The IPE versus Cedar Battle!
IPE is one of the many Brazilian hardwoods that are often used for outside decking and flooring. We don't use it at Terrace Creations but are asked about it often and therefore it's always good to have some answers for folks.
First of all, what are the advantages and disadvantages of using IPE versus cedar? Both of the woods silver with age and last a long time (40+ years for IPE, 20+ for cedar but more on that below). IPE has a higher fire rating (A versus B with A being the same as steel or concrete) and is a lot harder than cedar. IPE rarely warps or cracks (as long as it is thicker than many of the decking tile companies use) while cedar can certainly do both with age.
Cedar on the other hand is a much softer wood than IPE which means it feels nicer on bare feet. Cedar is a great deal cheaper (as much as one third or more). Cedar also has more knots and movement in the structure which greatly appeals to many customers. IPE has few or no knots. IPE tends to be darker and harder to stain as well, so most IPE installations are the light brown of the actual wood colour.
For the environment, cedar is grown right here in Canada and all our cedar comes from environmentally managed forests. You can get FSC IPE but I always worry about if that is absolutely true and once you add on the environmental costs of transport, it becomes more worrisome. As far as longevity goes, on a condo balcony (versus a cedar deck at a cottage), cedar will probably last 25+ years because it is usually protected by the balcony above and the elements in general. 25+ years is probably more than enough for most people who live in a condo!
In summary, if I was going to do a very large, commercial, outdoor deck where I didn't want to worry about any problems and budget was no issue, I might think about IPE. For most condos though, cedar (and treated wood) is a great alternative and is much more environmentally friendly.