Ipe is a lot more expensive than pressure-treated pine or cedar, but, as Brooklyn deck builder Steve Rayboy says, "You only cry once: when you sign the check." That's because chances are good that an ipe deck, twice as dense and five times harder than pine or cedar, means "you don't have to replace it in your lifetime," says Dan Ivancic, director of marketing for Advantage Trim and Lumber, an importer based in Buffalo, N.Y.
Ipe's popularity as a decking material has steadily gone up in the last 15 years.
"It's the best of the lot," when it comes to the roughly 50 different tropical hardwoods, Connecticut importer Steve Crook says. All the ways in which wood warps, ipe proves resistant to. And with so much information about decks and ipe available online, homeowners often know what it is, and that they want it. "When it's a customer who wants ipe, they're not going to buy anything but ipe," says Steve Croxton, owner of Metro Wood Works, in Hampton Roads, Va.
These days Croxton estimates that maybe one in 50 of his decks are ipe. Every time he goes to buy the material the price has gone up. Others have had a similar experience. "I just got a call from one of our suppliers," says Paul Smith, owner of Deck Specialist, a high-end deck builder in Hartford, Conn., "saying the price is going up and everyone is short right now."
That's the downside of ipe. Crook explains that because of heavy rains in Brazil, ipe can be harvested maybe six months of the year and transported maybe four months of those six months. But looming larger is the question of deforestation and its effect on availability (see advantagelumber.com/enviro.htm.) Most of the destruction is due to large-scale cattle ranching. But the scope indicates that at some point tropical hardwoods may be much more difficult to find.
Passionate About Ipe
Add to that the fact that ipe is now often preferred by homeowners, and those who specialize in decks are left to wonder what they'd do without ipe. It is, says Rayboy, "the perfect decking material," and the only one he'll use. He occasionally has clients who can't afford it, in which case, he says, "I'll go with cedar as a backup."
Croxton is "selling [ipe] because people want to buy it," he says, and will stick with composites if ipe becomes scarce or if prices continue to rise. Smith, who was introduced to ipe 15 years ago, doesn't know what the future holds and wishes ipe pricing and supply were more predictable. "It's the hardest by far to work with, but I feel good when I walk away from it."