several tropical styles of decking including Cumaru, Garapa, and IPE. They have pre-grooved and solid profiles, but the latter comes in widths up to 12 inches.
Are you looking for FSC certified decking? Well, Altruwood has two sizes available and reasonable pricing, although you’ll need to get a quote. If you prefer a bit more selection, Bristol Valley Hardwoods is an excellent choice for IPE boards, dimensional lumber, and random length tongue & groove decking.
IPE Decking Prices
Below are the most common profiles along with a rough price by the linear foot. Tongue & Groove boards are an option as well, but the sizes vary from one manufacturer to the next.
1” x 4”
$1.96 - $2.49
$2.51 - $3.28
1” x 6”
$2.83 - $4.34
$3.54 - $5.24
5/4” x 4”
$2.08 - $2.70
$3.03 - $4.28
5/4” x 6”
$4.49 - $6.28
$4.91 - $5.86