Ultimate Guide to Buying Ladders

Ladders are one of the most used equipment at home and in industry. They are mobile, versatile, and can be used for a variety of jobs. Although ladders make many tasks easier to do, it is important to note that they can be a safety hazard. Up to 160,000 emergency room visits were recorded caused by ladder-related injuries. As such, choosing a ladder that suits your task requirements and is safe is crucial. 

With so many types and versions of ladders being offered, it can be a daunting task to choose the best ladder for you. Reading this guide will hopefully alleviate many of your confusions as it will cover factors to consider before types of ladders, buying a ladder, safety factors, ladder brands, and overall discussion on buying the right ladder for you.

Types of Ladders

Step Ladder

Step ladders are one of the most commonly used ladders. It is widely used because of its unique feature of being self-supporting and therefore can be used anywhere for a wide variety of purposes. 

Step ladders come in two types: front-step ladders and twin-step ladders. With a front-step ladder, the rungs on one side of the ladder are used for climbing up whereas the other side is used for support and is not used for climbing. However, with a twin-step ladder, as the name implies, both sides can be used for climbing. These ladders are perfect for scenarios where two people are required to perform a task on a ladder.

Straight Ladder

These are the original ladders that were made from bamboo and are the simplest type of ladders which has a parallel of two straight rails on each side and rungs in between. Since it is straight, it is not self-supporting and requires support from a wall or a pole. 

There are modern versions of this ladder that have wheels installed and are easily movable such as the ones in the library. They are good for construction jobs or for cleaning gutters. They come in fixed lengths.

Extension Ladder

The two ladders mentioned above come in fixed lengths meaning they have a fixed set of rungs. However, extension ladders, as the name suggests, are extendable and can double or triple the number of rungs or steps in a ladder. It has guided tracks and teeth which lock in securely the extended part of the ladder. However, they are straight ladders which means they require support.

Platform Ladder

A platform ladder is similar to a step ladder, however, the rungs are wider and it has a platform on the top to place any tools or supplies while working. This is because a step ladder’s rungs are slim which can cause discomfort and sometimes pain in the feet while working for prolonged periods and allow you to balance yourself much more easily. 

Some platform ladders are also equipped with guard side rails on either side of the ladder which allow you to ascend, descend, or adjust yourself easily.

Multipurpose Ladder

The name gives it all. A multipurpose ladder can be used for more than one purpose. They are packed with features and sometimes are a combination of different types of ladders we have discussed above and offer a bunch of functionalities such as being extendable and also having a platform on the top.

Depending on the purpose of this ladder, it may be self-supporting or require you to support it against a solid wall or pole. This type of ladder is suitable for hardcore maintenance, construction, or if you are a professional in the industry requiring frequent use of ladders.

Factors to Consider Before You Purchase a Ladder

This section will highlight what to look for when buying a ladder and help you determine what is the best ladder for you. Without further ado, let’s dive right in.

Suitability for the Task

The most important factor to consider is whether the ladder you are buying is suitable for the task you want to complete. Knowing the types of ladders, their safety standards, and their effectiveness is all useless if you are unsure of the purpose for which you want to use the ladder. As such, understand the task and its requirements and then proceed to make a purchase decision.

For example, even if have the tallest ladder in the world but you use it to hang pictures and drill holes in a wall, it is unsafe because you are not using it for the purpose it was designed for. The construction, design, and effectiveness of the ladder all go to waste because it’s not being used for its purpose, and it will be as bad as a shabby ladder.

Height Required

Of course, the primary purpose of a ladder is to reach those high areas. The height you need from a ladder is an important consideration as well because one of the most common reasons for ladder-related injuries is overbalancing and this happens when a user stands too high on a ladder. As such, it is vital to know the platform height (height from the floor to the platform the user can stand on) for each ladder and what size of a ladder to buy as it is key to ladder safety.

For example, the highest platform height that is safe on a step ladder is two steps below the top, and the maximum safe working height (height the user can reach) is usually 4 feet higher than the height of the ladder itself. This means that a normal person will be able to reach about 8 feet with a 4-foot step ladder.

Duty Ratings

Duty ratings were established to standardize safety standards governing the use of ladders in construction. They specify the load capacity or the maximum weight capacity that ladders can safely endure. These load capacities for each type of ladder were formulated as the sum of the following points:

  • Weight of the user
  • Weight of the clothing & protective gear worn by the user
  • Weight of tools & supplies used while on the ladder

Safety standards mandate ladder manufacturers to place a sticker indicating the duty rating of their ladder and the load capacity.

Many users assume that the higher the ladder, the greater the load capacity. However, this is no correlation between the two, and can cause safety hazards. Therefore, ensure that you check the duty ratings on the ladder before using it. 

Duty ratings are divided into five categories. 

Type I

Type I ladders are mostly used in professional services such as construction and public utilities. They are built in lengths of 3 to 20 feet and are considered heavy-duty use. Type I ladders are further sub-divided into three categories, each with their maximum load capacity:

  • Type I step ladders: maximum load capacity 250lbs
  • Type IA step ladders: maximum load capacity 300lbs
  • Typer IAA step ladders: maximum load capacity 375lbs

Type II

Type II ladders are used in commercial operations such as painting, decorations, electric work, and general maintenance. They are also built in lengths of 3 to 20 feet and are made with wood, aluminum, or fiberglass. Type II ladders carry a maximum load capacity of 225lbs and are considered medium-duty use.

Type III

Type III ladders are usually used in household chores and are only for light-duty use. They are built in lengths of 3 to 6 feet. Type III ladders carry a maximum load capacity of only 200 lbs.

Let’s summarize these duty ratings into a singular table:

Duty Ratings Maximum Load Capacity Duty use
Type IAA 375lbs Extra heavy duty
Type IA 300lbs Extra heavy duty
Type I 250lbs Heavy duty
Type II 225lbs Medium duty
Type III 200lbs Light duty

With this knowledge about duty ranking, you should be able to choose on that is suitable for you and what grade of a ladder is best.

Built Material

This is a factor many forget to consider before making a purchase yet it is equally important and can impact the effectiveness and safety of your ladder. Ladders can be manufactured in a wide variety of materials but the primary three are aluminum, timber, and fiberglass.

The purpose of using the ladder will determine the built material you will buy. For example, fiberglass ladders are usually more strong and do not conduct electricity, as such, they are perfect for users who work on electrical components or perform tasks related to electricity whereas aluminum ladders are lightweight, cheaper, and less likely to get damaged making them a great option for household tasks.

Built Material

Suitable Use

Pros

Cons

Aluminum

Household chores

  • Lightweight

  • Inexpensive

  • Lasts longer than wooden ladders

  • Conducts electricity & heat

  • Hollow rungs, more likely prone to damage

Fiberglass 

Professional services

  • Durable

  • Last longer than any of the other ladders

  • Doesn’t conduct electricity

  • Heavier than aluminum

  • Expensive

Steel

Industrial/warehouse

  • Most durable

  • Resistant to rotting

  • Less expensive than aluminum & fiberglass

  • Prone to damage from moisture, corrosion, and rust

  • Heavy

  • Regular maintenance

  • Conducts electricity & heat

Wood

Gardening

  • Solid & durable

  • Doesn’t conduct electricity when dry

  • Regular maintenance against splinters & warping

  • Not suitable for heavy-duty usage

Basic Ladder Safety

At the beginning of this article, we mentioned that over 160,000 emergency room visits are attributed to ladder-related injuries. Therefore, it is crucial that whenever you use a ladder, you follow certain safety protocols and have a mental checklist so that you reduce the chances of injuring yourself as much as possible. 

Inspect Before Using

This is a no-brainer. Before the user climbs up the ladder and begins working, they must always inspect and check the ladder for any damage as ladders over time acquire structural weakness and damage. The user should look out for:

  • Visible structural damage such as broken or bent rungs or rails, loose screws, hinges, or any parts
  • Grease or any material that can cause slips
  • Paints or any stickers that may conceal any structural damage

Ensure Physical Capability

The user of a ladder should be someone that is physically capable to use that ladder. This means that the person should be able to carry out medium-duty physical tasks, including good grip and strength, good balance, and solid walking speed.

Use a Flat and Stable Surface

This goes without saying that a surface that is flat and stable should be used. The surface should be able to support the weight of the ladder, the user, and the tools & supplies being used. In the case where the surface is soft, devices such as levelers, wide boards, etc. should be used.

Don’t Lean or Reach Away

Leaning or reaching away from the ladder will cause it to become unstable and lead to the person losing balance as well, this may put the user at risk of falling and injuring themselves. As such, always descend first before moving the ladder to the desired position.

3-Point Rule for Ladder Safety

The user should always maintain a three-point contact with the ladder for added safety. Three-point refers to two hands, one foot or one hand, two feet.

The 1:4 Rule

When extension ladders or ladders that require support are used, the angle of the ladder’s position should be in a ratio of 1 to 4. This means that the base of the ladder should be 1 meter away from the support for every 4 meters of height. 

With these rules in mind, you can safely work on a ladder and also look for compatibility with these rules to know which ladder is the safest.

Top Ladder Brands

Having the right ladder is vital, not only for completing your task effectively and efficiently but to also ensure your own personal safety and allow you to determine which brand ladder is best for home use. Here are some good ladder brands that are worth checking out:

Little Giant Ladders

Little Giant Ladders is a well-known ladder brand that began back in the 1970s in Utah, United States. The company has grown since then and is a household name. Little Giant considers the safety of its products to be the primary objective and continues to release innovative yet safe ladders in the market. 

One of Little Giant’s most famous products is the M17 Velocity with Wheels as it is one of the top-rated multi-purpose ladders out there that comes with the functionalities of a step ladder, extension ladder, and 90-degree ladder, all in one. It is sturdy and can be used for tasks indoors and outdoors as well. Another product by Little Giant is their Select Step, Step Ladder, it is a very sturdy product that is easy to maneuver, has a wide base, and is extendable up to 10 feet. If you want to work on even higher projects, then the M17 SkyScraper is perfect for you as it is sturdy, can reach up to 22 feet, and is great for high ceilings  

Louisville Ladder

Louisville Ladder has been in the industry of manufacturing ladders for over 70 years and is a reputable brand in the professional services or industrial use. Their aim is to manufacture easy-to-use yet sturdy ladders. 

Their best-selling ladder is the FS15 Fiberglass Ladder, it comes with a 300lbs maximum load capacity, has extra wide feet, and is fully braced front & back. Another popular ladder is their FM1506 Mixer which is a 6-foot shelf ladder made of fiberglass that comes with a raptor boot ladder shoe that offers great stability.

Werner

Werner, a brand of Werner Co, is a leading ladder manufacturer and is considered one of the best in the industry because of its safety, user-friendliness, reliability, and durability. Their 6208-step ladders are the best-selling that come in different sizes, it is sturdy, have feet that don’t scuff the floor, and are relatively lightweight. Another great product is their Werner 6204 which is a 4-foot fiberglass step ladder, great for tasks that don’t require you to reach too high and perfect for both indoor and outdoor projects.

COSCO

Cosco was established in 1935 as Columbus Speciality Company and produced metal household stools. Currently, it produces a wide range of home tools and appliances. It entered the ladder market in 2000 with its Connection and Signature Series. One of their top products is the COSCO 11880Pblw1 which is a 3-step platform ladder with wide rungs fitted with a heavy-duty polypropylene resin, making them slip-resistant. Another top-selling product is their COSCO 11308PBL1 which is a two-step folding stool that comes with a hand grip, it is lightweight, and is great for household chores such as cleaning. 

Top Ladders by Type

Step Ladders

Step ladders are great for home use as they are self-supporting and portable. There are many great step ladders out there. One of which is COSCO 11308PBL1E which comes in two variants, two-step and three-step; the built is alloy steel, has slip-resistant steps, and non-marring which do not scuff floors. 

Another is one the Little Giant Ladders, Jumbo Step, which comes in three-step and four-step variants, is lightweight as it is made of aluminum and has adjustable safety handrails which reduce any chance of safety hazards while working on the top. 

Laslty, the Werner 6204 300-Pound is a 4-ft step ladder that is made of fiberglass and excellent for drilling as it has a built-in drill holster. It supports 300-pounds of capacity, has rubberized steps, and is lightweight therefore easy to carry.

Extension Ladders

Extension ladders are great for reaching high places as they pack additional height in them. One of the top selling extension ladders is the Louisville Ladder Fiberglass Extension Ladder which offers up to 28 ft. height, has a capacity of 300-pounds, made of fiberglass, and is safe with the Steel Swivel Safety Shoe feature.

The Little Giant Ladders, HyperLite is another great option if you are looking for extension ladders. It comes in 24-ft and 28-ft variants, is lightweight, and made of fiberglass. It comes with a double pulley feature which allows the user to adjust the height easily and supports up to 300lbs weight.

Packed with features, the Augtarlion Aluminum Telescoping Extension Ladder comes in variants from 8.5 ft. to 15.5 ft. and is made of aluminum alloy materials. It is super compact, has an intelligent locking system which prevents any accidental hand damage, and great for household use.

Straight Ladders

Straight ladders require support and need to be leaned against a wall or a pole, however, they are great for any professional or industrial work as they allow the users to reach high. A top-selling straight ladder is the Louisville Ladder FE3232 which is made of fiberglass, reaches a maximum height of 29 ft., has marred rail end caps & safety shoe, and supports up to 300 lbs.

Although a product by a small business, it is of top-notch quality and has great reviews. The FAKRO LMS which is a simple straight ladder that is installed in attics. It is made of insulated steel and adjustable for 7ft and 8ft heights. It also comes with an wooden door frame which is well-balanced when opening & close, making it safe.

Platform Ladders

Platform ladders, as the name implies, have a platform installed at the top for your tools and supplies. The MoNiBloom 3-Step Folding Ladder–a hot selling platform ladder–comes in 3 and 4 step variants, is made of aluminum alloy & is corrosion-resistant and has resistant non-slip legs which prevent any wobbling and has a padded handle on the top for added safety.

The Little Giant Ladders, Sure Step is a 3-step platform ladder, made of fiberglass, is slip-resistant, and has oversized feet which add to the stability of the ladder. The steps are well-designed that are comfortable and both sides are climbable.

Multi-Purpose Ladders

Mutli-purpose pack all the features of the ladder types discussed above. A great multi-purpose ladder is the PAIFA Telesladder which comes in heights between 12ft and 21ft, made of high-grade aluminum alloy with great stability bars and non-slip foot pads. It is a combination of an extension and step ladder.

Another top-selling multi-purpose ladder is PRMAL Telescoping Ladder which is offered in sizes ranging from 11.2ft to 21.7ft, is extendable, and has an aluminum alloy built. It is compact and portable which allows the ladder to be used for household and professional uses.

Conclusion

Ladders are one of the most commonly used tools yet cause the most number of physical injuries which means it is important to understand their types and consider a bunch of factors before you purchase a ladder that is perfectly suitable. However, certain safety rules must always be followed before using a ladder to reduce any risk of injuries. Some of the top ladder brands include Little Giant, Louisville, Werner, and COSCO. We have also identified top ladders by type.