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Real or Decorative Window Shutters: Which Are Better for My Home?

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Long before the term “curb appeal” was born, exterior window shutters served an important function in American homes. Before glass was readily available or affordable, wooden shutters protected the homeowners from animals and intruders, provided privacy and afforded some insulation against bitter winter weather and the heat and sun damage during summer.

Window Shutters

By the mid-1800s, window glass was becoming popular with those who could afford it, changing the way shutters were used in many areas of the country. While they were no longer needed to protect the house itself, they were still useful in protecting the fragile, costly glass window panes. Homeowners took pride in their new glass windows, often combining form and function with more ornate shutters that created attractive frames for the window glass.

As window technology improved through the centuries, shutters were used less for protective purposes and more as decorative features on home exteriors in most of the country. However, they still serve as a second layer of protection for many homes and businesses in coastal areas and other regions prone to high winds, hurricanes and other damaging weather patterns.

Well-chosen and well-placed shutters – decorative or functional – are a great finishing touch to almost any architectural design, particularly classic Victorian or historical structures. But the decision on whether to go real or decorative is a purely personal choice. And remember – poorly installed shutters of either type will actually hurt a home’s appeal and value. Here’s a look at the various styles and types of shutters.

Louvered Shutters

On authentic louvered shutters (once referred to as blinds), the louvers are either fixed or operable and are available as either fully-louvered or as a split louvered/panel combination. Louvered shutters have been in popular use on homes from before the Civil War until well into the 1950s.

Fixed Louvered Shutters

These shutters are permanently fixed open to a position of 25 degrees in order to allow a certain amount of light and air pass through in to the interior of the home when closed. The fixed angle on the louvers also protects the windows and interior from wind-blown rain, snow or debris.

Operable Louvered Shutters

Operable shutters offer the option of manually adjusting the louvers to regulate air flow and light by using a tilt rod connected to each slat. Shutters with operable louvers and a tilt rod create an interesting shadow pattern on the home’s exterior, providing the best depth, contrast and character.

Decorative Louvered Shutters

When sized and mounted correctly, these shutters offer the illusion of authentic louvered shutters. However, choose carefully, because they often result in a flat, artificial appearance due to the lack of natural shadows provided by slightly opened or adjustable louvers. Modern examples are usually made of vinyl, vinyl-clad wood or painted aluminum.

Board and Batten Shutters

These rustic, historically wooden shutters, composed of long vertical strips secured with horizontal or “Z” cross bracing, were originally used on rough frontier homes due to their sturdy construction and protective capabilities. They’re still in popular use on barn-styled homes, beach cottages, country bungalows and cabin homes.

There are two basic styles of board and batten shutters: On closed board shutters the vertical boards are tightly fitted next to each other, while open board shutters feature specifically-measured spaces between the boards to allow for air circulation and some light when closed. While wood remains the most popular material for making these shutters – especially with the DIY crowd – modern versions are also available in vinyl, composite and fiberglass.

Panel Shutters

The number of panels on each shutter identifies panel shutters. For example, three-panel shutters usually feature a small panel on top, a larger panel in the middle and the largest panel on the bottom. The sizes of each panel can differ based on the size of the shutter.

Raised panel shutters add a bold decorative look with their detailed depth and simple elegance, but their purpose was solely for privacy and protection – which is why they were historically installed only on the first floor of homes. As opposed to louvered shutters, raised panel shutters do not allow any light or air to reach the interior of the home.

Modern panel shutters are available in popular materials such as vinyl, wood, composite and fiberglass. The hinged varieties are not merely decorative – they’re still valuable as protective additions to a home.

Bermuda or Bahama Shutters

For centuries, these push-out, fixed louvered shutters offered protection from the intense heat of the sun while still allowing generous air flow and privacy. Charming and decorative, Bermuda shutters are used primarily on south-facing windows and on homes in coastal areas, the tropics and the desert. They’re also popular additions to cabanas, gazebos and verandas.

They’re top-mounted – much like an awning over the window. Available in a variety of materials, Bermuda windows are commonly painted in bright, eye-catching colors that complement or contrast a home’s exterior.

Shutter Shapes

Common sense usually dictates that shutters not only match the historical period and style of your home – they must also match the shape of the window. How attractive is a beautifully-arched window when rectangular shutters frame it? Decorative and functional shutters are available in a wide range of shapes that can be custom-sized for the windows in your home.

Shutter Mounting Mistakes

One of the more prevalent mistakes when using shutters on a home is installing them improperly, making an otherwise beautiful home look cheap, bland and ugly. Because of this common error, most homeowners aren’t even aware an installation mistake was made.

Shutters are not supposed to be mounted on the exterior walls/siding or any home – it looks ridiculous and drastically affects the appearance of both the shutters and the home. They’re supposed to complement the windows. Proper shutter installation involves installing them directly onto the window casing.

Another common error is installing the shutters without mounting hardware that, at the very least, gives the appearance of being hinged. Shutters that lay flat against a house are bland and unattractive. This also impedes the movement of air between the shutter and the home’s exterior, which can cause damage to siding and the rear of the shutter.

Once you’ve considered the decorative or functional shutter options that best suit the age and style of your house, take a good, hard look: Does the house appear finished as is, or could it benefit from the architectural relief and contrast shutters offer? That should also help make your decision easier.



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