In an effort to shine some light on this subject, let’s take the most common shutter types available and compare them to see what the real differences are, if there are any at all.
The most common shutter types available today are wood, vinyl, vinyl-clad wood, polyfoam, and medium density fiberboard (MDF). And to keep things simple, let’s use the following criteria for a fair comparison:
• Structural integrity
• Surface durability
• Weak areas of recurring failure
• Affordable pricing
Wood shutters are typically built with painted hardwoods such as poplar and pine. Some are made with basswood, which can be considered a poor choice in shutters because it’s a soft wood.
Wood shutters have a solid construction and a smooth operation deserving top marks on structural integrity. Of course, the problem with wood shutters is the surface durability—the paint will fade, peel and crack in sunny or humid conditions. Weak areas of recurring failure include pulled out tilt rod staples or broken louver end pins, both of which are difficult problems to fix and usually require sending the panels back to the factory. Pricing is on the higher end of the scale for wood shutters.
Overall wood shutters get 1 of 4 total points based on their strong construction.
Vinyl shutters are built with profiles that have inner vinyl reinforcement ribs for support. The strong point of vinyl shutters is their surface durability, which often comes with lifetime warranties. The surface is easy to clean and ideal for hot, sunny windows.
These shutters have poor structural integrity because the hollow vinyl profiles make for weak panels that sag and wobble in operation. This problem is also seen in their numerous design limitations such as requiring divider rails on any panels taller than 54 inches. As far as weak areas of recurring failure, the flimsy tilt rod hooks pull out of the louvers far too easily. On pricing, vinyl is affordable and this has helped the product category grow significantly.
Overall vinyl gets 2 of 4 total points, which comes from their surface durability and affordable pricing.
Vinyl-clad wood shutters are the combination of a hardwood shutter core covered in a vinyl outer shell. This combination makes for a shutter that has good structural integrity with a very durable surface.
Vinyl-clad wood panels are very strong, operate smoothly and look very much like wood. There are no weak areas of recurring failure, making these a really durable product. Surprisingly, pricing is at the same level of a plain vinyl shutter.
Vinyl-clad wood shutters score high marks across all four criteria of structural integrity, surface durability, no areas of recurring failure and good pricing giving it 4 out of 4 possible points.
Polyfoam shutters are produced from a foam-blown vinyl reinforced with some metal. The greatest benefit of this product is that it looks just like a wood shutter.
The blown foam does not have the best structural integrity, as it is very heavy. The result is limited panel sizes and T-posts required on shutters wider than 72 inches. The vinyl surface is easy to clean, but not as durable as rigid vinyl because it tends to be softer and porous. One weak area of recurring failure are the staples on the tilt rod, which can pull out of louvers. Pricing tends to be close to wood.
Polyfoam shutters get 2 out of 4 points for an acceptable level of structural integrity and surface durability.
Medium density fiberboard is sawdust mixed with glue, which is then painted. This is your low-price shutter, and you get exactly what you pay for.
From a structural standpoint, the glued sawdust provides no strength, yet is very heavy. This limits the panel sizes and often the panels sag over time. The painted surface on an MDF base deteriorates very quickly and needs refinishing within a few short years. Some weak areas of recurring problems include swelling with moisture, screws tearing out of panels and frames and tilt rods pulling out of louvers.
MDF shutters get 1 point out of 4, which comes from their low pricing.
PICK YOUR MARKET
Armed with the above information, you now can decide which shutter system to carry and promote to your customers.
If you want a good value, vinyl-clad wood can provide an excellent combination of quality and value. If your strategy is to be the one offering the lowest price, MDF may be your product of choice, but watch out for problems down the line with unhappy customers. For more traditional areas and customers, wood will invariably be the only thing they’ll want.
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Viken Ohanesian is vice president of marketing for US Polymers, Commerce, CA; (323) 728-3023; www.us-polymers.com.