I’ve written some posts on composite decking but haven’t yet touched on the “elegant” stuff, namely the exotic hardwoods. Needless to say, you can find some very beautiful wood in the exotic group. But as with most things, there are down sides.
I’m going to here on Ipe (pronounced EE-pay), the most popular of the exotics. Ipe has been around for a long time (it’s wood after all, ha) but has really become popular in the decking/remodeling world for the last five years or so due to heavy marketing. I was first introduced to this beautiful wood at a home show at the World Congress Center back in 1989 as it really caught my attention way back then. (I typically tell people it’s like Thomasville Furniture.) The contractor who introduced me to the wood was using it as an alternative to cedar and pressure treated pine.
We’ve had the opportunity to build several decks using Ipe around Atlanta. My evaluation is that it’s probably the most beautiful material you can build with. The biggest problem though with the wood is its density / inflexibility. The density prevents it from absorbing stain necessary to shield it from inclement weather. This translates into checking and cupping of the material. (“Checking” refers to small surface cracks that are developed due to weather change.) And this all leads to more frequent maintenance having to be performed. I recommend (at least) two maintenance sessions a year if the wood is in the sun.
The inflexibility comes into play when it comes time for deck railing. Because of its density, Ipe is very hard to work with (cut). This is why most Ipe flooring contractors use a different material for the railing. The problem is that even when trying to stain other material to match the Ipe below, it never really looks the same…and falls short. Bottom line…if money is no object, go with the Ipe. I think there’s better value though using other material.