Plantation shutters can be purchased at almost every price imaginable. If you’re not a professional in the shutter industry, how do you distinguish between high-quality and low-quality products? There are a number of factors you can use to compare plantation shutters before making a commitment. In this article, we will explain how to tell the good from the bad.
Only wood plantation shutters will be discussed, since shutters made from MDF, composite, and polymer materials are different enough from wood plantation shutters in design and construction as to make fair comparisons impossible.
Telling High Quality From Low Quality
Let’s compare two typical plantation shutter panels to illustrate the differences between higher and lower quality shutters.
Visualize this: both panels are 12″ wide by 21″ tall. They’re made from the same Basswood, and have 3-1/2″ louvers. Even with these elements being identical, you will see some surprising differences in the design, construction, and components of the imported and the custom-made shutter.
Good Design Means A Better Fit With Your Window
The first difference between these two shutter panels is in the number of louvers they have and the overall louver area. The higher-quality shutter has 5 louvers, while the lower-quality shutter has only 4. The reason has nothing to do with aesthetics, but with how the shutters were designed. One is a true custom-made shutter that was designed and manufactured for a specific window; the other is known as “cut-to-fit.”
This design difference is the single most important factor in understanding a shutter’s quality. Here’s why:
The factory that makes the lower-quality shutters makes them to predetermined sizes; in this case, the heights of the shutters are made in 3-inch increments. So the factory makes shutters that are 18″, 21″, and 24″ tall. If none of these dimensions fits your window’s measurements exactly, the U.S. distributor takes a shutter the next size up and cuts it down to fit your window. This means the shutters have to be designed with taller rails and wider stiles so these pieces are large enough to cut down. For most customers, the result is a shutter with a larger area proportionally of stiles and rails, and a smaller area for the louvers. Fewer louvers mean less light and a more restricted view.
In contrast, the higher-quality shutter is customized to fit the window right from the start. Each shutter is designed to fit the measurements of a specific window in your home. In this sense, it’s like a suit that’s been tailor-made for its owner from the cutting of the fabric to the final fitting. The result is a more balanced shutter and a brighter and airier window.
While the cut-to-fit technique is less expensive, the overall lower quality is obvious even to the casual observer.
The Right Hinge Makes A Stronger Shutter
Two basic types of hinges are used on shutters: butt and non-mortise. When you unfold a butt hinge, it can resemble a butterfly, with the left flap the same size as the right one. With butt hinges, the two flaps fold together (or “butt up”) against each other.
In contrast, the left and right pieces of an open non-mortise hinge aren’t the same. Flaps on a non-mortise hinge fold one-above-the-other or one-inside-the-other. With non-mortise hinges, the two flaps are each only half the height of the hinge.
For butt hinges to fit properly, the edge of the shutter has to be mortised, or chiseled out, so that the hinge is counter-sunk into the shutter and its surface is flush with the surface of the shutter. In contrast, non-mortised hinges (as their name implies) do not require this sort of modification to the shutter.
It’s less expensive for manufacturers to use non-mortised hinges, since they don’t require mortising. However, non-mortise hinges are weaker than butt hinges, since each hinge flap is only half the size of a butt hinge flap. Weaker hinges may hold up well for a few years, but quality plantation shutters are made to last for decades.
Two Layers Are Better Than One
When plantation shutters are finished with paint or clear topcoats, some manufacturers try to save money by applying just one layer of topcoat over a stain, or only one layer of paint over primer. High-quality shutters have at least two coats of each.
A painted plantation shutter with only one coat of paint will have a rougher feel than one with two or more coats. And stained shutter will have a richer luster if a second layer of clear coat is applied.
Buy A Quality Shutter…But Don’t Buy More Than You Need
There are literally thousands of shutters on the market today. Most of them display a mix of high-quality and lesser-quality characteristics. Buying quality is important; but buying more shutter than you need is a waste of money. Hopefully you are now armed with the information to shop knowledgeably for the quality shutters you need and want for your home and lifestyle.