I’ll admit, when I bought my first ladder, I had no idea whether to buy an aluminum or fiberglass ladder.
I won’t say that I bought the wrong ladder, but I definitely could have made a better decision.
To help save you from that experience, I’m going to talk about the major differences between fiberglass and aluminum ladders. We’ll talk about the advantages of each, and when you should use one vs the other.
Let’s get started.
Fiberglass vs Aluminum Ladders: Fiberglass Advantages
Most homeowners end up choosing a fiberglass ladder, and for good reason. They have several benefits that could make it the right choice for you too, so it’s a good place to start.
Strength and Durability
Compared to an aluminum ladder, a fiberglass ladder much stronger and more durable. Don’t get me wrong, aluminum is a very strong metal, but it sacrifices a bit of strength to save on weight.
However, fiberglass has a much higher shear-strength than aluminum. That means it’s far less likely to bend under a sideways load than aluminum will. It’s common to see a bent piece of aluminum, but try to think of the last time you saw a bent fiberglass ladder.
That also makes it resistant to harsh weather and moisture. If you’re working outside, you don’t have to worry about getting your fiberglass ladder wet. It won’t rust or corrode.
Doesn’t Conduct Electricity
Unlike an aluminum ladder, a fiberglass ladder doesn’t conduct electricity. That’s important for homeowners doing electrical projects or working near electrical wires.
Most fiberglass ladders also have some sort of rubberized safety shoes on their feet. In addition to giving them more traction, it adds an additional non-conductive layer.
Resistant to Heat
While you’re (hopefully) not going to be working in 1555° F (846° C) heat, a fiberglass ladder will withstand heat much better than an aluminum ladder does. By contrast, aluminum begins to soften at 200° C (394° F), according to Jonathan at MakeItFromMetal.com.
OK…what does that mean for homeowners? Florida may be hot, but both of those are way hotter than it gets here.
If you use your ladder near any machinery, it could be throwing off enough heat to weaken an aluminum ladder. Similarly, if you’re using any tools that give off a lot of heat, a fiberglass ladder would be more resistant.
The last thing you want is to be standing on a ladder that’s been weakened by too much heat.
Fiberglass vs Aluminum Ladders: Aluminum Advantages
On the flip side, an aluminum ladder definitely has its advantages. Some of those will be very appealing to the average homeowner.
Aluminum ladders are much lighter than fiberglass ladders.
In fact, an aluminum ladder will weigh about 25% less than a fiberglass ladder of the same size. On average, a 40-foot fiberglass ladder weighs around 126 Lbs, while a similar aluminum ladder checks in at about 89 Ibs.
This makes it more convenient to carry around your house to where you need it. Or if you prefer, you can get a longer aluminum extension ladder that weighs as much as a much smaller fiberglass ladder.
Not only are aluminum ladders lighter than fiberglass ladders, but they cost less too.
In general, an aluminum ladder will be between 10%-20% less expensive than a similar fiberglass ladder. For example, you’ll spend about $147 for a 10′ Werner fiberglass ladder, but only $122 for the aluminum version.
The main reason for this is in the manufacturing process. Making fiberglass from it’s component parts (usually silica sand) is a very complicated process. It’s much more involved than forging an aluminum ladder. It makes sense that the price reflects this.
Also, because they’re more versatile and more popular, manufacturers can charge more for fiberglass ladders. It’s simple supply-and-demand, unfortunately.
Easy to Maintain
Fiberglass ladders require a fresh protective coating at least once a year. However, an aluminum ladder doesn’t require much more than a quick wipe down, unless it’s very dirty or frequently used.
That said, always check on it once or twice a week if you use it regularly.
When to Use Fiberglass vs Aluminum Ladders
With all that in mind, let’s look at when to use each type of ladder.
In general, I recommend a fiberglass ladder for anything between 6′ and 10′ at home. It’s long-lasting, weatherproof, and safe to use around electricity. It’s a great choice to use on small chores, such as changing light bulbs, painting, or cleaning.
By contrast, aluminum ladders are better at the very small, or very large sizes. The lighter weight makes them easy to carry to different locations around and outside your home. Because they’re cheaper than fiberglass ladders, it’s easy to have several aluminum ladders and step-stools of different sizes, without breaking the bank.
Use a Fiberglass Ladder…
For Anything Involving Electricity
Fiberglass ladders are the only option if you’re dealing with electricity. Because they’re non-conductive, fiberglass ladders are ideal for use near electrical cables or installations. Use them when you’re doing anything involving lighting or wiring around the house.
While this is less common at home, you can use them around extreme temperatures, since they conduct heat better than aluminum ladders.
Fiberglass ladders are ideal for outdoor use because they’re weather-resistant. Even though you shouldn’t store your ladder outside, you could leave them out in the open for days without getting destroyed by harsh weather.
Long exposure to direct sunlight will weaken fiberglass, however. The outer covering might start peeling off, leaving the fibers open. Not only would that reduce it’s structural integrity, but it may end up reducing it’s ability to resist heat flow or electricity.
Smaller and routine jobs
Fiberglass ladders are ideal for routine jobs around the house. Because fiberglass ladders are heavier than aluminum ladders, you don’t want to be lugging them around long distances.
In particular, you can use them for small-time or mundane tasks such as repairing your house roof or fence, cleaning gutters around your home, and trimming your hedge.
Use an Aluminum Ladder…
As long as you’re not in damp conditions, and can safely store your ladder in your garage, aluminum ladders are great for outdoor use.
I’m specifically thinking about long extension ladders that can get you up on top of your roof. Because they’re considerably lighter than a fiberglass ladder of the same size, aluminum ladders will be much easier to carry from place to place.
Around the House
Small aluminum ladders are great to access different places in your house when you need something quickly.
For example, I keep an aluminum step-stool in my laundry room and another in my kitchen, so my wife can get to the top shelf in our cabinets.