We Know: All About Buying the Right Ladder

Types of Ladders

The first thing you need to do when choosing a ladder is identify your need. Are you looking at ladders for your boat, or do you need to clean the gutters? Perhaps you need to paint the ceiling.

There are two basic types of ladders: rope ladders and rigid ladders. Rope ladders are generally used when the primary need is quick compact storage and the ladder can be secured at the top; the most common use is in a boat. A rigid ladder is used when it's impossible or impractical to secure the ladder at the top, but access to a high point is necessary.

Rope ladders are basically all the same, except for length and strength. You may choose a rope ladder that has wooden or other rigid rungs; if you do, be certain to treat the rungs with something to make them less slick. Rope ladders require a little practice to use properly.

Rigid ladders come in several different varieties.

Types of Rigid Ladders

  • Fixed ladder, or two stiles (the side panels) joined by several rungs, with no moving parts
  • Extension ladder (a ladder that can be slid together for storage or apart for better length)
  • Stepladder (forms inverted V, and may have rungs on both sides)
  • Platform steps (stepladder topped with a small platform)
  • Telescopic ladder (Similar to an extension ladder, this ladder has stiles of concentric tubing that slide inside one another for compact storage)
  • Roof ladder (rigid ladder with hook at the top so that it anchors well to a pitched roof)

There are also several ladder types used almost exclusively in firefighting.

Ladder Construction Materials

Once, almost all ladders were made of wood. Today, most ladders are made from aluminum. You can also get fiberglass ladders, which are much safer for working on or near electrical wires; wood is also safe around electricity, but it's more expensive and not as sturdy as fiberglass.

Using Your Ladder

Before buying a ladder, you should consider how and where you're going to use your ladder. Don't assume you can safely use a stepladder like a fixed or extension ladder; the feet of a folded stepladder are not as secure when leaned against a wall as those on a fixed or extension ladder.

When you stand on a ladder, the top rung should be no lower than your waist. This will affect the length of the ladder you buy.

Rigid ladders will need to be angled about 15 degrees away from the wall; if it's steeper, you may fall off, and if it's less steep, the feet may slide away from the wall. If you need a less steep ladder, you can get a ladder stabilizer, which will increase your ladder's grip on the ground. Take this angle into consideration when looking at heights for your ladder.

At the top of the wall, a ladder standoff or stay will keep your ladder away from the wall, avoiding gutters and other unstable bases. It will also increase the usable length of your ladder.

Don't buy a ladder that is more than fifteen feet high unless you know what you're doing. You can die from a ladder fall of no more than ten feet. Take every precaution to secure your ladder and your safety before you climb it. Always have one hand free to hold on, and make sure you have a platform of some sort at the top to hold your work materials.

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