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A Shutter Saga

(Click here to go to maintenance issues)

This Spring (2005) I looked at my wood shutters and thought "I'm tired of the maintenance headaches". I live with a Northern exposure so my wood in front is very prone to rot. I have been advised by the lumber yards that you just can't get good wood shutters anymore unless you go to the very pricey cedar or mahogany ones.

My house is a Benton which has large windows. The shutters around the door are the standard 18", but the window shutters are 20" wide, and the top shutters are 16.5". Gosnell was very particular about making the shutter match the "shuttered object" and the shutters are 1/2 the width of the door or window.

Shutter with beadBefore, when I got disgusted with the rot, the only thing you could buy were narrow little vinyl shutters. It would look like two strips of toilet paper hanging on either side of my window! Conditions have improved somewhat, but so far I have yet to find a satisfactory 20" shutter (they do make them, but there is a 1/4" strip in the center which my friendly ARC rep pronounced "Bizarre"). I'm not sure I agree -- life is a compromise and I would rather look at this strip than the alternative.

I searched the surrounding stores, searched the Internet -- here is what I found:

  • If you really want to do it up right you can pay $900 for a pair of synthetic shutters surrounding the door. The "budget conscious" version was $500! These had very wide stiles so I didn't really like the style. Moving right along ----
  • Many of the places around here couldn't care less about selling you shutters. Thus, they are not responsive to your questions and you can not see examples of what you are buying.
  • At Allied Aluminum, I discovered the maximum width shutter I could get was 18".shutter At least it would pretty much fit around my door! But wait -- they manufactured the 18" shutter by simply adding two one inch strips to the stiles (the vertical members on the sides of the shutter). I personally think that the wide stiles are an immediate tip off that you are looking at a vinyl shutter. The shutters that look closer to wood have the stile and slat measurements about the same. So, Allied was not where I would buy my shutters but at least I was aware of this problem.
  • Dale Lumber had vinyl shutters but were totally uninterested in them. They had never actually seen them but would order them for you. Stile width? Who knows? They certainly did not care.
  • Smitty's was a huge disappointment. My past neighbor at 7023 Leebrad bought great looking shutters there a number of years ago. Do check them out, as if you need narrow shutters, and can find them, I think they are as close to looking like wood as any I have seen. He painted his to increase the look. His shutters are Cellwood by Alcoa. Smitty's no longer carries them, it seems, however you can find references to them on the internet http://www.cellwood.com/. Sad news -- the widest they are making them is 15.5" -- clearly unsuitable for my house. (He did not have shutters around his door, and had narrow windows). Smitty's carries a brand from Tyco industries. They told me to go to their website to determine the stile width. Of course the website did not have that information and it turned out Tyco made several different types of shutters -- Builders Edge (carried by Home Depot) and Vantage (carried by Lowes).
  • The people most helpful in my shutter quest were at APM Direct. We emailed back and forth about stile width, and the width of the little divider (remember the bizarre style!). I wanted to give them my business as they were the only ones I had found that were truly responsive. However, I am fairly sure they carry Builders Edge shutters as when I looked at the warranty information it said Builders Edge right on top, and the colors are exactly the same names and colors that you see at Home Depot. Could it be a different quality? I suppose so, but I think it unlikely as Tyco makes several different brands. It is considerably less expensive to buy Builders Edge shutters from Home Depot, so it doesn't seem to make sense to mail order them.

I now had all my ducks in order. I decided that the only thing I could do was get the Builders Edge shutters as I am told the stile width stays the same as the shutter gets wider (wouldn't it look peculiar to have different stile widths on the different shutters of your house). Trying to decide on color the $64 question was asked -- "why are you going to change shutters your wood ones look so nice". Crunch!

However, I did decide to make use of all my new found knowledge and tell you my experiences. Be sure to always check that stile width, or you may be very disappointed! Me? I am now hoping to hold off one more year and maybe Cellwood will make the shutters in a wider size. In fact, I think I will be proactive and encourage them to do so!

Remember: Any change from wood to vinyl will require ARC approval. Sometimes it will be necessary for both color and size.

Shutter Maintenance

People sometimes buy vinyl shutters thinking they will be "maintenance free" . Nothing could be further from the truth. They fade, and sometimes quite dramatically.

Some shutter manufacturers say that in order to paint shutters you have to buy so called "paintable" shutters. Typically these are a grayish color when you buy them and then you paint on that. They claim that their colored shutters are not paintable.

This is all quite confusing as there are number of houses in Leewood where the shutters have been painted quite satisfactorily. The house next to me has had its shutters painted from day one. Other people have painted their shutters when the shutter faded. I was questioning one such person -- his shutters are now 6 years into the paint job and look like new. His painter claimed that it was the moisture in the wood that caused the paint to break down so badly on wood shutters. He said that painted vinyl should be "almost" maintenance free. I personally like painted shutters better than the original colors which, to me, are mostly sort of dull. Besides, it helps cover up that fake wood grain. Isn't it amazing that wood shutters don't have wood grain showing, but vinyl ones do? You can't seem to find any manufacturer that isn't proud of their fake wood grain.

Back to painting -- check out this Natural Handyman article on painting vinyl shutters. This is a pretty good site, and he states unequivocally that vinyl shutters can be painted. If you know that you are going to be painting your shutters, probably it is better to get the "paintable" ones, but the evidence seems to indicate there is no trouble with painting shutters. Another Natural Handyman article talks about how to try to renew faded colors. That would seem to be worth a try. I have used other products by Flood that were excellent, and of course WD-40 is the mainstay of many a household!

by Judy Currier

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