What Are The Best Shutters Made Of?
There are quite a few shutters out there made from “wood”, “engineered wood” and various combinations. In order to cut down on the confusion and level the playing field a bit, we present our rundown of some common shutter materials. Our PolyCore Shutters and Lexwood Shutters only use 100% Basswood or Aluminum reinforced PVC.
Pressboard or particleboard is an engineered wood that is made by taking wood particles like wood chips, sawmill shavings and sawdust and combining them with synthetic resin (usually urea formaldehyde resin). The resultant material is pressed into sheets and heated to dry the glue.
There is a serious safety concern with particleboard. Formaldehyde (part of the glue) is classified by the WHO as a human carcinogen. Even though a large amount is removed when the glue dries, formaldehyde continues to be emitted throughout the life of the product as the resin decomposes. Particleboard will also disintegrate when exposed to moisture and Colorado’s extreme sun. Particleboard may visibly sag over time or snap near the fasteners.
FIBERBOARD / COMPOSITE
Fiberboard (sometimes called composite) is another engineered wood that comes in two basic types, Medium Density and High Density. The major difference is density (weight per square inch). Fiberboard is made by taking wood waste (wood scraps, waste paper, randomly collected waste wood, straw, recycled paper, forest thinning and sawmill off-cuts) and turning it into pulp. This wood pulp is then with synthetic resin (usually urea formaldehyde resin) and wax. The resulting slurry is then poured into molds (like Jell-O) and pressed and heated to make a MDF or HDF “board”.
There is a significant health risk associated with the urea formaldehyde resin used to make MDF and HDF. Testing has shown on a consistent basis that MDF products emit formaldehyde and other volatile organic compounds that pose health risks at sufficient concentrations. According to the EPA “Medium density fiberboard contains a higher resin-to-wood ratio than any other UF pressed wood product and is generally recognized as being the highest formaldehyde-emitting pressed wood product.”
Since MDF and HDF are denser than Basswood, a shutter made out of these “woods” will be significantly heavier than a Basswood shutter. This means it will be more difficult to install. The increased weight will also place a heavier load on the hinges making sagging more likely.
Both MDF and HDF have a problem with water. They will absorb it like a sponge. These materials will absorb water out of the air and may warp or crack if not sealed. If you allow water to remain in contact with MDF or HDF the material will swell and break after a short time.
MDF and HDF also have special requirements as to where and how screws can be used. One of the more common problems seen on these types of shutters is screws stripping the material and pulling right out.
“Hardwood” is an intentionally vague name. Hardwood could be made out of any one of hundreds of different woods. You can bet it’s not Basswood since if you use the best wood for a shutter you are sure to tell people about it. All Hardwood means is that they bought the cheapest thing they could get away with using (very often Pine or Poplar).
The production of each of these chemicals carries it’s own environmental baggage and risks. This type of plastic tends to look very much like plastic with a high shine and a brittle feel.
Polypropylene is a shiny flexible plastic this is used to make packaging and a variety of other items. Polypropylene is made from Propene and ethylene both of which come from fossil fuels (oil and natural gas). The production of each of these chemicals carries it’s own environmental baggage and risks.
This type of plastic tends to look very much like plastic with a medium shine and a soft feel. Think of the top of a Tic Tacs box and you have a good example of this type of plastic.
Polyvinylchloride is a plastic that is used in a huge variety of products. For shutters you have everything from hollow vinyl shutters all the way up to aluminum reinforced PVC shutters (PolyCore Shutters). Some hollow vinyl shutters tend to look very plastic like and have a very plastic feel. Middle grade PVC shutters tend to have a better look and feel than hollow vinyl. They are typically glued together and have structural limitations that prevent wide panels from being made without sagging. Occasionally they are reinforced with aluminum in the louvers.
High quality PVC shutters (PolyCore Shutters) have a smooth painted look that is often difficult to tell from a painted Basswood shutter. They have a co extruded aluminum core that allows for very wide panels and allows for screws to be used to assemble the shutters. This gives a much stronger joint. High quaity PVC shutters like PolyCore Shutters are moisture resistent and hold up to Colorado’s high altitude sun.
So-called Mixed Materials shutters take a piece of MDF and dip it into a vat of molten PVC to coat it. This is an attempt to take the cheapest material possible (MDF) and protect it from water and give it the look of a high quality PVC shutter. You still have the weight issues of MDF and you gain none of the benefits of using aluminum reinforced PVC.
Basswood is lightweight but strong and stable and takes finishes and stains well. This is why Basswood is the best wood to use for shutters and blinds.
Our entire Lexwood shutter line is made from 100% premium kiln dried Basswood. No fillers, no sawdust, no composites, no plastic, no “engineered wood”, no unidentified “hardwood”.
Basswood’s combination of strength and light weight has long made it the preferred choice for shutters.
Wood and the glues used to bind “manufactured” woods expand contract, harden, stretch, absorb ultra-violet light from Colorado’s high altitude sun and chip at different rates. These differences can be masked for a time by a thick coat of paint. However, shutters are usually placed in direct sun; exposed directly to open or poorly insulated windows; and opened, closed and adjusted repeatedly over a lifetime. These environments stress the shutter materials in precisely the way that wood and glues fail: by forcing the materials to change in the same way over time. Rather than remain whole, the wood/glue combinations tend to separate over time revealing glue lines, bleed-thru, delaminations, splits and cracked paint.
Exposed to moisture or rot, Basswood components may resist decay for weeks or years. At the other end of the scale, exposed MDF panels will soak up moisture like a sponge.
http://www.epa.gov/iaq/formalde.html http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Formaldehyde http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/factsheet/Risk/formaldehyde http://www.osha.gov/SLTC/formaldehyde/ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hardwood http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Acrylonitrile_butadiene_styrene http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polypropylene http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tilia
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