How to Choose the Right Ladder

Simplify decorating, repairs, and gutter maintenance with the right ladder.

Using a ladder to replace a light fixture

Klaus Vedfelt / Getty Images

Ladders are a commonly used tool around the home, in commercial businesses, and throughout the industrial sector. A basic, single-section ladder consists of two rails and a series of evenly spaced rungs for the user to step on as they climb up the ladder, though there are many different variations on this design including stepladders, extension ladders, telescopic ladders, and multi-function ladders.

These five common ladder types can be further separated by material, height, and weight capacity. Wood, aluminum, and fiberglass are the most popular material options, while the height of the ladder can extend from just three feet for a small stepladder to well over 20 feet for an extension ladder. The weight capacity typically ranges from about 200 pounds to 375 pounds, so make sure to check the products specifications to avoid purchasing a ladder that cannot support the user's weight.

Before Buying a New Ladder

A ladder is a tool that is designed to support the weight of the user and any items they are wearing or carrying. It typically has a broad base with feet that can shift slightly to sit flat on softer surfaces, like grass. If there are any issues with your existing ladder, like loose rungs or significant rust damage, it's recommended to look for a new ladder instead of attempting to make repairs to your existing ladder.

Given the role a ladder plays in supporting and balancing the user as they climb, it's important to have a reliable product that won't fail when you need it most. The CDC reports that more than 500,000 people are treated for ladder-related injuries and, of these individuals, 300 people die each year, so it's necessary to take ladder safety seriously.

Buying Considerations for Ladders

Height and Reach

One of the first factors to consider when you are looking for a new ladder is the height or reach of the ladder. Keep in mind that the ladder must be set up at an angle for the user to climb up the rungs without the ladder falling backwards. This means that the height of the ladder or length of the ladder needs to exceed the height of the roof. Ideally, a good climbing angle when using a ldder is in the range of 70-75 degrees. Additionally, when the ladder is set up, it should extend at least three feet above the edge of the roof to ensure the user has ample space to climb off or to climb onto the ladder.

Weight Capacity

As with any furniture, objects, vehicles, or tools that the user sits, stands, or lays on, a ladder has a maximum weight capacity that it is intended to support. Light-duty ladders for simple household tasks may only be able to support up to 200 pounds, while heavy-duty ladders for professional construction work can be rated to support as much as 375 pounds. This maximum capacity is not limited to the user's weight, it also includes the weight of any objects the user is wearing or carrying when they ascend or descend the ladder.

Duty ratings include the following categories:

  • Type III (200 lbs. load limit)
    Economical design for lightweight use.
  • Type II (225 lbs. load limit)
    The basic design for simple projects.
  • Type I (250 lbs. load limit)
    Designed to handle most projects and jobs.
  • Type IA (300 lbs. load limit)
    Rugged performance designed with professional use in mind.
  • Type IAA (375 lbs. load limit)
    Maximum performance and durability for the toughest professional or home use jobs.


Older ladders tended to be big, heavy wooden products that were great for support, but lacked the simple, lightweight maneuverability of modern aluminum or fiberglass ladders. If you will only be using the ladder once or twice a year to climb up to the roof and access holiday decorations, then maneuverability probably isn't a high priority. However, if you are regularly using a ladder to reach high objects indoors, trim trees in the yard, or maintain the gutter system, then it's a good idea to invest in a ladder that is easy to move or reposition. Consider investing in a telescopic ladder that has all the height of an extension ladder, but collapses down into itself to help save space and improve maneuverability.

Ladder Types

There are several common ladder types that are used inside and outside the home, including single-section ladders, stepladders, extension ladders, telescopic ladders, and multi-function ladders.

Single-Section Ladder

The most basic type of ladder is the single-section ladder, which consists of two feet at the base, two rails that extend up either side of the ladder, and several evenly spaced rungs for the user to step on as they climb. This ladder is designed to lean directly against an object. Set the base one foot away from the building for every four feet of height, following the 1 in 4 rule.


A stepladder is typically used indoors to access cupboards, light fixtures, and other objects or items that are otherwise too far out of reach. These ladders have a traditional A-frame design with one side made with evenly spaced rungs for the user to climb on and the other side serving as support so that the ladder does not need to be leaned up against an object or building. The ladder folds up for compact storage when it's not in use.

Extension Ladder

Extension ladders are an improvement on the single-section ladder. They are typically made of two or three single-section ladders that are connected in order to extend the length or reach of the tool. The sections are deployed in a cascading manner and lock in position to prevent the ladder from slipping. However, these ladders can be bulky and difficult to maneuver.

Telescopic Ladder

To help solve the maneuverability problem of extension ladders, some manufacturers offer telescopic ladders. These ladders are also capable of extending up in order to improve the reach of the tool, but when the job is done, the sections collapse down into the ladder, making it easier to move, reposition, or store.

Multi-Function Ladder

A multi-function ladder isn't commonly used around the home, but they are helpful on busy job sites. This type of ladder has lockable hinge joints and several ladder sections that can fold over to form an A-frame stepladder, extend straight up to be used as a simple extension ladder, or the sections can even be set up as a support for scaffolding.


Find a good quality ladder isn't cheap, but with proper care and maintenance, these tools can last for up to 20 years before they need to be replaced. Single-section, extension, and telescopic ladders typically range from about $100 to $300 on average, though some heavy-duty products can exceed this price range. Multi-function ladders are the most expensive option available, with some products costing as much as $600. Stepladders are significantly smaller than the other common ladder types, so these products tend to cost less. Expect to pay about $50 to $200 for a stepladder, depending on the exact length of the product.

Some online stores carry inexpensive ladders that look like a great bargain, but just keep in mind that you will be relying on the ladder to support your weight at a potentially dangerous height. So it may be best to spend a little more to get a high-quality product that won't buckle or collapse when you need it most.

How to Choose a Ladder

Take your time choosing a ladder for the projects around the home and consider whether you need just one ladder for outdoor use or if it would be beneficial to have a second ladder that can be used indoors. If you aren't sure about which ladder would be best for your home, ask yourself these important questions to help narrow down your choices.

What Type of Ladder Do You Need?

There are many types of ladders to choose from, so figuring out which type you need or want is a necessary step in narrowing down the potential products. Single-section ladders and stepladders are common options for household use, though depending on the height of the roof, you may need an extension ladder or telescopic ladder for outdoor repairs and maintenance. Most DIYers won't need a multi-function ladder, but the flexibility of these tools is highly effective for electricians, carpenters, and masonry professionals.

What Is a Suitable Weight Capacity?

Ladders are designed to help you reach areas or objects that are otherwise too high up, but the length of the ladder isn't the only factor that needs to be considered. In order for you to safely climb the ladder, it's important that your overall weight (including any items you are carrying) falls below the weight limit of the ladder. Modern ladders are available in a range of weight capacities, from just 200 pounds for lightweight use around the home to professional use ladders that can support up to 375 pounds. Check the product specifications and select a ladder that is suitable.

What Is the Height of the Roof?

When you are looking for a new ladder, one of the most important factors to determine is the height of the roof or target object that you want to use the ladder to reach. If you want a stepladder for the kitchen, then consider the height of the refrigerator, cupboards, and any other objects that may otherwise be out of reach. If the ladder is for outdoor work, then find a product that can extend at least three feet above the height of the roof. This extra length will make it easier to climb onto the ladder and to climb off of the ladder onto the roof.

Ladder top step
Keith Getter / Getty Images
  • What is the 1 in 4 rule for ladders?

    When you are setting up your ladder, the 1 in 4 rule helps to ensure that the ladder will sit at the appropriate angle to support your weight. The base of the ladder should be one foot away from the building for every four feet of vertical climb up the building. For example, you should place the base of the ladder about three feet away from the building if the roof is about 12 feet in height.

  • What is the biggest cause of ladder accidents?

    The most common cause of ladder accidents isn't a loose rung or faulty construction, it is human error. Mistakes made by the user related to ladder safety have led to the most ladder-related accidents, including positioning the ladder on uneven ground, attempting to carry heavy toolboxes or tool bags up and down a ladder, or trying to work on the top rung of the ladder instead of purchasing a ladder with the appropriate height.

  • What precautions can help prevent against ladder accidents?

    Before each use, it's recommended to inspect the ladder to ensure that it is in good working condition. Set up the ladder so that the base is one foot away from the building for every four feet of height, and make sure to always maintain three points of contact while climbing the ladder. Another important precaution is never using the top rung as a step and you should avoid placing the ladder on an unstable or uneven surface. Use a spotter to help steady the ladder. They can also call for help in the case of an emergency.

Article Sources
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  1. Simeonov, P., & Webb, S. (2017). It’s National Ladder Safety Month. Retrieved 11 July 2022, from