Ipe is an incredible wood, especially for decking. One of
the benefits we often mention is the low maintenance requirement. Once it’s installed,
you barely have to touch an ipe deck! Virtually the only thing you have to do
is oil it every year or so to preserve that rich brown color.
Of course, people looking for low-maintenance decking often want to know just how little work they can get away with. And who can blame them? Nobody builds a deck because they want to oil it every year! So what exactly will happen to your brand-new ipe deck if you decide to never oil it?
Un-Oiled Ipe Turns Gray
One of the first questions asked is what the decking will look like in a couple of years. It can actually be a little difficult to find pictures of weathered ipe; everyone just wants to show off that freshly oiled color! Well, you can put your curiosity to rest. Click on any of the photos below to see a bigger version:
Is Gray Ipe Weaker?
Another common question is whether the oil increases the ipe’s lifespan. Put another way, does letting ipe turn gray make it weaker?
You can relax. If you skip the maintenance, your ipe deck will still last up to 75 years. Regular oil treatments can increase that lifespan, but most people are pretty satisfied with three quarters of a century.
It’s also true that oiling can help make the wood resist cupping, especially in the case of ground-level decks, but as long as your deck was properly designed and built, this shouldn’t be a problem.
For proof, you need only look at the many large-scale, public projects that have used ipe decking. For instance, the Coney Island boardwalk used ipe for 90 years, and it was never oiled. Even after nearly a century of continual, heavy use, the wood was still strong enough when they replaced it that it was repurposed for use in high-end designer furniture!
If you don’t oil your ipe deck, it will turn gray, but that’s not a bad thing! A weathered ipe deck will still give you decades of low-maintenance backyard fun!
Ground-level decks are a popular option when designing backyard landscapes. But if you don’t take certain precautions, your dream outdoor living space can quickly become a maintenance nightmare. To ensure you get the most out of your ground-level deck, here are several things to keep in mind during the planning stage.
1. Ground-Level Decks Lack Ventilation
The number-one reason ground-level decking projects fail is a lack of ventilation. We always recommend at least 18 inches of ground clearance to allow for good air flow, but ground-level decks, by definition, flout this rule. Therefore, we don’t usually recommend building a deck at ground level.
So what happens? The deck boards cup. Moisture on top of the boards can evaporate thanks to its exposure to open air, but moisture under the boards is trapped. Since wood shrinks as it dries out, the tops of the boards contract. At the same time, wet wood expands, so the bottoms swell out. These two opposed motions cause the boards to curl upward—better known in the decking world as cupping.
There’s very little you can do to improve air flow in a ground-level deck, but there are some steps you can take to minimize the negative effects of poor ventilation.
2. Use Strong Hardwoods
South American hardwoods, which include species like ipe and cumaru, are some of the strongest decking materials in the world. Their dense grain structures resist cupping better than softer woods like cedar or pine. They also contain natural oils that help them to resist moisture and the problems associated with it.
3. Use Thicker Boards
It’s easy to roll up a single sheet of paper, but try doing it with an entire ream! The thicker your material, the harder it is to bend—or in our case, the less likely it is to cup. So when choosing your decking material, thicker boards are better. 5/4x or even 2x boards may be more expensive, but the hassle they’ll save will be well worth the extra cost.
4. Use Narrower Boards
Similar to the above point, a narrow board is less likely to cup than a wide board. Going back to the paper analogy, it’s generally easier to fold a piece of paper perpendicular to its long axis than its short axis, and the same principle holds with wood. Also, because the board is narrower, any cupping that does occur will be less extreme, simply because there’s less material to expand and contract. So when planning your deck, choose 4-inch boards instead of the typical 6-inch boards.
5. Oil the Boards Before Installing
As stated earlier, all of our hardwood decking species contain natural oils that help them resist moisture-related problems. But you can further protect the wood by coating each board with a special oil-based finish prior to installation. We recommend Ipe Oil, since it was specially formulated to work with Brazilian hardwoods. Be sure to coat all four sides!
6. Use Wider Gap Spacing
For ipe decking, we typically recommend 3/32-inch gaps between boards, and a 1/4-inch gap for our other decking species. Slightly increasing this gap can improve the air flow, even if only by a little. It won’t have a huge impact, but every bit counts!
7. Oil Regularly After Installation
South American hardwoods are known for being low-maintenance, but with a ground-level deck, you’re going to have to do some work. Annual oil coatings, using the same stuff you used prior to installation, will maximize the stability of your deck boards.
8. Build a Ground-Level Deck with Deck Tiles
While the above tips will help, traditional ground-level decks never come with a guarantee. At the end of the day, you’re still fighting against wood’s natural tendencies when installing so close to the ground.
But there is one other option. Hardwood deck tiles are made from narrow slats of wood and pre-assembled to resist cupping. They are designed specifically for ground-level use! As a bonus, deck tiles are also a lot easier to install than traditional deck boards.
It should be repeated that we usually try to steer customers away from ground-level deck projects because the risks of moisture-related problems are too great. But if your heart is set on a deck at or near ground level, then these tips will give you the best chances at success.
Can you paint ipe wood? It’s a common question, and the experts will always tell you the same two things:
Why would you want to?
Those can be frustrating answers. Maybe you want to use ipe for its strength, but you aren’t fond of its color. Or maybe you inherited a finished project from a previous homeowner whose tastes didn’t match yours. So what can you do?
Why Ipe Is Not Paintable
First, let’s look at the source of the problem. We paint wood all the time; why is ipe different?
Exotic hardwoods (including ipe and its friends: cumaru, tigerwood, etc.) are not like most woods. Paint won’t stick to them! For one, they’re just too dense. The tight grain squeezes other substances out, and creates a relatively non-porous surface (compared to softer woods) that leaves the paint with nothing to cling to.
Another reason paint won’t stick to ipe and its ilk is that these woods are saturated with natural oils. These oils repel the paint, much like how the oil on a duck’s feathers repels water.
It just so happens that these two characteristics, density and oils, are what make ipe such a good choice for exterior projects in the first place. The dense grain gives it an impervious structure, and the oils fight off mold and decay. It’s too bad that they also have the unfortunate side effect of making the wood difficult to paint.
And it’s not just paint. Most wood stains and film-forming top coats will struggle to maintain any lasting hold on ipe. That’s why companies developed specialized products like Ipe Oil® and Messmers for dealing with exotic hardwoods. These oil-based finishes were specifically formulated to penetrate deeply into ipe’s dense grain structure and enrich the wood’s natural characteristics.
Can Anything Be Done?
Some woodworkers have claimed mild success in painting ipe by taking a few preliminary steps. First, sand the ipe with coarse-grit sandpaper to rough up the surface a bit. This will give the paint something to cling to. Then, apply several layers of oil-based primer. Finally, you can paint the ipe, but use an oil-based paint instead of the usual latex stuff.
Having said that, these steps will not guarantee a perfect, long-lasting finish; and as a rule, AdvantageLumber.com does not recommend painting ipe.
Alternatives to Painting Ipe
Painting ipe may not be a good idea, but you do have some other options.
Use a Different Wood
If you’re starting a brand-new project, this is the best way to go. A wood like cedar may not have the strength and longevity of ipe, but you can paint it to your heart’s content. The paint will also help protect the wood, giving back some of the durability you sacrificed by using a softer wood specie.
Cover the Ipe in a Paintable Material
Sometimes you just don’t have a choice. Either ipe is required for its structural properties, or someone else installed the wood without asking you first!
In cases like this, when you absolutely must use ipe, you should first consider if you really want to cover up that beautiful, natural hardwood. If your answer is still “yes”, then your best option is to clad the ipe in a paintable material. Build a sheath or covering out of another wood, such as cedar or even pressure treated pine, and paint that instead. You’ll get the strong foundation provided by ipe as well as full control over the final appearance.
Building an outdoor kitchen is a major investment. You want to make sure you are using materials that are going to hold up to the outdoor environment as well as the abuse of kitchen wear and tear.
You are probably looking at spending thousands of dollars on top of the line stainless steel appliances for your outdoor kitchen.
The last thing you would want is to spend a lot of time and money on an outdoor kitchen and have your grill in your outdoor kitchen rust out after 5 years and force you to redo your outdoor kitchen.
Many homeowners want their appliances to sit in cabinets or an outdoor bar built out of a beautiful long lasting wood.
Woods You Should Not Use for an Outdoor Kitchen
We suggest staying away from softwoods such as pressure treated pine, cedar and redwood.
These softwoods are all susceptible to rot, wood boring insects and are can catch fire quickly. In addition they require yearly maintenance with waterproofing sealers that will peel off.
This will leave you scraping and sanding all the wood and then reapplying the sealer each year. Waterproofing sealers help keep water from penetrating the grain of softwoods which would lead to faster rot and decay.
Additionally your outdoor kitchen will more than likely be placed on a concrete slab foundation. Depending on the design of your outdoor kitchen your cabinets or bar will be sitting on top of the concrete.
Concrete wicks moisture so softwoods sitting on top of concrete will rot faster at the base.
These are just a few reasons why we don’t recommend these softwoods for an outdoor kitchen.
Best Woods for Outdoor Kitchens
There are a few species of wood that we’ve found to be proven to perform incredibly well in outdoor environments such as outdoor kitchens.
These species are Ipe, Cumaru, Tigerwood, Garapa and Massaranduba. They all come from South America and have proven to last up to 75 years or more with very low maintenance.
Above you’ll see a picture of an outdoor kitchen built with Ipe wood deck boards. The deck is also built with Ipe wood decking.
Ipe wood decking is one of the most durable, long lasting decking woods available. It is more durable than teak and is more cost effective as well.
It is also naturally resistant to mold, mildew, rot and decay, wood boring insects can not chew through the wood, It has a Class A rating against flame spread, does not splinter like softwoods and it has proven to last 75+ year on commercial boardwalks like Coney Island boardwalk in New York.
Here’s another outdoor kitchen built with Ipe Wood:
The second most durable wood we recommend for outdoor kitchens is Cumaru which is also known as Brazilian Teak.
Cumaru is almost identical to Ipe it’s just got a little more color variation which ranges from golden brown to a reddish brown. Ipe is more consistent in color which is a chocolate brown.
Many people are drawn to Cumaru because it’s typically 30% cheaper and also a very beautiful and durable wood. It has all the similar properties like Class A rating against flame spread which makes it an excellent wood for outdoor kitchens.
While we don’t have pictures of an outdoor kitchen built with Cumaru wood most of the jobs we supply are used to build decks.
Just like Ipe wood is most commonly used to build decks both of these woods are great for a wide array of outdoor projects.
Here’s a picture of a deck built with Cumaru:
Tigerwood Outdoor Kitchen
This is our 3rd most popular option for an exterior hardwood that is great for outdoor kitchens.
Tigerwood is not quite as dense as Ipe or Cumaru but it’s still a very dense and durable hardwood that’s great for outdoor use. In fact Tigerwood is more than double the Janka hardness compared to Teak.
These 3 wood species are the best woods that we recommend for outdoor kitchens.
When building an outdoor kitchen with wood you can often use short length boards depending on your design of course.
A quality American made above ground pool can last 10 – 20 years if not more depending on the conditions.
You want to make sure your deck will last just as long without all the common issues associated with some decking options.
In this article we’ll discuss all your decking options for your above ground pools and highlight the pros and cons of each.
The first most affordable and most common decking option is:
Pressure Treated Pine Decking
Most above ground pool decks are built using pressure treated pine because it’s readily available at almost every building material supplier near you and its the most affordable option.
This is a real wood option that requires consistent maintenance to ensure the longest lifespan possible.
Pine is a softwood that is susceptible to rot, decay, mold, mildew and insect attack. In addition pressure treated pine also typically experiences repeated cycles of thermal expansion and contraction (especially if you live in the north and get harsh winters).
Softwoods require the use of deck stains and water sealers that help keep the water out of the wood grain which accelerates rot, decay and insect attack.
Treated pine commonly gives off splinters and slivers in your feet since most of the time you’ll be using your above ground pool deck with bare feet. So be prepared for annoyed guests and crying kids.
The average life expectancy for a pressure treated pine pool deck is 15 – 20 years. Many will see something more like 10 – 15 years. It really depends on how good you kept up with the maintenance each year.
Pools decks obviously are constantly getting saturated with pool water especially if you have little kids who like keep getting out and jumping in the pool doing cannonballs.
The next real wood option is:
Cedar Wood Decking
This is another softwood option however cedar does offer some natural resistance to rot and decay but will eventually rot and decay as time goes on.
In the picture above you can see this homeowner is replacing on of the deck boards and the others have splinters and checking that can cause splinters and slivers in your feet.
Cedar also requires a waterproofing sealer to help ensure a longer lifespan especially around pool decks with the constant exposure to water.
If maintained yearly you could expect a life expectancy of 20 – 25 years. Again this all depends on the wear and tear the deck sees as well as the annual maintenance.
The third option that most home owners think will be the best is:
Many homeowners think that composite decking will be “maintenance free”. In the early years when composite decking was first made, many manufacturers spent millions of dollars on advertising bragging that their products were “maintenance free”.
Unfortunately many people found out the hard way there really is no such thing as maintenance free. As a result there was several class action lawsuits for false advertising and other issues.
Composite decking has many issues including severe fading as shown in first picture as well as deteriorating and crumbling as shown in the second picture.
Many homeowners also complain about composites being extremely hot to walk on in your bare feet which is not good around pools. Another common problem is that it can be very slippery when wet which would not be good around a pool.
Homeowners should do a Google search for “composite decking complaints” and “composite decking problems”. We get calls from homeowners each week that need to replace their composite decking after only a year or two of having their deck installed.
We have yet to find a composite decking product that will meet or exceed our customers expectations so we do not sell any composite or plastic decking materials for now.
Last but not least your other option is:
When we say hardwood we are talking about some of the hardest most durable woods on earth. In fact they are harder and more durable than Teak and cheaper too.
The decking species we recommend for above ground pool decks are:
These South American hardwoods are sustainably harvested and have proven to last up to 75 years with very low maintenance.
They are also naturally resistant to rot, decay, mold, mildew, splinter, class A rating against flame spread, resistant to wood boring insects, naturally slip resistant and not hot to walk on bare foot.
All of these qualities make them excellent around pools!
The only maintenance that’s required is cleaning the dirt and debris off the surface which is required by all decking manufacturers (especially composites).
Pollen, dirt, leaves, rain and other debris will land on all decks so a light power washing is a good idea when needed.
The only other maintenance that many homeowners choose to do is oiling the wood usually once a year. UV rays from the sun will bleach the color out of the wood and turn it grey.
Some homeowners like they grey look so they don’t have to do anything other than an occasional cleaning.
Oiling the wood will keep the beautiful color of the woods and enhance the beautiful grain. Once you see the beauty of these woods most homeowners want to maintain that look.
Do not be confused oiling hardwoods is incredibly easy and it’s not a top coat like water sealers for soft woods that will eventually peel off and leave you with a lot of maintenance.
The oil you simply roll on with a paint roller after that you wipe up any that did not soak into the wood. These woods are so dense they will only absorb so much oil. It will eventually fade away (usually spring time the following year). Then you just apply more oil.
Building a deck in a climate that sees extreme weather such as extreme heat, extreme cold, hurricanes, lots of rain, ice and snow requires some extra planning to ensure your deck will last and resist unwanted movement such as warping, cupping, bowing and twisting.
In dry climates like Arizona, wood decking materials will shrink due to the lack of moisture. All building materials will expand and contract with temperature and humidity changes. Composite decking materials generally expand in the warm temperatures and shrink in the cooler temperatures.
Wet and Humid Climates
Climates like Florida that see extreme heat, rain, humidity and hurricanes are some of the harshest environments on homes and the materials they are built with. Constant rain and humidity will cause wood decking to expand, composite materials will also tend to swell in these climates.
These climates also tend to promote the growth of mold and fungi, especially in the areas that do not see full sun all day. This can also lead to faster degrading, rot and decay of building materials.
Extreme Sun and UV Rays
Many areas such as Florida, Arizona, California and more see extreme sun and UV rays. The UV rays from the sun are one of the harshest elements that attack many materials and building materials like decking are no exception.
The UV rays will fade most materials including wood which will eventually turn gray and composites can significantly fade from their existing color that you loved originally.
Extreme Cold, Ice and Snow
If your area gets very cold and see lots of ice and snow in the winter and then hot and humid temperatures in the summer. Your deck is going to see the widest ranges of extreme conditions which means the most expansion and contraction.
All of these different climates can be harsh on building materials especially horizontal surfaces like decking. There are materials that have proven to stand up to these harsh climates better than others.
South American hardwood decking such as Ipe, Cumaru, Tigerwood, Garapa and Massaranduba have proven to last up to 75 years in some applications.
These hardwood decking species have shown to work in every climate from the dry dessert to hot and humid Florida all the way to cold and snow covered Buffalo, NY.
The most common decking size is 5/4 x 6” which will have a finished dimension of 1 inch thick and 5.5 inches wide.However just like hardwood flooring the wider your deck boards are the more likely they will be to cup.
Use Narrower and Thicker Boards
The narrower a board is the less likely it is to cup so using narrow boards such as 1×4 (finished at 3 1/2″ wide), is not only more stable but it can save you money and give a more interesting look.
Thicker boards such as 5/4 x 4 (finishes at 1” thick and 3 1/2″ wide) are also more stable then 1 x 4 (finishes at 3/4” thick and 3 1/2″ wide) it’s a quarter inch thicker and gives you more stability.
Sawn Lumber Differences
Quarter Sawn Decking:
Quarter sawn decking comes at a premium due to the labor it takes to mill each plank. To mill quarter sawn wood, each log is sawed at a radial angle into four quarters. Then each quarter is plain sawn. This method of quarter sawing does leave some waste, but much less than rift sawn lumber.
This method of sawing produces a plank where the tree’s growth rings are near, or totally perpendicular to the plank’s surface. Quarter sawn decking offers even more stability and the following benefits:
Decreased expansion and contraction on the plank’s width
Twisting, cupping, and warping resistance
Ages evenly over time
Chances of surface checking are significantly reduced
More resistant to moisture penetration
More character beauty with ray flecks
Are Your Project Conditions Less Than Ideal?
We recommend a minimum of 18 inches of unrestricted air flow underneath your deck. Unrestricted means plenty of air can flow underneath your deck so it’s not completely sealed off with skirting.
Closing off the underside of your deck or not allowing enough air flow will change the moisture level on the underside of your deck boards while the top surface gets air flow and heated by the sun.
This creates two different climates for your deck boards and will cause the top of the deck surface to expand and contract at a different rate then the bottom and this will lead to cupping.
That being said some homeowners have projects like boat docks and ground level decks that can not meet the ideal conditions but still want a beautiful hardwood deck.
In these cases, even though we don’t recommend it unless you can create the ideal conditions we suggest using 5/4 x 4 decking or 5/4 x 4 quarter sawn decking. You should also take as many precautions as you can to mitigate any moisture issues or differences underneath your decking.
Oiling the underside of your deck boards before installing them can also help reduce moisture absorbing into your deck boards.
Projects that used our 4 inch wide decking for their projects