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Exterior Window Shutters - Selecting the Right Wood

Updated on May 9, 2012

WHICH MATERIALS?

All shutter designs are available in a variety of materials, addressing concerns of cost and durability, as well as architectural appropriateness.

PLASTIC: Walk the aisles of the "big box" retailers like Home Depot and Lowes and this may be the only choice you see. Why? Vinyl shutters are lightweight, simple to install, pre-finished, and suffer almost no ill-effects from harsh weather. They also provide fine housing opportunities for wasps, bees, and spiders because they hide large hollow spaces behind their pretty facades. If budget and "zero-maintenance" are your primary considerations, then by all means buy plastic shutters - and a couple cans of wasp spray, too.

COMPOSITE or FIBERGLASS: These modern materials more accurately mimic the beauty and heft of traditional wooden shutters, while offering some of the benefits of plastic. Most offerings eliminate the large, hidden hollow spaces while retaining the advantages of pre-colored finishes and easy care. Installation is more difficult and prices are higher, however.

WOOD: Would you build a piano using vinyl or fiberglass? Shutters have a long and proud history. They were made out of necessity by craftsmen who used wood because it was all they had, and because it did the job perfectly. Whether their shutters had to stop invading arrows or roaring storms, wood was the answer. Traditionalists and Preservation District boards will accept nothing less. Sure wood shutters cost more, and require maintenance; but they imitate nothing. Who cares if you never close them to keep out marauders?

YES, BUT WHICH WOOD IS BEST?

PINE: Readily available and reasonably priced, pine is a fine budget choice. Stability and weather-resistance rank lower than the other woods, however.

WESTERN RED CEDAR: Light, lovely, and affordable red cedar makes a fine choice when you want to blend budget, beauty and durability.

CYPRESS: Solid, tough, and more stable than the lighter woods, cypress may be harder to find. Prices will reflect market conditions and vary regionally. You will only need to buy cypress shutters once, and paint them occasionally.

CALIFORNIA REDWOOD: This premier wood will withstand the test of time and weather and look fantastic for decades. Redwood resists mold, insects, water and wind. It's rock solid and priced at the top of the market, sometimes in very short supply. But when you want the best



Selection Tips

ANY SPECIAL WOOD TIPS?

Treat your wooden shutters like fine furniture for outdoors. Once you've spent the money to buy the best, don't let your investment fade.

STAIN: Great-looking woods can be conditioned and stained to showcase their beauty. Be sure to use exterior products and follow directions carefully.

PAIINT: Purists will apply authentic solid colors to create the perfect accent. Use the correct primer for your selected wood. Then add one or two coats of high-quality exterior enamel. Spend more time and money the first time around to provide the longest interval between repainting.

SHUTTER CAPS: For tropical conditions you may want to add metal caps to protect exposed end grain. Your supplier can offer the best opinion on this option.

WHAT ABOUT HARDWARE?

Many homeowners will forego adding hardware in favor of easier maintenance. When you're trying to replicate the look of working shutters, however, you will want to add appropriate hinges, shutter dogs and tie-backs.

Most shutter hardware is crafted of powder-coated stainless steel and available only in black. Figure about fifty dollars per shutter pair. Consider using hardware only on the most visible windows, ignoring side and upper facades. Online retailers like ArchitecturalDepot.com offer an extensive selection.

WHAT SIZE?

When shutters had to be closable, sizing was crucial. For operable Hurricane shutters this is still true. For correct measurements, ignore "glass size" and "trim to trim" dimensions.

OFF THE SHELF: If you decide to buy stock shutters from your local store, you'll can settle for "close enough." Your shutters should be smaller than the trimmed window. Match the distance from the top of the window frame to the top of the sill. Many windows have no sill and minimal trim; in that case simply measure the window unit itself. Choose the closest size available.

CUSTOM SHUTTERS: When you order custom-sized shutters from a manufacturer you can achieve a perfect fit. Follow the guidelines listed above, and view pictures online or at your supplier to see how traditional shutters match window proportions.

If you feel unsure use a printed picture of your home, and mark the window heights. Consult with online retailers by telephone or visit your local supplier to verify dimensions. Remember that height determines width, so you don't have to worry about that. However, hurricane shutters should be measured by your supplier if at all possible.

BUT WHERE SHOULD I BUY?

There was a time when your best choice was a local lumberyard or specialty cabinetmaker. Times have changed, and the Internet now offers a great selection of high-quality shutters. Most offer step-by-step decision trees and provide toll-free sales and service support.

Try a web search for "exterior shutters" and spend some time surfing the results. Some very reputable suppliers provide fine websites with high resolution pictures and clear pricing options to assist you. Many offer free shipping, too.

TIME WELL SPENT pondering your shutter choices will pay off long-term. Every time you approach your home and view the results you'll be pleased.

Examples -- Wooden Shutters

window shutters
window shutters
exterior shutters
exterior shutters
classic wooden shutters
classic wooden shutters

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