Aluminum vs Galvanized Spirals
Outdoor Stairs Applications
For the discussion of aluminum or galvanized as far as material choice for your spiral stair, the first thing to understand is that the applications are generally the same. Both are intended to act as durable outdoor structures capable of withstanding tougher elements. Still, though designed for the same purposes, they are not the same material and should not be looked at as the exact same.
There are pros and cons inherent to each. If you wish to make a more educated and refined choice for your particular application, it’s best to be aware of these differences and how they’ll play a role in your outdoor space.
To do that, we’ll need to take a closer look at such aspects as finishing process, expected maintenance involved, cost, and even potential aesthetic themes each material can create.
Outdoor and Workshops
In most cases, your aluminum or galvanized spiral stair will be placed either outdoors attached to your deck, patio, or balcony, or indoors in a building with little temperature regulation such as a workshop, barn, or toolshed. This is because for outdoor and work applications it’s prudent to select a material that can withstand harsher outdoor elements and/or the type of harsh use likely to be inflicted in workshop environments.
Aluminum and galvanized are both preferable choices over primed steel in the case of outdoors. This is due to the corrosion resistant nature of aluminum and the corrosive resistant armoring the molten zinc gives steel through galvanizing.
In the case of workshop settings, an aluminum or galvanized stair may not be necessary. While a barn or shop may not have the same temperature and air regulation utilities as a typical indoor setting, they provide enough protection against harsher elements such as sunlight and precipitation, or even salt air, that a primed steel stair is really all that is warranted.
The only issue to consider is how often you feel you may gouge or scratch the stair’s surface. If you feel you might through the carrying of tools and other materials, thus exposing the steel beneath your prime and paint job, then maybe a galvanized or aluminum stair is warranted. Keep in mind that paint jobs can be retouched, but your daily workflow may be such that you don’t have, or you’d rather not take, the time. The added convenience of a scratch resistant surface may be worth the extra cash for your scheduling needs.
However, even if you feel frequent gouging and scratching is to be expected through the course of carrying out your labor in your barn or workshop, a galvanized stair is all you’ll need. Aluminum if really not a necessary investment in such settings.
The durable zinc armoring, while it can be scratched, is very difficult to damage. In this case, for the sake of being economical, galvanized steel is the better choice.
Outdoor Stairs Themes
Besides their varying degrees of toughness and durability, both aluminum and galvanized steel have their own distinctive aesthetic appeals.
Galvanized steel offers a certain rugged appeal. It starts out shiny and silvery, but after 6-9 months (the “weathering” period of galvanized steel) it turns battleship gray. This affinity with battleships makes galvanized steel a great choice for creating a nautical theme. Which is why galvanized steel is a popular choice for piers, docks, and seaside homes
Be aware that galvanized steel is much more difficult to customize than aluminum, though. This is because galvanized steel cannot be painted during the first 6-9 months of ownership. The weathering process entails the escape of gases in the zinc bonded with the steel during the galvanizing process. Painting while these gases are still escaping would lead to a bubbled and warped paint job.
So if you wish to go straight for a nautical theme, galvanized steel is a great choice. If you desire a stair that can be customized immediately upon ownership, galvanized steel is not the best choice.
Aluminum, which can be powder coated any custom color desired immediately, is great for using to enhance a modern, contemporary, or industrial theme with a unique quality.
Corrosion resistance is what makes aluminum a great choice for industrial settings. But the clean lines of a typical aluminum stair’s style is what make it a great choice for settings such as a beach front penthouse’s terrace. All that’s needed to complete this touch is a striking white powder coating job. The sleek shape of the modern metal plus the brightness of the white finish make the perfect combination for luxurious ocean front environments.
So what it really comes down to in terms of aesthetics is if you like the nautical, rugged look or not. If that’s not what you want, but you don’t mind waiting several months before customizing, then galvanized steel is still a viable option over aluminum. However, if you desire a custom color out of the gate, then aluminum is the better option.
Outdoor Stairs Safety
Besides the safety features any stair should possess—sufficiently narrow space between risers and balusters, sufficiently high railing, and an overall sturdy structure—an additional feature that should be implemented for aluminum and galvanized steel is some form of slip resistance for the treads. This is because aluminum and galvanized steel tend to live outside.
Depending on your climate, another consideration that can be implemented in both materials is grated treads to aid with the “pass through” of heavy precipitation. Choosing slip resistance or grating should be determined by your local climates particular brand of harsher weather. Do you see frequent snow or rain? Just ask yourself these questions before choosing.
Either material offers equal levels of safety and reliability. The only instance where you may consider aluminum over galvanized in terms of any issues related to safety is weight. If you’re building a spiral stair on a dock where weight should be closely watched, or on a smaller boat where perhaps you have to do the same, then you might consider aluminum first. Aluminum, while incredibly strong, weighs only about 1/3 as much as galvanized steel. So that is an advantage to consider any point where weight is a potential concern. This will be a moot point in 9 out of 10 applications, but if it comes to that it’s worth remembering.
Powder Coating Process
Powder coating aluminum involves a dry finishing process where no solvent or liquid is necessary. The powder is sprayed onto the surface and then it is oven baked/cured so the coating becomes a high-density armor that’s highly resistant to any kind of breakdown over time. This offers one of the most functional and effective types of finishes on the market.
Furthermore, powder coating can be done in any color that appears on the Pantone perfect spectrum or RAL color spectrums. This chemically formed density of armor and versatility of color options make aluminum a very desirable choice.
Galvanization doesn’t necessarily create a protective veneer around the metal like powder coating does. Instead, the process initiates a metallurgical bond between the metal and the molten zinc. The resulting barrier from the process of galvanizing isn’t really a second layer so much as a skin that has actually become part of the below steel. The zinc actually intertwines with the steel to a certain depth.
The level of adherence between the zinc and the steel underneath is stronger than any other type of coating thanks to this intertwining.
This means that, while it is possible, it is incredibly difficult to scratch the galvanized surface hard enough to expose the steel underneath.
When it comes down to it, aluminum is more expensive than galvanized steel. This is because aluminum is a completely maintenance free material that you can install and forget about in even the harshest of outdoor settings.
So, in the process of working out your budget, if the added expense is warranted by your needs, aluminum is a wise choice for outdoor stair applications.
If you need something that’s a little more economical, and you’re willing to deal with the stair not being quite as worry-free on the maintenance, then the galvanized steel is your better option. The odds of galvanized steel actually scratching enough to expose the steel beneath are very low. And even if it is scratched that hard, a simple touchup with zinc rich paint will get ahead of any corrosion before it becomes a problem.
Outdoor Stairs Longevity
Both stair materials, if treated for what they are, should last a lifetime. It’s just a matter of the difference in maintenance commitment involved. Aluminum will not require any maintenance. Maybe the powder coating will get damaged, but even that is highly unlikely. Galvanized steel may or may not require maintenance depending on if the zinc skin is scratched. But a cursory check on at least an annual basis should catch that before it becomes a problem. And even then the repair work required, if addressed early enough, should be minimal.
It’s basically a matter of little, if any, maintenance for galvanized or zero maintenance for aluminum. That completely worry free convenience of aluminum does have a slight upcharge, though, so you have to decide if it’s worth it.
There’s also the ability to custom color aluminum much sooner than galvanized, So take that benefit under consideration when deciding whether or not to spend the extra money.
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