Extension and step ladders everyone knows about. But there are a lot more different types of ladders than just those two. Visit this epic ladder buying guide to learn all there is to know about ladders. There's a lot more than meets the eye.
Each year there are 164,000 injuries in the US that area result of falling from Bailey Ladder. 300 result in death. That doesn’t mean you should buy or use a ladder. What it means is you need to be careful using the ladder. Gravity is unrelenting.
That’s the bad news.
The good news is that ladders are incredibly helpful. Most households have one. We have 2 and are in the market for a third, longer extension ladder. So many around-the-house projects and tasks require a ladder. Sure, I’ve dragged the dining room chair over to change a lightbulb because I’m too lazy to get the ladder out of the garage, but despite ladder injuries, a ladder is much safer than standing on some chair.
Moreover, there are more uses for a ladder than just changing lightbulbs, which results in there being quite a few different types of ladders when you take design, purpose and materials into account. We set out all the types of ladders below in this epic ladder buying guide.
Table of Contents
I. Ladder Buying Guide
Choosing the right ladder for your intended use is essential because it can help you prevent the second leading causes of accidental injuries and deaths worldwide. The different types are best suited to certain purposes which adds to their safety factor. Let’s begin with the basic kinds you’ll find.
A. Types of Ladders
The types of ladders that you’re probably most familiar with are the rigid type with its familiar A-shape. You’ll find ones that are portable that you can tote place to place as you need it. You’ll also see ones fixed in place such as on the outside of a building or attached to an attic access. Let’s review the most common kinds.
1. Step Ladder
The step ladder is the most popular one available simply because you can use it for so many things. It is self-supporting, so you can take it where you need it. It consists of two sets of rungs or steps that are evenly spaced with a top cap that connects the two together.
You can use either one or both sides for climbing, depending on the step design. The twin-step ladder describes the latter. However, you’ll find some models where you can only use one side. These are called simple front step ladders. The other side is for support only.
Spreaders join both and limit how far each can move out from the center. They lock in place to keep it from buckling when you’re stepping onto it. The bottom portions are the feet or shoes. They typically have some type of anti-skid material on the end of them.
The limitation of a step ladder is height before weight becomes an issue. That’s where the extension model comes into play. It can reach greater heights which makes them an excellent choice for projects like painting the exterior of a house or repairing a roof. A telescoping ladder is a variation on this theme with the flexibility to extend to the height you need.
They consist of a base and fly. The former stays on the ground. The latter is the part that you extend to increase its reach.
Unlike the step ladder, this type is not self-supporting. You’ll need to lean it against something to keep it stable. The fly will slide upward by hooks or a rope and pulley system. It’ll also have the safety features of non-skid feet and even another set of hooks on top to secure its position.
Source: Ace Hardware
The multipurpose ladder combines the features of the step and extension models that increase its versatility. It can be self-supporting or require that you place it against something stable. It can even stand in as scaffolding, depending on the product. It’s a smart choice for a contractor or the DIY handyman.
The articulated ladder is another type of portable ladder that you can change to fit the job. Its design makes it easy to transport. They have a series of locking hinges to keep them in place. Because of that factor, they have a limited height range. However, they are versatile too which makes them worth a look.
5. Step Stool
Step stools are handy to have around when you need to grab something from the top shelf in your kitchen cabinet without having to climb on the counter. You’ll find just single step version that’ll give you an extra foot of reach. Other types include two or steps and fold up for easy storage. Their overriding advantages are cost and convenience.
6. Attic Ladder
You’ll often see the attic ladder attached to a door for access to a loft. They will articulate on hinges so that they can reach the floor at an angle. They provide a quick way to get into this space without the hassle of hauling another ladder around the house. They share features with a permanent model as this is its only function.
7. Platform Ladder
A platform ladder combines the convenience of a step ladder with the comfort of a place to stand along with a guardrail for added safety. You’ll find this model a godsend if you’ll be working in an area for an extended period. Your feet will thank you. You’ll fsee them as both stationary or mobile with caster wheels.
8. Flexible Ladder
Flexible or rope ladders have limited uses. You may see them used for recreational purposes such as caving. Some models act as escape routes that you’d use to exit a dangerous situation. As an aside, we’ll mention that climbing one is not as easy as it may look. You need some major upper body strength.
B. Ladder Materials
What a ladder is made of will factor into several aspects of your buying decision including cost and typical use. That’s why it’s important to think about the types of projects where having a ladder is handy or essential.
Aluminum stands out as an excellent material for several types of ladders for many reasons. First, it’s strong. It can take a lot of punishment and stay intact. Second, it’s lightweight. That’ll make a big difference when you’re hauling one back and forth. Finally, it’s affordable.
Source: Ace Hardware
About 47 percent of the aluminum in the United States is recycled. The rate is considerably higher than the overall percentage of 34.3 percent. Instead of mining it, Americans reuse it which contributes to the cost savings.
However, aluminum has one glaring downside. Since it’s a metal, it can conduct electricity. It’s a no-go if you’re going to use it near electrical equipment or wires. The risk isn’t worth it. Other materials offer better choices.
Wood is probably the most common and popular choice of the types of ladders. It shares many of the advantages of aluminum. It is an affordable option that is easy to find at any home improvement or hardware store retailer. It does conduct electricity so that you can use it safely anywhere you need a better reach.
On the downside, it’s heavy. Depending on the type, it can weight twice as much as a comparable aluminum ladder. Then, there’s the longevity of the product. A wood ladder will deteriorate if left out in the elements. That is something that must not happen.
On a side note, they cannot have any kind of opaque coating except for appropriate labeling as per Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OHSA) regulations. It goes back to safety. It needs to be apparent what it is made of to avoid its use where it would be hazardous.
Fiberglass offers a nice compromise to some of the disadvantages of using the other models. It’s strong and can take rough handling. It doesn’t conduct electricity like aluminum. It’s durable and will last the distance. It is a bit more expensive than the other types, but the benefits may outweigh the added cost.
This material has another standout feature that makes it worth considering, especially if you do outdoor work. Aluminum ladders will reflect the ambient temperature. It won’t be pleasant grabbing onto a metal ladder in the middle of winter or a hot summer day. Another to bear in mind is the length. After 25 feet, these ladders start to get unwieldy.
Steel ladders are not a typical choice for the DIYer. Rather, they are something you’d see in a warehouse. They offer several advantages. They are resilient and can handle heavy loads which makes them a practical option. While they are strong, they’re also heavy. Proper storage is imperative to prevent rusting.
You may also find plastic ladders made of polyester resin with glass-fiber reinforcement. They offer a cheaper alternative that may be suitable for some situations. The construction of these ladders is subject to similar regulation as other materials which we’ll discuss later.
C. Duty Ratings
You’ll find that ladders are regulated on several fronts with required labeling. One thing you’ll see is the Duty Rating which gives its maximum weight capacity. They are as follows:
- Type IAA (Extra Heavy Duty), 375 pounds
- Type IA (Extra Heavy Duty), 300 pounds
- Type I (Heavy Duty), 250 pounds
- Type II (Medium Duty), 225 pounds
- Type III (Light Duty), 200 pounds
Note that it refers to the total weight which includes whatever you’re hauling onto it too. As you may expect, your cost will vary with the type. You’ll find this spec on the side of any ladder you purchase.
These ratings reflect three general categories. The Type Is apply to industrial products. Type II are for commercial applications. And Type III is for household use. The important part of these ratings still lies with the weight capacity.
You’ll see a designation for the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) type. It is the official organization responsible for the rules on ladder design and construction. It regulates the information that must appear on the label including any specific guidelines or warnings. It varies with the type whether it is a wood ladder, metal one, or even a utility step stool.
Their rules cover a lot of ground including testing requirements. Look for products that are ANSI certified to ensure you’re getting a ladder that means these high standards. It’s a big deal in this industry, so you should be able to find this information easily.
E. Considerations for Buying a Ladder
Now, let’s delve into the factors you should think about when deciding which ladder to buy. We’ve touched on a few of the important ones such as electrical work. But practical considerations are part of the decision process too.
Getting the right ladder for the job is essential to using it safely. Each one has its limitations. Remember that its purpose is to help with the task at hand not to create a hazard. If you anticipate using it for simple things like painting, a stepladder offers an affordable option. Most will give you up to about 14 feet of reach.
For outdoor work, you might consider investing in an extension ladder instead or in addition to a stepladder for use inside your house. Also, think about how often you’ll use it realistically. If you only paint the exterior every few years, renting one might be a smarter choice.
It’s helpful to consider safety when deciding on the length of your ladder. Generally, you can reach four feet higher than its height. But that doesn’t mean stepping on the top cap of a stepladder. We’re talking two steps down from it. That’s where the duty rating goes into the equation to avoid it becoming too top heavy and unstable.
The situation differs with extension ladders. It’s not a matter of getting the length to match the maximum height. You’ll need some wiggle room to cover the portion that must extend beyond the height of the gutters for jobs like roofing. Taking into account your own position on the ladder, plan on getting one that is about twice the height you need to reach.
Weight is a double-edged sword. It adds stability to being on a ladder, but it also makes it a pain to lug around the house. It goes back to the material and your intended use when deciding between the types of ladders. If electricity is a factor, fiberglass is the way to go with the understanding that it is more of a beast compared to an aluminum model.
A ladder that is versatile is an ideal way to get the best value out of your purchase. While household models aren’t terribly expensive, it certainly doesn’t make sense to have several kinds when one could easily work with most projects. That’s where considering your usage, and the length of the ladder can help guide your choice.
Proper storage is more than just finding room for a ladder. It’s about preventing wear and damage that could make it unsafe to use. Foldable or articulated version offer handy solutions. Keep in mind the space you’ll need for a self-supporting one like a stepladder. The advantage with an extension ladder is that it takes a small amount of room for the length it provides.
II. More Details
A. OHSA Standards
OHSA identified falls as the number one cause of fatalities in construction. That’s why you’ll find all those safety labels on a ladder. The agency has its own set of standards that cover general requirements for all types of ladders, portable ones, fixed versions, and mobile stands and platforms. You’ll see their special labeling even for products meant for household use.
It covers things such as the spacing between rungs, clearance, and defects on any exposed surfaces. Other regulations outline safe usage, testing, and marking requirements. While it may seem like overkill, it’s sobering to remember that unintentional falls cause nearly 32,000 deaths each year. Many are preventable which is the real tragedy.
We’ve discussed the importance of taking care of your ladder from a safety perspective. Consider it like insurance. Before you use it, take the time to inspect it for any potential hazards like loose fitting or sharp edges. Look at the steps too to make sure they’re clean and dry. Some types will require additional maintenance.
Articulated ladders, for example, may require lubrication to keep them operating smoothly. It’s also a good practice to check the locks of the spreaders of stepladders and the hooks or ropes of an extension ladder regularly. Follow the manufacturer’s recommendations for care of other moving parts like pulleys. Safe operation depends on following these guidelines.
Manufacturers make ladders to last for the long haul thanks to the regulations set forth by ANSI. However, if it becomes damaged, it’s imperative to either fix it promptly or remove it from service. If a ladder becomes unusable, OHSA requires that it is tagged as dangerous to prevent injuries.
Even if you’re going to throw it in the trash, take the time to make sure no one uses it by breaking the rungs on both sides. Use a permanent marker to label fiberglass, steel, or aluminum ladders to make sure no one uses it accidentally.
C. Proper Usage
We couldn’t discuss the types of ladders without adding some remarks about safe usage even for the DIYer. While their rules apply to the workplace, there are several helpful tips from OHSA that you can use on your next project. The agency also has a Ladder Safety smartphone application available for both Android and iPhone.
1. Right Choice
The first rule of thumb is the right ladder for the job, considering the reach you’ll need. Don’t use a stepladder when an extension ladder is a better option. The risk exists with extending beyond the intended reach which can make it unstable. The safest way to climb and stay on a ladder is to keep your weight centered between the sides.
2. Stable Setup
Do not place one foot on your ladder until you have ensured that it is set up safely. That means it’s stable and sitting on even ground. Be careful about placing one indoors in any high traffic areas or doorways. If that’s where the work is, make sure and leave the door open or have a sign or cone placed around it to alert others to a hazard.
For a stepladder, that means making sure that the spreaders are fully extended and locked into place. You should never climb a closed stepladder. Likewise, position an extension ladder so that it has the solid support of where you’re bracing it. Make sure it doesn’t rock or sway. They should be one foot away from this area for every four foot of ladder.
The feet or shoes should have a firm stance. If the ground is soft, move it to another position or place it on some boards as long as they’re stable and provide an even surface.Inspect the area around the space you’ll place your ladder for other possible hazards when you’re climbing off of it.
And when it comes to stable, that term applies to you too. Don’t attempt to get on a ladder if you’re ill, sleepy, or otherwise impaired. Common sense is the best way to prevent accidents.
3. Three Points of Contact
A common adage in many fields that involve climbing or using ladders is to maintain three points of contact at all times. That means keeping either both feet and a hand or both hands and a foot on it always. That will help distribute your weight more evenly and prevent tipping. For added safety, have someone hold the ladder at the bottom especially if you’re at your maximum reach.
The price of the ladder will depend on the Duty Rating, ANSI type, kind, material, and design. Products meant for more technical work will often have accessories and additional features that will drive up the cost. Let your typical use guide your choice so that you don’t pay for bells and whistles that you won’t need.
You can expect to pay anywhere from under $20 for a utility step platform to north of $300 for an extra heavy duty stepladder. Around $100 is on the low-end of the price point for an aluminum extension ladder. A longer fiberglass model will top $400 and more.
You’ll find setting a budget easier if you home in on a type and go from there. Verify the important details like capacity, OHSA compliance, and ANSI certification before settling on a particular product. Even if you’ll use it just for work at home, it pays to invest in the safest product you can for the money.
III. Where to Buy Ladders Online
Now that you know what features to consider, it’s time to do some shopping and find the right ladder for you. There are several excellent online retailers that offer well-made products at affordable prices. Here are a few of our favorites.