We used to call Spring our “decking season,” but realistically, we should call it “Ipe season.” The majority of the decking lumber that we sell at J Gibson McIlvain Lumber is Ipe, and we’re glad that so many of our customers acknowledge and appreciate this truly remarkable tropical hardwood decking lumber. An extremely hard and dense lumber species, Ipe has a fire rating on par with cement and a lifespan topping 40 years. Yet this lumber species does come with some unique challenges. As long as you’re aware of them and plan for them, you’ll be able to expertly install your new Ipe deck and appreciate its beauty and durability for decades to come.
Accommodate Wood Movement in Your Ipe Deck
While none of us can eliminate wood movement, we can certainly plan for it. First, as with any exterior application, you will want to allow your Ipe decking lumber to acclimate to the moisture levels of your climate and job site; a week or so is usually a good rule of thumb, but feel free to ask your lumber supplier for specific recommendations, considering your unique locale and the origin of your lumber. But as important as this acclimatization period may be, accommodating for wood movement does not end before installation; in fact, failing to plan for continued seasonal lumber movement can actually have quite disastrous results.
In addition to allowing for an acclimation period prior to installation, you also need to plan your Ipe deck installation that will allow for as well as reduce unnecessary wood movement. One aspect of proper decking installation that’s important to consider is ventilation — especially important in consideration of the ground-facing side of any ground-level deck. Basically, the goal here is to make sure the entire board is able to expand and contract evenly, as precipitation causes added moisture absorption and seasonal shifts in moisture levels occur.
Another way to accommodate the unavoidable changes in moisture is to leave the right-sized gaps between boards; the right-sized gap will be highly dependent on the time of year as well as your local climate. A third way to accommodate movement is to leave one side free to move; if you choose a hidden fastening system, this allowance is built in; if you choose face screwing, you can allow for it by placing only a single screw across the width of each board.
Avoid Unnecessary Wood Movement in Your Ipe Deck
In addition to accommodating unavoidable shifts in moisture content, you can take another significant step to slow the absorption and loss of moisture: apply end sealant to any cut ends of boards. Wax-based products such as AnchorSeal certainly won’t eliminate wood movement altogether, but they can help avoid major issues by slowing the absorption and loss of moisture. (Bonus: You can order your end sealant, along with hidden fasteners such as Ipe clips, when you order your Ipe decking lumber from J. Gibson McIlvain Lumber.)
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J. Gibson McIlvain Company
Since 1798, when Hugh McIlvain established a lumber business near Philadelphia, the J. Gibson McIlvain Company has become one of the largest U.S. importers of exotic woods. As an active supporter of sustainable lumber practices, the J. Gibson McIlvain Company has provided fine lumber for notable projects throughout the world. Contact a representative at J. Gibson McIlvain today by calling (800) 638-9100.