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De­mys­ti­fy­ing Ex­otic Wood Op­tions

There’s been a lot of talk lately about ex­otic wood. It in­trigues buy­ers and cre­ative home builders, and that curiosity leads to ques­tions. Why is it more ex­pen­sive? Is it sus­tain­able? What’s so “pre­mium” about it any­way?

There are hun­dreds of wood species that fall un­der the “ex­otic” la­bel, each bear­ing its own ap­peal and unique his­tory. To get a bet­ter un­der­stand­ing of ex­otic woods’ vari­ances and of the jour­ney from for­eign for­est to your do­mes­tic domi­cile, we spoke with Dan Ivan­cic, di­rec­tor of mar­ket­ing for Ad­van­tage Lum­ber. He’s been sup­ply­ing ex­otic-wood deck­ing since 1992 and is here to clear up our ques­tions.

LHL: Ob­vi­ously, ex­otic hard­woods are more ex­pen­sive than tra­di­tional op­tions, like com­mon do­mes­tic species or pres­sure-treated lum­ber. What are the cost ben­e­fits to choos­ing an ex­otic species?

Dan: Soft do­mes­tic woods can have lim­ited longevity, espe­cially out­doors on hor­i­zon­tal sur­faces, such as decks, where they see pro­longed ex­po­sure to rain, snow or ice for ex­tended pe­ri­ods be­fore they dry out. Ex­otic woods are nat­u­rally re­sis­tant to rot and de­cay for up­wards of 75 years with no main­te­nance (if you’re ok with the weath­ered-gray look). You’ll most likely need to re­place a soft­wood prod­uct three times over be­fore you’d need to re­place an ex­otic wood — not to men­tion the more in­volved main­te­nance of soft­wood and the cost in­curred for that main­te­nance.

LHL: What’s the dif­fer­ence in longevity? How of­ten do they need to be stained/sealed?

Dan: Hard­wood deck­ing and sid­ing prod­ucts, such as Ipe, Cu­maru, Tiger­wood, Mas­saran­duba and Garapa are all South Amer­i­can hard­woods that have been proven to last with lit­tle to no main­te­nance. They are some of the hard­est, most dense wood species on Earth. Wood-bor­ing in­sects can’t even chew through them.

Like all wood, the sun will even­tu­ally bleach the color out and it will turn to gray. How­ever, un­like soft­woods that re­quire a wa­ter sealer to keep the wood from rot­ting, ex­otic hard­woods don’t re­quire sealant be­cause they’re nat­u­rally

rot re­sis­tant. The only thing you need, if you want to keep the rich color of the wood, is a UVre­sis­tant oil, which is sim­ply rolled or brushed on. Even­tu­ally it will fade away, and you’ll need to ap­ply more. To keep the color in­tact in high­sun-ex­po­sure ar­eas, you may need to re-oil the deck­ing yearly. Other ar­eas can get away with an ev­ery-other-year re-ap­pli­ca­tion.

LHL: Is ex­otic hard­wood used for par­tic­u­lar projects?

Dan: Most of our cus­tomers use it for ex­te­rior ap­pli­ca­tions, espe­cially deck­ing, sid­ing, fenc­ing and even sof­fit-and-fas­cia ma­te­rial. We also mill in­te­rior floor­ing in the same species. Th­ese woods have some of the high­est Janka hard­ness rat­ings, which is a test that mea­sures re­sis­tance to dent­ing from things like high-heel shoes, kids and pets. Dent­ing in your hard­wood floors will even­tu­ally force you to re­fin­ish your floor­ing, pro­vided you bought a solid prod­uct with an ad­e­quate wear layer that can be sanded.

LHL: What do ex­otic hard­wood species cost?

Dan: It varies. For Aus­tralian Cy­press the cost is $7.50 per square foot. This is most com­monly sold as floor­ing, and we don’t sell a whole lot of it since there are bet­ter, more durable species for less money.

Ipe (our best seller) is one of the more com­monly rec­og­nized ex­otic species, and 1-by-6-inch deck­ing is cur­rently sell­ing for $3.09 per lin­eal foot. Cu­maru deck­ing is $2.15 per lin­eal foot. Tiger­wood is $1.98 per lin­eal foot and has a very strik­ing striped ef­fect to it.

LHL: The higher-priced woods … is that due to rar­ity or qual­ity?

Dan: Th­ese species come all the way from South Amer­ica, and there’s a great deal of work and in­vest­ment that goes into mak­ing sure the lum­ber is be­ing har­vested re­spon­si­bly, not to men­tion the cost of ship­ping them all the way to the United States for re­sale. So the im­port­ing process, plus the qual­ity and longevity of the wood, is what makes them more ex­pen­sive.

The deck­ing is ac­tu­ally priced com­pet­i­tively if not cheaper than the com­pos­ite prod­ucts that big box stores sell. LHL: Are there any sus­tain­abil­ity con­cerns about ex­otic hard­wood or are they plen­ti­ful for har­vest?

Dan: We own two mills in Brazil so that we can con­trol the process and en­sure ev­ery­thing is sus­tain­able. All of the lum­ber we har­vest is reg­u­lated by the Brazil­ian gov­ern­ment agency IBAMA, which over­sees the preser­va­tion and con­ser­va­tion of nat­u­ral re­sources. In ad­di­tion, the wood is screened by the U.S. gov­ern­ment when it ar­rives in the coun­try to ver­ify Lacey Act com­pli­ance. To take it one step fur­ther, all of our fac­to­ries are FSC cer­ti­fied, and we work with the Rain­for­est Al­liance to cer­tify th­ese FSC prod­ucts. Many peo­ple blame lum­ber com­pa­nies for de­for­esta­tion, and that’s un­der­stand­able, since we are the ones us­ing the lum­ber.

What they aren’t aware of, how­ever, is that in coun­tries like Brazil, farm­ers slash and burn mas­sive tracts of land for com­mer­cial farm­ing. The trees are a nui­sance to them, and lum­ber com­pa­nies like ours are try­ing to teach them they are a ne­ces­sity and a valu­able re­new­able re­source. The FAO (Food and Agri­cul­tural Or­ga­ni­za­tion of the United Na­tions) stated in their lat­est 2016 study that com­mer­cial agri­cul­ture ac­counted for al­most 70 per­cent of de­for­esta­tion in Latin Amer­ica. It’s not nec­es­sary to cut down forests in or­der to pro­duce more food, says The State of the World’s Forests 2016 re­port. (For more in­for­ma­tion, visit fao.org/ amer­i­cas/noti­cias/ver/en/c/425600.)

Ad­van­tage Lum­ber has been one of the first com­pa­nies to in­tro­duce other plen­ti­ful species such as Cu­maru, Tiger­wood and Mas­saran­duba, not just Ipe. Th­ese other species have nearly iden­ti­cal prop­er­ties and life­span and are very abun­dant. LHL: What is the man­u­fac­tur­ing process?

Dan: We im­port the raw ma­te­ri­als from our mills in Brazil to our four fac­to­ries through­out the United States. We then cus­tom mill the lum­ber per or­der into deck­ing, sid­ing, V-groove ceil­ing, rail­ing, etc. We can cus­tom mill any pro­file on our CNC milling equip­ment.

LHL: Why should a buyer choose ex­otic wood over com­mon op­tions?

Dan: If you are look­ing for a low-main­te­nance in­te­rior/ex­te­rior wood op­tion that’s proven to last and has a beau­ti­ful look that sim­ply can­not be repli­cated by other ma­te­ri­als, con­sider ex­otic hard­woods. Though they cost a lit­tle more up­front, the long-term ben­e­fits are hard to beat.

Prized for its har­di­ness and rich color, Ipe, a South Amer­i­can hard­wood, is one of the more rec­og­nized ex­otic deck­ing op­tions on the mar­ket.

With its nat­u­ral golden-brown color laced with dark streaks, Mon­key­pod makes ex­quis­ite wood floor­ing and deck­ing. The trop­i­cal tree is highly de­cay and in­sect re­sistent.

Most ex­otic wood species are suit­able for ex­te­rior or in­te­rior ap­pli­ca­tions. Learn more at ad­van­tagelum­ber.com.

Ex­otic hard­woods have been proven to last with lit­tle to no main­te­nance. They are some of the hard­est, most dense wood species on Earth.

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