How to Choose a Ladder

Ladders are great tools that just about every home should have. Whether for simple home maintenance or a large home improvement undertaking, owning a ladder is a great convenience and blessing to every homeowner. But how do you go about finding the right ladder for your home? Ladders come in a wide variety of types, materials, brands, and ratings, and if this is your first time making a ladder purchase, much of it can be confusing and overwhelming. Here is a basic how-to guide for purchasing a ladder.

Styles

While you’re walking down the ladder aisle, you may notice terms like, “Straight,” “Extension,” “A-Frame,” “Telescoping,” or “Multiuse.” What do all of these terms mean, and how do they affect your choice?

Straight Ladders

  • As their name suggests, these ladders are straight up and down.
  • Because they are straight, they will require a sturdy wall or object to lean against for support.
  • They require a very flat, level surface to safely work on.
  • A regular straight ladder will reach no more than 30 feet in height.
  • If you don’t want to scuff up the walls you lean the ladder against, look for a straight ladder that has rubber pads on the ends.

Extension Ladders

  • An extension ladder is a form of a straight ladder.
  • The main benefit of these ladders is that they can “extend” higher or lower depending upon your needs.
  • You can find extension ladders anywhere between 20 feet and 60 feet tall, when fully extended.
  • These are ideal for projects that require roof access or access to higher walls or ceilings.

A-Frame Ladders

  • Also known as stepladders, the way these are designed allows them to be self-supporting, unlike the styles listed above.
  • They will generally reach no higher than 20 feet, because of their design.
  • A-frame ladders make a great in-home ladder for the average home, as they are generally tall enough to reach most bedroom or office ceilings, making them ideal for home decorating or painting.
  • These tend to be much more stable and safe than straight/extension ladders.
  • They also require even, level ground to use safely.
  • If this ladder is not fully locked open, it can collapse easily, so always check the locks before you start to climb it.

Telescoping Ladders

  • Ladders with this design can be either A-frame or straight.
  • The purpose of this design is to make ladders easier to store; if the sides “telescope,” then they can still fully extend for use but then collapse into a smaller form for storage.
  • Make sure that these styles have strong locks and are by a trusted brand; you don’t want to compromise your safety for convenience!

Multiuse, Multipurpose, or Adjustable Ladders

  • If you see any of these three names, it means that this ladder can take the form of multiple ladder styles.
  • Most of these look like compact, telescoping A-frame ladders, but can actually also extend out to form a straight extension ladder.
  • Once again, if you purchase a multiuse ladder, make sure it’s a trusted brand with strong locks.
  • Some multiuse ladders can actually be used on uneven ground because they have adjustable or attachable legs that can make one leg a different height than the other.
  • When in A-frame form, many of these can even be used on stairs because you can adjust one side to be taller or shorter than the other.
  • Some of these ladders can also take the form of scaffolding or a sawhorse.
  • These are the most expensive ladders.

Materials

Hopefully by now you have a better understanding of the style of ladder you are looking for. Now what about the material it’s made out of? If you’ve been looking at different ladders, you’ve probably noticed that the three materials that keep popping up are wood, aluminum, and fiberglass.

Wood

  • Wooden ladders are much less common than others.
  • These require more maintenance because the wood has to be seal-coated regularly to prevent water damage or swelling/warping from humidity.
  • They provide a more natural, traditional look.
  • They are reinforced with metal parts, so they will conduct electricity.

Aluminum

  • Aluminum ladders will often be cheaper than others.
  • Aluminum is a lightweight material, making these ladders easier to carry, store, and transport.
  • These will also conduct electricity.
  • If you need a very tall, heavy duty extension ladder, you may want a more stable material than aluminum.

Fiberglass

  • Fiberglass ladders tend to be more expensive than ones made of aluminum or wood.
  • Fiberglass is heavier and so provides added stability in a ladder.
  • The disadvantage to fiberglass is that it can crack and splinter if it gets banged around, dropped, or falls over, so it must be well taken care of and safely stored.
  • These are the only safety approved ladders to be non-conductive of electricity.

Duty Rating

Now that you know what style and material ladder you need, you may be wondering about the “duty” or “rating” labels you see on the ladders you’ve singled out. You may even notice that this duty rating seems to affect the price tag on the ladder. The truth is, the duty rating is more important if you are planning to use your ladder professionally in your job or career. If you just need a home ladder, you will probably be happy with a household duty or professional duty rated ladder.

Household Duty

  • These have a rating of “3.”
  • Their maximum weight capacity is usually 200lbs.
  • These function great for normal home use.

Professional Duty

  • These have a rating of “2.”
  • Their maximum weight capacity is usually 225lbs.
  • These are ideal for a handyman or professional handyman/painter.

Commercial Duty

  • These have a rating of “1.”
  • Their maximum weight capacity is usually 250lbs.
  • These are used for industrial purposes.

Industrial Duty

  • These have a rating of “1A.”
  • Their maximum weight capacity is usually 300lbs.
  • These are used for industrial purposes.

Special Duty

  • These have a rating of “1AA.”
  • Their maximum weight capacity is usually 375lbs.
  • These are used for special industrial purposes.

Don’t let yourself get overwhelmed with your prospective ladder purchase. With this basic how-to guide, you should be able to determine the combination of style, material, and duty that your home ladder needs so you can confidently make the purchase without any regrets.