There are many types of ladders available, but the challenge is figuring out what type of ladder you actually need. We think you’ll find our ladder guide useful as it shows you a wide range of examples of ladders that you can buy. And, we cover ladder safety to make sure you don’t injure yourself.
What Type of Ladder Do You Need?
Ladders come a wide variety of shapes and sizes, and we understand it can be confusing. This is why we created this article on the different types of ladders that are common to homeowners. It’s essential to choose the right type of ladder for the task at hand.
This article covers some important guidelines for choosing and using ladders, including ladder safety, which is a must read if you’re not familiar with standard ladder usage.
What’s A Ladder?
Technically speaking, a ladder is any kind of structure designed for climbing up (or down), which consists essentially of two long, vertical sidepieces — commonly known as rails or stiles — joined together at equidistant intervals by horizontal crosspieces, also known as rungs or steps. They have been around for at least 10,000 years, and their earliest reference was discovered in a Mesolithic cave painting in Valencia, Spain. The painting features two people using a long, flexible ladder – possibly made of some kind of grass – to reach a wild honeybee nest.
However, we have come a really long way ever since those first two foragers devised a tool to gather food which was otherwise unreachable. Ladders have become one of many emblematic icons in human societies and civilisations. So much, that they are now used metaphorically for personal and professional growth. Having one of these structures is not enough, though, because just like with all tools, we need to know precisely how, when, and where to use them for optimal performance.
So, without further ado, let’s take a comprehensive look at all these different types of ladders and their categorizations. Essentially, they can be grouped by their concept, material, intended purpose, standard guidelines, safety configuration, and their respective variations. At the end of this article, you will have absolutely no doubt when choosing the optimal ladder for any case scenario.
What we’ll cover in this article:
- Types of Ladders By Concept.
- Types of Ladders By Material.
- Types of Ladders By Intended Purpose.
- National and International Manufacturing Guidelines.
- Ladder Accessories.
- Ladder Safety.
Video | Choosing the Right Ladder
Types of Ladders by Concept.
The most common type of ladder discussed in this article. It’s composed of hard materials for strength and durability. Rigid ladders come in many different shapes and sizes.
These are lightweight and easily transportable ladders, also known as Jacob’s ladders. Ideal for climbing curved surfaces, such as caves or in emergency situations as might be experienced on ship or boat. A flexible ladder can be fitted with either rigid or flexible rungs depending on the application. These are more difficult to use as they have a tendency to swing and move as you’re climbing but in many instances this type of ladder is the only option.
Nowadays, virtually all types of ladders available in the market for commercial and general purposes, are built and equipped to withstand Electrostatic Discharges (ESD) occurrences. An ESD is a natural phenomenon where an electrical current passes through a conductor (the human body is a great one) and discharges onto another object. Think of when you try to open a door and receive a small shock when touching the doorknob, that’s an ESD.
Dissipative ladders possess controlled electrical resistance, which slows the electrical transfer rate from point A to point B, providing increased protection from ESD occurrences.
Boarding and/or Pool Ladders:
Another common use for ladders is on the sides of boats and other aquatic vehicles, to climb into them from the water, and also in swimming pools. The steps are usually made of plastic with a rugged surface for a tighter grip and stainless steel (or other non-oxidant metal) rails for better user support.
Originally designed for special covert operations and for boarding moving vehicles. They have a wider design which provides greater user stability even in movement, and they can also be folded away and stored, requiring minimum space. Mostly made of aluminum or non-reflective black finishes, these ladders can be used when working in confined spaces where regular-sized ladders will not fit, or when dealing with more aggressive environments, such as severe weather inclemencies.
Video | Little Giant Assault Ladder/Ramp
The Little Giant 15310 can be purchased on Amazon.
Types of Ladders By Material
Arguably, the most important consideration to make when buying your next ladder. Your choice of material will not only reflect in the pricing, but also in the general user safety and overall product durability. The four most common materials used in the manufacture of ladders are wood, aluminium, fibreglass, and steel. Each of them, with a unique set of pros and cons. Here’s a comprehensive breakdown:
It is by far the most affordable material, but also one of the least versatile. Wooden ladders are ideal for indoor use and simple household purposes. They don’t perform well outdoors, and because wood tends to chip, splinter, and warp, they are among the least durable options.
The lightest among the four materials and just slightly more expensive than its wooden pair. Aluminum ladders are ideal for almost all household projects. They are more durable than wood, and because the material is so light, it’s the only possible choice for extension ladders longer than 25-feet. However, it is precisely because of its lightness, that aluminum rails will tend to bend over time, and their steps are also more likely to sag as well. Just remember, aluminum is an electrical conductor, so if you’re thinking about continuously working with power tools, you might want to reconsider another material due to safety issues.
Little Giant Ladder: Can be used safely on stairs, ramps, curbs, docks or other uneven surfaces. Uses the same material used in aerospace construction.
The undisputed top-of-mind material according to most professionals. Fiberglass is more expensive, and slightly heavier than aluminum but far more durable. With the proper care, you’ll only need one quality fiberglass ladder during your lifetime. It’s also the safest material to work with not only because of its electrical resistance rate but also because of its more rugged surface, which provides greater user stability when around wet or sloppy working conditions. Nothing is perfect, though. Because of its weight, extension ladders longer than 25-feet can’t be made of fiberglass, and because of its price, medium-length ladders cost way more than most homeowners can afford.
So, in the rare event that you need a heavy-duty fiberglass extension ladder, you can always rent it if you consider that nothing else could get the job done.
Louisville L-3016-08 : Rated to hold up to 300 lbs. Aluminum angle slip-resistant rubber feet
With over 4,000 years of history, the manufacturing process of steel is nearly flawless. These ladders can definitely take a beating, so they are ideal for heavy-duty use, and an all-time favorite in warehouses. Heavier and more resilient than aluminum and fiberglass , warehouse workers have absolutely no concerns regarding their safety when rolling around these ladders. They are practically a set of moving stairs.
Most of its disadvantages can be worked around with. Being an iron alloy, steel is a great electrical conductor, which is why this type of ladders is preferred in warehouse indoor spaces, and far from high-voltage electrical installations. Back in the old days, rusting was a critical problem with steel, but after the discovery of the stainless steel alloy (and afterwards, non-oxidant paint coatings), exposure to the elements is no longer an issue. Also, the heavier weight became a non-factor in warehouses because these ladders are set upon rolling wheels with secure rails.
Types of Ladders by Intended Purpose
Without a doubt, the core information when choosing your next ladder is knowing exactly why you need it, the type of task you will most likely perform with it, and the general working conditions you will face. At first, the myriad of options available in the market can surely be overwhelming, but most ladders will serve one specific purpose. Let’s take a closer look at them, to understand precisely which one will best suit our needs.
Think of a ladder and it will probably be a step ladder. They are self-supporting structures which resemble a triangle when fully assembled, and can be either Front-Step for one person only, or Twin-Step designed for two people, one in each side. The most popular type of ladder out there, it serves most common household purposes, like painting, changing light bulbs, or cleaning.
Louisville Ladder AS2106 Features: Multi-functional ProTop with Multiple Tool Slots, Aluminum Angle Slip Resistant Rubber Feet, Steel Gusset Bracing, Molded Pail Shelf.
Includes : Magnet tray, hardware tray, curved front, drill and tool slots, paint bucket holder, and pipe or 2×4 holder
Our runner-up as top-of-mind is the extension ladder. They are non-self-supporting ladders (they need a support point, such as a wall) designed for reaching higher points. Composed of two parts – the base (stationary) and the fly (moving)- which are identical in length, extension ladders are only half as long as their maximum length when stored away.
Features: Mar resistant end caps, Steel plated swivel safety shoes, Patented quick latch rung lock.
Articulating Ladder | All-In-One
This type of ladder adjusts to a wide variety of ladder types, including: Extension Ladder, Scaffolding, 90° Ladder, Staircase Ladder, A-Frame Ladder. The Little Giant System is an impressive articulating ladder system that is not only well-engineered but extremely practical and versatile. Just watch the video below and decide for yourself.
Video | Little Giant Revolution Ladder
Buy from Amazon: Little Giant Ladder Systems with ratcheting lever system.
Simply put, a telescoping ladder is any type of ladder which – thanks to its many overlapping sections – is able to slide in and out, enabling the user to choose exactly the height required for the task.
Features (Xtend & Climb 785P):
- Features patented True Telescoping Technology
- Aerospace Engineered using airplane grade aluminum alloy for strength
Any type of step ladder which has a built-in platform instead of the last step. Ideal for performing tasks which will require you to stand in the same position for an extended period of time.
Fully collapsible platform ladder for easy storage.
Any self-supporting ladder with the ability to be folded away for storage.
The majority of ladders available do fold, making them more compact and easy to place in storage.
Ranging from 1-step to 4-step, these stools are most commonly seen in kitchens, bedrooms, and garages. Due to their generally tiny size and light weight, they can also be made of plastic, and most of them can be easily folded too. While most of them are OSHA-rated for 200lbs, there are some special step stools which can support up to 300lbs.
Features: Folds to 3-inches. 27.25″ high. Large top step offers secure standing area. Non-marring feet
Commonly known as chicken ladders, or cat ladders. They were designed for the sole purpose of working on roofs, and are for the most part, extendable.
Protects Your Gutters and Keeps You safe. Heavy-duty rating for type 1AA ladders: and a special duty rating of #375.
For gaining access to your attic, regular extension ladders or single-step ladders can be highly inconvenient. Most attic ladders are sliding (which support more weight), while some of them can also be folding (requiring less space).
An example of an attic ladder.
Orchard Ladder | Tripod Ladder
A simple, three-legged step ladder designed for harvesting fruits and also for landscaping. The third leg can be inserted anywhere making these tasks virtually hassle-free.
Features: Steel reinforced outrigger, Center-pull spreader brace, Double rivet step construction.
Any non-rigid ladder designed for accessing uneven terrains, escaping from buildings in case of emergencies, or climbing in and out of moving vehicles, mostly aquatic vessels. Usually made of rope, chains, and nylon.
Completely portable. Protect yourself and your family in case of an emergency. Every home should have an emergency ladder. If there’s a fire and you’re stuck on the top floor this will save your life. Can also be used for low-rise apartments.
National and International Manufacturing Guidelines
European Union (Including the United Kingdom)
All European countries have adopted a detailed ladder certification system, known as Ladder Class. This certification classification only applies to ladders manufactured (or intended to be sold) in Europe and is limited to portable ladders (such as stepladders), and also to extension ladders. Each of the three classes is color-coded, and their specifications are as follows:
- Class I Ladder: Color-coded blue. Designed for heavy-duty industrial use, with a maximum load of 175 kilograms.
- Class II Ladder (also known as EN131): No specific color code. Designed for commercial use, with a maximum load of 150 kilograms.
- Class III Ladder: Color-coded red. Designed for domestic use, with a maximum load of 125 kilograms.
Basically, this category makes reference to the standards and regulations under which the ladder manufacturing process and recommended uses fall upon. In the U.S. there are two main organizations which oversee and control these processes: The OSHA and the ANSI. Let’s discuss them:
OSHA Ladder Type Ratings
A set of guidelines intended primarily for manufacturers but they also provide valuable user information in regards to safety, product optimization, and helpful tips for maximum durability.
- Type IAA: Labeled for extra-heavy duty purposes. Industrial Use. Maximum recommended weight of 375lbs.
- Type IA: Labeled for heavy duty purposes. Industrial Use. Maximum recommended weight of 300lbs.
- Type I: Labeled for medium-duty purposes. Commercial Use. Maximum recommended weight of 250lbs.
- Type II: Labeled for light-duty purposes. Commercial and Household Use. Maximum recommended weight of 225lbs.
- Type III: Labeled for extra-light duty purposes. Household Use. Maximum recommended weight of 200lbs.
OSHA Manufacturing Guidelines
Like stated above, these guidelines are to be followed by all ladder manufacturers. However, users with access to this information can make informed decisions regarding their own safety, product use, and recommended suitable care for maximum durability.
- All portable ladders (both self-supporting and non-self-supporting) must be able to support, at the least, up to four times their maximum intended weight capacity.
- Regarding weight capacity, an exception is made for extra-heavy duty metal and plastic ladders. They must, at the least, support up to 3.3 times their maximum intended weight capacity.
- Steps (or rungs) must always be parallel, equidistant, and leveled. The spacing between then should range from 10 to 14 inches. All steps should be skid resistant.
5-in-1 Ladder | Little Giant 12026-801 Revolution M26
The Revolution can be used safely on stairs, ramps, curbs, docks or other uneven surfaces.
View or download the MANUAL for the Little Giant Revolution Ladder System.
Think of ANSI Standards more like a general agreement, which aims to thoroughly define all of the American manufacturer standards. This institute is comprised of over 1000 members who represent all six relevant parties who actively participate in the decision-making process. These parties are Company, Government, Organizational, Educational, International, and Individual.
There is one committee fully dedicated to ladder standards, the Accredited Standards Committee (ASC) A14. This committee works jointly with the American Ladder Institute (ALI) to develop standards which will rule the design, manufacturing process, testing, selection, proper care, and safety regulations for all types of ladders.
For a full and detailed list of all these standards, take a look at the American National Standards Institute (ANSI).
For the most part, a ladder by itself can easily get the job done. However, you should know that there are several accessories available on the market designed to ease your tasks, save time, and further increase your overall safety. As a rule of thumb, consider buying accessories from the manufacturer of your ladder. Some of the most popular ones are:
Ladder Planks: Usually made out of wood or aluminum, planks allow you to safely move around your work area, providing comfort and stability. Most planks are OSHA-rated at 250lbs for one person, 500lbs for two people, and 750lbs for three people. Wooden planks are lighter and stiffer, while aluminum planks are relatively safer and also last a bit longer. Telescoping planks are aluminum-built and are ideal for more extended working areas, requiring less storing space. Scaffolding planks can be made of wood, aluminum, or steel and are designed solely as an accessory for scaffolding ladders.
Ladder Platforms: Probably the most popular accessory out there. Usually, they are OSHA-rated for 300lbs, so they are not only perfect for supporting tools, they can safely support you as well, by providing more comfort and more space to work with.
Ladder Levelers: Mostly designed for aluminum or fiberglass ladders, they serve a very simple yet extremely useful purpose. To provide more stability and safety when working on uneven surfaces, both outdoors and indoors. They can extend up to fifteen extra inches, and are easily attachable to all rails.
Ladder Standoffs: Also known as stabilizers, they are a great alternative for scaffolding ladders, not to mention a much cheaper one. A preferred accessory for extension ladders which is connected to their top. Usually, the legs will deliver up to 19 extra inches of distance between the support point (usually a wall or a corner) and the top. It works great when cleaning gutters. Available in both fixed-depth and adjustable distances.
Ladder Jacks: Another accessory which provides an easier and cheaper way to accomplish scaffolding tasks. Great for painting or replacing the sides of a house, jacks are set up between steps and act as support for your planks.
Ladder Safety Tips
Unsurprisingly, one of the leading causes of occupational injuries (and even fatalities) is falling out from portable ladders for not following the recommended safety instructions. OSHA also provides a list of safety tips for homeowners and professionals alike. Here are the most important points on ladders safety.
- When climbing up or down the ladder, maintain a 3-point contact with the ladder (two hands with one foot, or one hand with two feet). Climb the ladder facing up and straight, always maintaining your body centered relative to the steps, for the strongest gravitational center.
- When handling an extension ladder, double-check that all locks are properly set.
- Never set foot on the last rung or step, unless the ladder was specifically designed for this purpose.
- Any ladder used to access an elevated surface must have at least a 3-feet distance from the support point (normally, the wall) and the last rung or step (this is usually equivalent to three steps).
- The maximum distance considered as safe from the support point to the ladder base, is one-fourth (1/4) of its total length. For example, if your ladder is 12-feet long, the maximum safe distance between these two points can be no longer than three feet.
- Never use ladders near electrical wire.
- Do not set up or take a ladder down when it is extended.
- Do not overextend. Maintain minimum overlap between sections of your extension ladder.
- Do not climb higher than the fourth rung from the top of a ladder.
- Do not use ladder on ice, snow or other slippery surfaces unless you can secure the feet of the ladder first.
- Do not extend top section of a ladder from above or by “bouncing” on a ladder.
- Do not leave ladders unattended.
- If you feel tired or dizzy, or are prone to losing your balance, stay off the ladder.
- Do not use ladders in high winds or stormy weather.
- Wear clean slip-resistant shoes. Shoes with leather soles are not suitable for ladder as they not slip-resistant.
- Inspect the ladder prior to using to confirm it is in good working condition.
- Only one person at a time is allowed on a ladder unless the ladder is specifically designed for more than one climber (such as a Trestle Ladder).
- Never place your ladder in front of closed doors that can open toward the ladder when you’re working. If you need to work near a door then make sure it is blocked open, locked, or guarded.
- Read the safety information labels on your ladder.
- Never exceed the manufacturers maximum weight rating.
Learn more about OSHA ladder safety standards.
OSHA Ladder Safety Documents
- OSHA – Step ladder safety
- OSHA – Reducing Falls in construction
- OSHA – Safe use of extension ladders
- OSHA – Ladder and stairwell safety
Video | Ladder Safety
Step Ladder Safety | Little Giant Ladder System