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Consumer Guide To Buying Shutters

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Consumer Guide to Buying Shutters

By Dean Frost

President, Elizabeth Shutters

We at Elizabeth Shutters believe strongly in our products and hope this is reflected in everything we do. However, every consumer is different and Elizabeth Shutters will not be the right fit for everyone. Given the options available, we have tried to provide a guide to direct consumers to the best choice for them. Consumers seeking additional information are encouraged to write us or do their own research. Please contact us with updated information and other viewpoints.

Common Questions

How Much Do Shutters Cost?

Unfortunately, this most basic question is akin to: “How much does a car cost?” The answer ranges widely depending on what you buy, who makes it and where you buy it. What you buy refers to the materials used, accoutrements included and whether the shutters are rectangles or special shapes. A basic fiberboard (MDF) shutter in a simple rectangular shape may sell for as little as $13 per square foot. At the other end of the scale, a 100% Whole Basswood, custom color shutter in a sunburst (half moon) shape may cost $50 per square foot.  The following general price guideline reflects the latest Southern California data we have. Prices quoted are for rectangles sold by the square foot, including installation and all other charges except sales tax. From time to time vendors advertise a discount off a high retail price (“Save 35 %!”), “free” windows or a lower price for shutter panels, only ($13.95/sf!). Like most industries, the shutter business has its share of overly enthusiastic marketers. Look out for hidden delivery, installation, materials or minimum order quantity charges. In most cases, by the time the shutters you want are installed the price per square foot comes back to industry norms.

Material (see below for a discussion of materials)

Typical Price Per Square Foot

MDF

$13 – $17

Plastic – Vinyl

$14 – $25

Plastic – Vinyl Foam

$16 – $40

Poplar or Cedar Wood

$14 – $24

Finger-jointed Basswood

$14 – $28

100% Whole Basswood

$16 – $40

Overall, shutters made in China are less expensive than American-made shutters, sometimes as much as one third less (see below for a fuller discussion of both countries’ products.) And, as in many industries, manufacturers tend to be more price competitive than wholesalers who tend to be more competitive than retailers. This varies quite a bit, however, depending on the level of service and selection offered. Customers for whole basswood, the product we know best, typically spend from $20 to $30 per square foot on their shutters.

Which is better: Chinese or American Shutters?

Both products have a market based on the inherent strengths and weaknesses of their home countries.

Chinese shutter manufacturers have significant cost advantages based on very low wage rates and freedom from government regulatory expenses for manufactured products. However, these same manufacturers are handicapped by the absence of a domestic shutter market and their distance from the U.S. market. This initially led to uneven quality and delivery delays. As a result Chinese manufacturers have re-entered the U.S. market with more standardized products emphasizing price over quality, selection or service. In general, product quality has improved over the last few years; some products are available with unique frame styles; and they remain, for the most part, the least expensive shutters on the market. Chinese-made shutters may cost up to 25% less than domestic shutters.

American shutter manufacturers generally offer a more custom product with better materials; more consistent quality; longer warranties; and faster delivery than offshore manufacturers. This is due to several causes including: a long history of domestic shutter production; the close proximity between U.S. manufacturer and consumer (this improves communication, enables greater customization and reduces turnaround times); and the environmental, product disclosure and product safety regulations that differentiate the U.S. from most lesser-developed countries.

American-made Shutters

Chinese-made Shutters

Typical Warranty

5 years to lifetime

2 to 4 years

Initial Delivery

6 to 8 weeks

8 to 12 weeks

Repairs, as Needed

2 to 4 weeks

8 to 12 weeks

Pricing

$15 to $40 per square foot for rectangles

$13 to $35 per square foot for rectangles

Which Material is Best: Wood, Plastic or MDF?

Basswood is the strongest and lightest shutter material, but tends to be the most expensive, as well (analogous to upgrading from iron to steel). This means little or no sagging in the panels or louvers; slimmer, attractive pieces with greater architectural integrity; and the opportunity for more elegant designs. Some manufacturers have switched to Cedar, poplar, pine or exotic hardwoods to drive down cost while maintaining most of the strength of basswood.

For consumers committed to wood, but unable to afford traditional hardwoods, there are laminated, finger-jointed and pressboard woods available. These are created by mixing wood pieces and glue to provide straighter and less expensive material. These “engineered” woods tend to have issues with inconsistent joinery, weight, and glue that ages and wears differently than the adjoining wood. Over time and wear, glued joints may flex differently creating surface cracks and dark glue marks.

Plastic comes in a variety of forms including extruded vinyl, vinyl with an aluminum or MDF core, and vinyl foam. Plastics are extruded with color additives, injected with color additives, or extruded and then baked with a color coating. All plastics are produced in large batches making color choices limited and permanent. However, most plastics are less expensive than wood and virtually all are waterproof. Traditional extruded vinyl has the poorest weight to strength ratio and is the most likely to suffer from sagging, fading, yellowing, erosion and other Ultra-Violet and heat-related damage. It is the least expensive of the plastics. Vinyl with an aluminum core is an improved product with a better weight to strength ratio than traditional vinyl. It is less likely to sag and can be made into a wider variety of custom shapes. Vinyl-wrapped MDF (Medium Density Fiberboard – this is the material under the wood decal in very inexpensive office furniture) is no longer common due to defects inherent in the product. Vinyl foam is the highest quality of the plastic products. It is lighter and stronger than traditional vinyl and avoids most of vinyl’s sun-related defects. Vinyl foam is the most expensive of the plastics and may cost as much or more than basswood.

MDF is the weakest and heaviest of the shutter materials. It does not wear well but may be substantially cheaper than alternatives.

Material

Strengths

Weaknesses

Best Application

100% Whole Basswood

Strongest and lightest shutter material. Very tight, uniform grain resists water and other damage; won’t sag or yellow. Accepts stain and paint well.

Price

Fine homes

Poplar or Cedar

Harder than basswood and less expensive

Very heavy wood with large green color variations that may bleed thru paint. Generally not attractive stained.

Smaller windows where wood will be painted a dark color

Pine

Less expensive; attractive grain with consistent color

Very soft. Tends to damage easily and soak up moisture. Uncommon.

Stationary windows in elevated positions

Finger-Jointed Wood

Less expensive; can be straighter than whole wood

Distinctive “zipper-shaped” glue joints may be visible, age poorly and bleed thru paint. Can’t be stained.

Where wood will be painted a dark color

Laminated Wood

Less expensive; can be straighter than whole wood

Glue laminations may age poorly and bleed thru paint. Can’t be stained.

Where wood will be painted a dark color

Pressboard or MDF

Very inexpensive

Damages easily; can’t be repaired; soaks up moisture. Uncommon.

Where price is the only concern

Extruded Vinyl

Inexpensive, waterproof

May yellow, crack or sag if exposed to sunlight

Apartments and bathrooms

Vinyl-wrapped MDF

Very inexpensive

Wrap tends to separate, yellow and crack. MDF can’t be repaired. Uncommon.

Where price is the only concern

Vinyl with Aluminum

Inexpensive, waterproof

May yellow and crack if exposed to sunlight

Bathrooms and finer apartments

Vinyl Foam

Waterproof, strong; won’t age or yellow

Price, limited color options, not stainable

Where panels will be exposed to constant moisture

Where Is The Best Place To Buy Shutters?

Channel

Strengths

Weaknesses

Best Application

Big Box Store

Wide selection, moderate prices, quality assurance guarantees

May not have as much product knowledge at other channels

Consumers that know what they want and how it will look

Window Coverings Retailer

Wide selection, moderate prices, product knowledge and decorating expertise

May not offer traditional warranties

Consumers that are comfortable participating in design decisions based on selections offered.

Interior Designer/Decorator

Product knowledge and very strong decorating expertise

May not offer traditional warranties or most competitive prices

Consumers that value time savings and the assistance of a design expert.

Factory Direct

Lowest prices, widest selection and very strong product knowledge

May not offer decorating expertise to coordinate the rest of interior design (furniture, colors, etc.)

Consumers that know they want shutters.

Shutter Myths and Legends

You know you’re talking to a slick or misinformed salesperson if you hear one of the following:

  • “Wood will warp, sag, chip, and yellow over time.” Basswood is stronger and lighter than vinyl, MDF and other shutter materials and thus is actually LESS likely to warp or sag than these materials. The likelihood of yellowing and chipping depends on the type of paint and undercoat used. Top quality basswood is typically painted with acrylic or the best available waterborne paints These are highly chip-resistant and much less likely to exhibit surface damage than most plastic or lower quality painted products. Inexpensive vinyl products are the most likely to have surface issues including yellowing, fading, chipping, and sagging.
  • “Plastic is easier to clean and maintain than wood.” Both materials are cleaned the same way – with a duster or damp cloth. Both materials are highly stain-resistant. Both materials will be damaged by fire, stain and caustic materials.
  • “Wood attracts more dust than plastic.” Plastic shutters may build up a static charge that attracts dust. However, absent static, dust falls on all shutter materials at the same rate, and is removed the same way – with a duster or damp cloth.
  • “Sandblasted wood attracts more dust than smooth wood.” Sandblasted wood, with its irregular, smooth surface tends to hide dust better than other surfaces, but cleans up the same way.
  • “Wood will warp.” This myth, though repeated, confuses us the most. All of the available evidence, from hundreds of years of fine wood furniture to wood framed houses, wood joists, wood beams etc. indicates that properly prepared and maintained wood does NOT warp. There may have been a time before kiln dried lumber was popular and where green wood was used, that warping would have occurred as the wood cured. However, that time is literally hundreds of years past. Based on the last 30 years of experience with kiln dried Basswood we are confident in guaranteeing that, unless it is exposed to severe moisture, our wood will NEVER warp.
  • “Plastic shutters insulate better than wood shutters.” This is akin to saying a plastic picket fence corrals more bees than a wood one. The loss is between the pickets, not through the plastic or wood. As a practical matter, when shutters are open, they don’t have much insulation value at all. When closed, they’re filled with gaps between louvers, gaps between panels and frames, and gaps between frames and the mounting surfaces. The best insulating shutter is the one with the tightest gap tolerances and most accurate installation. A great shutter, installed poorly is a lousy insulator. A cheap shutter, even with the best installation, is likely to be a mediocre insulator, regardless of the materials used. High quality, custom Basswood shutters, installed properly, tend to have the tightest tolerances and best insulation available.