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How to Choose the Right Ladder


Choosing the right ladder can be more complicated than it looks on the surface. There is certainly a temptation to try and find a “one size fits all” product to match everything that you need a ladder to do. In some cases, you can make that work. If you’re a general contractor or DIYer with a variety of tasks, you need to know the benefits and limitations of the products you’re looking at. We’re going to take a look at the four most common types of jobsite ladders to help you decide which one(s) are best suited for the kind of work that you do.

So kick back and take a look at the different options you have to choose from. Also, consider the examples that we have from Werner, Little Giant, and DeWalt that go beyond the basics in their designs and features. As you look through the different styles, there are three questions about the features that you need to consider:

How high do I need to reach? Each style will have a different safe working height. Remember that in general, the top 2 feet (3 feet on extension ladders) or so are unusable to stand on, though they can have features to hold and organize your gear.

What is the ladder’s duty rating? How much weight it can bear (worker plus gear) is key in your selection. This should match up with OSHA standards, so be sure check on that.

What is it made out of? Aluminum and fiberglass are by far the dominant materials. While aluminum tends to be lighter, fiberglass is king if you’re going to be working around electricity. For more safety tips and OSHA regulations, check out our Ladder Safety article!

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Choose the Right Ladder: Step Ladders

Step ladders are the classic A-frame style that almost all of us saw in our Dad’s garage. Readily available in both aluminum and fiberglass models, step ladders are the dominant choice for low and medium height jobsite applications. Almost every pro has at least one step ladder in their arsenal due to the variety of spaces that it can work in and it’s ability to be free standing.

DeWalt’s DXL3810-06 is a 6 foot step ladder that goes beyond ordinary. While it looks like a traditional stepladder, it’s actually built much more ruggedly. The construction is so rugged, that it carries a 500 pound weight bearing capacity. The spreaders actually wrap around the frame, improving the durability. You’ll notice that the steps are also wider than normal. This makes for more comfort on your feet. Like many modern step ladders, DeWalt’s top has slots and holes for tools. It also includes a magnet to keep items like screws from falling away.

Dewalt A Frame Ladder

Adding some versatility to the A Frame style ladder is Little Giant’s SelectStep Fiberglass 5-8. The front and rear of the frame expand to go from a 5 foot step ladder to an 8 footer in one foot increments. Adjustable height is only the beginning though. If you’re working on uneven surfaces like stairs, only adjust the height of one side to keep the ladder level and safe for working.

How to Choose the Right Ladder

Benefits:

  • Free standing
  • A-frame folds easily for transport
  • Most popular and can be found in any retail store
  • Readily available in fiberglass or aluminum

Limitations:

  • Largest sizes are 14 – 16 feet
  • Most require flat, firm surfaces to work from
  • Can be uncomfortable for work that takes time standing in one place

Choose the Right Ladder: Podium and Platform Ladders

How to Choose the Right Ladder

Podium and Platform ladders are close brothers to, and are often considered, step ladders. Instead of a consistent step style all the way to the top, these remove the last couple of rungs in favor of a larger standing area. Platform ladders will have the top of the ladder at roughly the same point as a traditional step ladder, leaving plenty unobtrusive work area in front and overhead. Podium ladders, on the other hand, extend the top of the ladder higher to around hip height. These often include features that hold and organize the tools that you take up there with you, keeping them at an easy reach.

Take a look at Werner’s PD62-0206 8′ Podium Ladder. It’s got the same working height as an 8 foot step ladder, even without the extra rungs. The larger base is more comfortable than a traditional rung and more convenient than lugging scaffolding around. The 4x work zone means that you can work in any direction around the standing base. Their LOCKTOP guard rail holds a variety or hand tools, hardware, and even a drill or impact driver. The Type 1A Duty Rating means that it is certified for a total weight bearing load of 300 pounds. It’s an outstanding option for anyone that needs to have their attention focused on what their hands are doing over their balance. HVAC installers will love the comfort and the fiberglass construction means that electricians and cable installers can join in.

 

Benefits:

  • Wide standing base is more comfortable
  • Free standing
  • A-frame folds easily for transport
  • Readily available in fiberglass or aluminum

Limitations:

  • Largest sizes are 14 – 16 feet
  • Most require flat, firm surfaces to work from

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Choose the Right Ladder: Extension Ladders

How to Choose the Right Ladder

Extension ladders are the top choice when it comes to reaching high places. They can reach lengths of 60 feet or more. However, you won’t be able to reach that high. These ladders require a solid vertical object to lean against. OSHA requires that the distance from what you are leaning against to the base of the ladder be 1/4 the working height of the ladder. In other words, your 60 foot ladder end up reaching about 58 feet high due to the angle it creates by leaning against the object. The heights that you can reach with an extension ladder can be intimidating to some workers. Check out these tips from The Family Handyman on making extension ladder use safer and more stable.

The Werner D7224-2 is part of their Lightweight Fiberglass Extension Ladder family. It’s 1AA Duty Rated for up to 375 pounds of load bearing. While still maintaining the highest duty rating, this model also reduces weight by up to 12% over similar sized extension ladders. They’ve also used D-rungs, which are more comfortable on your feet than round ones. A rope and pulley system makes extending and retracting the longer ladders like Werner’s easier. Like all ladders, the entire length isn’t usable for working space due to safety considerations. That means that this 24 foot extension ladder has a working length of 21 feet.

The Little Giant SumoStance is another example of an extension ladder. This one adds in features over and above the norm. The outrigger legs improve stability and offer the ability to level the ladder on uneven ground. Built in bubble levels help ensure that you are at the correct distance from the leaning point to meet OSHA requirements without having to measure. They’ve even moved the pulley and cord to the side. This allows them to utilize a second pulley and make extending the ladder noticeably easier.

How to Choose the Right Ladder

Benefits:

  • Highest reach
  • Multiple sections collapse to reduce overall length for transport and storage
  • Readily available in aluminum or fiberglass

Limitations:

  • Can be cumbersome to carry and transport
  • Requires a solid vertical object to lean against
  • Longest lengths are around 60 feet
  • Thinner rungs make working from the ladder uncomfortable on your feet

Choose the Right Ladder: Multi-Purpose Ladders

For professionals that don’t need the extreme reach of extension ladders, the multi-purpose ladder is a very versatile option. Imagine if you took an extension ladder and added hinges so that it can fold up. That’s the basic idea of the multi-purpose ladder. Some fold halfway and are able to transform between step ladder and extension ladder. The angles that it can be set at are variable, so this is the best option when you need to work on stairs or other uneven surfaces. Other styles fold in two places and can be used as an extension ladder or as scaffolding. The most versatile have 3 folding points and can be used as an extension ladder, step ladder, or scaffolding. Some even have telescoping sections to create additional sizes of step ladder or extension ladder.

Take a look at the Little Giant Alta-One. Notice the pivot point at the top instead of a traditional A Frame top. This allows the multi-use ladder to swing out completely and become an extension ladder. It can create a number of angles between it’s A Frame stance and 180 extension ladders to work on uneven ground. It can even kick out at 90 degrees to act as scaffolding using an open window frame or other solid structure to lean on. Little Giant adds some additional versatility to the Alta-One series by making it adjustable in height, similar to what we saw the the SelectStep above.

How to Choose the Right Ladder

Adding a second and third hinge like the Werner M1A Series gives you the flexibility to have an A Frame step ladder, extension ladder, and stand alone scaffolding. As an A Frame ladder, the outside two hinges are locked at 180 degrees. You only swing the middle hinge to the angle you need it, including for uneven surfaces. To create an extension ladder, swing all of the hinges out at 180 degrees. For scaffolding, you’ll swing the outside hinges at 90 degree (or a little more) and leave the middle at 180. You’ll need to remember to have an appropriately sized plank to put on the portion that you’re standing on.

How to Choose the Right Ladder

 

Benefits:

  • Versatility makes for a combination of extension ladder, step ladder, and scaffolding
  • Combined ability allows for low, medium, and medium-high working heights
  • Variable angle allows for use on uneven surfaces

Limitations:

  • Fiberglass models are not common
  • Longest lengths are about 24 feet
  • A plank is required to use as scaffolding
  • Additional complexity can be more pricey than basic step ladders or extension ladders

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Braden BillsSavedby Grace on Facebook Recent comment authors
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Braden Bills
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I want to make sure that I get the right ladder for my construction project. I didn’t know that fiberglass was such a good choice! Ladders are the kind of thing that you don’t want to be cheap with, after all!

Savedby Grace on Facebook
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Pretty neat to see some of the innovations built into the ladders used for this article. If you’re used to just the basics, check it out!