ISSUE 27  |  Summer Bunkhouse

Hardscaping 101: Exterior Wooden Shutters

July 10, 2014 1:30 PM

BY Janet Hall

Outdoor shutters that actually work (as opposed to the faux variety) score high in both form and function. Traditionally used to insulate and ventilate a house, shutters also are useful when designing a sustainable building. And they look great. No wonder exterior wooden shutters are making a comeback:

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Above: Barn door sliding shutters roll open on a mounted steel track. Photograph by Matthew Cunningham. For more, see Landscape Architect Visit: Clamshell Alley on the Coast of Maine.

What is the history of exterior shutters?

It’s said that shutters date to ancient Greece, when marble was the material of choice. Over centuries, wood shutters became the preferred window covering to repel animals, insects, noise, light, and weather. After glass was developed, shutters continued to be used to protect the expensive glass and provide privacy. Early shutters were typically flat panels or connected boards (board and batten). Louvered shutters, which provide both ventilation and privacy, arrived in the mid-1700s, and adjustable louvers were developed in the mid-1800s.

Shutters, common on houses from the outset of American history, lost favor in the late 1800s during Victorian times, when heavy interior drapes became de rigueur. Shutters made a comeback with the revival of classical architecture, but the development of new building technologies (storm windows, screens, and HVAC systems) and the popularity of post-war building materials (aluminum and plastics) relegated them to a mostly decorative role in the 20th century. But as green-building efforts gain momentum, these old-style architectural features are getting more attention.

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Above: At Hotel Les Bois Flottais on the west coast of France, room numbers are painted on wooden shutters. For more, see Hotel Les Bois Flottais in France.

How can exterior shutters help my house?

Shutters add an architectural design element and also perform several useful functions:

  • Offer ventilation in warm months, allowing breezes in while providing privacy
  • Provide insulation in cold months
  • Act as a sunshade, keeping interior cool
  • Provide privacy
  • Protect windows from storm damage
  • Prolong life of windows by protecting wood frames
  • Protect interior furnishings and floors from sun damage

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Above: Made from western red cedar, a pair of custom window shutters is attached to a facade with traditional shutter hardware. Shutters correctly mounted to the window casing provide natural air flow between the shutter and the wall (not to mention visual dimension). For more information, see Vixen Hill Cedar Products, which has been manufacturing wooden shutters since 1980.

What are the traditional styles of shutters?

Hardscaping 101 Exterior Shutters Gardenista

Above: Images via Architectural Depot.

Shutters traditionally fall into four styles:

  • Panel: Traditional panel shutters offer the most privacy, protection, and insulation. A basic frame around a wood panel, they can be flat, recessed, raised, or other variations.
  • Louvered: Designed to allow for ventilation and variability in privacy and light. These are a good choice for warm climates, as they allow ventilation even when closed to provide shade. Louvers can be either fixed or movable.
  • Board and Batten: Vertical boards are joined by horizontal boards called battens (usually two; sometimes with a third diagonal board). Traditionally used on barns, the design works with many architectural styles.
  • Bermuda. A single shutter covers the entire window, mounted at the top on hinges and with telescoping push rods at the bottom for opening. These can act as sun shades (an alternative to awnings) and as sturdy window protectors during storms.

Variations on these include arched tops (to match arched windows), cutouts in panel or board-and-batten shutters, and louvered and paneled styles combined in one.

What are barn door sliding shutters?

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Above: The hardware elements to mount barn door rolling shutters includes a steel strap, exposed hangers, and a wheel that rides along a steel rail. For Classic Barn Door Hardware ($353 as shown), see Real Carriage Door Company.

How do you mount exterior shutters?

First, make sure you have the correct size for your windows. Shutters fit inside the window opening, and each shutter’s width is half the width of the opening. Paint or stain them before hanging. Then attach them to the window trim, or casing, with hinges so they pivot into the window opening and rest flush with the casing when closed. To hold the shutters in place when open, attach a piece of hardware–with the unusual names of “shutter dog” or “rat tail”–to the house. You’ll also need a latch to hold them closed. See How to Hang Exterior Shutters at This Old House.

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Above: In a black finish, Steel S Shutter Holdbacks to mount on a brick facade are $23.95 from Signature Hardware.

What is the difference between plastic and wood shutters?

Shutters come in a range of materials, including wood, composite wood, PVC, and aluminum. Vinyl is only appropriate for decorative faux shutters. Wood is the best choice if you want shutters that are functional, architecturally accurate, and aesthetically pleasing. We recommend a quality wood like cedar, which is naturally rot- and insect-resistant. Yes, composite or aluminum may last forever, but with care (that is, periodic refinishing) wood shutters can last just as long (and look a thousand times better). Even unfinished cedar is relatively maintenance-free, turning a nice silver over time.

 

Can shutters work with modern home design?

Shutters are often associated with federal, Georgian, colonial, and cottage-style homes, but they’re suitable for many architectural styles. Unadorned flat-panel or board-and-batten shutters can be paired with windows of modern houses. Custom-built shutters are another option.

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Above: Sliding louvered shutters allow filtered light into windows on a facade designed by Feldman Architecture.

 

Can I use shutters to screen a porch?

Absolutely. Hang shutters around a porch or a deck to provide more shade and privacy than screening, while still encouraging a breeze. And, unlike screens, you can open them when you want to take in the full surroundings. They’re less effective at keeping out insects, of course, so don’t go this route if you need mosquito protection.

 

Any tips for using shutters for decorative purposes only?

Architects may balk at this, but non-functional shutters can be an effective exterior detail if they’re used wisely. How do you ensure decorative shutters are architecturally correct? Simply put, they should look as if they could do their job.

  • Decorative shutters should be able to cover a window opening completely if they were closed. Avoid decorative shutters that are too small for the windows they flank.
  • Use real, operable shutter hardware. This will ensure proper placement–often, decorative shutters are mounted too far from the window casing. You can even find faux tilt-rods for louvered shutters.
  • Never mount decorative shutters flat against a house. First, this makes it obvious they’re not functional. Second, it looks bad. Third, it can damage siding, as water and debris will collect between the shutter and the house. Authentic shutters are mounted to the window casing, with ample space between the shutter and siding.
  • If using louvered decorative shutters, mount them with the louvers slanted downwards, to deflect rain and provide shade when the louvers are closed.

 

How much do shutters cost?

Shutter prices vary substantially depending on size, style, and finish. Fixed-louver shutters are the most affordable, as low as $140 per pair for quality unfinished wood. But don’t forget to factor in the finishing, hardware, and installation. Properly finished and installed, high-quality shutters will last for many years.

Exterior Wood Shutters Recap

Pros:

  • Sustainable way to insulate your house in hot and cool times of the year
  • Protect windows from storms
  • Add architectural depth to house exterior
  • Provide privacy while offering ventilation

Cons:

  • Depending on how many you need, shutters can be an expensive addition
  • Might not match the aesthetics of your house
  • Non-functional shutters can detract from the appearance of a house and damage siding

Searching for shutter finishes? Look no further than Meredith’s 10 Paint Picks for the Perfect Green Shutters. And, at Remodelista, visit A Louvered Beach House on the Arabian Sea, where shutters reign.

If you’re working on your house exterior, see all of our Hardscaping 101 features.