Encyclopedia & FAQ's

DIY Frequently Asked Questions / What Type of Ladder Should I Buy?

The major points to consider when selecting a ladder are:

  • The kind of activity involved—The intended activity will make the choice obvious. For example, a stepladder would be the choice to paint interior walls and ceilings, while an extension ladder usually is needed to paint outside. If the job involves more effort than usual, or will require more time on the ladder, you should probably by a platform ladder instead of a stepladder.
  • The demands of the application— All ladders are designed to hold a certain weight. Therefore, ladders are matched or “job-rated” to the physical demands of the application. For instance, a ladder used daily on a construction site obviously should have a sturdier construction than the ladder used a few times a year around the house. The most important factor is the rated load capacity—the aggregate working weight of the user, his clothing and his tools. For that reason, the duty rating is described in terms of pounds. (See Pro Corner for more information.) Every ladder’s duty rating is color-coded. A label in the appropriate color is prominently displayed on the side rail. Look for the proper duty ratings to match the highest level of use.
  • The height the ladder must reach so the climber may work from a safe position—Stepladders should be high enough for the user not to have to stand above the second step from the top. (The first step from the top carries a label warning the user not to stand there.) On extension ladders, the user should stand no more than four rungs from the top, which should extend 3’ above the work surface. The base of the ladder should be one-fourth the distance from the top support of the ladder to its bottom support.
  • The basic material from which the ladder is made—The most common materials for ladders are wood, aluminum and fiberglass.
  • Wood ladders are non-conductive when clean and dry. They also offer a natural, firm grip for the worker’s feet and hands. However, wood ladders are heavy.
  • Fiberglass ladders offer a favorable blend of the more desirable qualities of wood and aluminum. It’s non-conductive (like dry, clean wood) but made of sturdy modern materials (like aluminum). If you are planning to use the ladder in a variety of circumstances, a fiberglass ladder is the best choice.
  • Aluminum ladders are lightweight, provide excellent strength and offer reliable performance. Aluminum ladders are corrosion-resistant and require little if any maintenance. They conduct electricity, however, so they should never be used when working near electrical lines.