Ladder Materials

Among the most important considerations in your choice of a ladder, the material influences not only safety and durability but also price.  Fiberglass ladders typically offer the best value, but they are by no means the most affordable, and often they give a little more than an ordinary homeowner really needs.  The four most common materials and their characteristics break down…

  • Wood: By far the most affordable of the four materials, and still among the most popular for most simple household uses, wood ladders work well inside the home.  Especially two- or three-foot wooden step-ladders help-out in the kitchen, laundry, and kids’ rooms.  Because they are so affordable and adaptable, college students often use wooden step-ladders as supports for book shelves or as clothes racks.  Wood, of course, splinters and warps, so that wooden step ladders typically do not hold-up well in outdoor use; and, made of soft woods, they lose their strength and stability as their hardware works around in the joints, enlarging the holes.
  • Aluminum: Probably more popular than fiberglass among homeowners, aluminum ladders weigh the least, rival wood ladders for low price, and work well for almost all the usual household projects.  Aluminum step-ladders are durable enough to withstand most do-it-yourselfers’ abuse, but the legs will bend and the steps or rungs sometimes will sag.  Professionals object to aluminum ladders because they create the risk of electrical shock.  Electricians and carpenters using power tools typically will avoid aluminum ladders because of the safety issues.  Aluminum, however, remains the material-of-choice in the longest extension ladders because of its light weight.  Fiberglass and wood are too heavy to be practical beyond about fifteen feet, so that thirty- and thirty-five foot extension ladders are made only of heavy aluminum.
  • Fiberglass: Definitely the professionals’ favorite in all classes and styles.  Nearly as light as aluminum, and far more durable in everyday use, fiberglass ladders are safest not only near electrical current but also in wet and sloppy conditions.  By far the most reliable and resilient of the four materials, professionals typically invest in one good fiberglass ladder, knowing it will last longer than their careers.  In the longer lengths and larger sizes, however, fiberglass step-ladders and especially fiberglass extension ladders may be way more than a homeowner needs or can afford.  Most do-it-yourself gurus recommend homeowners rent big fiberglass ladders on those rare occasions when nothing else will do the job.
  • Steel: Most Rolling Warehouse Ladders are made of steel, because it competes with aluminum and fiberglass for lightweight honors, yet it bears the stresses all the different configurations put on the rungs and side-beams.  No manufacturer even has considered a fiberglass multi-ladder and wood is out of the question.  Some very cheap imitation multi-ladders are made of heavy aluminum, but they cannot take the wear and tear of regular use, and they cannot measure-up to the weight-bearing standards a good ladder system must meet.

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