Like most homeowners, I found out a long time ago I can’t get by with just one ladder. Especially not that rickety old aluminum stepladder I found in my garage—though I tried for awhile. You’re likely going to need at least two ladders to get your basic DIY stuff done (unless you go with a multipurpose ladder: more on that later).
I’ve spent 30+ years buying and trying all kinds of ladders (thanks, neighbors!) for all kinds of maintenance and repair jobs around my house. Here’s my quick take on them, a sort of Ladders 101.
Stepladders are a must-have for most homes, especially for indoor work when you need to reach ceiling height to paint, change recessed light bulbs, clean ceiling fans, etc. You can use a smaller step stool for some ‘easy reach’ jobs, but I prefer a stepladder for anything where I’m shifting my weight around much at all.
With four feet on the ground, stepladders offer the most stability when used correctly. They’re available in a variety of heights, so you can find one that works for you even if you have higher or vaulted ceilings.
There are a ton of good options, but for overall value, stability and ease-of-use, I like the Little Giant Flip-N-Lite shown here. It’s sturdy, but weighs only about 8 lbs—and trust me, weight matters when you’re hauling your ladder around, or moving it every few minutes when painting.
It has a grab bar to steady yourself, and a platform, which makes jobs like painting easier.
Straight or extension ladders
Straight or extension ladders. Unless you have an unusually tall stepladder, a straight ladder or an extension ladder is pretty much a necessity for outside work. Getting on your roof, cleaning out gutters, painting above 8 feet—basically anything that gets you significantly off the ground.
I’ve used a 10-foot Louisville fiberglass straight ladder for years (Amazon link below). It makes getting on my roof easy, and I couldn’t clear the gutter slime without it. It’s fairly lightweight but built hard-core, so it’s held up well even for a bigger guy like me.
If you have a two-story house, you’re going to need something more like a 20-26′ extension ladder if you’re daring enough to go that high. I’ve put a link to one of Louisville’s longer ladders here, too. Also, I use a ‘standoff’ attachment (link below) when I’m cleaning my gutters so I don’t dent or scratch them. It’s about $30.
Telescoping ladders are kind of a newer thing and I have to admit they’re pretty cool. You could actually use one of these instead of a straight or extension ladder. They feel a tad more ‘flexy’ to me, so I’ve stuck with what I’ve got.
You can adjust the height, which is kind of novel and useful. These are clearly a great option for people with limited storage space because they collapse to only about 2 feet high—and face it, not everyone has a garage wall available to hang a ladder.
They’re also useful if you need to haul a lightweight ladder around to different sites. Depending on size, they generally weigh between 20-30 lbs, so they’re easy to pull in and out of a trunk. I have a friend who’s a home inspector getting on roofs all day and he swears by the Lifewit brand.
One note: with all the telescoping and un-scoping, you have to be careful about pinching fingers.
Multipurpose ladders are just like they sound, designed to do the work of many types of ladders. There are several variations, but most feature joints that fold and lock into place so that it works as a stepladder, an extension ladder and even as scaffolding. The basic idea is that you’d use one of these instead of several other ladders. But I have friends who have a multipurpose ladder, or combination ladder as they are sometimes called in addition to a regular ladder because they’re so flexible in their uses. I had one for a year but found it kind of heavy and awkward to haul around because it weighed about 45 pounds, so I traded it to a friend. He loves it, but if I had to recommend one, online comments and specs make the Little Giant ‘Alta One’ look like a winner. It has wheels—genius!
Don’t forget about load, rating and safety
When you’re buying—and using—a ladder, very important: don’t forget to consider the load capacity and check the duty rating. How much do you weigh, plus how much do the materials you’re carrying up the ladder weigh? Almost all ladders show you the weight capacity and rating in the main specs.
And of course, remember to bone up on basic ladder safety tips if you don’t know them. Literally thousands of people are injured or killed every year from doing it the wrong way.
So be safe, and happy climbing. Hope this helps!