In almost every house I have ever lived in, the shutters weren't the real deal. They were simply for show, designed to make the house look cozier or to add architectural detail. They didn't actually close, but rather, were firmly affixed to the side of the house.
And that was normally just fine with me. I didn't give it much thought one way or the other. But then a superstorm came along that changed my view.
Why window shutters matter
When superstorm Sandy roared her way through New Jersey, the winds also took aim at southeastern Pennsylvania -- and we were right in the tumultuous path. At the time, we were in a beautiful home built in the mid-1800s. Mature trees lined the property. The home was three stories -- and that meant three stories of mostly original windows, all of which were broad, beautiful and completely exposed to the damage that flying tree branches could inflict.
But we had working shutters.
Yes, it took some time to close all of them. We waited until the rain and wind made it clear that the storm wasn't going to miss us, and then we started on the top floor. Closing the shutters involved wrestling the screens out of the windows, then reaching out and unhooking the shutters, pulling them shut and locking them in place. This was a job that would normally be done from the outside, but getting up on a ladder to reach that high up wasn't going to happen on a good day, much less during a storm!
We went to the second floor and did the same thing. Then we tackled the windows on the bottom floor, leaving only those that were protected by the wide front porch open to the elements.
Then we tried to go to sleep.
Shutters give ample protection to old windows
The next morning, the yard was an unbelievable mess. Those big trees shed whatever branches Sandy saw fit to rip away, and now the remnants littered the property. Some of those branches had slammed into the house, where they didn't do much damage against the stone and brick -- and one of them had battled with a set of shutters. The shutters were broken, the stiles and rails splintered.
But the window behind it didn't have a single scratch.
I have since become a believer in the power of real shutters. An old house that has faced the elements for over a century has to have a few longevity tricks, and the use of shutters to block out the worst of the wind and rain has to be one of them. Though the odds of a home taking a direct hit from a hurricane are rather low, it feels great to know that if the worst did happen again, there is a beautiful feature of your home that will protect you.
Restoring or replacing working shutters does cost a great deal more than the simple affixed shutters, and if you are doing that restoration yourself it can take an extremely long time. But in the end, keeping those old shutters may be worth it -- as your investment could be returned to you tenfold when you are the only one on the block who isn't sweeping up broken glass after the next superstorm comes calling.