Shutters are typically positioned on the outside of a window, either as decorative elements or as a functional covering, used for optional shade or to protect the window from storms and external damage. Shutters can also be used internally, as decorative elements for people inside to enjoy, or as an alternative to curtains or blinds.
If you’re interested in shutters, one primary choice you’ll encounter is the material of the shutters themselves. Often, shutters are made of wood, but they can also be made out of a faux wood product. How are these two materials alike, how are they different, and which one is more durable?
First and foremost, let’s talk about durability.
Wood can be extremely durable, but two primary factors go into the durability of wood shutters. The first is the kind of wood. Different species of trees have different kinds of wood with different levels of durability. Hardwoods like Teak, Oak, and Walnut are considered very durable kinds of wood and resist everything from dents and scratches to decay. Softwoods like Pine and Juniper, meanwhile, are less resistant to damage but are often much cheaper due to their growth speed.
The other consideration is treatments. Two 4×4 posts used as fenceposts, even if they’re made out of the same wood from the same tree, will decay at different rates if one is treated and one is not. Wood treatments can involve pressure, chemicals, and coatings, all meant to help the wood resist moisture, insects, fungus, and physical damage.
Meanwhile, faux wood is typically made out of plastic material, such as PVC, vinyl, or composite material. Faux wood is much more durable against certain kinds of damage, but not against others. Faux wood will easily resist rot (as it’s inorganic) and insects, but may not be as resistant as certain hardwoods to physical damage. In part, this comes down to material, and in part it is construction. Faux wood can also grow brittle over years of sustained exposure to the sun, though this is rarely an issue unless the shutters are slammed or struck.
In general, faux wood is more durable than softwoods, untreated woods, and some hardwoods. It is comparable to some treated hardwoods, and a few rare hardwoods can outlast even the best faux wood.
To put it in a time scale, exposed to the elements and poorly maintained, softwoods might last a few months or a few years, faux wood will last 5-30 years, and well-treated hardwoods can last for 50+ years. The wide variance depends a lot on the maintenance, environment, and treatment of the wood itself. After all, there are wooden-constructed buildings that are over 1,400 years old. No faux wood has yet to last that long, though given that plastics have only existed for a relatively short time, it remains to be seen how long they will persist.
This is, in fact, one of the drawbacks of faux wood; we can’t say how long it will last. Advances in materials science mean that some of the materials used in modern faux wood shutters have only been around for a few years. Will they last ten, twenty, fifty years? We’ll find out together.
Hand-in-hand with durability is maintenance. Wood will often require more maintenance than faux wood, especially if it is exposed to the elements.
Faux wood is generally resistant to sunlight and its bleaching effects, though it can fade over decades of constant sun and weather exposure. It can accumulate dust and grime, but it can be cleaned with relative ease. Any mildew or other organic matter that accumulates on it will fail to penetrate the surface and can be wiped away.
Real wood, on the other hand, is still an organic material. It can be bleached by the sun, it can be penetrated by insects, molds, and other life, and it can warp or crack over time. However, with proper maintenance, it can resist these effects for decades. Wood will occasionally need to be cleaned and may need more thorough maintenance to restore a coating or treatment every few years and to preserve its look.
Weight and Ease of Installation
Real wood, especially hardwoods, are very dense and heavy. This means they are often quite durable, but also difficult to manage. A full shutter can be quite heavy. Lifting it, positioning it, and installing it can be tricky, especially if you’re trying to do it alone. Of course, if you purchase shutters, you can also have them installed for you. Managing a heavy shutter can be tricky. Positioning them and adjusting them over time can be difficult as well.
Faux wood, due to being made of a lighter material (and often of semi-hollow construction) will be much lighter and easier to manoeuvre. They can be installed more easily, they can swing open and closed more easily, and they can be secured with lighter hardware.
It’s worth mentioning that some varieties of wood are quite light while still being durable, and some varieties of faux wood materials are quite dense and heavy. It’s possible to find faux wood shutters that are heavier than a wooden counterpart, but in general, faux wood is going to be lighter with modern materials and construction.
Installation is typically only something you need to contend with once, but opening and closing shutters, maintaining hardware like hinges and latches, and some maintenance tasks may be influenced by the weight of the shutters themselves. When lighter shutters are in demand, faux wood wins out.
Water is one of the primary agents of entropy. Water degrades and rots materials, erodes coastlines, wears away solid rock, and dissolves organic matter. Shutters that are exposed to water will have to contend with resisting it.
Water is of concern for shutters in two ways. First, if shutters are external, they will need to resist the weather. Rain impacts shutters and they will need to be designed to let the water wick off off them to avoid letting pooling and degrading of the material over time.
Real wood can be coated with oils and water-resistant chemicals to inhibit the intrusion of moisture and water-fuelled rot and microbes. However, water can still work its way through cracks, joints, and thin spots in the coating, and can degrade the wood itself.
Faux wood is much more resistant to water. Even if water pools up, the most it will do is discolour the material, which can be cleaned easily. Water may also be able to infiltrate the hollow shutters, but can simply be drained with no issues.
The other way water comes into play is with humidity. Humidity, the ambient water in the air, can cause real wood to warp, crack, or expand, which can change the shape and appearance of your shutters, and even damage them. Faux wood, since it cannot be penetrated by water, will never suffer from these issues.
Both real wood and faux wood can be designed to suit any appearance you may want. However, with real wood, you may need to pick specific kinds of wood to get a lighter or darker appearance, certain patterns of wood grain, or certain lustres. Faux wood can mimic the appearance of nearly any wood without issue – when it’s made the right way and dyed or coloured properly.
The trick comes in finding the right source for the appearance you want. This applies to both faux wood and real wood. Faux wood manufacturers often have a selection of wood types they mimic, but if you want something outside of their catalogue, you either need to pay for a custom design or find a different manufacturer.
Real wood, meanwhile, can take any design you want, but you will need to find the right species of wood, the right stains and treatments, and the right woodworking. This can range from something mass-produced to something hand-made by a master craftsman, and anything in between.
Appearance is also part of durability, in a sense, due to how the effects of weather, sunlight, and time can affect it.
Real wood can deteriorate over time. Sunlight, in particular ultraviolet radiation, can damage the wood. The wood can crack and splinter, it can fade and be bleached by the sunlight, and it can warp. Over time, the appearance of your shutters can degrade. As mentioned above, real wood often requires more maintenance to keep its appearance and structure sound.
Faux wood, meanwhile, is more resistant to degradation. Faux wood will not crack or splinter. It may bleach, over time, as UV radiation breaks down the dyes used to colour it. It won’t warp, though, and it will typically maintain its shape and appearance quite well.
One consideration you may have is authenticity in your materials. Faux wood can look quite close to real wood, but it may have telltale signs that it isn’t real. Small seams, patterns that repeat too readily or don’t match, quirks in construction, and texture can all reveal that the wooden shutters you have installed are not, in fact, real wood.
This is largely a matter of aesthetics and preference. Real wood, properly treated, has an incredible and impossible to reproduce lustre and shine. Faux wood can look like real wood from a distance, but low-quality faux wood can look cheap.
If you want the appearance of natural wood, or if you want to know that you have real wood and all of the quirks that entails – you have no choice but to go with real wood. On the other hand, if you’re planning to paint your shutters, or you don’t much care if they’re real wood, many faux wood styles can be indistinguishable apart from close inspection.
Environmental concerns might be foremost in your mind and your lifestyle. There are often two gut reactions to this choice:
“Faux wood is plastic, that’s terrible for the environment, I’ll go with real wood.”
“Deforestation is a huge issue, faux wood lasts longer and is less damaging, I’ll go with faux.”
The truth is, both options have their pros and cons.
Real wood does, indeed, require cutting down a tree to get it. However, there are sustainable forestry practises that ensure that any wood harvested is replaced, that logging is done sustainably, and that those wood products are ecologically friendly. Wood can also be reclaimed from old construction and refurbished, which is very sustainable.
Conversely, while plastics (in general) aren’t very good for the environment, new varieties of composite materials can be made out of recycled plastics, or sustainable compounds. Faux wood is not necessarily bad for the environment, and the construction of faux wood shutters does not necessarily harm the world. This, in large part, depends on the manufacturer. Thus, if sustainability is a primary concern, you’ll want to find a manufacturer that uses ecologically friendly processes and materials.
Which Should You Choose?
The decision between faux wood and real wood is largely a personal one. Consider the factors that may influence your decision.
How is the weather? If you get a lot of sunlight, pick a material that is more resistant to UV and sun-bleaching. If you get a lot of rain, pick something with higher water resistance.
What is your sense of aesthetics? If nothing other than real wood will do, get real wood. If faux wood is fine, you have a wider variety of options.
What is your budget? Real wood is often more expensive than faux wood, though high-end faux wood materials can be more expensive than low-end wooden shutters. Durability is also a factor here; will you need to replace your shutters in a few years, or will they survive decades?
What is your other décour? Faux wood is often easier to match to other décour, but if the rest of your home is outfitted with real wood, faux wood might not match.
The choice, in the end, is a very personal one. That said, it can be difficult to research all of the options available to you on your own. We highly recommend giving us a call to talk about your options.