Once upon a time, nearly all exterior shutters were made of wood. However over the last century or so, wood shutters have taken a back seat to the many other materials that are available. That is not to say wood isn’t still a popular and viable option, it is just that there is more information to weed through before you make your decision.
When trying to choose a material for your exterior shutters, there are many options to consider. What impact will your exterior shutters have on the environment? How much maintenance will you need to do? What is your budget? How difficult are they to install?
These are some of the questions that need answering before you buy exterior shutters because they are usually custom-made and cannot be returned. This means you have one chance to make the right decision. So what type of shutters should you put on your house?
A quick look at some of the materials that are available:
- Vinyl shutters
- Urethane (foam) shutters
- Wood shutters
- Aluminum shutters
- Composite (Extira) shutters
- Composite fiberglass shutters
At first glance, it may seem like some of these materials may not hold up over time. However, each has a specific application where they excel.
Vinyl shutters are the simplest and generally the cheapest option. Their main purpose is to add a decorative touch to the home. Vinyl shutters are affixed to the home in the open position and cannot be opened or closed. This means you don’t get the benefits of operable shutters, but it also means you can save time and money installing them. Furthermore, vinyl shutters rarely require maintenance over and above cleaning with a garden hose.
Urethane shutters are molded out of a type of resin into lightweight foam. Urethane shutters require an adhesive compound to attach to the surface, which limits their usage to stucco or other smooth surfaces. These shutters are also purely decorative – they do not open or close. However, they tend to look more like natural wood than vinyl shutters do.
Wood shutters are safer for the environment when harvested from managed sustainable forests because wood has the unique ability to be replenished over time. Wood shutters are also unique in that they can be modified after they are built for a custom fit – say, if you need to angle the top corners to fit under the rafters. However, wood shutters need to be carefully prepared to seal out the elements before they can be installed. This can be done by priming them at the job site, but it is better to have them factory primed in order to ensure full coverage of the primer. Another thing that is often overlooked by the do-it-yourselfer is the importance of top caps with wood shutters. Top caps are usually made from a non-reactive metal material such as copper or galvanized aluminum and are designed specifically to seal the end grain of the wood from being penetrated by years of abuse by changing temperatures, humidity, and precipitation. Installing top caps on wood shutters typically doubles their lifespan. Another unique aspect of wood shutters is that they can be stained to display their wood grain.
Aluminum shutters have a different purpose. Aluminum is generally chosen as a material for its storm protection capability. There are both hurricane impact rated and decorative aluminum shutter types available. Powder coated aluminum doesn’t corrode and is well suited for coastal applications, especially in hurricane prone areas. Hurricane rated aluminum shutters can also pay for themselves over time in discounts from your homeowners insurance. Aluminum shutters are typically installed on functional hinges.
Extira composite shutters have many of the same benefits as wood shutters, without the worry of them being destroyed by the elements. Extira is a material that will withstand the elements because it is made of a medium density fiber bound together with a weather resistant resin. This means that even if the outside surface is exposed to the elements, rain water will still not be able to seep in and destroy the shutters. Composite shutters can be installed with either decorative or fully functional shutter hardware, however unlike wood shutters they are completely smooth so there is no wood grain to show through the finish.
Composite fiberglass shutters are generally the top of the line – they are made of several different materials including Extira, fiberglass, and metal in the right proportions and places to form a shutter that will withstand even the harshest environments. Because they are not cheap, they are usually installed with fully functional shutter hardware on high-end homes.
So are wood shutters right for you? As you can see it depends on many factors including environment, budget, ease of installation, ease of maintenance, and finally personal preference.