Aluminum has properties that make it the ideal choice for many applications: corrosion resistance, high strength, low weight among others. Painted aluminum railings are superior to other materials including PVC, since they have virtually no maintenance costs and will certainly outlive the structure they are installed on.
Think of the places where you know aluminum is used, places where durability and strength are important… aircraft, space shuttle, truck trailer bodies, store fronts, skyscraper wall systems etc.. Now think to yourself… would you use a plastic, wood or composite material for any of those applications? The answer is a resounding NO.
Low maintenance– aluminum railing does not need to be painted every year unlike wrought iron and wood. The aluminum channels, referred to as “extrusions”, are given a chemical wash so the paint will bond. The paint is baked on at over 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Properly coated aluminum extrusions will last many years with only periodic cleaning required. The beauty of aluminum is that even if the paint is scratched to the base metal, the aluminum will not corrode in most environments. In fact, unpainted aluminum forms an invisible oxide on its surface that prevents corrosion.
Safety – From a structural point of view, aluminum railing will not rot or decay like wood, it won’t rust away in the critical joints like steel or wrought iron and it won’t crack in the cold like PVC. Another safety concern with wood railing is splinters, which is an even greater concern when you consider the chemicals used in pressure treated lumber.
Esthetics- The designer of an aluminum railing system has a great deal of flexibility in the way he or she wants it to look. Once the dies are created, the aluminum shapes will be produced for years with unwavering tolerance. Wood and wrought iron railings are limited to the availability of stock shapes. The wood you buy today will shrink, warp and twist over the years. Because PVC is not a structurally sound product, those railings will have steel stiffeners hidden inside, and all connection points need to allow for the expansion/contraction of the PVC extrusions. PVC and wood railings will always have a bulky appearance, vinyl’s inherit weakness mandates large shapes. With aluminum, the designer can create fine shapes akin to wrought iron, or wider shapes similar to wood. The consumer can create, mix & match to their heart’s content. Of course, the durability of aluminum means it will be looking good and fulfilling it’s function long after the other materials would have begun to show their age.
Recyclable- Aluminum is completely recyclable. It is one of the most recycled products in the world. It’s high scrap value means that factory cut-offs, job site left overs and demolition railings are carefully saved for sale to scrap yards. With almost no value, wood, PVC, steel and composites are destined for the dump.
Corrosion Resistance- Rusting of steel railing is an obvious point, and covered elsewhere in this article. Even when steel is galvanized, the ends, weld and drill locations are doomed to rust. With time, even galvanized steel will begin to rust. Also, it is difficult for paint to stick to galvanized steel, and you may find your paint peeling off in the not too distant future. Vinyl railing and fencing products will typically use galvanized steel inserts, but the cut ends are at risk for rusting. Rust is not only unsightly, but slowly reduces the strength of the guard. As already mentioned, aluminum will not corrode in most environments.
Expansion / Contraction – The aluminum alloy used in railing has a thermal expansion coefficient of .000013 inch per inch. To put this in perspective, a 20′ continuous railing installed on a summer day of 75 degrees Farenheit (24 C), then measured on a chilly winter day of 0 degrees F (-18 C), will have contracted less than a quarter of an inch! Vinyl and composite systems can not achieve the continuous handrail design, a favourite of Craft-Bilt customers, due to their huge rates of expansion and contraction.
Effect of Weather – UV rays of the sun break down wood and PVC based products. This process is known as photodegradation. Although PVC products have additives (UV stabilizers) to resist the damaging effects of the sun, we have all seen what happens to plastic as it ages, especially when it is exposed to the outdoors. Thanks to global warming, ozone and chemical related damage will increase for plastic based products. Heat and humidity can compound the UV damage on plastic products. For wood, once the UV has caused sufficient photodamage, heat and humidity will allow microorganisms to flourish and biodegrade the wood. While UV eventually causes any paint to fade, the aluminum underneath is unaffected by weather. Your aluminum hand rail will never loose it’s structural integrity, in fact, aluminum gets stronger with age.
By Bart Bremmers
Please visit Craft-Bilts Aluminum Railing page to view some outstanding railing jobs.