Aluminum and fiberglass are two of the most popular materials for professional ladders and it’s important to know which material will work best for you. Each material has its pros and cons, and it’s best and worst uses.
Of course, the main thing you should worry about with ladders is safety. A cheaply made ladder is much more likely to fall out from under you, and that can be a disaster even on the shortest ladders. Having the right material for the job is a part of picking the best ladder, no matter how you’re planning to use it.
In this post, we’ll look at the differences between aluminum and fiberglass ladders, and how those materials are commonly used. We’ll also talk a little about how other features of the ladder can work with or against the materials it’s been made from.
The Quick Rundown
We’ll go into more depth on the differences between aluminum and fiberglass ladders in the next several sections, but here is a quick list of some of the most important differences between fiberglass and aluminum ladders.
If you already have some idea what kind of ladder you want to buy and are just looking for a little more information before you finalize your decision, this section is for you.
- Fiberglass ladders are usually stronger and more durable than aluminum ladders.
- Fiberglass is significantly heavier than aluminum ladders, which makes it harder to maneuver and also limits the kinds of ladder designs you can make with fiberglass.
- Aluminum ladders are lighter and much easier to travel with.
- Aluminum ladders are much more commonly made into extension ladders and other adjustable or flexible ladder designs.
- Aluminum ladders are usually less expensive than fiberglass ladders.
- Fiberglass ladders have better heat and electricity resistance than aluminum ladders
- Fiberglass ladders usually last longer than aluminum ladders.
Okay, now that we’ve gone over the key features, let’s talk a little more about how these materials really perform.
Aluminum and Fiberglass Ladder Designs
When it comes to ladder designs one of the first things you’ll notice is that there is a lot more variety if you’re looking for an aluminum ladder than there is if you’re looking for a fiberglass ladder.
That’s because aluminum is a lighter material, and it’s more flexible so it works better with hinges and the varying stresses of different kinds of ladders.
Aluminum is the much more common material for extension ladders, 90-degree ladders, and transforming ladders with multiple position options. They often include other materials, like steel locking or hinge systems, rubber feet, and textured rungs to make the ladder a little safer and more stable.
However, none of these designs are considered quite as safe as fiberglass ladders. Aluminum also tends to wear out faster than fiberglass, which means that aluminum ladders can get less reliable over time.
Fiberglass on the other hand tends to be used most for classic stepladders, some A-frame ladders, and some shorter extension ladders. Other more innovative ladder designs are less common for fiberglass just because it’s difficult to make a larger or more complicated ladder without also making the fiberglass too heavy to work with.
When extension ladders are created with fiberglass, the weight of a fiberglass ladder can be difficult to work with and can get a little unwieldy.
Material Quality and Durability
Material quality is one of those things that you’ll see a lot of people arguing that fiberglass is just a better material overall, or that aluminum is just a better material overall.
We tend to think that there’s a reason these two materials are both used for a lot of different kinds of ladders, and it’s all about where you’re going to use your ladder and how you’re going to use it.
When it comes to durability, both aluminum and fiberglass have their own strengths and weaknesses.
Fiberglass as a material is hard to damage. It can handle a lot of accidents and problems, but when fiberglass breaks it tends to break badly.
Aluminum isn’t quite as damage resistant as fiberglass, it’s a lot more likely to dent and warp when something bangs against it, but those dents and warping problems are also usually a lot easier to repair in a way that gives the ladder a little more life.
That said, dents and warping do lower the overall strength of the ladder, so you can only push an aluminum ladder so far before it really isn’t safe to use.
Aluminum ladders are also more prone to other kinds of damage that weaken them over time. Heat, for instance, will slowly weaken an aluminum ladder so they aren’t a good choice for working next to a heat source or even for working in hot sunny areas through the summer.
Aluminum can also corrode from weather exposure if you’re having to work in snow or rain and gets slick and unsafe out in those conditions for any length of time. Getting wet can be a challenge for transporting and even storing aluminum since you may have a leak you don’t know about that damages your ladder between uses as well as on the job.
In terms of longevity, fiberglass has an edge again because it’s a lot longer lasting assuming you don’t do anything to break the ladder. Aluminum tends to degrade over time even if it’s well maintained and kept in temperate dry conditions. It will get more prone to warping and wobbling over time, even if the ladder doesn’t break.
The one thing that can be tricky about aluminum that really isn’t for fiberglass is that aluminum ladders can look perfectly safe even after their weight capacity has gone down and they are more prone to warping and wobbling.
Fiberglass ladders don’t get weaker unless they truly break or start cracking and get ready to break. It’s easy to see when a fiberglass ladder needs to be replaced, but an aluminum ladder may look entirely safe right up until you realize it isn’t.
We want to put a disclaimer on this section that both aluminum and fiberglass ladders can be exceedingly safe. Any ladder that meets regulatory standards and has a weight capacity above the weight you’re loading on to it is likely to be very safe and easy to use.
However, if we’re comparing the strengths and weaknesses of the two materials, and fiberglass is the safer material to use.
There are two core reasons why fiberglass is always the safer material, it’s heat resistant and won’t conduct electricity.
Now, that’s more important for professionals who are working near live wires than it is for your average homeowner or DIYer, and much more important for electricians than other kinds of professionals, but it’s important for anyone working with power tools since you never know when a power cord, extension cord, or electrical connection might fail.
Heat resistance is important for professionals who work outside in the summer because hot summer days can get warm enough to impact metal ladders, including aluminum ladders.
That said, aluminum ladders come in a wider variety of heights, weights, and designs, which can be a critical safety feature depending on your project. If you have to choose between a fiberglass ladder that’s slightly too short for the job you’re doing and an aluminum ladder that’s the right size, always go with the ladder that’s the right size for the job.
Aluminum ladders usually have rubber feet, and occasionally a rubber work area that can help improve electrical resistance, but the difference is minimal if you’re working directly with power tools.
Aluminum ladders also have a slight advantage because they have more design options. Much like ladder height, choosing the right ladder design is more important for safety than choosing fiberglass, unless you know that you’re going to be working with live wire electricity or extreme heat.
The Case for Aluminum
So, we’ve talked about a lot of reasons that fiberglass is a safer and more durable option than aluminum, but there are good reasons for there to be as many aluminum ladders out there as they are.
One of the biggest reasons to get an aluminum ladder is the price. Aluminum is a significantly cheaper option and can be more cost-effective than buying a fiberglass ladder depending on how you’re going to use the ladder.
The flexibility of aluminum for different ladder designs is also an important factor in aluminum’s favor because you can get a ladder designed closer to your needs than you can in fiberglass.
Aluminum ladders that come in flexible designs, A-frame designs, and even telescoping ladders all have their own purpose and can be a better option depending on the kind of job you’re doing.
Fiberglass is our preferred material for ladders for one core reason, it’s absolutely the safest ladder material. Safety should be your main priority when you’re working with a ladder, and fiberglass will do the best job of keeping you safe and being a consistent ladder over time.
But aluminum is a good option if you’re looking for different ladder designs or longer ladders, but you do need to pay attention to the fact that aluminum can degrade and get less stable and less safe over time.
The design of your ladder and paying attention to the limits of your ladder is more important than choosing the material of your ladder. Even a fiberglass ladder isn’t safe if you’re loading it with more weight than it can handle or using the ladder in a way it isn’t meant to be used.