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How to Select Exterior Shutters

Installing exterior shutters is a relatively quick way to add style and color to the outside of a house. Historical and modern houses alike benefit from the timeless style of shutters. As with any home improvements, the quality and longevity of an addition should be evaluated before proceeding.

Exterior shutters are available in many shapes and materials. Vinyl shutters are easily available at most home improvement stores, and they can be a cost-effective option. However, vinyl shutters often look like plastic, they are not useful as operable shutters, and they cannot be stained.

Shutters are also made out of many types of wood. The best wood for exterior use is cedar because of its outstanding durability and resistance to decay. Cedar gives long service with little maintenance in applications such as mud sills, window sashes, sheathing under stucco or brick veneer construction, greenhouse benches, fencing, poles, trellises, and exterior shutters. Cedar is also used extensively for exterior siding because it is dimensionally stable and holds paint well, in addition to being a deterrent to bugs.

The tannin (oil) in incense cedar is what makes it such a good wood for exterior shutters. It helps prevent moisture penetration and bugs hate it. However, shutters should not be left unprotected. Rather, it is best to finish the shutters before installation so all surfaces can be fully covered. While paint can be brushed, it is recommended that it be sprayed. Most house painters will spray shutters with their airless spray systems for latex paint.

The best base is a primer coat of an oil-based primer tinted as close to the final color as possible. The oil penetrates into the wood, offering better protection. It can be applied in a much finer mist, thereby reaching between and around louvers and into seams, joints and corners. The top two coats should be a premium-grade exterior latex paint. A topcoat of exterior latex paint will not chalk or fade like an oil-based paint. If shutter caps will be used, paint them as well since the top edge of shutters is the most vulnerable to moisture penetration.

Shutters should be mounted to the building with at least a ½" spacer between the back of the panels and the building to allow for adequate ventilation. If not using hardware, use rust-proof screws sunk flush to the wood. Paint the screw heads following installation.

An opaque painted finish prevents light rays from penetrating the finish and breaking down the wood fibers. However, shutters may also be stained. When staining shutters, use finishing products designed specifically for outdoor or marine use ? and be prepared to do more maintenance on shutters to keep them looking good.

Installing shutters can be as simple as affixing the panels directly to the house. It is also possible to install operable shutters, which can be closed over windows for protection against storms, and a number of hardware options are available. Look for heavy, solid hardware with a finish resistant to decay, such as zinc-plated hardware with a wrought iron black finish. Shutter caps can be another useful piece of hardware to keep water off the top of your shutters, protecting against moisture damage.


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