I expect to spend a lot of time on my back porch over the years to come. So I gave a lot of thought to the design. In particular, I wanted a decking material that is beautiful, nice under-foot, durable, and easy to maintain.
My builder initially assumed we’d use pine for the decking front and back. That didn’t particularly excite me given its softness and maintenance requirements. Since I’ll have a gravel driveway, I could imagine the front steps would wear quickly. Moreover, since I sometimes go barefoot on my screened porch, I dreaded the risk of getting splinters.
We needed to explore alternatives. For a variety of reasons, Vernon discouraged the use of wood composites like Trex. Based on my experience, I agreed. Even though they handle the elements well and are very kind to bare feet, composites are relatively expensive and stain easily.
The Call of Tropical Hardwood
I knew something about tropical hardwoods. Notwithstanding their higher cost, their hardness, rot resistance and beauty attracted me. So I suggested that we use Ipé for the front steps and center portion of the front porch. Vernon thought that might work. As I researched and thought it over, I soon convinced myself that it would be worthwhile to also use Ipé for the entire west porch. Ipé is said to last 70 years or more with minimal maintenance. A pine deck might need replacing three times over that period. Moreover, I had reason to believe I could get sustainably-harvested wood.
When Vernon was getting ready to place the order, he suggested that we do the entire front porch in Ipé. At that point, the marginal cost to go all in was too small to worry about. We did pause, however, to evaluate Cumaru and Tigerwood, which are also beautiful, durable and slightly less expensive. It turned out that Ipé was the best match for the exterior color scheme and offered a greater contrast to the interior flooring.
Now we’re investigating whether we should treat the Ipé or leave it natural. If we use any finish, I’m adamant that it should be non-toxic. The Ipé dealer recommended a product that was 5-10% petroleum distillate accompanied by a materials safety data sheet filled with warnings. That’s a non-starter. I’ve had good experience making furniture finished with pure tung oil diluted with limonene, but have no knowledge of whether it would be appropriate for Ipé. Please let me know if you have a recommendation. Otherwise, check back to learn where we landed on this issue.
Photographs from February 3, 2018
With the decking installed, the west porch is really coming together.
Photographs from February 9, 2018
The carpenters nearly finished work on the West porch this week. The lattice and associated plinth component is all that remains to be completed. Screens will go up after painting. Vernon designed the railings. The galvanized steel tubing is aesthetic, durable and inexpensive.
Photographs from February 18, 2018
The front porch was nearly completed last week. It’s amazing to see how little details transform everything. Soon we’ll get paint and rain gutters.