Ladders come in handy for a variety of tasks and are one of the most essential tools to have as a homeowner. Different types of ladders offer different functions, while their most notable benefit is the ability to reach elevated areas for painting, cleaning, storage, or cleaning purposes. However, in order to get your intended job done as safely and efficiently as possible, it’s important that you choose the right type of ladder.
Owning a suitable type of ladder offers much more flexibility when working on projects around the home. You have a number of options to choose from and if you’re unsure of which particular ladder you need, we’re here to help. The most common types of ladders include step ladders, multi-purpose ladders, straight ladders, extension ladders, attic ladders, step stools, and fire escape ladders.
Table of Contents
- 14 Types of Ladders
- Ladder Materials
- Ladder Height and Reach
- Ladder Duty Rating
- Additional Ladder Buying Considerations
14 Types of Ladders
Aside from the types of ladders that are categorized by their function, ladders are made of a range of different materials. With that said, continue reading for our comprehensive guide on the many types of ladders available to you, ladder materials, and other considerations you’ll need to make when it comes to purchasing the right ladder for you.
1. Step Ladder
To kick off our list of the various types of ladders on the market is step ladders. These are some of the most popular types, and are ideal for indoor jobs. Step ladders consist of a self-supporting A-frame design that allows them to be used virtually anywhere. As a result, a step ladder is the perfect type of ladder to have in a household for nearly any task around the home.
Since they are primarily used for interior tasks, step ladders may not have the height and reach requirements for outdoor projects. In some cases, resting a ladder on an unstable support can result in damage or injury. However, this is never the case with a step ladder. It can be used in the middle of a room, for trimming small trees, or any other task that doesn’t have the necessary support.
A traditional step ladder is the most basic form; however, there are a number of variations including the twin step ladder, platform ladder, telescoping step ladder, and podium ladder. We’ll discuss these variants later on.
2. Twin Step Ladder
A twin-step ladder is a type of step ladder that allows for one or two people to use the ladder at the same time. It features steps on both sides of the ladder’s A-frame construction. Like traditional step ladders, twin step ladders are self-supporting. This offers superior flexibility, in that you won’t have to worry about finding proper support for your twin step ladder.
Twin step ladders are the most popular version of the step ladder. They are incredibly comfortable and safe for two people to climb on at the same time. Depending on the manufacturer, these ladders are often known as one of the strongest step ladders available. Many offer the ability to hold over 300 pounds per side.
3. Straight Ladder
Put simply, straight ladders are a tall type of ladder that is not self-supporting. Instead of having an A-frame construction like step ladders, straight ladders must lead up against a stable surface for support. In most cases, these ladders are ideal for exterior projects such as reaching your roof or outdoor painting tasks.
A straight ladder’s reach is typically two feet higher than the height of the ladder itself. The most common type of straight ladder – and one you’re likely familiar with – is the extension ladder.
4. Extension Ladder
When it comes to ladders used around the home, extension ladders are one of the most common. They are a type of straight ladder that can be adjusted to reach various heights. Extension ladders are ideal for projects that require work at higher elevations, such as on your home’s roof. They are very simple to operate, and only require stable support to be placed against.
Extension ladders are comprised of two main parts: the base and the fly. The base refers to the main part of the ladder, the section that rests against the support and is positioned firmly on the ground. It’s also important that the base is placed in a way that it cannot move sideways while in use. The other main part is the fly, or the extendable section of the ladder. It is extended based on the height required to carry out the particular task you are trying to execute.
When choosing the right extension ladder for your project, make sure that you factor in the maximum reach that the task requires and also your storage capabilities. Since they can be made shorter, they are often much simpler to store than straight ladders found with the same maximum height. The major draw to the extension ladder is the ability to reach higher places than many other types of ladders.
5. Platform Ladder
The platform ladder is another variation of the traditional step ladder, with the major difference being that the top section of the ladder comes with a built-in platform – hence the name. This type of ladder combines the convenience and efficiency of a step ladder with the comfort of having a platform to stand on with a guardrail for safety.
At roughly two to three feet above the platform is the guard rail, which ensures safety while you’re on the ladder. Whereas, the platform guarantees that you can stand comfortably while you’re working on your tasks. The comfortability makes it effortless to stand on the platform for longer periods of time. This feature can be especially beneficial when you’re doing a painting job, or any other project that requires the use of both of your hands at the same time.
Overall, a platform ladder is ideal for projects that you may be working on for extended intervals. You’ll often find these ladders in both a stationary and mobile (with castor wheels) version for added convenience.
6. Step Stool
A step stool is essentially a short version of the ladder. They are designed to be compact, easy to store, and are great for small spaces. Step stools can be used for simple everyday tasks, such as reaching high cabinets, changing light bulbs, and the like. You’ll often find step stools available with one, two, or even three steps, depending on your needs.
They also come in a variety of shapes, sizes, designs, colors, and materials. Although step stools are short, they are very beneficial to have around the house – especially if you are a relatively short individual (like me!). Aside from being incredibly convenient, step stools are also very cost-effective.
7. Multi-Purpose Ladder
Multi-purpose ladders are a type of ladder that allows you to perform the functions of two or more other types of ladders. They can, as the name indicates, serve multiple purposes in one ladder. Their main feature is the fact that you can manipulate the ladder into many different positions, based on the need. Depending on the type of multi-purpose ladder, it can be self-supporting or require a stable support surface, or it can even stand as scaffolding.
These ladders are incredibly versatile and are great for contractors or frequent home DIYers. They can be easily opened to form a step ladder, or converted into an extension ladder. Not to mention, multi-purpose ladders are also simple to store and require less space to do so than many other varieties.
8. Folding/ Articulated Ladder
As the name indicates, the main feature of this type of ladder is its ability to fold, resulting in requiring minimal storage space. Folding, or articulated, ladders are ideal for small daily tasks as they allow you to adjust the height to fit the project you need it for – from helping your children onto the top bunk of their bunkbed or serving as a ladder for your pool.
Like a step stool, with this type of ladder, you’ll no longer have to use a chair or table for your daily household tasks. In general, a folding ladder can make these simple projects even easier to achieve. They are also very lightweight, incredibly portable, and easy to transport and store.
Though folding ladders are often lumped together with multi-purpose ladders, these types of ladders only offer the ability to fold. They do not serve additional purposes.
9. Fire Escape Ladder
The purpose of a fire escape ladder is to help you escape out of a window in the event of a fire or other emergency in the home. They can often be rolled up and stored easily in a bedroom and then unrolled when needed. Other versions are physically attached to the side of the residential or commercial property. Whether your home is a single-story or has multiple stories, you must have an emergency fire escape plan.
Statistically speaking, 75% of all fire deaths occur in household fires and you have roughly two minutes to escape before the house becomes engulfed in smoke and flames. Therefore, owning a fire escape ladder, or several, can offer peace of mind and allow for you and your loved ones to escape quickly and safely should an emergency arise.
10. Attic Ladder
Attic ladders are a type of ladder that retracts, allowing you to easily access the attic in your home. In most cases, attic ladders come preinstalled when you purchase a house. They are a great choice to allow for easy access to your attic space from a narrow storage area or hallway.
These types of ladders articulate on hinges and, by pulling down, they retract to rest at an angle on the floor. Attic ladders make climbing up and down easy, safe, and efficient. They are also incredibly convenient to operate and store, sitting flush against your ceiling when closed.
11. Flexible/ Rope Ladder
Rope ladders are another type of ladder that can also be used in case of an emergency. The only distinction is that they are more flexible and are typically made out of rope that connects the steps together. If you need to escape out of a window in a hurry, a rope ladder can be a great choice.
Depending on the model, most can hang off of the side of a variety of windows. Some rope ladders are even long enough to allow you to escape from a third or even a fourth floor. However, when purchasing a rope ladder make sure that you choose the right length that you need. If you buy one that is too short, it’ll essentially be rendered useless.
Rope or flexible ladders can also be used for a number of recreational purposes such as climbing for a children’s swing set, accessing a treehouse, or for gymnastics practice.
12. Telescoping Ladder
A telescoping ladder consists of a system that allows you to extend the ladder to maximum height when needed and retract it back into itself for convenient storage. It is not to be confused with a telescoping step ladder, which is a step ladder but has an adjustable frame. Telescoping ladders get their name because they function much like a telescope does.
They offer superior flexibility and adjustability, saving you a considerable amount of time by being much quicker to setup and adjust as needed. Telescoping ladders are commonly used for industrial purposes. When fully extended, they form an extension ladder. However, some models can also be used as a twin step ladder, a stairway step ladder, or as two scaffold bases.
The more that a telescoping ladder is extended, the higher and heavier it becomes. Its weight entirely depends on the height of the ladder. Most telescoping ladders have a maximum height of 14 ½ feet.
13. Podium Ladder
Put simply, a podium ladder is a type of platform that features extra-large platforms and more extensive guardrails. By using this type of ladder, you will expand your work area as it allows you to safely face any direction while working. Although the concept of a podium ladder is essentially the same as a platform ladder, the main difference is how the ‘podium’ is designed.
Podium ladders have a significantly larger platform and give you much more flexibility to move around. Whereas, the frame of the ladder provides safety and stability. Since podium ladders are a type of step ladder, they have that traditional A-frame design and are self-supporting. These ladders are ideal for performing tasks that are higher up for extending periods of time, such as painting or installing cables.
14. Portable Warehouse Ladder
As the name suggests, this type of ladder is portable and is one that you’ll likely find on the floor of a factory or warehouse. Since it has such as specific function, the portable warehouse ladder is not as common as the other types on our list. Its structure is considerable wide, allowing you to ascend and descend the ladder effortlessly. You can even climb up and down holding a large box and have no troubles.
Warehouse ladders come with rails on either side to hold onto. They are also built with durability in mind, that way they can hold up to the workload of warehouses. In most cases, you won’t expect portable warehouse ladders to wear out quickly.
Their design also reduces the likelihood of accidents occurring and offers superior stability. This is exactly why these types of ladders are ideal for use in a warehouse or factory. As an added bonus, portable warehouse ladders come with a nice-sized platform at the top. They’re also set on casters so the ladder can be easily moved throughout the warehouse space.
In addition to the type of ladder, it’s important that you choose the appropriate ladder material to stand up for the job you’re working on. Additionally, the right ladder material will ensure your safety while you’re using the ladder. Most ladders are made out of either fiberglass or aluminum; however, some are constructed of wood, plastic, or steel.
The main reason that aluminum ladders are so desirable is because they are lightweight. This makes them incredibly easy to transport and also resistant to corrosion. Aluminum ladders are ideal for use around the home since they can be moved easily. However, you can use these types of ladders both indoors or outdoors.
Additionally, aluminum ladders are often very cost-effective. This has to do with the fact that nearly 47 percent of the aluminum used in the United States is recycled. As a result, aluminum ladders are often created from materials that are recycled rather than mined, contributing to cost savings.
However, when it comes to aluminum, there is one significant drawback. Since it is a metal, aluminum ladders should not be used near power lines or electrical wiring. They can conduct electricity, which creates a serious safety hazard, endangering your life and those around you. Fortunately, if you need a ladder to perform any sort of electrical work, you do have other options.
The other most common material used in ladder construction is fiberglass. Unlike aluminum, fiberglass is non-conductive which makes fiberglass ladders considerably safer to use around electrical wiring and power lines. These ladders are also incredibly durable, built to last, and both flame and weather resistant.
Since fiberglass ladders are so strong and resistant to the elements, you will notice the difference when you use them. They feel much more stable and heavier than their aluminum counterparts. Fiberglass ladders can also be used for both interior and exterior tasks. While fiberglass ladders tend to be more expensive than other alternatives, the extensive benefits outweigh the high upfront cost.
Another major benefit to keep in mind with these types of ladders is that they do not reflect ambient temperature. Unlike metal-type ladders, you won’t have to worry about burning your hand when grasping onto a fiberglass ladder on a hot summer day. However, it’s important to note that when these ladders reach heights above 25 feet, they can become unwieldy to handle.
Like fiberglass ladders, wood ladders are also non-conductive. However, many products are made using metal fasteners. If this is the case, the ladder will not be suitable for use around electrical wiring or power lines. Despite this fact, wood is still a very common and popular material choice for ladders. Wood ladders are affordable and widely available at hardware stores or home improvement centers.
However, wood ladders do come with quite a bit of drawbacks. Wood is notorious for being susceptible to rot when exposed to water. Therefore, wood ladders cannot be used outdoors in wet conditions. Also, wood is not resistant to pests or warping, and will degrade overtime.
Wood ladders must be stored in a dry, protected space at all times. To avoid damage or defects being more noticeable, opt for a wood ladder that is unpainted. This will also reduce the amount of maintenance that the ladder requires over time.
Finally, wood ladders can be quite heavy. Depending on the particular product, they can often weigh twice as much as an aluminum ladder of the same size.
Ladders made out of steel are less common and it’s very unlikely that you’ll see these used around the home. Instead, steel ladders are more often seen in warehouses. These types of ladders do offer a number of advantages, though. They are considerably durable and able to hold substantial loads. Although they are strong, this means that, unlike aluminum, steel ladders can be quite heavy.
Similar to aluminum ladders, steel ladders must be properly stored to prevent rusting. They also cannot be used outdoors in wet conditions. Therefore, steel ladders are ideal for interior use, whether it be residential or in a factory setting.
Plastic ladders provide a cheap alternative that can still be suitable for a variety of situations. Oftentimes, you’ll find step stools made out of plastic. Though, you may find a number of other types of ladders made out of this material as well including those found on child’s playsets, pool ladders, and more. In some cases, you’ll find plastic ladders consisting of glass-fiber reinforcement with polyester resin.
Like all other ladder materials, plastic is subject to particular regulations. We will cover the specifics of such regulations later on.
Ladder Height and Reach
As is evident above, you have many different types of ladders to choose from to fit your particular needs. The main purpose of owning a ladder is to assist with extending your reach. It’s important to note that some types of ladders allow you to extend your reach farther than others, even if they have the same height.
For instance, on a step ladder, you can safely stand on the step that is two steps down from the highest point of the ladder. Whereas, on an extension ladder, safe footing is four steps down from the highest rung. Therefore, if you have an extension ladder and a step ladder that are the same height, the step ladder offers a higher reach.
When you’re choosing the right ladder for you, make sure that you consider both height and reach. This will ensure that your ladder helps you perform tasks efficiently and safely.
Ladder Duty Rating
The ladder duty rating was developed to ensure that individuals choose the appropriate ladder for the right task. This rating is broken up into two types, one that describes the weight limit of the ladder and the other that indicates the correct usage.
When searching for your new ladder, look out for the duty rating information. Oftentimes, it will be posted right on the ladder. That way, you can guarantee that you choose the right ladder for your particular needs. Also, be sure to consider the weight of the operator in addition to the materials that will be brought up and down the ladder. This weight must be less than the weight capacity specified by the ladder manufacturer.
With that said, here’s a breakdown of the various ladder duty ratings:
- Type 3: Intended for light-duty (general household use); maximum weight of 220 pounds.
- Type 2: Intended for medium-duty (ideal for painters, handymen, or simple DIY projects); maximum weight of 225 pounds.
- Type 1: Intended for heavy-duty (industrial use, built to withstand most projects and tasks); maximum weight of 250 pounds.
- Type 1A: Intended for extra heavy-duty (designed for industrial and professional use); maximum weight of 300 pounds.
- Type 1AA: Intended for super duty (maximum durability for both home use and difficult professional jobs); maximum weight of 375 pounds.
Pro Tip: Be extra careful when you’re using twin step ladders or multi-purpose ladders. Since twin step ladders are meant for two individuals, make sure that you factor in the weight limitations of both individuals, the material being used, and the duty rating. When it comes to multi-purpose ladders, keep in mind that the duty rating will vary based on how the ladder is adjusted.
Additional Ladder Buying Considerations
When it comes to deciding on which ladder to purchase, there are a number of factors that you must consider. While height, reach, and duty rating are important, there are also a number of other considerations to keep in mind in your search. These include:
- Usage: What do you plan on using your ladder for? Do you need a ladder for painting walls inside your home or for reaching the top of your roof? These tasks will require entirely different types of ladders. For outdoor tasks, you’ll likely want to consider an extension ladder. Whereas, a step ladder is a great choice for a variety of indoor jobs.
- Length: For safety reasons, most ladders don’t allow you to stand on the top, or even the top several, rungs. With that said, the general rule of thumb is to purchase a ladder that is roughly twice the height that you need to reach. This will ensure that you can operate the ladder safely and comfortably.
- Weight: While weight generally contributes to the stability of a ladder, it can make it difficult to transport it. As previously noted, material has a huge influence on the weight of your ladder. Although you might want to opt for an aluminum model due to it being lightweight, you should avoid this type if electricity is a factor.
- Storage: Aside from finding enough space to store your ladder, you also want to ensure that you’re preventing wear and tear. Such is the case with aluminum ladders as they’ll need to be protected from the elements to reduce the risk of them becoming unsafe to use. The major advantage of foldable ladders and extension ladders is that they take up much less space than other alternatives.
In your search for a new ladder, there’s much more to it than just the type of ladder. Whether you’re looking for the best extension ladder, best step ladder, or best multi-purpose ladder for your DIY projects, make sure that you factor in ladder material and duty rating.