When purchasing a ladder, the two most popular materials that are available are aluminum and fiberglass, but which one is better and why?
A fiberglass ladder is a non-conductive ladder made of FRP (fiberglass reinforced plastic). FRP is a composite material that is made by combining fiberglass with a base plastic resin material (usually polyester). The reinforced filler fibers enhance the strength and mechanical properties.
The main advantage of a fiberglass ladder over an aluminum ladder is electrical safety. They are also resistant to corrosion from acid and are less likely to conduct electricity.
Pros and Cons of Fiberglass Ladders
- Doe not conduct electricity and hence is an excellent choice for electrical work
- Heavy and sturdy when compared to aluminum.
- Offers better weather resistance with regular maintenance
- Expensive when compared to aluminum counterpart
- May burn when exposed to excessive heat
- Heavy and hence not easy to carry.
- Require periodic maintenance.
Aluminum is one of the most abundant elements on earth. It is a lightweight metal that has high tensile strength and very good resistance to corrosion.
For home owner and diy enthusiast this is the best choice for fixing a nail or drilling a hole on the wall to hang the picture frames, cleaning etc. However if you are doing electrical works or using corded electrical powertools, fiberglass offers better protection.
Pros and Cons of Aluminum Ladders
- Lightweight and portable
- Does not cause sparks or catch fire
- Aluminum has good corrosion resistance.
- Cheaper than fiberglass ladders
- Almost maintenance free
- Aluminum conducts electricity and is not safe for working around power lines.
- It is a good conductor of heat and may get heated faster when used outdoors in sunny weather.
- When it is hot, aluminum expands and may result in bending.
Aluminum vs Fiberglass Ladder Comparison
The two materials promote different pros and cons, but the superior one to buy is dependent on the following five factors and each factor’s relevance to your needs. They are,
- Portability and Weight
- Durability and
Let’s compare the two types of ladders based on the above factors.
Both fiberglass and aluminum make strong ladders, but fiberglass is the most robust of the two. However, this doesn’t mean that aluminum ladders are weak.
Aluminum ladders are sturdy unless put under immense weight beyond their capability. If you put an aluminum ladder under enough extreme pressure, it will begin to wobble or shake.
This doesn’t mean that we can be reckless when using a fiberglass ladder, though. While it is significantly more stable, if fiberglass is subjected to enough intense force or weight, it will crack or break.
To avoid this, we must look at the load capacity each ladder can handle.
Here are the duty ratings of the amount of weight a ladder is capable of carrying:
- Type III: 200 pounds
- Type II: 225 pounds
- Type I: 250 pounds
- Type IA: 300 pounds
To get the most suitable ladder for your needs, you should get a ladder with a duty rating that reflects the weight that you and others who use the ladder will typically subject it to (the combined weight of the person and the tools they’re holding).
The need for stability will be met as long as we pick a ladder that can handle the weight we need, but if we want to be on the more safe side, opting for a sturdier fiberglass ladder is probably a good idea.
Weight and Portability
When it comes to weight, aluminum is the lighter of the two.
This makes aluminum ladders more convenient and portable for day-to-day jobs where ladders need to be erected, taken down, carried, and moved to various locations.
The lightweight nature of aluminum ladders makes them a versatile tool that’s practical for many different jobs. Construction sites are one such environment where aluminum ladders are more favorable.
Another aspect to consider is how height affects the weight of a ladder. The higher a ladder is, the heavier it will be. When viewing this, aluminum ladders appear as much more sensible.
It’s important to note that aluminum ladders are generally used as extension ladders, whereas fiberglass ladders are often used as step ladders.
Unlike aluminum, fiberglass ladders are much heavier and arduous to move and are not suited for jobs that travel between many locations.
When working on our own, using a fiberglass ladder will likely be more detrimental to our work process as it’ll be challenging to move around on our own. This will not be an issue for those who have a suitable workspace and colleagues to store and move it.
For those of us that this is not an issue for, fiberglass may be the better option because of the plethora of other attributes it boasts such as durability.
The durability of a ladder will depend on what conditions we’re working in.
If we plan to work outside, a weather-resistant ladder is most suitable. Both aluminum and fiberglass ladders have a decent level of resistance to the weather. Still, fiberglass is considerably more hard-wearing against the weather and more durable in the long run.
Fiberglass ladders are also non-conductive, which means they are resistant to electricity and heat, which are properties that will make our ladder more long-lasting.
If we’re working inside in an environment where conductivity does not matter, however, an aluminum ladder will work just fine.
Effect of UV Radiation
Fiberglass when constantly exposed to the Ultraviolet rays in sunlight will lose the outer layer and starts affecting the inner fibers. Over time the quality of the fiber will deteriorate and may cause damages and cracks.
To prevent the damages, take proper care by applying acrylic lacquer or polyurethane coating on the fiberglass ladder. If you see discoloration and loss of gloss or rough surface, it is time to apply a new layer of coating.
On the other hand, aluminum when exposed will quickly form an outer layer of aluminum oxide. This white-colored aluminum-oxide layer is hard and prevents the metal from further corrosion. However, when exposed to extreme and heat and cold weather the metal will be expanding and contracting, and as a result ladder may lose its sturdiness.
Ultimately, the ladder that we pick is entirely dependent on our unique individual needs.
The International Association of Certified Home Inspectors reported that there are 164,000 ladder-related injuries and 300 deaths every year in the United States.
Therefore, it’s vital for the safety of the ladder we use to be prioritized and for us to know which type is best suited for our working environment.
As briefly mentioned before, fiberglass ladders feature qualities such as being resistant to heat and electricity. If we work in an environment where we’re exposed to electricity, such as through power lines or electrical wires, then the undeniable choice is fiberglass ladders.
The materials’ non-conductive nature makes it a perfect match for those of us who know with certainty that we will be working around electricity and powerlines.
Conversely, aluminum is highly conductive for both electricity and heat.
For those of us who’ll be working around electricity or high levels of heat, fiberglass ladders are the best choice, but for the rest of us, aluminum ladders are a great option that doesn’t involve a trade-off in our safety or other vital aspects like cost.
Heat introduces a set of different problems.
As I explained earlier aluminum is a good conductor of heat and hence will absorb the heat faster. However, aluminum doesn’t burn easily whereas fiberglass which is reinforced plastic can get burnt and damaged. This means that the fiberglass ladder’s durability will be compromised if used around the fire and could potentially become a dangerous option that puts our safety at risk. This is why aluminum ladder is the choice of firefighters.
Keep in mind that during a fire the heat will cause aluminum to expand and can bend. But it will not fail unless exposed to a temperature close to its melting point which is 1221°F or 660°C.
The cost of a ladder is an essential factor to consider.
Aluminum ladders present a notable advantage concerning cost. It’s not difficult to find an aluminum ladder at local hardware stores or workshops as they are the most affordable option, making them more easily accessible and convenient.
Being cheaper isn’t enough, though, as we want a ladder that will last a long time. Therefore, our ladder needs to be worth our money in the long run.
As long as we invest in a good quality ladder, an aluminum ladder can last us for a couple of generations while still being cost-effective.
Summary: Comparison Table
|Aluminum Ladder||Fiberglass Ladder|
|Sturdiness||Good||Better than Aluminum|
|Weather Resistance||Moderate||Very good|
|Portability||East to carry around||Tall fiberglass ladders are heavy|
|Maintenance||Very little||Needs periodic maintenance|
|Uses||Good for most general purpose work||Mainly for electrical works|
|Cost||Cheaper||Bit more expensive|
Aluminum Ext. Ladder
It is a no-brainer option if you are working near electricity power lines. I would also recommend fiberglass step ladders up to 8feet for home owners and handymen because they are not too heavy, but sturdy and durable.
For firefighters and those who need tall extension ladders aluminum is an obvious choice.
Unless we need the edge that fiberglass ladders bolster us within high risk electrical conductive environments, investing in a high-quality aluminum ladder will give most of us better value for our money.