3 common problems with ipe decking

3 Common Problems With Ipe Decking

Today we’re tackling a taboo decking topic – the biggest problems consumers have with Ipe wood. This decking material is costly, and you should know the facts before spending your hard earned dough.

You know the benefits of using heirloom grade wood, but can you spot the differences between normal wear and serious problems?

Proper preparation, proactive protection, and a working knowledge can take a project from disaster to delight. Stay tuned for valuable insights on guarding your investment from the start of installation through the life of your deck.

1. Improper Acclimation Problems

A frequent problem with all wood decking is improper acclimation. Even though you’re using Ipe outside, it still needs to acclimate to the conditions. If it doesn’t, you’ll increase the chances of splitting and separation over time.

The good news is, Ipe is hardier than cedar or redwood. It adjusts to temperatures and withstands the elements better than other species. Ipe can handle high humidity, dry climates and excessive moisture with ease, provided it’s given enough time to adjust on site.

Brazilian hardwood in its original state has a high moisture count. The level is brought down through a slow drying process to prevent cracking and splitting. The wood sits in a warehouse or lumber yard for months readjusting to its new environment.

Unfortunately, when the wood travels from the yard to a different climate, the acclimation process begins again. If the Ipe moves from a humid area to an arid one, it may dry too fast. Rapid moisture loss in any wood will cause surface cracks and separation.

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The Solution

There are three things you can do to combat the chances of this happening to your decking material.

First, make sure the Ipe you buy is premium or select grade. This wood has the least amount of separation and cracks. Natural imperfections are limited to the boards surface and won’t affect their integrity.

Second, give the boards a few days to adjust to their new home before cutting them. The longer they sit on-site, the sturdier they’ll be when it’s time to start your project. Let the wood expand and contract naturally before stressing it with saws and drills.

Third, remember to seal the ends of the Ipe wood after cutting. When you expose the grain, the moisture level will change and spread throughout the wood. Applying sealer to the end of fresh cuts will slow the process and help prevent separation.

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2. Excessive Movement

Adequate airflow is essential to maintaining your deck. Wood needs room to breathe, and air to help prevent moisture buildup. Without it, the dampness will sink in, and your Ipe will start to warp.

Yes, Ipe wood is dense, but it still moves with changes in humidity and temperature. If the moisture levels are higher under the deck than at the top, the wood will compensate for the difference when drying. This can cause coupling, gaps, and buckling.

To prevent this from happening, the airflow on all four sides must remain even. Make sure you space the joints evenly and allow room for expansion and drainage.

Even if you are building a lower deck, leave at least 18” for airflow under the joists. If the wood is too close to the ground or a concrete slab, their temperature can affect your Ipe. Consider oiling and sealing all 4 sides of the boards.

Another way to combat the problem is to create a slope underneath your deck for proper drainage and ventilation. Pitch the soil on an angle away from your home. Test it with a hose to ensure water isn’t pooling near your foundation or slab.

There are products designed for under deck drainage, such as membranes, waterproof flanges and under deck ceiling systems. You can find these products online.

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3. Staining, Spots, and Sealing

If sap, pollen or leaves are left on the surface of your wood, they can cause dark stains. Regular cleaning of your Ipe will help lessen the effects. Make sure to sweep your deck and rinse the debris afterward.

Fading is typical in areas with high sun. You can use a UV protectant on your Ipe to cut down on damaging rays. If your budget allows, consider springing for an awning that extends over your deck.

Oiling your Ipe or sealing it will protect the finish. If you prefer to let your Ipe gray naturally, you can sand the spots, but be careful not to burnish the wood.

There are brightening chemicals on the market that you can use to lighten black marks or discolorations. Look for a product that is safe to use with Brazilian hardwood.

If all else fails, you may have to use a wood stripper and reseal your boards. Use caution with these products as they contain volatile chemicals. Always wear a respirator and gloves.

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Final Thoughts

Ipe wood is one of the most durable decking materials you can buy. It’s gorgeous, low-maintenance and will stand the test of time. Ipe’s cost comes with a higher price tag than cedar or redwood, but requires less upkeep.

It ages and resists movement better than comparable wood species. This robust decking withstands the elements and adjusts to climate changes with ease.

It’s not without problems but has far fewer complaints than similar materials. Unlike PVC, ipe wood looks natural and will never scald your feet. Ipe decking is a one-time purchase that if correctly installed and maintained will last an average of 50 years.

What concerns not noted here do you have about Ipe decking?

Jeanine Hintze

About Jeanine Hintze

Jeanine Hintze is a professional content writer, and home improvement enthusiast from Long Island.

35 thoughts on “3 Common Problems With Ipe Decking”

  1. Avatar

    I have a question about storing IPE wood, it’s getting late in the year here in NE Ohio and not sure we will get our IPE hand rail up before the snow. Should we store the wood outside under covered area or inside? I was planning on putting the oil finish on it even if we didn’t get it installed. Would that be ok to do also?

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      Ed, I believe we may have spoke on the phone. Or perhaps I spoke to your wife.

      In any case, if the temps have dropped below 50 degrees F, you should hold off until the weather gets better. Furthermore, I don’t advise oiling the boards before installation. It’s unnecessary and if you feel you want to bump out a few spots with a sander, you’ll have to reoil. Better just to wait till their up.

      My recommendation is, cover the boards (outside or inside doesn’t matter). Don’t trap moisture inside a plastic barrier, cover them loosely. AND, if the boards are stacked, use small spacers between the rows. This will allow ventilation and prevent cupping. Hold off oiling until temps break 50 F. For more information on oiling, visit our website, https://www.bwdepot.com/hardwood-decking/ipe-decking/

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    We live in western Arizona. Summer temperatures run in the 110’s for weeks. We’re thinking if using Brazilian walnut or Ipe to build gates to close off our courtyard. We like the dark color and think it will hold up better than other woods. Do you think we’re making a good choice. Thanks.

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      Yes it will “hold up” better than almost any other wood. However sun fading would be an issue due to its dark color unless you keep it up with uv blocking stain/sealer. Personally I love the look of sun faded Ipe but in a vertical use you could have drastically varying fading from one side to the other.

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    We had IPE railing installed as a handrail on our deck, which is next to our boat ramp, stairway going down into the backyard, and stairs going down into the water. ALL of the railing is splintering, and it has not been pressure washed, as it was not dirty or mildewed so why would we pressure wash it? This installation occurred last year. WE CANNOT USE THE HANDRAILS AS THE TINY TINY SPLINTERS GO RIGHT INTO YOUR SKIN. EXTREMELY DISAPPOINTED AND the supplier said, “you MUST have pressure washed it…the installer will come and SAND it for you.” Really?? Now we have to start sanding and treating the wood that was not supposed to need anything??

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      I have had an ipe wood deck and railings in Smithtown NY for 10 years with absolutely no splintering and i have pressure washed it at low pressure to remove mold and mildew

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      Bill, nearly all (natural) woods will bleed to some degree. We found that Cumaru, Ipe and other tropical woods do it less than Redwood, for instance. It is unusual that you would see obvious marks from it on the brick. What type of finish are you using on it?

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    I’m hoping that you can help me with a question. I am an appraiser and recently inspected a hope that had Ipe flooring throughout. In most of the home, the flooring was beautiful but in one section the individual boards were buckled (higher at the seams and lower in the center). The Owner stated that this section of the floor got wet and that in 12 months, the wood will right itself and the floor will be completely flat again. I have no experience with Ipe wood and I am wondering if this is a credible explanation. Thank you for your time.

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      Nick, there are two things that could be happening here; cupping or buckling. From your description, cupping seems to be the more likely cause.

      Cupping occurs when the moisture content beneath the boards is higher than the moisture content above them. The boards will remain cupped until moisture equalization is achieved. Once the moisture equalization is met, the boards will un-cup on their own, over time, just as the homeowner suggested. The process can be hastened by removing them and placing them on spacers with proper ventilation. If the moisture problem is due to a moist sub-floor, the sub-floor would likely need to be replaced and the origin of the moisture would need to be remedied.

      If the boards were installed very tightly and the moisture caused them to expand and buckle, the flooring would likely need to be replaced. Buckling is usually very obvious and makes the boards pop up on one side and down on the other, like an accordion. Usually, there’s not much that can be done to fix this problem besides replacing them. Fortunately, it doesn’t sound like that is the problem here.

      We are Brazilian Wood Depot, the Southeast’s Premier Importer of responsibly sourced Brazilian Hardwoods for decking, siding, and flooring. https://www.bwdepot.com/

  5. Avatar

    I’m seeing some articles that are saying that you shouldn’t buy Ipe. That it plays a huge role in deforestation, it is all illegally logged, and that Ipe will be extinct in a short time. Granted, the source appears to be a group that sells reclaimed lumber, but if they are correct, I’m very concerned. Can anyone speak on this subject with more authority?

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      Elizabeth, that is a fair concern. I’ve spent the last 40 years in the Forest and Sustainability sector so I’m very familiar with this topic. The truth of the matter is, even if the attack on Ipe was being made with good intentions, it is painfully misguided for several reasons. First off, deforestation of ANY of our natural forests are bad. That goes for anywhere around the world. In the case of the Latin American countries, Brazil in particular, deforestation rates, while on the decline, are still problematic. Around 80% is estimated to be attributable to the Cattle Industry (according to the World Wildlife Fund) and another 15-18% by Agriculture. Those industries are driving the demand for land that is CLEAR CUT for cattle to graze and crops to grow. Timber, like Ipe (as well as some of the other hardwood species), Is one of the only commodities that is coming from these forests. These hardwoods can’t be grown in plantations like mahogany or eucalyptus. That means, they need natural forest settings to grow and thrive. Because Ipe is growing naturally and as a result of regrowth practices, there is economic interest in NOT clear cutting the forests. Governments are committed to growth of their GDP. If clear-cutting natural forests is the way to achieve increased GDP, they will be more willing to allow it. If there is achievable increase in GDP by protecting these forests because of the trees that grow there, the government will be more willing to protect them from being clear cut. The groups that say not to buy Ipe or that Ipe is bad, are simply misinformed and don’t understand economics or government incentives. Simply put, when the Timber industry in South America declines, so does the protection of the forests they inhabit.

      As for illegal logging. Yes, illegal logging occurs. It was a larger problem in recent years past, but since the formation of IBAMA and technological advances that make identifying the lumber species easier and faster, illegal logging has drastically reduced. Illegal logs simply cannot make it to the export locations without being snuffed out by local and federal authorities. And, when caught, the penalties are severe. Now, illegal logging is largely limited to trade within the country of origin, when it happens at all.

      And the idea that Ipe will go extinct is simply “pants on fire.” It’s a very common tree found throughout the tropics. Regrowth has been taking place for many years and is now the law of the land. Not sure where this lie comes from, but it’s almost too absurd to even address. No, Ipe will not go extinct anytime in the near or far future.

      Hopes this helps alleviate your concern. Contrary to the beliefs of some, purchasing Ipe will help protect our forests. Not to mention, the alternatives are plastics that never degrade and wood with toxic chemicals. Ipe is never treated with harmful chemicals and is a biodegradable material.

      There is more information on Ipe and sustainability at http://www.realwood.org.

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      Ron’s explanation is correct. I could write an essay to expand on his points, but instead I’ll leave one important note for the responsible Ipe/tropical hardwood consumer: Buy from legitimate, substantiated dealers.

      The questions responsible consumers should be asking themselves is, and we have been saying this for years, “Does their website look legitimate? Do they have a physical address? Can you drop by and visit their operation? Can you see their Ipe/tropical hardwood inventory? Is their inventory substantial and consistent? And are they sourcing lumber direct from Brazil?” When the answers are “yes”, these are the groups you want to buy from. When the answers to any of these questions are “no”, they are more likely to be participating in an untrustworthy supply chain.

      Some organizations have a website with no physical business address. Often times, these are brokers that may never see the actual lumber and do not know its original source. Standard lumberyards may have an odd bundle of Ipe or other tropical hardwoods here or there, but are not sourcing it directly from Brazil. It is MUCH harder, sometimes impossible, to know where the lumber was sourced in these cases. And again, they are more likely to be dealing lumber that was not sourced responsibly.

      Brazilian Wood Depot, on the other hand, has been in business for over 15 years, has a warehouse in Atlanta that you can walk in anytime, always has a consistent inventory, and imports directly from qualified sources in Brazil. Furthermore, we pride ourselves on integrity; from sourcing the lumber to customer support. Groups like us, that buy directly from Brazil, are doing so to ensure the lumber is responsibly sourced. If you are looking for Ipe or a similar tropical hardwood and are concerned about where or how it was sourced, I’d encourage you to start with Brazilian Wood Depot (www.bwdepot.com). There are other legitimate groups out there, and we support them too – we just do it better, faster, cheaper and with better customer support. Go Natural! with Brazilian Wood Depot.

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    My husband and I live in SW FL and had an approx. 950 sq ft Ipe deck installed. We followed the supplier’s instructions and used Messers products for cleaning and sealing. We sealed it once and then on 2 other occasions hired painters to do the job. Sadly, our beautiful deck that was supposed to last 40-100 years if treated with said materials started to rot after only 7-8 years! Now, it is rotting at such an advanced rate, that I am afraid to walk on sections of it.

    We also did the floor of our covered lanai in Ipe and do not have troubles with that floor. However, we were assured the Ipe could withstand the sun and rain of FL weather and it wouldn’t be a problem. WRONG! We spent 3x the amount it would have taken to use pressure treated wood. Steps we had of PT wood lasted 20 years before we had to replace them. We wanted something that would last longer than PT, but Ipe is not it.

    The owner of the supply company came and saw for himself the damage to our deck. He offered to replace 4 boards! What a nightmare! Shocking lack of accountability. I am sorry that I ever recommended Ipe to anyone. It’s beautiful when first installed, but if you live in a rainy, sunny climate, don’t waste your money,

    1. Avatar

      We have been in the Brazilian Hardwood business for over 15 years and have sold Ipe throughout Florida over the years. I have never heard of Ipe rotting in that period of time. Ipe will absolutely outlast pressure treated and that isn’t really debatable. It will outlast PT, plastic, composite, pretty much anything other than steel and concrete.

      I’m wondering if 1. it really was Ipe that you were sold and 2. if the Ipe was properly kiln dried. Does the lumber sit in or on water that does not drain? I would love to see pictures of your deck. If it is Ipe and it was properly installed, I’d like to learn more about it for my own edification and certainly bring it to the attention of my customers to prevent this. We pride ourselves on high-integrity customer support and that means learning about issues like yours. Feel free to contact our shop and ask for Sam, 770-242-0045.

  7. Avatar
    William Echelmeyer

    I have 2+ year old tigerwood decking. Looked great when installed. Waited 3 months before sealing. Now it is graying out some and I understand that. My concern is after protecting all furniture legs with felt pads and changing out when worn, my decking is marring/almost scratching every time we move furniture. I have contacted two contractors. One said to replace felt with something else!!??? The other has no idea what is happening. Any ideas for remedy?

    1. Avatar

      Replacing the felt MIGHT work. Tigerwood has a tendency to show marks when certain materials come in contact with it. We have seen it happen with a number of different things, water runoff from the roof(with asphalt shingles), oxidation of certain metals, magnolias trees will sometimes have that effect, just to name a few.

      What COULD be happening with yours is that the water that’s running down your furniture ends up on the deck underneath and those very tiny metal particles are oxidizing on the face of the TW boards. I have definitely heard of this happening before.

      The first thing I’d try is a solution of 1 part muriatic acid to 1 part water. This solution easily removes metal oxidation marks. Apply the solution to the area and wipe it up with a cotton rag. Be sure to rinse after you use the solution off of the deck with water afterwards. This method is tried and true for metal oxidation marks. Of course, they will keep coming back as long as that furniture is on the deck.

      Tigerwood also greys a bit differently than the other Brazilian species. I recommend TW for areas that are protected by shade. Works great for siding too! Direct, all day sunlight exposure is simply not recommended for Tigerwood.

      I am with Brazilian Wood Depot. We sell Six species of Brazilian Hardwoods including Tigerwood. In business over 15 years. http://www.bwdepot.com.

    2. Avatar

      I’m replacing my dock and am considering using ipe decking. Should I be concerned with moisture equalization as the bottom of the decking will at times be within a foot or two of saltwater and may flood during extreme weather.

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      I did this (brown sheet) so that the lighter tiles on which the deck was laid did not show through. Be sure it does not allow pools of water to form though.

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      My IPE decking has been a constant problem for splintering. My grandchildren have been unable to walk barefoot on it since we moved into our new home only one season ago. What can we do??

      1. Avatar

        As for the splintering problem. Splintering is not something we usually (if ever) hear about with an Ipe deck. I would need to see some photos of the deck to determine how to tackle the problem. We have been in the Ipe and Brazilian Hardwood business for 15+ years and we’ve heard just about everything.

        My initial thoughts are sanding might be an effective way to address the face splintering. Also, if the boards are buckling because of improper installation, that can also cause splintering. Again, more details might help me help you.

    3. Avatar

      Absolutely! Any system or action taken that helps water drain away from the home and out from under the deck is a good thing. It will help with moisture equalization and prevent cupping. Moisture equalization is key with Ipe and other Brazilian Hardwoods!

  8. Avatar

    I don’t want my Ipe deck too gray. It was installed last summer & I want to clean and stain it now. I will use a clean and brighten product, probably Restore a Deck. What oil do you recommend using? I have heard of Armstrong Clark (amber or mahogany), Messmers and Deckwise Ipe oil. Please advise.

    1. Avatar

      I work for a pressure washing company and we only use Messmers on our ipe decks. We redo every year for most of our customers

      1. Avatar

        Melinda is 100% correct. Messmer’s UV Plus Natural is the best product for Ipe and Brazilian Hardwoods. We do not recommend pressure washing, however. This can cause streaking and can damage the face of the boards creating a “fuzzy” texture that is less than desirable. A pressure washer can be used to apply the Messmer’s Deck Renewer and Brightener. But again, should not be used to clean the boards. I have uploaded an IN DEPTH video on Youtube about how to properly maintain an Ipe deck. I highly recommend watching that video. Youtube–> Ipe Deck Maintenance. It will be the video made by Brazilian Wood Depot.

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    Helpful article! I read another article earlier that was comparing ipe wood to cedar and listing all the benefits of it. It is nice to also know what some of the drawbacks are!

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    Is it normal for Ipe to have wood checking or cracks in the middle of the planks. I’ve noticed checking at the ends of the planks and I can cut that off. But I’ve also noticed that on my shorter runs when I cut the boards in the middle there are checking cracks in the middle also.

    Is that normal for Ipe?

    1. Avatar

      Michael, yes! Face checking is a very normal process for Ipe. They do not negatively impact the structural integrity of the lumber and they should not lead to splintering cracking, anything like that. Some folks are a bit unnerved by the face checking but, it’s nothing to worry about just a natural process.

  11. Avatar

    I’m building a dock on a reservoir and the local building inspector wants written documentation that Ipe is not toxic nor will become toxic to the water supply. Can anyone help address this concern?

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      I’m happy to provide something to that effect. I have Cirad engineering specs that should alleviate the local inspectors concern. Ipe is one of the only options that would be suitable for that concern.

      Feel free to contact us for more info. Our contact info is on our website, Brazilian Wood Depot.

  12. Avatar

    I’m interested in putting ipe over a concrete porch that is half covered and half not covered which extends into direct sunlight. I live in CA, the exposure is south west. The ground level that is covered by the roofline is concrete. The ground beyond the roofline is lawn. The deck will be attached to the house over the existing concrete porch and extended beyond the roofline, onto the lawn into direct sunlight by 9 ft. My preference is to let the wood age naturally, becoming silver grayish with wear.

    Wondering if this is the best product for my installation? Thank you.

    1. Avatar

      Ipe would be great for that application. One thing that is not addressed in your message is the framing between the concrete and the deck boards. If you are going to build a frame (floater) on the concrete you can use Ipe 1×6 without a problem. If you are planning on fastening directly to the concrete you need to consider Ipe Deck Tiles. Deck Tiles are beautiful and the provide the solution for inadequate ventilation. We are Brazilian Wood Depot and we do carry that product. Feel free to contact us, our contact info is on our website.

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      Any stain like this will go away with time. Unlike manufactured materials, wood naturally absorbs and becomes unnoticeable. Furthermore, there are a number of great cleaning products (renewers, cleaners, brighteners, and strippers). The correct product will tackle just about any stain you can create.

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