Can thinner Ipe lumber be used instead of 2x thickness?
In Part 1, we discussed how the “bounce” factor, or deflection rate, of Ipe makes it able to withstand much more abuse than pressure-treated lumber of the same thickness. Still, the industry standard width for boardwalk decking remains 2x, regardless if the lumber is Ipe or pressure treated Pine, even though math and hard data shows clearly that Ipe and Pine were not created equal.
If this issue applied only to the occasional boardwalk project, the supply chain issues would be minimal. However, due to the devastation on the East Coast left by the 2012 Hurricane Sandy, high demand for wide Ipe boards threatens to affect far more than the budget and project deadlines of individual seaside towns. In fact, we predict that the increased demand for 2x Ipe, which accompanies the current high demand for rebuilt boardwalks along the East Coast, will come with a price and affect far more than beachfront vacationers and summer 2013.
Understanding Global Demand
This issue is not unique to Ipe or to 2x lumber: As lumber suppliers, we understand that the global demand for resources in limited supply can easily become imbalanced, resulting in supply chain problems as well as major hikes in price. Just as we’ve seen this issue with Teak due to governmental shifts and construction of a large building in Myanmar, Hurricane Sandy is offering a demonstration of how natural disasters can affect the global market of a species as well. Already a complicated market due to Brazil’s rainy season, the Ipe market is definitely volatile and already affected largely by weather.
Current Market Considerations
Since Ipe came into the US market as a residential product, it has grown to account for 90% of the South American market. For residential use, sawmills are generally producing boards in 1x and 5/4 thicknesses. The number of boards produced in sizes such as 2×6, 2×4, and 4×4 are clearly in the minority and are sawn for structural purposes. Since Ipe decks often rely on undercarriages from pressure-treated materials and Ipe used for posts and joists is usually more like 4×4, 6×6, or 2×8, the demand for 2x boards is extremely low. Of course, sizes in low demand have naturally led to a low supply of such materials.
Immediate Results for Summer 2013
In addition to the fact that thicker materials will naturally cost more than their 1x counterparts, the low supply and increased demand for these plus-sized boards will cause additional rises in cost and time for supply. Of course, due to the already-ended buying season for Ipe, the lumber that will be available for the 2013 decking season has already been milled, purchased, and shipped to the US. For aggressive delivery schedules and tight budgets, this news is hard to swallow.
As a major Ipe importer and supplier, J. Gibson McIlvain is happy to work with East Coast builders to provide materials needed to prepare for the 2013 vacation season. We have an impressive inventory of Ipe and other decking species in stock and are happy to discuss options and pricing with long-time and new customers, alike.