We get phone calls all day about decking products this time of year. One of the most common inquires we get is for green decking solutions that won’t break the bank. Green decking immediately brings to mind for many people composite products. There is a battle being fought between the timber and composite deck people every day trying to justify why one product is better and more environmentally responsible.
Obviously we sell wood decking products so you can tell where we are going to cast our lot. In my opinion the composite products are relying upon other industries to continue to produce environmentally unfriendly waste that can then be used to create the composite decking product. This begs the question of whether the means to the end is really worth it in the long run. Moreover, while there are certainly better classes of composite products today, there are still a lot of poor quality products that do not last as long as tropical timbers nor are they easily replaceable since the color consistency changes from batch to batch. I’m led to believe that these composites are recyclable when worn out, but how much is actually recycled? Suddenly this low footprint product has a huge footprint as a non biodegradable product sitting in landfills.
With so many contingencies and a large manufacturing base it is understandable that composite decking products continue to be some of the most expensive solutions on the market.
The premier tropical decking solution is Ipe. The vigilant reader of this blog will know that we feel this is unbeatable in terms of beauty, quality, and durability. But you will also know that this is the most expensive option out there with a continuing trend upwards. Additionally, with the way the market is run in South America it is likely that government regulation like CITES could shut down the industry making Ipe an undesirable product and next to impossible to get in any quantity. This is speculation obviously, but an ominous trend that is making us very nervous. We continue to carry Ipe in large quantities but spend just as much time scouring the market for an Ipe alternative.
One such product that we are beginning to test is branded as Ipanema Decking. This is an FSC certified product based on multiple lesser known tropical species. This is a finished decking product that is stained and treated that is very durable and easily sustainable. The principle is that there are thousands of tropical species that are lesser known and maybe not as prevalent as Ipe. By using more species and more of the forest, the product is not reliant upon a monopoly and can control prices as well as avoid any over harvesting of a single species thus invoking CITES wrath.
One fear that immediately comes to mind is the durability and consistency concerns that may come from using a mixed species product. We avoid this by buying container quantities in single species. J. Gibson McIlvain can choose which species we want to buy and then have the Ipanema process added in stain and treatment. Several of the species we are considering while much less known in the US are very common in the Amazon basin. In fact many of the local houses are built from these species. If this lumber can sustain the constant rainfall and flooding that comes from a rainforest climate inside the flood basin of the world’s longest river then I think it is just fine for the temperate climates of the US market.
One point we consider to be a major advantage is that by spreading out the sources of the timber, the rainy season can be dodged. South America is a big place and while the rainy season is in full swing one place it hasn’t arrived or is on the wane elsewhere. This means a more consistent supply year around can ensure less supply and demand driven price spikes.
Obviously there are some variables in play that we want to consider closely, but we will be investigating this product and if all goes well we hope to be able to offer it as an alternative. Several years ago when it was introduced, Ipanema was running 20% cheaper than Ipe and/or composite products. Now as costs have risen, the Ipanema products can be as much as 40% cheaper.
On the whole, this new product seems like a positive option and we will continue to update everyone as we get our hands on it and begin to understand better the quality and long term durability. If all holds true, then a consistent, year around supply of an FSC certified, durable, and quality consistent product could be the game changer that finally halts Ipe’s out of control rise in cost and drop in quality.