Buying Guide

Types of Ladders

Ladder Types Including Height and Reach
Man standing on a ladder to paint.

There are numerous ladder types to choose from to suit your needs, with many homeowners opting for more than one. Learning about each of the different types of ladders will help you do your job safely and efficiently.

  • Step ladders are one of the most common types. They are self-supporting ladders that can be used anywhere and are handy for common household tasks and more. One type of step ladder is the twin stepladder which allows two people on the ladder at once.

Step ladder height = Estimated reach above the ground

6 foot ladder = 10 foot reach

8 foot ladder = 12 foot reach

10 foot ladder = 14 foot reach

  • Multi-position ladders are ladders that can be manipulated into any positon, and because of this are often referred to as folding ladders. Depending on how you adjust these ladders, you can set them up as a step ladder, extension ladder, scaffolding, saw horse and more. These ladders are multi-facted and very useful when tackling many projects at once.

Multi-position ladder height = Estimated reach above the ground

17 foot ladder = 18 foot reach

21 foot ladder = 22 foot reach

25 foot ladder = 26 foot reach

  • Extension ladders (sometimes referred to as straight ladders) are tall ladders that are not self-supporting and must lean up against a stable support surface. They are most often used outdoors for painting, accessing the roof or reaching high places.

Extension ladder height = Estimated reach above the ground

16 foot ladder = 15 foot reach

24 foot ladder = 23 foot reach

28 foot ladder = 27 foot reach

  • Platform ladders are similar to step ladders but have a platform at the top. This platform gives you greater range of movement while reducing worker fatigue. These ladders also have a top rail guard above the platform that helps stabilize the ladder when in use.

Platform ladder height = Estimated reach above the ground

8 foot ladder = 12 foot reach

10 foot ladder = 14 foot reach

12 foot ladder = 16 foot reach

  • Attic ladders are retractable ladders that lead up to the attic and usually come with your home. They are available in sizes that can fit ceiling heights of seven to nine feet, 10 to 12 feet or over 12 feet.
  • Step stools can help reach high cupboards and shelves. The are available with one, two or three steps.
  • Fire escape ladders can be rolled up and stored in bedrooms to help escape in the event of a fire or other hazards.
  • Leaning ladders are ladders that were designed specifically so they can lean up against a wall, studs and even poles. 
  • Podium ladders increase your work zone by letting you face any direction to do your work. They have extra large platforms and a longer guardrail so you can work efficiently while also feeling safe and secure.
  • A telescoping ladder features a system that extends to full height when needed and retracts back into a compact form for storage. It can be used as a twin step ladder, an extension ladder, a stairway step ladder or two scaffold bases. The more you extend this type of ladder, the higher and heavier it gets. The weight of these ladders is dependent on the height. The maximum height of most telescoping ladders is 14 1/2 feet.
Fiberglass vs. Aluminum Ladders
An aluminum ladder.

Whatever your job, it should be completed using a ladder made of a material most appropriate for your job. Choosing the correct ladder material for your job is extremely important for the completion of your job and for your safety.

Most ladders are constructed of aluminum or fiberglass, while some are even constructed of wood.

  • Aluminum ladders are lightweight, making them easy to transport, and are non-corrosive. They should not be used near power lines or electrical wiring because they are made of metal and conduct electricity. Using this type of ladder around electricity would endanger your life. 
  • Fiberglass ladders are non-conductive, so it's safe to use them near power lines and electrical wiring. They are also durable, weather-resistant, flame-resistant and built to last many years. Because fiberglass ladders are so durable, resistant to the elements and heavier than aluminum ladders, you will feel increased stability when using them.
  • Wood ladders are also non-conductive, but some are made with metal fasteners, making them unsuitable for power lines or electrical work. It is best to leave them unpainted so that any defects won’t go unnoticed.
Ladder Safety
A man standing on a ladder to work on drywall.

Each year, thousands of people are injured in falls and other accidents involving ladders. Take precaution by following these safety guidelines.    

  • When climbing a ladder, face the ladder with your body centered between the rails and maintain three points of contact (both hands and one foot, or two feet and one hand).
  • Carry tools and materials in a belt, apron or pouch.
  • Use a rope and bucket to pull up large, heavy or awkward items.
  • Do not lean off the side of the ladder.
  • Don't use a ladder in high winds. For other severe weather, if you still need to go up the ladder, have another person hold the ladder for security.
  • Make sure step ladders are completely open with hinges locked.
  • Double-check that locks are secured on a ladder that is adjustable or able to extend.
  • Regularly inspect ladders for loose rungs, dents, cracks or sharp edges.
  • Don't use a ladder that has been damaged or appears unsafe.
  • Only use a ladder on a solid, level surface.
  • Do not use ladders on ice or snow, or if they are wet.
  • Observe duty ratings that are posted on the ladder, which include weight limitations for each type of ladder.
  • Refer to the ladder height and reach for each ladder to ensure you're using the correct ladder for the job.
  • Make sure your ladder meets OSHA regulations and that you follow safety guidelines when using a ladder.
  • Use two people to safely carry a long ladder.
  • When carrying an extension ladder, the center should be balanced, resting on your shoulder with your arm through the ladder.
  • If you're dealing with electricity, make sure you use a fiberglass ladder.
  • Wear shoes with non-slip soles.
  • Make sure your body is centered while working on a ladder.
  • Don't skip steps when climbing down a ladder.
  • Don't stand above the highest level of the ladder.
Ladder Duty Ratings
Someone using the appropriate ladder for the job.

The ladder duty rating was created to ensure that DIYers use the correct ladder for the correct job. The ladder duty rating is separated into types that indicate the weight limit of each ladder and its appropriate usage. For example, you wouldn't use a Type 3 ladder for a job that requires a Type 1AA ladder. Type 3 is a basic ladder made for light, or household, duty, while Type 1AA is meant for professional use.

Look for the duty rating information posted directly on your ladder to ensure it is a good match for your needs. Also make sure that the weight of the user plus the materials being brought up the ladder is less than the specified weight capacity. 

Be careful when using twin step ladders and multi-position ladders. Twin step ladders are built for two individuals to use, so be aware of the duty rating and weight limitations of both individuals as well as the materials being used. A multi-position ladder's duty rating will vary depending on how you've adjusted your ladder. So make sure it's in the right position for the job at hand.

  • Type 3: Maximum weight of 200 lbs, light duty (household use)
  • Type 2: Maximum weight of 225 lbs, medium duty (painter and handyman, simple projects)
  • Type 1: maximum weight of 250 lbs, heavy duty (industrial, handles most jobs and projects)
  • Type 1A: maximum weight of 300 lbs, extra heavy duty (industrial, designed for professional use)
  • Type 1AA: maximum weight of 375 lbs, super duty (maximum durability for tough professional or home use)

Tip: Take into account the approximate weight of a few common items you'd need to bring up a ladder so you can accurately determine which ladder to use:

  • Portable sprayer: 20 lbs
  • Ceiling fan: 30 lbs
  • Tool box with tools: 35 lbs
  • Garage door opener: 40 lbs
  • 5 gallons of paint: 60 lbs
  • Basketball hoop: 60 lbs
  • Bundle of shingles: 70 lbs
  • 5-gallon roof coating: 70 lbs
  • 3- x 4-foot window: 80 lbs
  • Sheet of plywood: 80 lbs
  • Three 4- x 4-foot lumber boards: 80 lbs

Ladder Duty Ratings Chart
A chart of a ladder's specific Ladder Duty Ratings.

Please refer to our chart for a more comprehensive look at ladder duty ratings. 

Ladder Features
A ladder with a feature that can hold your tools.
  • Ladders with a flared base, or a base that extends farther out than typical ladders, offer extra support and stability. 
  • Extension ladders and ladders that can be adjusted have locks that ensure your safety.
  • Ladders with slip-resistant rungs or steps help prevent accidents.
  • Ladder height is important depending on your project. If your project is on the roof, for example, consider an extension ladder, a multi-position ladder or a platform ladder. If you simply need to reach a kitchen cabinet, a step stool may do.