GBA Logo horizontal Facebook LinkedIn Email Pinterest Twitter Instagram YouTube Icon Navigation Search Icon Main Search Icon Video Play Icon Plus Icon Minus Icon Picture icon Hamburger Icon Close Icon Sorted

Community and Q&A

Ipe wood vs. Azek (PVC) decking

[email protected] | Posted in General Questions on

My cedar deck has rotted. Periodic sanding & staining extended its life but now it is over. I am considering using either ipe wood or a PVC decking material (brand Azek). From the little I know, trying to consider a life-cycle assessment, neither seems like a great environmental alternative. Is there a clear choice between the 2?

GBA Prime

Join the leading community of building science experts

Become a GBA Prime member and get instant access to the latest developments in green building, research, and reports from the field.


  1. iLikeDirt | | #1

    Generally the most "sustainable" choice is the one the lasts longest and is the most functional and beautiful (so people will not want to rip it out and replace it because it's ugly or doesn't work). Both will probably function without problems, so weigh the balance of the most beautiful (Ipe, without a doubt) against which one will last longest in your climate. How much sun and rain do you get? I ask because PVC-based materials eventually get destroyed by sunlight (it's just a matter of time). Ipe will probably last longer in a sunny climate. However if you live in a gloomy sunless wet rainforest, the PVC product may last a bit longer.

  2. GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #2

    An increasing number of environmental groups are urging Americans to stop buying ipe. Here are links to relevant articles:

    Ipe hardwood: Think Twice Before Buying

    A Trail of Stumps

    IpĂȘ should be avoided entirely

    For more information on life-cycle analyses of vinyl products, see:

    Vinyl Windows and Vinyl Siding

  3. iLikeDirt | | #3

    Every building material has environmental consequences attached to its creation, use, and disposal. The copper in our ductless mini-splits comes from huge predatory Chinese mining companies chopping the tops off mountains in Africa and poisoning little children. There is no escape from the fact that turning natural resources into building products presents problems to our conscience, our planet, and potentially third-parties somewhere comfortably out of sight who bear the brunt of the negative effects.

    In my opinion, once you are ready to accept the reality that consuming a natural resource (any natural resource) probably hurts someone or some natural environment somewhere, you have a responsibility to consume it in a way that yields the most efficient and long-lasting use for it. For example turning petroleum into foam insulation is a far more efficient use for it than turning it into a candy wrapper or rotational movement in a stationary generator. So if your Ipe deck lasts for 300 years, that's probably better for the environment and humanity long term than a PVC deck that lasts for only 60 years before becoming so brittle from UV exposure that walking on it cracks it, all the while looking ugly because, well, it's made of plastic, such that maybe you or another owner replaces it even before the end of its useful life because you want something that looks and feels beautiful and high quality, not a "better living through chemistry" special. An Ipe deck that hurts the environment and indigenous people once may be on balance a superior choice for your conscience and the planet than a PVC deck that hurts the environment, factory workers, and disposal workers four or five times during the same period of time, all the while giving you inferior service because it's uglier. Won't raise your home's value as much, either.

    But once you start to think like this, maybe you don't even need an Ipe deck. There are beautiful metal balconies in Paris that were installed hundreds of years ago. And masonry lasts forever, too. You could use bricks, or poured concrete, or stainless steel, or copper. Think of the architectural possibilities. Think of how you could create something so durable and beautiful that it will be treasured by generations, and people will fight to prevent it from deteriorating or being destroyed.

  4. GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #4

    A 300-year-old ipe deck? Really?

    If someone had built an ipe deck in 1716 -- the year when the Hall of Mirrors was completed at Versailles -- you think that the deck would just now be in need of replacement?

  5. ohioandy | | #5

    My stock contribution to the variations of this question: I've built a number of outdoor things with white oak, native here in Ohio, and it's proving remarkably durable when fully exposed to weather or in ground contact. A local sawmill sources all their logs from within 50 miles, and sells custom-cut lumber for $1.10 a board foot. When it's green, it tools like pine. Of course, it has to be kiln dried in order to plane to a smooth finish, so a refined look increases costs. But you can't beat a local tree for life cycle assessment and low energy inputs. I was always amused by LEED's standard of locally-sourced being a 500-mile radius, but in the context of ipe and manufactured PVC, it makes sense.

  6. charlie_sullivan | | #6

    Another option to consider: Thermally modified wood. I'll list some links below, but I don't have any particular allegiance or experience with these; I've decided to go with locally grown cedar and accept the fact that it will eventually need replacement.

  7. rhallen645 | | #7

    Betsy, I'm in a similar position for two different deck projects in Texas. I've decided against FSC-Ipe (others comments above) & any of the plastic composites (not impressed by look/feel). Debating between thermally-modified wood, acetylated (Perennial Wood if we can find it; Accoya imported from Europe if not) or Kebony (also imported from Europe). Leaning toward one of the thermally-modified woods simply because they're grown & manufacturered in the US (albeit doesn't appear locally).

    Curious what experience (if any) anyone has building decks with the different options?



Log in or create an account to post an answer.


Recent Questions and Replies

  • |
  • |
  • |
  • |