A ladder properly matched to your project can make the work easier and safer. Learn about different ladder types and how to choose the best one for your work.
Whether you're shopping for a step ladder or an extension ladder, consider safety when determining the size you need.
Stand no higher than two steps down from the top of a step ladder. Typically, this means a 5-1/2-foot person with a vertical 1-foot reach can safely access a point 4 feet beyond the length of the ladder.
An extension ladder needs to be several feet taller than the height you need to reach. Keep these points in mind:
All of these factors combined mean you should look for an extension ladder 7 to 10 feet longer than the highest point it rests against.
Load capacity or duty rating indicates the weight a ladder can handle. You may also see this referred to as a performance rating. When determining the load capacity you need, include the weight of the user plus the weight of any tools and materials you need to use. Look for the following ladder ratings:
Aluminum ladders offer strength and a lighter weight that makes them easier to maneuver and carry. The material is corrosion-resistant, but conducts electricity. Don't use an aluminum ladder when working on electrical projects or near electrical lines.
Fiberglass ladders are strong and durable. When clean and dry, they don't conduct electricity and are the right choice for electrical projects and work near electrical lines.
Other materials such as steel, wood and plastic are often available with step-stools, which are smaller than standard ladders and designed for tasks that don't require a great deal of reach.
Follow the ladder manufacturer's instructions for use and safety.
Step ladders have an A-frame design, with spreaders that lock to hold the two sides in the correct position. Typically, steps run up only one side of the ladder, but twin-step ladders allow the use of both sides. Step ladders are a good choice if you don't have a nearby surface that can support an extension ladder, and are often used for indoor projects such as installing a ceiling fan or painting crown moulding.
Platform ladders — sometimes known as podium ladders — are step ladders that have a standing surface at the top instead of a traditional step. A rail extends above the platform, providing an extra point of contact for the user. These ladders are designed to provide additional comfort and security when working at a fixed height.
If a step ladder is not specified for use on both sides, step or stand only on the side indicated for use.
Extension ladders have a base and one or two upper sections that slide up and down to allow you to reach different heights. Locks keep the ladder extended to the desired height. Larger extension ladders include rope and pulley systems which allow you to extend the ladder more easily. The lower section usually has pivoting feet that adjust to provide stability at various angles. Extension ladders require a surface such as a wall or a roof line for support. They're usually available in larger sizes than step ladders, making them a good choice for outdoor projects such as cleaning gutters or painting a home exterior.
While different in design from standard extension ladders, telescoping ladders also extend to reach various heights. These ladders collapse together for storage and transport. Straight ladders are similar to extension ladders, but have only a single section.
Extension ladders with three sections often have a smaller storage footprint than two-section models of the same length.
Multi-position ladders, also known as combination ladders or articulating ladders, give you extra versatility and can be a good investment if your needs are varied. Depending on the model, a multi-position ladder can work as a single- or twin-sided step ladder, an extension ladder or a ladder you can use on stairs. Some models can be configured to work in pairs as support for scaffolding.
Look for storage hooks or hangers designed to hold ladders and keep them up and out of your way.