How to Find the Right Ladder for the Right Job

Using the right ladder for the right job is an important rule to follow. You may think that all ladders are up to the task, but you will soon find they are not. Using the wrong ladder when you are working is more than just inconvenient, it could also be pretty dangerous. Consumer Reports estimates that there are over 175,000 visits to the emergency room each year due to accidents on ladders. Choosing a ladder that is correctly suited for the job you are working on will help insure you stay safe. Knowing exactly what you need your ladder to do will also help narrow down your choices. This article will outline the types of ladders to choose between, as well as a few questions to ask yourself before starting your job.

Types of Ladders

There are three types of ladders. Each ladder is designed to be most helpful in a variety of situations. Carefully think about which ladder type will work best for your job.

Step Ladders

The first type of ladder is a step ladder. Step ladders are the most basic type of ladder. They are pretty lightweight and simple to use, less rigid than multi-use ladders. Generally they fold open into an “A” frame shape. Step Ladders are most useful for jobs that are close to the ground as most step ladders don’t go above 6 feet. They also work best on flat ground, no stairs or inclines. Most step ladders will have a shelf near the top for you to put a tool box or paint can.

Multi-Use Ladders

As the name implies, multi-use ladders are good for a variety of purposes. These ladders are usually found between 12-18 feet tall. Multi-use ladders will fold at multiple points which allows these ladders to work as a step ladder, extension ladder, or even a scaffold. This also means you can adjust the sides of the ladder to different heights, which lets this type of ladder stand on stairs on inclines. Multi-use ladders are usually the most expensive type of ladder. They are also pretty heavy and harder to set up than other types of ladders. However, once they are folded up, they are easier to store than extension ladders.

Extension Ladders

An extension ladder is the ladder you want to use for those projects that are high above the ground.If your project is above 17 feet you should use an extension ladder. Extension ladders are straight ladders, or leaning ladders. Because they do not bend or fold down, they require ample storage room. These ladders are relatively lightweight for their size and easy to set up. There are some models of extension ladders that can telescope to extend and retract. This can make for easier storage. Unfortunately, if extension ladders telescope it increases the risk that fingers and hands can get hurt if they collapse too quickly.

How Much Weight Can the Ladder Hold?

Almost all ladders used in the home will have a voluntary label that lists maximum weight capacity. There are 4 different ratings that can be assigned to a ladder by the American National Standards Institute: Type AI (300 lbs); Type I (250 lbs); Type II (225 lbs); Type III (200 lbs). To achieve these standard ratings a ladder step must not bend under up to 4 times its listed weight limit. While you may not weigh the maximum weight limit, consider that you may have heavy tool boxes or supplies being stored on the ladder that will contribute to weight. Also, climbing and shifting on the ladder may cause added stress to weak points of the ladder. It is safest to use a Type AI ladder.

Consider the Material of the Ladder

Most household ladders will be made of aluminum, fiberglass, or wood. There are pros and cons for every ladder material. What ladder will work best for you will largely depend on what job you are trying to complete. Aluminum ladders are lightweight, which makes them helpful and convenient for quick jobs. However, aluminum is a conductor for electricity. This means you would want to avoid an aluminum ladder if you are working with electricity or near power lines. Wooden ladders and fiberglass ladders are not conductors when dry, but all ladders will conduct electricity when wet. Fiberglass ladders are modern and strong. However they should be stored out of direct sunlight. If wooden ladders have prolonged exposure to the elements they may crack or splinter.

Safety Tips When Using a Ladder

Inspect the Ladder

Before using a ladder, you should always do a quick inspection to avoid unnecessary risks. You should double check that all nuts, bolts, and screws are in place and tight. For extension ladders, you will want to take a look at the hinges and locks. Make sure that they are functional and will not slip when you are standing on the ladder. If the ladder has moisture, oil, or other wet and slippery substances on the stairs, complete a thorough wipe down before climbing. If you find any missing or damaged parts on the ladder, contact the manufacturer for a replacement. Do not climb on a broken ladder.

Use the Ladder Properly

Although ladders may seem straightforward and easy to use, you would be surprised.  It is important to familiarize yourself with the manufacturer instructions for set up and take down. Different ladders will require different processes for a safe set up. Completely open and secure all legs of the ladder before attempting to climb the ladder. Make sure all spreaders and locks have securely opened and clicked into place. If you are attempting to use a ladder horizontally as a scaffold, you should ensure that scaffolding was an intended use of that ladder. Be aware of your surroundings as you set up and take down your ladders, to avoid damaging doorways, light fixtures, and furniture.

Use Common Sense

You should always remember to use your common sense when working on a ladder. Do not use a ladder if weather conditions are not safe. This includes strong winds, excessive rain, or low visibility due to fog. Make sure you have set up the ladder on stable ground before attempting to climb on. Do not use any objects to try steady a ladder if the ground is uneven. When you are on a ladder, keep both feet firmly planted. Do not use quick, or jerky movements that can throw off the center of gravity for the ladder. Do not overreach or climb higher on a ladder than is recommended. Finally, if you need to move a ladder while in use, climb off before moving the ladder. Do not attempt to “walk” the ladder to a new location.

In Conclusion

A ladder is a helpful tool for any home handyman. Think about what projects you will be completely around the house so you can find the ladder that will best suit your needs. Finding the perfect ladder will make your projects a breeze to finish.

Amy O'Brien

I am a mother, homeowner, and a DIY kind of gal. Whether it’s backpacking in the mountains or throwing a BBQ in my backyard, I love bringing my family to the great outdoors!

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