Is Ipe Fire Proof?

Ipe, an exotic hardwood from Brazil, is known for its many desirable qualities. It’s dense, durable, naturally resists rot and pests and its beauty is unparalleled.

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Some have even claimed it’s fireproof. But is there data to support this claim or is it simply hyperbole?

The most commonly accepted test for flame rating is the Standard Test Method for Surface Burning Characteristics of Building Materials, also known as the ASTM E-84.The ASTM E-84 test measures how far and fast flames spread across the surface of the test sample by installing a 20”x25’ sample of the material as the ceiling of a test chamber, and exposing the material to a gas flame. The resulting flame spread rating (FSR) is expressed as a number on a scale where cement board is 0 and red oak is 100. This scale is then divided into three classes (Class A, 0-25 FSR; Class B, 26-75 FSR; and Class C, 76-200 FSR). Generally, inorganic materials such as brick or tile are Class A-rated and most whole wood products are Class B or C.  

Several years ago other lumber suppliers tested Ipe under the ASTM E-84 test. At the time, the metrics used to test fire spread were far less stringent than they are today, and Ipe was given a Class A rating, the same rating given to both concrete and steel. Is it conceivable that a wood product could have the same fire spread rating as concrete and steel? In a word: no. With today’s stricter metrics, Ipe is generally given no more than a class B rating. In order to receive a Class A rating each bundle of lumber would have to be tested, which is costly and inefficient.

However, Ipe is the wood with the best flame spread resistance, better than any other decking option.

Reinforcing this claim, in 2007 the United States Forest Products Laboratory released a report entitled “Cone Calorimeter Tests of Wood-Based Decking Materials” which show that the density of untreated Ipe outperforms other traditional decking materials such as pine, cedar, and redwood. It’s a superb choice for deck building anywhere, but particularly in a wildfire sensitive area. Additionally, it’s also often used for rooftop decking in densely packed urban areas as a measure of fire protection.

In summary, although it can not support claims to be fireproof, Ipe does provide a greater flame spread resistance than other decking options.

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Tropical Hardwood vs. Composite decking

When planning a deck, one of the first essential decisions is what material to use. There are many choices but this article will focus on comparing composite materials with tropical hardwood decking.

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While both options have  benefits and drawbacks, there are many compelling reasons to choose a tropical hardwood such as Ipe, Cumaru, Garapa, and Tigerwood for your next deck.

Installation Cost

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Wood is generally quicker and less expensive to install than composite, due to framing. Composite decking requires a 16” on center spacing because it is too weak and flexible to withstand a wider span between joists. Hardwoods allow up to 24” on center spacing, depending on the deck pattern, saving time and money on installation.

Strength and Durability

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Tropical hardwoods have a much wider range of both width and thickness than composite boards, giving them an advantage in strength and durability. Composite materials lack strength, bowing under heavy foot traffic, making them an especially poor choice for commercial use. Even in a residential application, sagging between joists is often noticeable.

Longevity

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Some types of tropical hardwood decking, such as Ipe, can be built and then practically forgotten about, weathering to a beautiful, aged patina. If the weathered look isn’t desired, a tropical hardwood deck does need to have UV protectorate applied in order to preserve the original look of the wood. Composite decking has been manufactured for several decades now, and this product hasn’t quite aged as well as marketers promised. Tropical hardwood decks can easily last 30-40 years, depending on the environment. Although composite decking has a limited stain and fade warranty, it won’t outlast hardwood decking.

Look and Feel

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The strongest claim composite manufacturers can make about the beauty of their product is that it looks like real wood. At its very best composite wood is an inferior facsimile of true tropical hardwood. Why buy a substitute? There’s no way to truly emulate the natural grain, shade variation, and genuine appearance of actual wood. There is no comparison when it comes to aesthetics. Composite decking will also never feel like natural wood. Even as technology improves the look of composite decking, it will still feel like plastic. Another consideration is heat retention. This is most applicable to decks installed in very warm areas, such as the southern United States. Composite decking heats up approximately 10 degrees warmer than tropical hardwoods, making bare feet on the deck intolerable. Especially for decks intended for families with young children, this is an important detail.


Taking all factors into consideration, tropical hardwoods have the advantage. It will last for decades, decrease installation costs, feel like natural wood, and most importantly, bring a homeowner the pleasure of its beauty for a very long time, serving as the backdrop for many happy memories.

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5 Mistakes to Avoid When Cleaning Your Deck

Spring is almost here! And after a long, cold, and very snowy winter for many in the United States, just the thought of enjoying a warm day in April or May must warm the soul. For deck owners, all you have to do is just step outside onto your porch or back deck and soak up the sun, right? Not so fast.

 

If you own a deck or porch, you know there's work to be done! After winter, there's bound to be stains, dirt, and grime that has been left to sit and settle into the boards and between the gaps. If you're not careful, there are a few ways you can actually ruin the look of your deck if you're not careful.

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Here are the top mistakes to avoid when cleaning or refinishing your deck:

1. Letting nature do the work

If you think the wind and rain that come during the spring will clean your deck or porch for you, think again. All the elements can do is move around dirt and grime, not remove it.

2. Not clearing the gaps

Allowing any part of your deck to accumulate dirt, leaves, and anything else in between the gaps of your deck boards can lead to serious issues. Any organic matter that's left to rot can cause discoloring and premature rotting of wood (especially softer woods like pine and cedar). Also, because water tends to accumulate in any area where it cannot run off, it will pool and potentially cause your decking to warp and twist. Do your boards a favor, mind the gap and clear them out thoroughly.

3. Excessive powerwashing

Decking materials, whether they be as strong as Ipe or made of composite materials, are not steel or glass. They can be damaged by prolonged power washing, using the wrong tip, or too high of a PSI. If you have never pressure washed a deck before, you need to do the following:

  • Use a fan tip
  • Wash along the grain and the length of the board
  • Never aim too close to the deck surface

4. Not cleaning your deck prior to refinishing

So, let's say you have a new deck made of Ipe and it's due for its very first annual refinishing. Instead of reading the directions, you simply sweep off some leaves and dirt and apply the oil. Everything looks fine the first day, but after a while you notice strange markings on your deck. Surely, it must be the oil! Nope. The oil did its job. Unfortunately, it's not enough to sweep off your deck prior to oiling it. It has to be thoroughly cleaned so the finishing solution of your choice can adhere to the grain and protect the wood. If there's dirt still left in the wood, the oil cannot properly soak into the surface. Use a wood deck cleaner and brightener to prevent giving yourself more work and an ugly deck to look at.

5. Not checking the weather prior to refinishing

It's Saturday morning and you are going to oil your deck first thing in the morning. You oil your deck in no time flat. Sunday morning, everything still looks good. Then it rains. You don't notice it at first, but after a few days you notice the finish is uneven and it looks like the wood has spots all over it. What happened? Because the oil had not yet fully dried and settled into the wood, the finish became uneven. To prevent this from happening, make sure your deck is completely dry 24 hours prior to and after applying any finish or sealer.

Conclusion

Aviod these mistakes and you can give yourself the best chance of not spending a lot of time and money on future deck maintenance and repairs. Instead, you can clean your deck, apply a finish, and enjoy it for the remainder of the year.

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Featured Project: Golden Nugget Hotel & Casino

At OHC, we supply the finest, pre-sanded Ipe, and our reputation for distributing high-quality Ipe stretches far beyond decking. One such case is the newly renovated Golden Nugget Hotel & Casinos in Lake Charles, LA and Biloxi, MS. We custom-machined Ipe for the upscale hotels' cabanas, day beds, gift shop, and pool seating areas.

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