In 2013, as the East Coast recovered from Hurricane Sandy, everyone was scrambling to rebuild boardwalks in time for tourist season. What were they all looking for? 2×4 and 2×6 Ipe. Many Ipe suppliers had been preparing for just such a bundle of requests, but in some ways, no lumber supplier could be fully prepared to handle that kind of volume.
Limitation of Ipe Stockpiles
Because Ipe grows in Brazil, which has opposite seasons as we do, we order and receive all the Ipe we’ll have for the year back in the winter and early spring. This leads us to recommend some pretty strategic buying practices, but it also means that we can easily run out when there’s an unexpectedly high demand.
In 2013, even though we did anticipate the heightened demand due to the need for rebuilding along the Atlantic seaboard, we hadn’t anticipated so many commercial projects requiring 2x lumber. Most Ipe decking produced is in the range of 1x to 5/4 thickness, which makes 2x Ipe quite rare. It makes sense that 2×4 or 2×6 boards are normally required when pressure-treated lumber is used, but since Ipe’s stiffness and bending values are more than double that of other species, using 2x Ipe sure seems like overkill. Not only is sourcing a concern, but increased costs are the inevitable result.
Requirements for Boardwalks
Unlike private decks or docks, public boardwalks require extreme stiffness. Not only do boardwalks need to hold up to a lot of foot traffic, but they also need to be able to stand up to snow plows and other heavy equipment. The stiffness of a lumber species combines with the expected load to determine the amount of space that should come between structural supports.
The stiffness of lumber is described in terms of Modus of Elasticity (or MOE), and it’s shown by the ratio of the amount that the given species will deflect compared to an applied load; in other words, it helps determine whether the deck would bounce or break under a certain load. Ipe’s MOE is more than two times that of pressure-treated Pine, which translates into the need for half the number of supports when using Ipe instead of Pine. Longer spans can even be made with thinner boards, resulting in the same (minimal) amount of deflection.
While much of that equation is fairly straightforward, there is a question mark when it comes to how much deflection is acceptable, and how Ipe would react to a greater amount of deflection than what’s typical. As an extremely hard species, Ipe runs the risk of forming cracks when bent a bit too much. Engineering studies reflect that Ipe should stand up fine to added pressure, which makes implementing 2x Ipe usually overkill.
On the flip side, not many builders would take that risk on a high-profile job like a public boardwalk. We understand completely that overbuilding seems like the safest way to go, when it comes to commercial jobs. We get that, and we’d probably make the same exact choice.
J. Gibson McIlvain Company
Since 1798, when Hugh McIlvain established a lumber business near Philadelphia, the McIlvain family has been immersed in the premium import and domestic lumber industry. With its headquarters located just outside of Baltimore, the J. Gibson McIlvain Company (www.mcilvain.com) is 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, including the White House, Capitol building, Supreme Court, and the Smithsonian museums.
For more information on J. Gibson McIlvain’s lumber products and services, call Monday-Friday toll free (800) 638-9100 to speak with one of their representatives.
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