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Redwood vs. Ipe: Wood Deck Comparison

Redwood and ipe are attractive decking options that add natural beauty to outdoor spaces. They have differences that need to be considered when making a decision. While ipe is a high-density hardwood known for durability and weather resistance, redwood is softer and requires more maintenance. Both types of wood have variations in color and grade. No matter which material you discover works best for you, be sure to maximize its life span by avoiding moisture buildup and performing recommended maintenance.

What Are the Characteristics of Redwood?

Redwood vs. Ipe Decks

Image via Flickr by tolomea

Redwood, or Sequoia sempervirens, is a coniferous tree native to the coastal northwestern United States. This strong, long-lived, and tall tree is also known as Sequoia or Coast Redwood. Redwood is a softer wood that’s susceptible to weathering, especially around knots and sapwood. It should be stained, painted, or waterproofed with sealant every year for an optimal lifespan. In addition to being used for decking material, redwood has other uses, including posts, beams, and exterior furniture.

Lumber harvested from old-growth trees can last for several decades with proper maintenance. It’s known for decay resistance when properly maintained. Natural tannins provide color as well as resistance to decay, fire, and insects. Redwood is a softer wood that can scratch or dent, but it’s still a durable and long-lasting material. High-grade heartwood is stronger and resistant to insects and decay.

Redwood is easy to cut and install, requiring typical labor and materials compared to other woods like cedar and pressure-treated pine. Its weight is also in line with woods like cedar. Redwood ranges from light off-white to a medium reddish-brown tone, with lighter colors being the most common. It generally has little grain character, with straight uniform grain, and comes in different grades; higher grades of heartwood can be hard to find, so redwood decking likely will have some knots. Lower grades will have more knots and sapwood.

Redwood is a sustainable wood. While old-growth redwood trees are protected, commercially grown redwood trees are smaller, grow fast, and are managed following the California Forest Practices Act. The managed forests provide a home for native wildlife and keep the water and air clean.

What Are the Characteristics of Ipe?

Ipe wood is from the Tabebuia tree is one of the toughest and longest-lasting decking materials available. Also known as Epay or Brazilian walnut, this tropical hardwood’s lumber adjusts well to high humidity, dry weather, and excessive moisture. Genuine ipe is easier to find since it’s sourced from one tree species; however, it is subject to over-harvesting and other illegal practices. In addition to flooring, decking, and veneer, ipe trees are ornamental and have attractive flowers. Ipe bark has medicinal properties.

Depending on how it’s installed and the weather conditions, ipe can last over 50 years. Its density and natural oils give it an advantage over other woods. Boards need space to breathe under and between the timbers, and they should be protected from excessive moisture or shade that limits their ability to dry. It needs minimal maintenance above regular cleanings and oil applications. Sealing the ends of the boards helps keep moisture out of the boards and prevents splitting.

Ipe is harder than redwood and is nicknamed ironwood for a reason. Some installers may charge more for ipe. If ipe expands and contracts over the seasons and time, it can pop the installation screws loose. Screw and nail holes need to be pre-drilled, and the wood dulls saw blades.

The hardness factor will help prevent scratches, fire damage, decay, slippery surfaces, and termite damage. Structures will also have more strength with ipe floors. Ipe is resistant to splintering, twisting, and shrinking. The boards are sometimes compared to an attractive wooden form of concrete. Ipe wood is significantly heavier than redwood, making it harder to transport.

Ipe has natural color variations that range from dark black-brown to reddish-brown. It may also have yellow to olive-brown tones. The varying colors are due to location and environment. Ipe is difficult to stain, so it’s best-preserved with oil applications and left to stay in its natural color.

Ipe often has a straight grain, but it can be found with a variety of grain styles and irregularities. It may have straight, irregular, or interlocked grain. Ipe also doesn’t have knots, which makes it stronger and more resistant to weathering and insects. For deck usage, straight or moderately wavy grained wood works best to ensure a nice-looking and smooth surface. The texture is fine to medium, and the wood doesn’t retain heat on hot summer days.

Most natural resources have been subject to unsustainable or illegal harvesting processes, and wood is no exception. Ipe forests are often harvested using sustainable methods and following applicable regulations, but illegal harvesting does happen. Tracking sustainably sourced ipe wood is difficult once it goes through a mill. Responsibly grown ipe will be labeled FSC-certified wood, the stamp of approval by the Forest Stewardship Council.

Deck Care

All kinds of deck materials benefit from regular cleaning and maintenance. Excessive moisture should be avoided, with furniture and other items placed or installed carefully. After many years the wood may need refinishing and restoration work to bring back its natural beauty.

Both redwood and ipe are good decking materials, depending on the look you want. Either choice will require regular maintenance to ensure a long-lasting deck. While ipe may consider a bit more work to install, it can be worth the time to achieve the look you desire. Redwood can also add a lot of character to your deck, which may be more of what you want. Take the time to consider your needs and the aesthetic you hope to achieve before purchasing decking material.

Decking materials are a long-term investment that can bring function, beauty, and utility to your home for over 50 years. Choosing the best materials requires weighing pros and cons and finding what works best for your unique home, location, and budget. Teak Master offers expertise in wood selection and restoration services for decks and wooden furniture to keep your investment looking its best for years to come.  If you’d like more information, reach out to the knowledgeable staff at Teak Master. You can call us at 888-972-9568 or use our convenient online messaging service, and a team member will get back to you.


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