How to choose the right ladder for each job around the house

Dec 8, 2022, 3:00 PM
(Shutterstock Photo)...
(Shutterstock Photo)
(Shutterstock Photo)

We recently uncovered a statistic from the International Association of Certified Home Inspectors that in 2021 more than 164,000 emergency room visits and just over 300 deaths in the United States occurred from ladder accidents.

When Rosie heard this, he wanted to educate our readers and listeners on choosing the right ladder and instilling basic ladder safety. So, find some level ground, and let’s climb!

Types of ladders

While there are hundreds of manufacturers of ladders, there are only six basic ladder types.

Step ladder: This is perhaps the most common household ladder. Usually, five to eight feet in height for the homeowner, they can come as high as 20 feet. Taller ladders are typically used in commercial applications. These ladders hinge at the top bringing the two sides that form the structural V together for easy storage and transport.

Trestle ladder: This ladder is akin to the step ladder in how it folds for storage and is deployed. It is also available in lengths up to 20 feet. This ladder is structurally designed to accommodate two people, whereas a step ladder is not.

Fixed or straight ladder: Ranging from 4 feet to 20 feet high, this type won’t bend, fold, or extend. Store this one flat on wall hangers. Do not stand it up against the side of your house. Falling ladders can lead you to be added to the above statistics.

Extension ladders: Two fixed ladders are attached to each other with a sliding channel. When closed, they can be between 12 and 30 feet. These are adjustable in length, anywhere between their contracted length and full extension. Fully extended, they can be just shy of double their contracted length.

Multi ladder: Also popular with homeowners, multifaceted ladders can function as a two-sided step ladder, a straight ladder, a trestle ladder and a scaffold.

(Shutterstock Photo)

Above illustrates the different forms of ladders and scaffolds that can be created with this versatile tool. You will need to verify the weight capacity with the manufacturer for any ladder type you look at, especially these because this ladder type can support two people in some applications, but not all. Verify before you climb on.

Platform ladder: This ladder is a fixed height. They come in different heights and cannot be adjusted. These ladders are sold in the big box home improvement stores where we, as customers, are told to stay off of them. It should be noted that the multi-ladder can be deployed to utilize some of these functions. It is unlikely that you will find one of these platform ladders in your neighbor’s garage.

Other considerations

You need to determine the level of height you are comfortable with and the weight of the ladder for transport around your home. Think about the various tasks you need to perform utilizing a ladder as you choose the ladder design.


No ladder discussion should ever happen without a parallel discussion about ladder safety.

Let’s review some basics.

Outdoor use: Use of ladders outdoors requires a little more setup time. There’s no “oh that is good enough” or “I can make that work” in this situation. That attitude is on par with “hold my beer and watch this!”

Set up: When setting up the ladder, the first thing to do is make sure it is on level and solid ground. If one side or leg sinks into the soft dirt and the other doesn’t, you may be setting yourself up for a trip to the ER or worse. The solid, level ground principle applies to all ladder types, with no exceptions. If you are using your ladder indoors, that should not be an issue. If it is, then you have other problems to deal with.

Don’t strain to reach: Next, place the ladder where you need to work — not just barely close enough. Reaching or leaning while on a ladder can cause a fall. Rather than reaching, get down and move the ladder.

Fixed extension ladders: With fixed or extension ladders, the angle you choose is important. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration requires a proper ladder angle of 75.5 degrees. Most of us don’t walk around with protractors, so use the one-to-four rule. For every four feet in height you go up the wall, the ladder’s base should be one foot away from the base of the wall. The base of a 20-foot ladder would be five feet away from the base of the wall.

Weight capacity: Check the manufacturer’s weight capacity. This should be posted on the new ladder. If you borrow a ladder and the tag is worn off, do some research before using it.

Maintenance: Maintain the ladder. It is an investment. Different ladders will, of course, require various levels of maintenance. One with moving parts may need lubricant from time to time. Again, check with the manufacturer.

Keeping your ladder clean is also important. A buildup of paint, dirt, or any foreign matter can cause your feet to slip.

Think before you step: Lastly, the real cause of accidents is the user. Please take the time to consider your capabilities. Do heights make you a little dizzy? Do you have an injury that might restrict your ability? If so, projects requiring a ladder may not be for you. Hire a professional contractor licensed by the Arizona Registrar of Contractors.

Use this information when choosing the right ladder, and always keep safety first.

Join Rosie on the House every Saturday morning from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. on KTAR News 92.3 FM. If you’d like to send us questions or comments, email Follow us on Twitter and “Like” us on Facebook. For more do-it-yourself tips, go to An Arizona home building and remodeling industry expert since 1988, Rosie Romero is the host of the syndicated Saturday morning Rosie on the House radio program. Call 888-767-4348 with questions and comments.

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How to choose the right ladder for each job around the house