As you are designing your custom home or ranch entrance, you might run into a debate over whether steel or aluminum driveway gates are better. I am not going to make an argument for one or the other because we build both. We do make recommendations after we learn more about your specific situation.
Which is best depends mostly on your design, but it is also impacted by your location (proximity to salt water) or severe weather issues (snow/ice/rain). Another consideration should be the configuration of your gate entrance (if it is a swinging or sliding gate).
Here are a couple of recent examples of discussions about steel vs aluminum gate designs we had with clients:
Your entrance will have its own qualifiers. So, to help you discern what will be best for you, let’s discuss some the arguments for either option.
WHICH IS MORE SECURE?
Security is the primary reason to have a gate at your home or ranch. A closed gate is a deterrent to those who are not welcome. Trespassers cannot just drive up to your front door.
Some claim that steel is stronger than aluminum, therefore it is more secure. Let’s assume this is true (which is debatable, but let’s ignore that for now). This argument suggests that someone could ram through an aluminum gate easier than a steel gate.
Is that really a logical conclusion? If both gates are equal in size in this scenario, it will come down to the hinges, posts and locking mechanisms failing before the gate.
Does strength matter?
This article argues that the strength to weight ratio of steel is not better than aluminum. If we were building the frames for high-rise buildings, I’m assuming it would matter. But, we build custom driveway gates.
A well-made and substantial looking gate with a strong foundation and post is more of a deterrent than a flimsy, lightweight one on wimpy looking posts that allow the gate to drag the ground.
It doesn’t really matter if a gate is built of aluminum or steel and which is stronger. Both are just as durable and secure.
RUST PATINA OR NO?
Rust can either be a concern or a design feature. Many of our gate designs have a rust patina. It is perfect for many modern-style gate projects, but it is not the case for other styles of gate. Rust runs can ruin those designs.
You may desire a rust patina gate design, but you live in an area where corrosion is a concern. This could be due to coastal living (salt water is very corrosive), or maybe it is caused by months of snow, ice or rain.
If highly corrosive conditions are an issue, you might still achieve the rust-patina look with Corten steel. It was developed specially to withstand corrosion. It is more expensive than regular steel, but it may be the answer for you.
It just depends on your situation. In our area of Texas, a traditional steel gate at an adequate thickness will last more than a lifetime.
What if you do NOT want to see any rust?
If you want a contemporary black gate or one of our faux-paint finishes, rust is not part of the design. It doesn’t matter how meticulous a metal fabricator is about his or her welds, nor whether the gate is painted or powder coated.
Despite all efforts, you will almost always find some rust on steel over time. Therefore, aluminum is our answer if you want to avoid rust on your gate.
Difference in rust and corrosion?
When iron or steel corrodes, it is referred to as rust. Aluminum is prone to corrosion, but it produces a substance that protects it from further corrosion. It is grayish-white and not as noticeable as the orange-yellow color of rusted steel. This article gives a good description of the difference.
WHAT OTHER FACTORS MATTER?
After you decide if a rust patina is a look you want to include or avoid, there are other design elements that might help you determine whether to have a custom steel or aluminum driveway gate. Let’s discuss some of those.
Wind and Weight
Did you want a solid gate design that you can’t see past for privacy or other reasons? If so, you should plan on building a sliding or bi-folding gate. Wind is an issue for swing gates if they don’t allow air flow.
Even if you build your gate out of aluminum or any other light-weight material, a swing gate must fight with the wind to open and close. Swing gates designed without a way for wind to flow freely through them, will require high-end and expensive automation equipment which is usually a budget buster for residential properties. Operating swing gates without air flow manually isn’t the answer either. You will have a battle on your hands either way.
Where wind is an issue and swing gates are desired, aluminum allows you a little more flexibility in design options than steel because it is lighter. However, you can’t go too far.
Below are some examples. The steel gates needed to be sliders because the design would have been an issue as a swing gate. These aluminum gates are thick and substantial, but still allow enough airflow to be swing gates.
Profiles, Flourishes and Labor
When you are looking for prefabricated profiles and flourishes, each material has a plethora of options. There are more options in aluminum, but the options for both are overwhelming. Check some of them out by browsing the King Architectural Metals catalog.
We find that aluminum is easier to shape and mold than steel. In fact, we believe the labor time on our braided metal gate designs will be more affordable when we do them in aluminum.
BIG COST DIFFERENCE?
If you are shopping for a custom gate based on price and not just design, we need to look at the cost. Everyone has a budget.
When you hear aluminum, you might think of beer cans, tin foil and Home Depot gates. If so, you may assume aluminum is cheaper. However, aluminum costs more than steel. They are both commodities, so the pricing fluctuates. Right now, aluminum is close to twice as much.
The material cost is not the only factor in the price of a custom gate. Aluminum is easier to work with, so labor costs go down. The added cost will not be double. The details of the design will determine how much labor will be a factor in the price.
Another cost consideration for your budget might be shipping. Because aluminum is lighter weight, it might be a cost savings for shipping depending on how it is shipped. It may or may not be a factor.
- If we are shipping one of our fancy, faux-painted gates, we will recommend a dedicated truck. When you ship on a dedicated truck, that means it will be picked up from one location and then it will not be touched until it arrives at its destination. Weight is somewhat a factor, but it seems to be more about the miles when we ship it this way.
- When we ship gates raw (unpainted), they would be fine to ship LTL. That’s when the trucks stop at terminals along the way to on/off load. It is cheaper, and price is dependent on weight.
We’ve got a custom gate design+build checklist to help you as you make decisions about your gate design and budget. Or, let us know your thoughts and questions in the comments.
Did your opinion of a steel or aluminum driveway gate change after reading these? Which do you think would work best for your gate design?
I require a swing aluminum gate that spans 16 feet and provides some privacy.
Wind might be an issue. It depends.