Consumer’s Guide to Shutter Construction and Material
In today’s shutter world there has been an explosion of best shutter construction methods, points of origin and materials that did not exist 10 years ago. These methods and material all have their advantages and disadvantages. Here is some information for you to make sense of the shutter world and its terminology.
MDF (Medium Density Fiber) shutters are also called “hybrid” and “composite” along with some other trade names. All these window coverings are made from MDF as the base material. MDF is basically sawdust mixed with glue and formed in the shape required. The coatings range from a vinyl wrap to a painted finish. Advantages are cost to manufacture and cost to the consumer. They look very much like more expensive wood shutters. They are stable and resist warping. Disadvantages are their inherent inability to stand up to water, they have the habit of swelling and the finish peeling when exposed to too much moisture. The material is brittle and can easily break under impact. The material will eventually sag under stress over a long period of time. They cannot be successfully stained. This material is rapidly becoming a major part of the window covering market due to its cost and appearance.
PVC or (Poly Vinyl Chloride), is an extruded hollow vinyl. The material is extruded PVC which is either a hollow extrusion or one which also has some reinforcing webbing on the interior. This has been around about 12 years. It can be identified by its appearance; it is not finished and the edges of the blades have caps to seal them. The connectors to the tilt rods are plastic “t” connectors which tend to break. Its advantages are its low cost. Disadvantages are the “plastic” appearance, a tendency to yellow when exposed the strong sunlight, some brittleness after exposure to UV, and a limited choice of colors. After aging, the material can be hard to clean. They cannot be stained. Please note that the fumes when it burns are very toxic and the material will out gas (release chemicals) for the life of the product.
Foamed Synthetics. Sold under various trade marks such as Thermalite, Poly Therm R, Duracore™ etc. Its advantages include its more reasonable purchase price than wood shutters, depending upon the seller. They are water resistant, fire resistant, non toxic and provide excellent insulation. Some designs ( Poly Therm R and Duracore™) come with a reinforcing aluminum center and thus have a much more rigid construction, which prevents sagging and bowing.. They are available in shapes and many colors. This material is most like wood in appearance. This is probably the best choice for a synthetic shutter. Disadvantages, they are heavier than wood and not as stiff so the design can be limited as to its capabilities, unless they have are aluminum-reinforced. They cannot be stained. Most companies will not build these taller than 80 to 96 inches.
Engineered Wood. Sold by several companies under different trade names such as (PHD) (Finger jointed etc.) Finger jointed wood can be of one specie or several species glued together. Advantages, this material is very stiff for its weight making it ideal for tall or wide shutters. It can be used wherever solid lumber was used previously. The cost should be less since it is made from lower quality grades of material. It can be made with many shapes and colors. Disadvantages, it cannot be stained since the joint lines will show. If not very carefully manufactured the joint lines can in time show through the painted finishes. When dissimilar materials are used to manufacture it there is a possibility of uneven expansion and contraction that can lead to joint failure.
Basswood. This is the most common of shutter materials. It has taken over as the material of choice from pine and poplar. Advantages include lightness, stability (the resistance to warping) and flexibility of design. They can be painted or stained, smooth or sandblasted in almost any design required. Disadvantages include being limited to lengths of 12 feet or under and the fact that it requires more preparation than other woods to achieve a quality finish, which adds to the cost. The wood is very homogenous in texture and grain, leading to stains that do not have much figure or beauty to them. Basswood is not water resistant and is not recommended for high moisture situations.
Alder. This may be the “Cadillac” of wood used in the best shutter manufacture. It is a hardwood typically from the Northwestern part of the United States. Advantages include: Hardness of the material, it is greater than most, making it harder to damage accidentally. Almost any design can be accommodated. In appearance it has the grain of cherry wood and is often mistaken for cherry when used to manufacture furniture. It has beautiful grain figuring giving a stain appearance rarely seen in shutter manufacturing. It is stable and takes a painted finish very well. Disadvantages are: limitation of 10 feet to shutter length and cost is higher than most materials do to the high wastage incurred during the manufacturing process. It is not resistant to moisture and not recommended for high moisture situations.
Incense Cedar. Another very high quality material for shutters. Cedar comes from northern California and further up the west coast it is a very large and tall tree that produces extremely stable lumber giving the shutter the best resistance to warping, cupping, or bowing in the shutter industry. Cedar also finishes remarkably well and is capable of a very fine finish either in a stain or paint. The grain is reminiscent of fir or pine but it start out with a rosier tint. It can make very large and wide panels. Larger and wider than any other wood in current shutter manufacturing use. Interestingly Incense Cedar is very rot and insect resistant. Cedar is not inexpensive and requires a certain amount of care in the manufacturing process. Accordingly it is not found in cheap or cheaply made shutter panels. It is not resistant to high moisture environments and is not recommended for high moisture as a result.
Laminated Shutters. These window coverings are manufactured using thin slats of lumber that are glued together to form the shapes required. Known by several name brands “New Style” and “Phoenix Wood” are a few. The best shutters when properly made should be very stable and can look as good as solid wood shutters. The finishes can be wrapped, painted, or stained. The material can be used wherever solid wood shutters are acceptable. Due to the inexpensive materials used the prices can be lower. The disadvantages include the inability to stand up to high moisture and subsequent possible delamination of the material. This material is not recommended in high moisture environments.