OCCASIONALLY, ARCHITECTURAL ELEMENTS that once served a functional purpose become superfluous features that exist only for aesthetic appeal. Like exterior window shutters. Used in the past to block sunlight and provide protection from storms, shutters today are “here but not here.” They go largely unnoticed, but most production homes and even some traditional custom homes have them. In fact, in some areas of the country, it can be hard to find a house without shutters.

Rich Heggs, vice president of marketing and sales at Timberlane Woodcrafters in North Wales, Pa., says the demand for wood shutters in particular is growing rapidly.

“There is a huge movement toward authentic products,” Heggs says, “and wood shutters fall into that category.” Though wood can be hard to maintain, for some people it's all about authenticity. New Jersey, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, and New York have seen high demand for wood, Heggs says, because people prefer a traditional look in those markets.

Timberlane offers wood products made from Western red cedar that feature mortise-and-tenon joinery for strength. Copper capping on each shutter helps prevent water infiltration.

Wood may be desirable for some home buyers and builders, but non-wood shutters still dominate, commanding about 80 percent of the market. Lawrenceville, Ga.–based Melton Classics, for example, positions its architectural urethane shutters as a durable, low-maintenance alternative to wood millwork. Impervious to rot and insects, the product is manufactured from high-density polymer so it won't split or twist.

Homeowners can also opt to use vinyl, the ultimate low-maintenance material, for their shutters. Not only does vinyl last a lifetime, it comes in a wide range of colors and doesn't have to be repainted—an advantage wood can't match. Some shutter manufacturers even offer a lifetime guarantee on their vinyl products.

For more product information, visit ebuild, Hanley Wood's interactive product catalog, at www.builderonline.com or www.ebuild.com.