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Posted by Gail in Glencoe , CA on 8/17/2009

July 13, 2008
Our First Shutter

A pile of shutters waits patiently for installation

When Topsider originally sold us our octagonal mountain house kit back in September 2003, salesman Steve Hill was able to upsell us very successfully. In addition to the house itself (which was more than twice our original budget), Steve started talking about the need for security. With a luxury house full of glass walls, weren’t we concerned about someone breaking and entering, especially when we were away? We still remember the exact line he used: “You can’t think about security as part of the cost of the house. You have to think about it as a separate expense.”

The solution was a full set of metal roll-down shutters. As Steve explained, we had to order them “now” because the house would be configured differently if shutters were included. Thankfully, we opted for the downstairs only. As well, we opted for the “medium-weight” metal, as opposed to the “heavy-weight” hurricane-proof grade. Nevertheless, we bought enough shutters to cover every opening downstairs, including the front and back doors. And we ordered electric as opposed to manual. In the end, we added almost $40,000 extra to the cost of our dream house.

When the house kit was finally delivered in March 2005, it was in the middle of the pouring rain. As a lower priority, we covered the large shutter crate with plastic sheeting and left it off to the side until we could deal with it. We did not deal with it until more than a year later in October 2006, when the house was finally weather-tight and we decided to bring everything in out of the elements.

Opening the shutter crate for the first time, we were horrified to find it filled with water. We spent a day opening what was left of the cardboard boxes and laying everything out in the sun to dry. Thankfully, the shutter components were wrapped separately in bubblewrap. They looked intact, but we didn’t dare unwrap them to find out. Instead, we moved everything into a pile inside the house and left it there.

The pile of waterlogged shutters dries in the sun (the crate is in the background)
The shutters were subjected to more than a year of mountain rain

In retrospect, we were probably in “denial” about everything connected to these shutters. We began to regret their purchase – or need – very early on. In reality, our property is remote with a metal gate across the access road, and our neighbor is terrific about keeping an eye on the place. We really didn’t need these shutters and were not looking forward to having to figure out how to install them. We simply hoped they would go away.

That didn’t happen, as our monthly mortgage bill continues to tell us. On the contrary, Gail’s electrician step-brother Jim began telling us that we would need to begin installing the shutters, so he could figure out how to wire them before the electrical inspection. So on July 4th weekend Gail made some tentative steps to unpack one of them, and a week later on July 11th we finally decided to install one.

Topsider had shipped the shutters with absolutely no instructions. We inquired about instructions for months, and Topsider finally sent us a print-out of some pages from, the makers of the shutters. These pages gave us partial – but incomplete – instructions. Once again, we would have to use a combination of improvisation and guess work.

Each shutter came with a bag full of hardware. Unfortunately, the instructions didn't tell us what to do with any of it.

Our crew this weekend included Gail, Russell and our friend Steve. Gail picked the southwest window as the least warped for an initial installation. Basically, the process would be:

  1. Install metal rails vertically on each side of the wall
  2. Hang the motor box on top of the rails
  3. Feed the metal curtain over the axle and down into the rails
  4. Fasten the top end of the curtain to the axle and roll the whole thing back up

The motor box with and without its cover

In reality, there were several additional steps. First, Gail and Steve stained the window wall where the shutter was to be installed. Next, Gail and Russell cut and stained long vertical pieces of trim wood to provide a backing for the rails.

Each side required a piece of stained trimwood to cover the gap between the wall unit and corner unit (seen here already filled with spray-in insulation)

The trim wood alone was a struggle. It was needed to fill the gap where each wall unit and corner unit came together. Unfortunately, the size of each gap was different. Our best guess was that we needed pieces of wood that were 1” by 3” by 95-1/2”. We went out and bought a bunch of 1x4s, planning to trim them. When we tried one, we realized that 1x4s are actually 3/4 inches by 3-1/2 inches. They would not work. We ultimately had to take 2x4s and rip them along both dimensions before cutting them to the correct length. On the plus side, this enabled us to rip each piece to the exact size of the gap. On the minus side, the process really worked our small table saw.

We ended up ripping 2x4s along both dimensions on our small table saw to get the correct trimwood

It wasn’t until midday on Saturday that we were finally able to hang the rails and motor box. Fortunately, these steps went easily. Unfortunately, the next step – hanging the metal curtain – ended up taking the rest of the day.

Steve and Russell hang the motor box

The curtain came rolled up and wrapped in bubblewrap. Because we had previously moved it with two people, we thought it would be fairly straightforward for Steve and Russell to lift it on ladders and feed it over the motor axle. We were wrong.

The curtain was heavy, awkward, and unmanageable. It was also impossible to hold. After failing at several different approaches, we ended up unrolling the entire curtain on the ground. We then re-rolled it onto a long 2x4, and hung that from the underside of the deck like a gigantic paper towel roll. With the weight literally off of our backs, we were finally able to unroll and feed the curtain over the axle and through the rails. (Because the curtain had been on a ground tarp, we also had to clean the thing as it unrolled – this would be our one and only chance to clean the inside of the curtain before it was forever trapped against the glass window.

The curtain, spread out on a ground tarp
We ended up having to hang the curtain from the deck in order to feed it over the axle (note the blanket to protect from scratches)

Once fed through the rails, the curtain didn’t want to stop descending, and we had to support it with a stack of dunnage to stop it from crashing to the ground. This also gave us time to figure out how to attach the curtain to the axle. Once again, the instructions did not tell us exactly how to do this, so we had to make it up. Russell guessed at the correct screws, broke two, lost one, but ultimately managed to attach the curtain to the axle.

Russell attaches the curtain to the axle, using sheer guesswork

By sheer good luck, the wiring hole that needed to be bored to the inside of the house happened to fall right in the gap between the wall unit and corner unit (Russell was afraid he’d have to drill a 3/4” hole through the long width of the 2x4). With no electrical hookup yet, we used the hand crank to raise and lower the curtain. It worked!

Stages of shutter installation

Despite all of the glitches and false starts, the shutter installation was actually a very simple process, once we figured out exactly what that process was supposed to be. At Saturday dinner, we began boasting about the possibility of hanging even more shutters before we departed the next morning. Ultimately, however, we only had time to cut and stain some more pieces of trim work.

We left with our one curtain lowered over the window wall. Our hope is that it will still be where we left it when we next return.

Lacking an electrical hookup, Russell uses a handcrank to lower the shutter


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