Old-growth Cedar vs. Ipe for deck?

tadhg555July 25, 2012

We are going to build a medium-sized deck (approx. 16x18) and we had originally planned to use FSC-certified Ipe. Then our GC told us about a shipment of old-growth Alaska Yellow Cedar and Port Orford cedar salvaged from the UC Berkeley stadium bleachers. The cedar boards are almost 100 years old and are 5 inches wide and 2.5 inches thick.

Now we have to decide which wood to go with. In order to make a more informed decision, I need to know some basics:

What are the main differences between cedar and ipe? What are the relative qualities of each as decking material?

We want a deck that's sturdy and won't splinter (good for kids). Ideally, we wouldn't have to do much maintenance on it to keep it healthy. Which wood is better for the "install it and ignore it" homeowner?

We like how ipe weathers to a silvery gray, so we don't think we would need to stain it, but does it require any additional protection?

What sort of maintenance does an old-growth cedar deck require?

Any advice or feedback would be very much appreciated.

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Seems like the Ceder would be a great talking point however very hard to get to be usable for a deck. Meaning all boards would have to be planed down. might be expensive but cool.

I like the idea of IPE but know nothing about it.

I am in the Bay Area too, are these cedar boards available to general public.

    Bookmark   July 27, 2012 at 8:15PM
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I replaced a 20 year old cedar deck with IPE. It had rotted through to the point that you could push your thumb through 4x4 posts!. If getting cedar, be sure it is heartwood. That is the only part of cedar that is useable, but it is hard to find since requires large older trees.

Cedar is great for saunas because it is soft and flexible--withstands expansion and contraction well. It does well in a wet environment. Being soft, cupping is not a problem since screws can hold it down. Also cuts easy so installation is easy. Softness requires thicker boards and/or closer joist spacing for strength.

IPE is extremely hard and stiff. Smooth and splinter resistant. Only vulnerability is excessive moisture. Dense structure makes it hard to stain. Extreme strength means that cupping is a risk if encounter moisture and board is thin relative to width. Wood is strong enough that when it wants to move, screws will rip out of joists as it moves--it is much stronger than pressure treated joist material. IPE is impervious to carpenter bees due to its extreme hardness. While not a priority for most deck builders, IPE is highly fire resistant.

Either material will weather to grey if not stained. Hard surface of IPE makes it tougher to damage so it can survive unprotected a very long time. Cedar exposed to sun will gradually lose its insect/mildew inhibiting properties since it is based more on natural chemicals in the wood which are damaged by bleaching of sun. I do not know if a better grade of heartwood would have increased the life of my cedar deck, but generally cedar is not rated for anywhere near the life of an IPE deck.

    Bookmark   July 30, 2012 at 2:24PM
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Thanks for all of your responses. I think we're leaning toward ipe.

Bibbo, the wood is available through The Wooden Duck in Berkeley.

    Bookmark   August 3, 2012 at 6:22PM
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